| Fireworks explode over Sydney Harbour Bridge on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Jakarta, Dec. 31 (Reuters): Cities across the world tightened security for New Year’s Eve celebrations, with the Indonesian capital deploying 200,000 police and Sydney taking Olympics-style precautions for a party which attracted hundreds of thousands.
With memories still fresh of the Bali bombings in October which killed more than 180 people, two-thirds of Jakarta’s police force were on the streets of the capital of the world’s biggest Muslim nation, guarding shopping and entertainment centres, mosques, churches and public facilities.
In Sydney, which has already rung in the new year, police imposed security not seen since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, banning cars from the central business district this evening and blocking streets for a party which culminated in a massive fireworks display over the harbour.
Sydney lord mayor Frank Sartor described the celebration, which attracted a smaller crowd than expected at around 700,000, as “a great tribal picnic for Sydney”. After a year of drought, bushfires, the Bali bombings which killed up to 90 Australians and talk of terrorism, Sartor praised Sydneysiders for having the courage to party openly.
“They didn’t listen to the doomsayers, we didn’t listen to the malecontents, we went on and celebrated and had a great party,” Sartor said at his A-list party at the Opera House. Australia’s heightened security follows the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US which killed almost 3,000 people and the Bali bombings.
Australia has been one of the world’s most vocal supporters of the US war on terror, sparking criticism that Prime Minister John Howard’s government may be making Australia, geographically isolated from such violence, a target.
In Jakarta, key roads were closed for a street party, but despite widespread tight security thousands of Indonesians are expected to turn out to see in 2003. Even though their fabled tourist industry was devastated by the October blasts, Balinese put on a brave face at New Year’s Eve festivities on the famous Kuta Beach, just blocks away from where two bombs ripped through a number of nightclubs.
In Bangkok, as many as 5,000 police officers hit the streets as half a million Thais were expected to leave home for the New Year celebration around Thailand's capital.
On the other side of the world, an extra 1,000 policemen will be deployed in Paris to oversee celebrations, bringing the total to around 5,500. Cars will be banned around the capital’s famed Champs Elysees, where up to 300,000 revellers are expected. Other areas under special surveillance include the Eiffel Tower, railway stations, airports and shopping districts.
Security fears have been heightened by a spate of arrests of suspected Islamist militants in and around Paris this month.
Police said yesterday they had arrested a baggage handler at Paris’ main international airport who had guns and explosives hidden in his car.