After war, bots and heat, world rings in 2024

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Jubilant crowds bid farewell to the hottest year on record yesterday, closing a turbulent 12 months marked by clever chatbots, climate crises and wrenching wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

The world’s population, now 8 eight billion, saw out the old and usher in the new, with many hoping to shake the weight of high living costs and global tumult.

In Sydney, the self-proclaimed “New Year’s capital of the world,” more than a million partygoers packed the city’s foreshore.

Even before nightfall, tens of thousands of people gathered at vantage points around the city’s iconic Harbour Bridge, defying uncharacteristically dank weather.

At midnight, eight tons of fireworks lighted the fuse on 2024, a year that will bring elections concerning half the world’s population and a summer Olympiad celebrated in Paris.

The last 12 months brought “Barbiegeddon” at the box office, a proliferation of human-seeming artificial intelligence tools and a world-first whole-eye transplant.

India outgrew China as the world’s most populous country, and then became the first nation to land a rocket on the dark side of the moon.

It was also the hottest year since records began in 1880, with a spate of climate-fueled disasters striking from Australia to the Horn of Africa and the Amazon basin.

Fans bade adieu to “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Tina Turner, “Friends” actor Matthew Perry, hell-raising Anglo-Irish songsmith Shane MacGowan and master dystopian novelist Cormac McCarthy.

Perhaps more than anything, 2023 will be remembered for war in the Middle East, for Hamas’s Oct. 7 raids on southern Israel and Israel’s ferocious reprisals.

The United Nations estimates that almost 2 million Gazans have been displaced since Israel’s siege began, about 85 percent of the peacetime population.

With once-bustling Gaza City neighborhoods reduced to rubble, there were few places left to mark the new year, and fewer loved ones to celebrate with.

In Ukraine, where Russia’s invasion grinds towards its second anniversary, there was also hope, and defiance in the face of a renewed assault from Moscow.

Some in Vladimir Putin’s Russia are also weary of the conflict.

Putin is already his country’s longest-tenured leader since Joseph Stalin and his name will again be on the ballot paper when Russians vote in March.

Russia’s is just one of several pivotal elections scheduled, with 2024 looming as the year of the ballots.

In all, the political fate of more than 4 billion people will be decided in contests that will shape Britain, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela and a host of other nations.

But one election promises global consequences.

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden, aged 81, and Republican Donald Trump, aged 77, appear set to rerun their divisive 2020 presidential poll race in November.

As the incumbent, Biden has at times appeared to show his advancing age and even his supporters worry about the toll of another bruising four years in office.

But if there are worries about what a second Biden administration would look like, there are at least as many concerns about a return of Trump.

He faces prosecution on several counts, and voters could yet decide whether the bombastic self-proclaimed billionaire goes to the Oval Office or to jail.

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