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World steps into 2023 after turbulent year

January 1, 2023 10:29 AM


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The world's eight billion people Saturday ushered in 2023, bidding farewell to a turbulent 12 months marked by war in Europe, stinging price rises, Lionel Messi's World Cup glory and the deaths of Queen Elizabeth, Pele and former pope Benedict.

Many were ready to set aside pinched budgets and a virus that is increasingly forgotten but not gone, and embrace a party atmosphere on New Year's Eve after a few pandemic-dampened years.

In Rio de Janeiro, throngs of people packed the city's Copacabana Beach -- up to two million were expected -- for music and fireworks, without coronavirus safety measures of the past few years.

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The festivities came only hours before Brazil inaugurates new president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Sunday, following his razor-thin win in October polls.

After the widely criticized pandemic policies of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro, Copacabana partygoer Ana Carolina Rodrigues -- wearing the evening's traditional white -- says she hopes 2023 brings a new government that "looks more at people's health."

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Across the Atlantic, Parisians -- and a "normal" amount of tourists, comparable to 2018 or 2019, according to officials -- took the opportunity to crowd together shoulder-to-shoulder for a fireworks show along the Champs-Elysees.

Police said about a million people showed up for the celebration, where children in pushchairs and partiers with champagne were equally visible.

"We're here for the ambiance, to have a good time and to be together," said 19-year-old student Ilyes Hachelef. "And it's beautiful!"

Hours earlier, Sydney became one of the first major cities to ring in 2023, restaking its claim as the "New Year's Eve capital of the world" after two years of lockdowns and coronavirus-muted festivities with a fireworks display over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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- 'Year of Ukraine' -

For some, 2022 was a year of Wordle, the Great Resignation, a new Taylor Swift album, an Oscar slap and billionaire meltdowns.

It also saw the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II, Brazilian football icon Pele, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jiang Zemin, and Shinzo Abe. Former pope Benedict XVI also died on New Year's Eve.

The global population surpassed the historic milestone of eight billion people in November.

But 2022 is most likely to be remembered for armed conflict returning to Europe -- a continent that was the crucible of two world wars.

"It was our year. Year of Ukraine," President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday, reflecting on his country's war effort throughout the year.

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More than 300 days into Russia's botched invasion of Ukraine, about 7,000 civilians have been killed and 10,000 more injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

About 16 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.

For those who remain, an 11:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew will be in place amid periodic blackouts and Russian missile barrages.

The latest Russian strikes on Ukraine Saturday claimed at least one more life and wounded several others, said Ukrainian officials, while an explosion was heard in Kyiv just after the New Year.

"We do not know for sure what the new year 2023 will bring us," Zelensky said, promising that Ukrainians would fight on and offering a wish for "victory" in the new year.

In Kyiv, filmmaker Yaroslav Mutenko, 23, was defiant after a shell hit the four-star Hotel Alfavito near his apartment, insisting the blast would not stop him from partying.

"Our enemies, the Russians, can destroy our calm but they cannot destroy our spirit," he said.

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- London fireworks -

There seemed to be a dulled appetite for grand celebrations in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Moscow canceled its traditional fireworks show, as Putin said in a New Year's address that "moral, historical rightness" is on Russia's side as the country faces international condemnation over the war.

London was meanwhile welcoming crowds to its official New Year's Eve fireworks display for the first time since the pandemic.

One place that wasn't joining in the pyrotechnics was the English seaside town of Scarborough, which called off its display in order not to disturb "Thor" the walrus, who recently appeared in the harbor.

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Councillor Steve Siddons said the town was disappointed, "but the welfare of the walrus has to take precedence."

In New York, crowds braved a chilly rain to await the famous ball drop in Times Square, a tradition that goes back to 1907.

"We're going to be waiting for about eight hours I think," Mexican tourist Fabiola Cepeda said. "It is worth it, definitely."

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- Shadow of Covid -

The Middle East region welcomed 2023 with a traditional fireworks show from the world's tallest building, the 830-meter (2,723-feet) Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Laser lights added to the spectacle at the landmark, which carried messages including "Hugging again," an apparent reference to the end of Covid restrictions.

However, China begins 2023 battling a surge in Covid infections.

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But New Year's Eve parties still went on as planned, even as hospitals in the world's most populous nation have been overwhelmed by an explosion of cases following the decision to lift strict "zero-Covid" rules.

In Beijing revelers flocked to clubs, music venues and bars, while downtown Shanghai saw masked youngsters celebrating in the streets near the iconic Bund waterfront, according to social media videos.

Meanwhile in Wuhan where Covid-19 first emerged, large crowds set off festive balloons in a central square as the clock struck midnight.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the country in a televised New Year's Eve address that, despite the outbreak, "the light of hope is right in front of us".



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