- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

PARIS — A million revelers cheered at fireworks in Sydney, Australia — one of the first cities to celebrate the new year. Beijing started the year with fireworks, singing and dancing put on by the organizers of the Summer Olympics.

In France, cafes filled with the last night of cigarette smoke before a smoking ban goes into effect.

Security was tight around the world. Fireworks were canceled in downtown Brussels, where police last week detained 14 persons suspected of plotting to help an al Qaeda terrorist suspect break out of jail.

In Paris, where the famous Champs-Elysees avenue and the Eiffel Tower were the centers of festivities, about 4,500 police and 140 rescue officials patrolled the streets.

In Thailand, an army spokesman said he thought five bombs detonated by Muslim insurgent suspects in a Thai-Malaysian border tourist town likely targeted New Year’s revelers.

The bombs, which wounded 27 persons, exploded in the hotel and night life area of Sungai Kolok, including two inside a hotel dance club and one hidden in the basket of a motorcycle outside a hotel, spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote said. It was not clear whether anyone was killed.

On the other side of the globe, several European countries rang in the new year with new habits.

Starting at midnight, the smoke-filled cafe was to become a memory in France. Following up on a ban last year on smoking in many indoor locations, cigarettes are now off-limits in dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes.

People still can smoke in their homes, hotel rooms and sealed smoking chambers at establishments that provide them.

Two newcomers to the European Union, Cyprus and Malta, started using the euro at the stroke of midnight. The Mediterranean islands, both former British colonies, scrapped the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira to bring the number of countries using the shared currency to 15.

Politicians ceremonially withdrew euros from automated teller machines after midnight, with fireworks and outdoor celebrations in the two capitals, Nicosia and Valletta.

Along with the innovations, old European traditions were maintained.

In London, people gathered in Trafalgar Square and along the banks of the River Thames to watch a fireworks display and hear Big Ben — Parliament’s iconic bell — welcome the new year with 12 resounding bongs.

In a quirky tradition in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, residents dined on 12 grapes — one for each chime at midnight.

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