World hopes for peace in 2008


New York : After a round-the-globe series of partying stretching from Sydney to San Francisco, the world ushered in the year 2008 on Tuesday amid appeals for peace but worries about violence in trouble spots ranging from Pakistan to Iraq to Kenya.

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The day also saw the usual tally of casualties from a night of revelry, but also some hopeful signs, such as six babies born in Iraq, and moments of colour when high culture merged with sports as the Vienna Philharmonic donned football scarves at its annual New Years day concert.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI appealed for world peace in his New Years message from St Peter’s Basilica, expressing concern about the “great division and sharp conflicts which cast dark shadows” on humanity’s future.

The pope appealed to the faithful to pray for peace for “our families, nations and for the whole world,” the pope said.

True peace was not just a human accomplishment or the fruit of political agreements, but was rather a “spiritual gift” for which “believers must implore God tirelessly”, Benedict said.

In his speech, the pope highlighted the role of the family on what he said was the 25th anniversary of the Holy See’s adoption of the Charter of the Rights of the Family (1983-2008).

“I invite every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to one human family,” the pope urged. Such a conviction was “essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace”.

In conflict-torn Iraq, six families were celebrating the birth of babies in the early hours of 2008. Four girls and two boys were reported born in the cities of Baghdad, Basra and Arbil.

Independent Iraqi broadcaster al-Sharqiya had earlier vowed to give “worthy” prizes to the families of the first 30 babies born on Jan 1.

Iraqis celebrated the New Year at midnight in their homes and neighbourhoods defying security concerns, in the first New Years Eve celebrations since the US-led invasion in 2003. Youths set off fireworks and people danced on Palestine Street in Baghdad.

In Vienna, a bit of humour crept into the annual New Years concert by the famous Vienna Philharmonic, conducted this year by Frenchman Georges Pretre, 83.

During a fast-paced “Sport Polka”, the orchestra suddenly donned Austrian football scarves and at the end of the piece Pretre blew a referee’s whistle – all in a nod to the forthcoming European Football Championships to be co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. The black-tie and silk-gowned audience of Austria’s cultural elite roared their approval.

But the day after also had its reports of deaths and violence from the night of revelry.

In France, dozens of cars were set alight in France’s eastern Alsace region during the New Year celebrations overnight Tuesday. In the city of Strasbourg alone, 50 vehicles were set alight, French radio in Strasbourg reported.

Sociologists refer to such events on New Year’s Eve as a “French speciality”. However, Strasbourg city administration has been accused of suppressing reports of arson in an attempt to limit damage to the city’s image.

In Vienna, a flat was set afire by unknown New Year’s revellers who were firing rockets from bottles. Fire services rescued 20 people, including a baby, from several flats in the building. Ten people suffered smoke poisoning. A pet cat was burned to death.

In the Nordic region, fireworks caused minor fires and injured several people in Sweden, Denmark and Norway during New Year celebrations, police and rescue services reported.

In Denmark, some 50 people were arrested early Tuesday as a New Year’s party went out of hand in central Copenhagen, police said.

Police intervened when some of the 500 revellers, mainly youths, broke in to a local store in the district of Norrebro. A bonfire was also lit on the street and some stones were thrown at police.

In neighbouring Sweden, a 16-year-old youth sustained severe injuries due to an exploding firework in the southern town of Karlskrona, local radio reported.

In Germany, two people were hit by a train and killed in Germany early Tuesday in one of a series of accidents that marred New Year celebrations on a cold, foggy night.

The woman, 25, and man, 20, were walking across a railway line in dense fog at 4 a.m. in the western city of Essen when they were struck. Police said they may have been taking a short cut.

In Troisdorf, near Cologne, a drunk driver slewed into a crowd of young people celebrating on the street early Tuesday and killed a woman, 21. The driver, who was suspected of drug use too, was injured.

Elsewhere, ice on roads caused accidents and several Germans lost fingers in accidents with explosives on the only night of the year when fireworks can legally be used in Germany.