Thursday, January 1, 2004

Revelers ring in 2004 under tight security

The Associated Press
and The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Jerrold Dowell and other members of the Soul Mission Chorale from Greater Bethlehem Temple Church in Northside perform during a service for peace at the World Peace Bell in Newport Wednesday.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
From Times Square to the Las Vegas Strip, revelers gathered to ring in 2004 Wednesday under some of the tightest New Year's Eve security in U.S. history, with snipers posted on rooftops and helicopters patrolling overhead.

The raising of the national terrorism alert to orange, its second-highest level, prompted cities across the country to step up police patrols, plan aerial surveillance and install equipment to detect chemical, biological or radiological contamination.

"We know that New York remains at the top of the terrorists' target list and we have to remain vigilant," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Nevertheless, organizers of the Times Square party said this year's celebration might draw more than last year's 750,000 for the traditional dropping of a giant mirrored ball at the stroke of midnight.

"You can't let them spoil the party, right?" said Mike Riley of Huntsville, Ala. "Everybody in the world watches it on television, and since I was little, I wanted to be in Times Square on New Year's Eve."

In Las Vegas, the FBI checked hotel and airline records against terrorist watch lists in advance of a New Year's Eve celebration expected to draw 300,000 people. Police said sharpshooters would be posted on hotel-casino roofs, barricades would close off certain routes and bags would be searched.

Elsewhere in the United States and abroad, people turned out for fireworks and other celebrations:

• In Newport: Janet Lee and her 6-year-old daughter, Zoe, stood on the walkway in front of the World Peace Bell Wednesday listening to a choir sing songs of hope.

The mother and daughter visit the bell every New Year's Eve "to start the New Year out on a good note," said Lee, of Cincinnati. "I think peace is a thing we are striving for."

New Year's Eve celebrations have been a tradition since the bell was unveiled in 1999. But they have grown smaller each year. On Wednesday, just a few spectators joined Lee and her daughter.

Organizer Mark Gable said he hopes to continue the tradition.

The event was a "celebration of peace in the region," said Hershel Daniels, executive director of Cincinnati Change.

• In New Orleans: 40,000 to 50,000 people were expected to watch the lowering of a giant, grinning papier-mache baby in the French Quarter at midnight.

• In Pasadena, Calif: Crowds began gathering early Wednesday for today's 115th annual Rose Parade amid unprecedented security. Paradegoers staked out spots for a curbside sleepover as law enforcement officers - many of them undercover - fanned out along the route.

Tim Tussman, 46, of Grantsburg, Wis., brought his girlfriend, Becky Melin, 45, to see the parade as a belated birthday gift.

"It's an obvious target, but you hope they've taken all that into account," he said. "As a gardener, she loves flowers. We weren't going to miss it."

• In Boston: Up to 1.5 million visitors were expected to attend the "First Night" arts festival, featuring concerts, a Mardi Gras-style parade and fireworks. Elaborate ice sculptures planned as the celebration's centerpiece had to be dismantled because of unseasonably warm weather in the 40s.

• In Sydney: The harbor was alight with colorful fireworks. Still, a tactical response team scoured the streets of Sydney, looking out for everything from drunken revelers to any possible security threat.

• In Rome: Pope John Paul II gave thanks for 2003 and prayed for world peace in 2004 during a vespers service at St. Peter's Basilica. His New Year's Mass on Thursday will mark the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace.

• In Berlin: Thousands of revelers packed a 2-mile-wide area around the Brandenburg Gate, listening to music and watching fireworks.

• In Scotland, where New Year's "Hogmany" revels are legendary, Scottish high spirits fought back against driving rain and high winds. But in the end, Edinburgh canceled its events because of the weather and concerns for public safety. About 100,000 people had been expected to gather in the city center for a street party, concert and fireworks.

• In Athens: Fireworks streaked over the 2,500-year-old Parthenon in New Year celebrations marking the final stage of preparations for the 2004 Olympic Games in August.

• In Paris: About 4,500 police officers and soldiers patrolled the city streets. The police presence was strong around the Champs-Elysees, the famous tree-lined boulevard in western Paris where festive crowds typically gather. No specific terrorist threat was announced.

• In space: Two-hundred-and-forty miles above the Earth, in the relative comfort of the International Space Station, a U.S.-Russian crew was marking New Year's with roast chicken and tea.

U.S. astronaut Michael Foale and his Russian crew mate, Alexander Kaleri, said in a video hookup Wednesday they would toast each other when the clock strikes midnight in London since the station's clock is set to Greenwich Mean Time.

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