Giant Hogmanay cuts London down to size

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The Independent Online
Thousands braved freezing temperatures to welcome the new year in Edinburgh, where the size of the celebrations rivalled other traditional gatherings around the world.

The Scottish capital hosted the largest party in Britain with 350,000 people packing the centre of the city. This compared with crowds of 400,000 in Sydney, Australia, and 500,000 in New York. By comparison, only about 70,000 people enjoyed the traditional countdown to midnight in Trafalgar Square, London.

The Scottish celebrations were sponsored this year by McEwan's, the brewers, and by Richard Branson's Virgin empire. A spokeswoman for the organisers, Unique Events, said: "New York, eat your heart out!

"The whole city is packed, and this Hogmanay is definitely going to be Edinburgh's and the world's biggest and best. People are coming in from all over the world."

Four hundred police attended helped by 200 stewards and 21 people were arrested for minor offences, most of them alcohol-related. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary treated 322 people. A spokeswoman, Catherine Lang, said most were suffering "acute alcohol abuse to the point of unconsciousness" and there was a "fairly small" number of fractures from people who had fallen over in the snowy, slippery streets.

New Year's Eve in Trafalgar Square was the coldest for almost 20 years and the number attending showed that a decline is continuing from a peak of about120,000 five years ago. Since two women were crushed to death in 1982, police have made efforts to keep down the number in the square.

This year 18 people were taken to hospital with minor injuries and 58 people were arrested, mostly for drunkenness. The cold affected the chimes of Big Ben earlier in the day, causing an uneven tone. However, a thorough check- up by an engineer restored it to normal for the traditional start to the new year.

In Birmingham there were two arrests in a crowd of 30,000.

An estimated 15,000 gathered in George Square, Glasgow, for a firework display.

The celebrations were marred in Cardiff where 18-year-old Bilal Hussein Bhayat, from Birmingham, died at a commercial rave party. Police were carrying out drug tests.

In Cosham, Hampshire, another 18-year-old was struck on the head with an axe during a confrontation at a party. In the Irish Republic, three people suffered knife wounds in Dublin after two men burst into a party and slashed them.

Celebrations around the world sometimes proved dangerous. Four people stopped breathing and another 29 needed hospital treatment after drinking a mysterious orange herbal stimulant at a rock concert in Los Angeles, in the US.

At least 10 people died and more than 300 were injured by fireworks in road accidents or fights during festivities in the Philippines. A 35-year- old man died in Copenhagen, Denmark, after he ignited a box of fireworks and it blew up. In the centre of the the Danish capital, 18 people were arrested as rioters fought with police.

Hong Kong celebrated its last new year before the colony reverts to Chinese control.

Its future leader, Tung Chee-hwa, said: "The new year of 1997 is different from years in the past. It marks the beginning of a new era."

The fun continued in London yesterday where a crowd of about 100,000 braved the icy weather to watch the 11th London Parade. About 8,000 people played music, twirled batons and marched.