Fanfare begins on an Indian Ocean island

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The Independent Online

The euro was first used as legal tender shortly after 20.00 GMT on a small island in the Indian Ocean.

The euro was first used as legal tender shortly after 20.00 GMT on a small island in the Indian Ocean.

Réunion, a French département with a population of 700,000, began to use euros at midnight local time, two hours ahead of Greece and Finland.

As midnight struck in Brussels, a fireworks display and sound-and-light show lit up the skies over the Cinquantenaire park, a short distance from the EU headquarters. The event featured pyrotechnics, dance and music from 12 eurozone countries with a medley ranging from songs by Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel to Strauss and Sibelius, broadcast to about 800 million viewers worldwide.

In Paris, celebrations were discreet. Laurent Fabius, the Finance Minister, switched on the illumination of the Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge on the Seine – in the European colours of blue and yellow. Today the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, will visit a shopping street in Paris to see how shopkeepers and their customers are dealing with the euro.

In Frankfurt, a euro symbol 15 metres high was switched on at midnight outside the European Central Bank.

Dubliners got a taste of the euro a few hours earlier as gold satchels of chocolate euros were given out along Grafton Street. "Patience, patience. Just one more day for the real thing," the Finance Minister, Charlie McCreevy, shouted above the din of a jazz band as he led a brief walking tour.

In Vienna, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and the European Commission's president, Romano Prodi, bought flowers for their wives with euros.

And in restaurants across Rome, people opted to use plastic to pay for their traditional New Year's dinner, the cenone. Restaurants, bars and shops had had their tills changed to euros but many were not up to speed in doing their sums.

In the Dutch town of Maastricht, where plans for the single currency were written into a treaty a decade ago, construction workers and circus acrobats wrapped up preparations for E-Day celebrations.

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