- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

SINGAPORE — A moment of silence at midnight and prayers will replace fireworks and raucous countdowns in many places on New Year’s Eve after countries across Southeast Asia and Europe canceled celebrations and planned remembrance services for the victims of this week’s quake-tsunami disaster.

The fireworks usually held at some of Asia’s major urban landmarks — Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers, Singapore’s domed Esplanade performance spaces on Marina Bay, Hong Kong’s skyline — have been called off, officials said.

“This is not a time to be happy,” said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia, where more than 60 people were killed and up to 100 were still missing. Mr. Badawi ordered all government celebrations canceled and replaced with prayer events, and urged the private sector to do the same.

Sunday’s earthquake-generated tsunami killed more than 117,000 people and left up to 5 million without clean water, food and sanitation facilities in 13 countries around the Indian Ocean. The sense of mourning touched even those Asian nations not directly hit by the killer waves.

Singapore’s main arts center said its New Year’s Eve performance would now be a remembrance service for the victims throughout the region.

A moment of silence will be held at midnight instead of the traditional noisy countdown in the final seconds of the year, and donations will be collected from the audience for Red Cross relief operations, officials at the Esplanade said.

“This year, in light of the tragedy unfolding around us, it would be more appropriate to usher in the new year in a more contemplative manner,” an announcement said. “The fireworks planned are best reserved for some other, more appropriate occasion in the future.”

In Hong Kong, the Tourism Commission canceled fireworks displays scheduled for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Jan. 2 out of respect for the disaster victims.

The government in Thailand, where thousands were killed, ordered all official agencies to cancel celebrations, including those planned for the New Year.

A big countdown party in Bangkok that was to have been attended today by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and an array of celebrities — including tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams — has been canceled.

Miss Sharapova instead donated $10,000 yesterday to victims in Thailand.

With many Europeans also killed, particularly at Thailand’s famed beach resorts, some European nations were toning down the holiday.

The fireworks display at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was still scheduled to go on. But German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged people to make donations to tsunami victims rather than spend money on their own fireworks. Video displays at Brandenburg Gate will urge donations as well.

Norway’s largest newspapers announced yesterday that they would break tradition and publish on New Year’s Day, donating the profits to help victims of the tsunami. Hundreds of Norwegians and up to 1,000 Swedes are missing and feared dead from the disaster.

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