1996 gets off to noisy and in parts violent start


WHILE gun fire and tracer bullets lit up the midnight sky over Sarajevo as the ruined Bosnian capital saw in a noisy but hopeful New Year, an earthquake rocked the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Houses were damaged but there were no immediate reports of loss of life.the world celebrated the start of 1996 in exuberant mood, while Pope John Paul prayed for peace for the sake of the world's children.

"Don't let us extinguish the hope in their hearts. Don't let us suffocate their hopes of peace," the 75 year old Pope said.

The Philippines celebrated with its usual exuberance. Fights and fireworks claimed eight lives but the Health Secretary Hilarion Ramiro said a campaign to get people to make their noise with harmless horns had cut the death toll to half of last year's.

In New York, tens of thousands of balloons floated into the air above 500,000 revellers cheering the arrival of 1996 in Times Square. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said it was the largest crowd in the festivity's 88 years.

An estimated 300,000 revellers central Edinburgh made the Scottish city's New Year the biggest party in Europe.

At least four people were killed by fireworks and fires in Germany. Berlin greeted the New Year with a massive firework display at the Brandenburg Gate. Police spent the rest of the night breaking up brawls in which Ill people were injured.

In Marseille, striking public transport workers feted the New Year with parties in their bus depots. Marseille, entering the 26th day of a strike crippling buses and Metro trains, is a last bastion of French public sector strikes that wound down before Christmas.

About 400,000 people danced and cheered at midnight on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

An off duty South African policeman shot dead a man during celebrations in Durban, and was then killed, along with two friends, by an angry crowd.

And it was bloodshed as usual in the Pakistani port of Karachi. Police said at least 16 people were shot dead in separate incidents - about three times the average daily toll in ethnic and political conflict last year.

In Japan, the Prime Minister, Mr Tomiichi Murayama, told New Year guests that 1995 had been a year of unhappy incidents and accidents, "as if the pus of 50 years since the end of the second World War burst out all at once".

Emperor Akihito produced sorrowful poetry to express sympathy for victims of the earthquake which killed 6,300 people in Kobe on January 17th.

Police officers were out in force in many parts of England and Wales in the first few hours of 1996 as violence marred a number of New Year celebrations.

In Barry, South Glamorgan, a man was killed and a man and a woman injured after a car, believed to be stolen, ploughed into revellers.

In London, more than 70,000 revellers thronged Trafalgar Square to welcome the New Year. A heavy police presence and bans on fireworks, flares, spray cans and alcohol failed to dampen the celebrations as thousands of whistles drowned out the first chimes of 1996.

Water supplies throughout Scotland remained severely disrupted yesterday after the Big Freeze led to the Big Thaw - and then the Big Drought.

Thousands of homes were without water as burst pipes caused a lack of pressure in some areas and reservoirs to fall low in others.