New York, Jan. 1 (Reuters): Officials and security forces around the world could breathe sighs of relief on the first day of 2003 after tight security prevented incidents at major New Year’s events.
However, a grenade attack killed nine people in an active Muslim rebel area of the Philippines and a fireworks explosion in Mexico killed at least 28 people. At least 10 people were killed as the Philippines rang in the New Year, with the grenade attack and celebratory gunfire to blame, police and officials said.
More than 400 were injured in separate incidents involving fireworks but officials said the figure was lower than previous years.
In the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country an unidentified man threw a grenade into a street full of firecracker vendors, killing at least nine and wounding more than 30. It was not clear who was behind the attack in a region where Muslim rebels are known to be active.
In Veracruz, Mexico, an explosion and fire in a street market packed with fireworks stalls killed 28 people and injured more than 50 in the port city of Veracruz.
In New York City, as many as 1 million people, screened for alcohol, drugs and weapons by police using metal detectors, shed their backpacks and baggage and screamed and sang as the traditional crystal ball dropped at One Times Square.
Thousands of extra police were on duty; mailboxes and trash cans were removed and manhole covers were welded shut.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and disabled actor Christopher Reeve officiated at the dropping of the ball. Bloomberg had assured New Yorkers that Times Square, often called the crossroads of the world, would be secure for them.
The US coast guard closed New York harbour to private pleasure boats, and the police increased harbour patrols in response to what Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly called an “uncorroborated” threat of a terror attack in the harbour.
At Camp Doha in the Kuwaiti desert, American soldiers potentially just months away from a war in neighbouring Iraq, welcomed 2003 with alcohol-free beer in line with local sensitivities of the conservative Islamic country.
As Americans celebrated in New York and Kuwait, the FBI hunted five men believed to have entered the US illegally and wanted for questioning as part of the US-declared war on terror after the September 11 attacks.
Daubed in luminous paint and blowing on whistles, 50,000 revellers descended on London’s Millennium Dome to dance.
The crackle of fireworks vied with the throb of dance music at what dance scene organisers Ministry of Sound billed as Europe’s biggest club night.
The Millennium Dome, built in 1999 to resemble the orb and rays of the first rising sun of the millennium, came to life at midnight as the fairground rides shut down and 50 DJs started up, competing on five separate dance floors to throw the crowd into a frenzy.
Celebrations throughout the country were overshadowed by fears of a possible terror strike. Scotland Yard said 2,000 police officers were patrolling the capital’s streets with anti-terror squads on a heightened state of alert. The arrest earlier this month of seven North African men on terror charges had raised fears of a possible terror attack.
The closure of London’s Trafalgar Square, which usually draws up to 60,000 party-goers, put a dampener on festivities in the capital, which had no official celebrations planned.
With memories still fresh of the Bali bombings in October, two-thirds of Indonesia’s police force were deployed around the world's biggest Muslim nation.