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World steps into 2023 after year of wars, disasters, World Cup in Mideast

The world’s eight billion people have ushered in 2023, bidding farewell to a turbulent 12 months marked by war in Europe and Africa, stinging price rises, Lionel Messi’s glory in Qatar World Cup, unprecedented floods in Pakistan,  and the deaths of Queen Elizabeth, Pele and former pope Benedict.

Sydney was among the first major cities to ring in 2023, restaking its claim as the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world” after two years of lockdowns and coronavirus-muted festivities.

Australia’s borders have reopened and throngs of revellers gathered along Sydney’s sparkling harbour to watch 100,000 pyrotechnics light up the southern sky.

A crowd that had been projected to surpass one million watched as a spectacular 12-minute display showered the waterway and illuminated the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sydney authorities expected almost half a billion more people would see the festivities online or on television.

Parisians — and a “normal” amount of tourists, comparable to 2018 or 2019, according to officials — took the opportunity to crowd together shoulder-to-shoulder for a fireworks show along the Champs-Elysee.

Police said about a million people showed up for the celebration, where children in pushchairs and partiers with champagne were equally visible.

London was meanwhile welcoming crowds to its official New Year’s Eve fireworks display for the first time since the pandemic with around 100,000 ticket holders expected to attend the spectacle.

Thousands of people gathered in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square to listen to the twelve chimes that accompanied the last twelve seconds of 2023 and eat a grape to the rhythm of each one, fulfilling a rite that most Spaniards copied at home from the television.

In Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, throngs of people packed the city’s Copacabana Beach — up to two million were expected — for music and fireworks, without corona virus safety measures of the past few years.

In New York, crowds braved a chilly rain to await the famous ball drop in Times Square, a tradition that goes back to 1907.

2022 was ‘a defining moment’ for Turkish diplomacy

Climate disasters

For some, 2022 was a year of Wordles, the Great Resignation, a new Taylor Swift album, an Oscar slap and billionaire meltdowns.

It also saw the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II, Brazilian football icon Pele, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jiang Zemin, and Shinzo Abe. Former pope Benedict XVI also died on New Year’s Eve.

The global population surpassed the historic milestone of eight billion people in November.

The year also saw major climate disasters, with heat wave leaving thousands dead in Europe, and unprecedented floods killing hundreds, displacing millions and affecting 15 percent of Pakistan’s population. 

At the United Nations’ COP27 climate summit in Egypt, Pakistan led the charge for climate justice, with nearly 200 countries agreeing to set up a fund to help poor, vulnerable countries cope with climate disasters they had little hand in causing.

Conflicts, coups and droughts dominate Africa in 2022

Ukraine conflict, Tigray truce

The year, according to UN, was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since the UN started tracking fatalities in 2005. 

One of the 2022 positives in Africa was the truce between Ethiopia and Tigray rebels after almost two years of war that left tens of thousands dead and millions displaced. 

But 2022 is most likely to be remembered for armed conflict returning to Europe — a continent that was the crucible of two world wars. 

More than 310 days into Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, about 7,000 civilians have been killed and 10,000 more injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

About 16 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.

While some Ukrainians will mark New Year with quiet candlelit prayers, others intend to party through the night in a collective show of resolve.

There seemed to be a dulled appetite for grand celebrations in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Moscow cancelled its traditional fireworks show after Mayor Sergei Sobyanin asked residents to vote on how to mark the occasion.

Putin said in a New Year’s address that “moral, historical rightness” is on Russia’s side as the country faces international condemnation over the war. 

Ukrainian President Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy struck a defiant tone, saying his country will fight the Russian invasion until victorious. 

“It was our year. Year of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said earlier on Sunday, reflecting on his country’s war effort throughout the year.

The year 2022 also saw Türkiye making a crucial contribution to the solution of the global food crisis by implementing the Istanbul grain export deal and securing its extension, which allows exports of food from key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea.

2022 in review: Palestinians under growing Israeli aggression and expansion

Shadow of Covid

The Middle East region welcomed 2023 with a traditional fireworks show from the world’s tallest building, the 830-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Laser lights added to the spectacle at the landmark which carried messages including, “Hugging again,” an apparent reference to the end of Covid restrictions.

The new year will kick off with a new leader in Brazil, where Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes the reins on Sunday following his razor-thin win in October polls.

However, China begins 2023 battling a surge in Covid infections after unwinding restrictions to contain the virus.

While vaccines have allowed life to return to semi-normal in most parts of the world, the virus is continuing to thwart China’s attempts to move on.

Hospitals in the world’s most populous nation have been overwhelmed by an explosion of cases following the decision to lift strict “zero-Covid” rules.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the country in a televised New Year’s Eve address that, despite the outbreak, “the light of hope is right in front of us”.

READ MORE: Year to the ground: Contours of Russia-Ukraine conflict, 10 months on

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