2009 draws to close with hugs, gunfire and a blue moon

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The Independent Online

The new decade and the new year were ushered in around the world with spectacular fireworks displays, heightened security measures and a blue moon. Spontaneous hugging broke out in Tokyo, hundreds of Filipinos were hurt by celebratory firecrackers and gunfire, while revellers in Venice struggled to keep their feet dry as the New Year came in with a high tide.

An estimated 250,000 people joined the revelries in London, where they crammed into special viewing points to watch the firework display that began at the stroke of midnight along the River Thames. Elsewhere in Britain people braved plunging temperatures to join celebrations with up to 80,000 people estimated to have turned up at the Edinburgh street party. A special Hogmany street party in Inverness, however, was called off because of snow.

A blue moon, so-called because it was the second full moon of the month, coincided with New Year's Eve in Europe and other parts of the world. Blue moons occur every two or three years but the next time one takes place on New Year's Eve will be in 2028.

The new year was already more than 13 hours old by the time it reached Britain, with the people of first Kiritimati (Christmas island) and the Chatham islands in the Pacific being the first to welcome 2010.

Nor, said Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will the last decade be much missed. In a New Year message he called the Noughties "terrible and gruelling" and a decade in which people had been tested by terrorism, wars, natural disasters and financial collapse. But he said people should look forward rather than lose hope."

Auckland, New Zealand, was the first major city to celebrate the new decade and the streets were closed and alcohol banned as thousands of people watched fireworks at the city's Sky Tower. In Australia revellers were told to learn to handle alcohol better as police lost patience with drunks. "People have had it up to here with drunken idiots who ruin other people's nights. If you're one of these fools that can't handle their grog, make yourself a New Year's resolution to grow up and behave yourself," said Michael Daley, police minister of New South Wales.

More than 1.5 million people are estimated to have turned out to watch the spectacular 12-minute firework display over Sydney Harbour in which five tonnes of explosives lit up the night sky.

One of Sydney's few rivals in terms of the size of the celebrations is Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach, Brazil, where two million visitors were expected to watch a firework display.

In New York thousands of police officers were drafted in to ensure the annual New Year celebrations at Times Square, where backpacks and other bags were banned, passed peacefully. Similarly tight security was in place at Germany's Brandenburg Gate where about a million people faced searches.

Revellers in Russia were urged to remain sober in saunas. "Maybe this sounds funny... But many people die in saunas," said the emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu. Drinking in saunas is a popular way of seeing in the new year.