Updated: 12/31/2013 20:15 | By Agence France-Presse

Sparkling Sydney kicks off glitzy global 2014 party

Sydney kicked off a promised unprecedented spectacular to mark New Year celebrations Tuesday, the first in a wave of pyrotechnics to usher in 2014 from Hong Kong to world record-chasing Dubai.


Sparkling Sydney kicks off glitzy global 2014 party

New Year's Eve fireworks erupt over Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge

Tonnes of explosives were set to light up Australia's biggest city, with fireworks shooting off the Opera House for the first time in more than 10 years as part of the December 31 extravaganza, focused on the Harbour Bridge.

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said the Aus$6 million show ($5.4 million), themed "Shine", was expected to attract 1.6 million spectators.

"We are ready to host the world's best New Year's Eve on the world's most beautiful harbour," Moore told reporters earlier in the day.

The first of a record three fireworks displays took place three hours before midnight, as part of the show Moore promised would be "bigger than ever", showering colour over Sydney Harbour.

Dubai is hoping to break the Guinness World Record for the largest display, pledging to set off more than 400,000 fireworks. Kuwait set the mark in 2011 with an hour-long blast of 77,282 fireworks.

Tonga, located near the international dateline, was one of the first nations to greet 2014, holding a prayer festival that culminates with a bamboo "cannon" fired into the air.

Cities across Asia will be next to hail the New Year, with Hong Kong boasting the biggest-ever countdown show for the Chinese city.

Fireworks will soar from skyscrapers and a one-kilometre line of barges along Victoria Harbour in a "wish upon a star" tourism board show.

In Japan, shoppers were busy buying crabs, tuna sashimi and other delicacies to feast in the New Year, with noodle shops doing an especially brisk trade.

Eating noodles on New Year's Eve is regarded in Japan as a symbolic act to wish for a long life.

Millions of people were due to visit shrines and temples through to early morning in massive, yet quiet tradition, paying their first annual respects and praying for peace for relatives.

However, in areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, celebrations were muted.

In Tacloban, which bore the brunt of the November 8 storm, officials were preparing a midnight fireworks display to try to boost spirits, despite nearly 8,000 dead or missing.

Aid agencies are also organising free concerts or distributing food for the traditional New Year's Eve dinner, an AFP reporter said.

In the small, ruined farming village of San Isidro, residents are still grappling with the overpowering stench of death as 1,400 corpses stacked in black body bags lay in a field, more than seven weeks after the tragedy. 

Seoul will ring in 2014 with a ritual clanging of the city's 15th-century bronze bell 33 times, reflecting the ancient practice for marking a new year.

In Singapore, people will flock to the financial district for fireworks while thousands of white spheres will be launched to bob on Marina Bay, holding residents' wishes for 2014.

Jakarta has set up 12 city centre stages for performances to showcase the vast archipelago's kaleidoscope of cultures. 

However, 6,500 police will be out to ensure security amid warnings that extremists in the Muslim-majority nation may target the celebrations, prompting travel warnings from countries including neighbouring Australia.

In Indonesia's sharia stronghold of Banda Aceh, Islamic police seized thousands of firecrackers and cardboard trumpets after the city administration banned New Year's Eve celebrations for the first time.

"There should be no activity whatsoever to celebrate the turn of the year," senior Banda Aceh sharia police official Reza Kamilin said after the clerical Ulema Consultative Assembly said New Year's celebrations or wishing someone "Merry Christmas" was "haram" (forbidden) in the city.

In Mumbai, revellers celebrated a court victory over the local police force, which pushed back closing time in bars and restaurants to 5:00 am instead of 1:30 am.

Last year India cancelled most of its official New Year's celebrations after the fatal gangrape of a student on a New Delhi bus on December 16, which sparked protests and a year of introspection about women's rights.

In Rio de Janeiro, authorities are predicting 2.3 million people -- a third of them tourists -- will crowd Copacabana Beach for fireworks and pop music.

Major spectaculars will also light up Moscow's Red Square, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and central London when Big Ben chimes midnight. 

An expected one million revellers will gather in New York to mark the stroke of midnight and the traditional New Year's Eve ball-drop over Times Square.

Cape Town will have a free concert with fireworks and a 3D tribute to Nelson Mandela who died on December 5.

Images from the anti-apartheid hero's life will be projected onto City Hall where he gave his first speech after release from 27 years in prison in 1990.

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