Bahai News -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer - At The Needle, Grins From Year To Year Wednesday, January 1, 2003

At The Needle, Grins From Year To Year

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES

As the stroke of midnight approached, the Space Needle the elevator went up, then BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! - the fireworks display at the Seattle Center began. After the dazzling crescendo, Joelie Woolridge, 32, with her 4- year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, said "it was a great finale to an interesting year."

Space Needle fireworks
 Jim Bryant / P-I
 Last night's fireworks spectacular at
the Seattle Center's Space Needle
impressed thousands gathered below.
Waiting near the International Fountain, amid a crowd of thousands, lovers kissed, young men smoked fat cigars, families huddled to keep warm, and children grinned from ear to ear. Then everyone got in position to get a good view as their attention turned from the fountain of water to the fountain of light off the Seattle landmark.

Jim Conchie, 54, said he was here because "I can't hide under the bed. This is a conscious attempt at normalcy," he said. "I really have to make my own hope. everybody needs a little spectacular in their lives, but normal spectacular," as opposed to catastrophic. His 11-year-old daughter, Alex, dressed in a 2003 top hat with a mustache and goatee penciled on her face, said, "It's not a big deal for me." She said she's glad the first half of sixth grade is behind her, and her hope for the new year was less homework this spring.

"It was amazing," said Viswa Radhi, 27, of Bellevue. He's trying to forget last year and was looking forward to the next by burning up old things in the fireworks. "It reminds me of the Indian festival of light, Diwali," he said.

As the first rain of 2003 started to fall, the crowd dissipated quickly, but inside a big band played on, and men and women in fancy attire danced on into the new year.

Elsewhere in the world, revelers and police flooded the streets of Paris, Israelis crowded into Tel Aviv clubs and U.S. sailors "picnicked" in the Persian Gulf yesterday, giving a warm welcome to the New Year despite the tightened security brought on by the specter of war or terrorism.

In Baghdad, hundreds of Iraqi children led by a Syrian actress marched through the streets chanting anti-war slogans and releasing white pigeons into the air. Some cried, "Down with America, enemy of peace."

Americans gathered to ring in 2003 at New Year's Eve celebrations that were cost-conscious and security-aware. There was a chance of rain in New York's Times Square, but the crystal, laser-lit ball that is dropped to count down the last seconds of the old year rises and falls no matter the weather.

In Seattle, thousands of people clustered at the Seattle Center, where more than 2,000 skyrockets were to be launched off the 605- foot Space Needle. Elsewhere in the city, nightclubs braced for one of the busiest nights out of the year, and police around the state conducted increased patrols for drunken drivers.

Fears of terrorism were borne out in the southern Philippines, where a bomb ripped through a market shortly before midnight. The death toll rose to nine early today.

In Italy yesterday, security was stepped up at the Vatican, airports and at the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Rome. Pope John Paul II ended the year with a traditional New Year's Eve homily.

"Let us thank God from the depth of our hearts for all the benefits he generously gave us during these past 12 months," the pontiff told the faithful in St. Peter's Basilica.

Tragedy struck in Mexico's port city of Veracruz last night when illegal fireworks shops caught fire, spreading a blaze that ripped through a crowded market area, killing at least 28 people and injuring 50 others, officials said.

In addition to 6,500 police beefing up security in Paris, the city's subway and suburban train network stayed open all night for the first time to discourage the use of private vehicles. At the famed Champs-Elysees, several hundred thousand people gathered to celebrate 2003.

Unlike many European capitals, London planned no New Year's Eve spectacles, forcing those wishing to mark the holiday to do it in private. Even Trafalgar Square, site of traditional merriment, was closed this year for construction.

Vast crowds thronged Moscow's Red Square. Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a sober but soothing message to his troubled nation. Police presence was high after terrorist attacks on a Moscow theater in October and the Kremlin-backed administration building in Chechnya at the end of the year.

In Ivory Coast, the government rolled back a shoot-on-sight military curfew for one night to allow for New Year's celebrations. The curfew has been in place since Sept. 19, when a failed coup threw the West African nation into civil war.

American forces stationed in the Persian Gulf region found ways to celebrate despite the threat of war against Iraq. Some 5,000 U.S. sailors celebrated aboard the USS Constellation, an aircraft carrier that has been launching patrols over southern Iraq since Dec. 17.

"Whether or not we are flying, or we are a steel beach picnic, we are ready," said Capt. John Miller, the carrier's commanding officer. The picnic included a feast of grilled chicken and steak, hot dogs, baked beans, cookies and sodas.

In Israel, revelers crowded Tel Aviv nightclubs and hotels, despite threats of attacks.

The party spirit was also high in Malaysia, where daredevil skydivers threw themselves off the world's tallest buildings near midnight in a group jump from the 1,483-foot Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Tens of thousands of people - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad among them - partied in the park at the foot of the towers.

Still, there have been jitters across Asia since Oct. 12, when bombs tore through two nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali, killing 192 people. President Megawati Sukarnoputri struck a gong to ring in the new year after prayers for the victims and pledges to fight terrorism.

Overall, more than 200,000 security personnel were on duty across Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation.

Millions of Japanese thronged shrines and temples. Toshinobu Hiroki, spokesman for Japan's National Police Agency, said there had been no specific warnings of terrorist activity.

In Australia, one of the globe's first places to greet 2003, the cleanup was well under way from a night of celebration. In Sydney hours earlier, 450,000 people watched fireworks on Sydney Harbor Bridge that ended with the image of a dove carrying an olive branch and the word "PEACE."

In Baghdad, a delegation of American church officials prayed for peace with Iraqi Christians at the Church of St. Mary last night, and activists from the U.S.-based Iraq Peace Team demonstrated outside the U.N. weapons inspectors' headquarters.

For the U.N. inspectors, New Year's Eve was just another day: They visited seven sites, including a plant manufacturing short- range missiles and a medical research center.

President Bush called on Americans to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the year ahead and to work to keep the nation "a land of justice, liberty and tolerance."

At Seattle's Green Lake, prayer leaders from many religious faiths - including Bahai, Buddhism, Celtic Spirituality, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American, Sikh and Zoroastrian - held a candlelight vigil for peace in a gathering sponsored by the Interfaith Community Church.

Tacoma celebrated the end of 2002 with a First Night celebration that include visual and performing arts as well as a masquerade ball.

Seattle police spokeswoman Deanna Nollette said the city had received no specific threats but increased staffing at all precincts.

Across Washington state, fireworks retailers said New Year's Eve sales remained steady.

New York's Times Square 2003 Balloon Crew blew up 10,000 red balloons to hand out to revelers, and a blizzard's worth of red, white and blue confetti blew down from roofs.

But police also welded manholes shut and removed mailboxes, and said undercover officers would mix with the crowd, expected to exceed 500,000.

Several communities put their own spins on New York's ball- dropping. Pennsylvania alone was to see a 9-foot wooden lollipop dropped in Hummelstown, and a 100-pound slab of bologna lowered in Lebanon.

The ball goes up, not down at the Stratosphere hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

This report includes information from P-I staff.

©Copyright 2003, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA, USA)


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