World rings in 2024 after devastating wars, bots and heat

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

Much of the world’s population — now more than eight billion — is hoping to shake off high living costs and global tumult in 2024, which will bring elections concerning half the world’s population and the Paris Olympics.

Taksim, the central district of Istanbul, served as the focal point for New Year’s Eve festivities this year, as before. The streets were decked out and illuminated.

Due to the PKK attacks that killed 12 Turkish soldiers a few days ago, numerous events and concerts in Istanbul were cancelled. Nevertheless, people who want to celebrate New Year’s Eve outdoors prefer the thoroughfares, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

In Sydney, the self-proclaimed “New Year’s capital of the world”, more than a million partygoers packed around the harbour, with city officials and police warning that all vantage points were full.

Sydneysiders gathered through the day at prominent sites, defying uncharacteristically dank weather, and were not disappointed when the Harbour Bridge and other landmarks were garlanded in light and colour by eight tonnes of fireworks.

Pyrotechnics also illuminated the skies in Auckland, Hong Kong, Manila and Indonesia.

People wearing Santa hats waded into the mild Mediterranean waters of southern France, while revellers munched on skewers of meat and danced in the streets in traditional end-of-year celebrations in Greece’s Thessaloniki.

The last 12 months brought “Barbenheimer” to 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 an unmanned craft on the Moon’s south pole.

It was also the hottest year since records began in 1880, with a spate of climate-fuelled disasters striking across the world.

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.

 Rebuilding 

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

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

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

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

Putin himself remained determined in his New Year’s Eve address, vowing that Russia “will never back down” and praising front-line troops.

Putin, already Russia’s longest-tenured leader since Joseph Stalin, will again be on the ballot for a March election.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s New Year’s Eve address, after nearly two years of war, was defiant.

Ukrainian pilots were mastering the F-16 warplanes supplied by their allies, he said. In 2024, “we will definitely see them in our skies. So that our enemies can certainly see what our real wrath is.”

Russia would also feel the full force of Ukraine’s domestic arms production, he added, including at least a million drones.

In Rome, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of conflicts around the globe, citing Ukrainians, Palestinians and Israelis, the people of Sudan and the “martyred Rohingya” of Myanmar.

“At the end of a year, have the courage to ask how many lives have been torn apart in armed conflicts, how many deaths?” the 87-year-old pontiff said after his Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square.

“And how much destruction, how much suffering, how much poverty? Those who have an interest in these conflicts, listen to the voice of conscience.”

 To the polls 

Several pivotal elections are scheduled in 2024, with the political fate of more than four billion people to be decided in contests that will shape Britain, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Venezuela and a host of other nations.

In his televised New Year’s address, French President Emmanuel Macron said the European Parliament elections in June would present “a decisive choice” between “the continuation of Europe, or blocking it” at a time when war is at Europe’s doorstep in Ukraine.

But one election in particular promises global consequences.

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden, 81, and Republican Donald Trump, 77, appear set for a November rerun of their divisive 2020 presidential contest.

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.

There are at least as many concerns about a Trump return.

He faces prosecution on several counts, and 2024 could determine whether the bombastic self-proclaimed billionaire goes to the Oval Office or jail.

Denmark’s popular Queen Margrethe II, Europe’s longest-serving monarch, chose her New Year’s Eve address to announce her coming abdication.

The 83-year-old monarch will step down in favour of her son, Crown Prince Frederik, after 52 years on the throne.

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