| With more than 125,000
dead, hundreds of thousands injured and millions made homeless by
the devastating earthquake and tsunami wave, the passage of 2004 was
to be marked by candle-lit vigils and calls for prayer; a somber mood
of mourning, and the struggle for survival; people looking back to
the events of the past few days, not forward to 2005.
Phuket, Thailand - Grieving friends, family
and survivors of the Asian tsunami disaster gathered on New Year's
Eve on Friday, pausing for a few hours to reflect on the tragic
end to a sometimes brutal year.
In the holiday resorts that in a few
seconds of Sunday morning became churning killing grounds, authorities
urged people to tone down any planned celebrations, hotel owners
in Sri Lanka and in Thailand told AFP, and most people agreed.
"We are having a gathering of
the staff and all our guests are invited to light candles with them
at midnight for the people who have died," said Thanarat Jadpatananon,
who owns the Sawasdee hotel on Patong beach, Phuket, a place where
"We are giving everyone free
food and drinks but there will no alcohol. This is definitely not
a party or time to celebrate," she said. Fireworks displays
normally held across the island had all been cancelled.
Some resorts said the government had
urged them to cancel celebrations.
"In Thailand, the government
office announced that there shouldn't be any party or festival,"
said a front office assistant at the Phuket Merlin Hotel. "Lots
of people died. We cannot celebrate."
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
also asked government agencies not to hold New Year celebrations
and traditional countdowns in Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang
Mai were cancelled, replaced by Buddhist merit-making ceremonies
for the dead on New Year morning.
In the once-idyllic resort island
of Phi Phi, where hundreds died, a candlelight vigil and Buddhist
ceremony will be held.
In Sri Lanka, a country where more
than 28,000 have died and thousands more are still missing, deluxe
hotels scrapped champagne dinners and canned plans for other events
to mark the New Year as the government announced an official day
The five-star Taj Samudra said it
had cancelled its Roman-themed New Year's Eve bash and called off
all other celebrations in the hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean,
general manager Praveen Nair said.
"There will be no music in the
hotel," Nair said.
Local radio and television networks
played somber music on Friday while lottery companies announced
suspending sales till next year.
In India's capital New Delhi, clubs
and the elite hotels also cancelled their planned festivities. More
than 11,000 are dead in India and nearly a million people badly
New Delhi's presidential palace set
the example by deciding not to illuminate the historic building
for the first time in years.
However, the financial and entertainment
capital of Bombay on India's western coast plans to go ahead with
the festivities in a string of plush hotels and restaurants.
But in Indonesia, the country where
the largest number of victims died, with nearly 80,000 dead, the
authorities in the capital Jakarta scrapped a lavish New Year's
Eve fireworks display.
Jakarta governor Sutiyoso said the
money that would have been spent on the fireworks, a regular year-end
fixture held at Indonesia's Monas national monument in the city
centre, would go to help the victims.
Outside the immediately affected region,
authorities were split between ordering a toning down of the celebrations
for New Year and allowing them to go ahead but asking for contributions
to be made to the Asian disaster appeal.
In Australia, the traditional fireworks
display in Sydney harbour, always one of the first to celebrate
in the world, was also to go ahead.
But it was to be turned into a fundraiser
for the victims of the disaster and artistic director Leo Schofield
announced there would be a minute's silence before the first of
In Tokyo, the Japanese were planning
for celebrations as normal in what is traditionally a major holiday
and in Taiwan, authorities were to stage a countdown party at the
country's tallest building, the Taipei 101 tower.
But in both countries contributions
were being made to the Asian appeal.
In Singapore, an annual broadcast
of the countdown to New Year was cancelled, but a planned party
was set to go ahead.
Malaysia scrapped planned public events
and withdrew licences for fireworks displays.
In a country where New Year celebrations
are not a tradition, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the country's
national flag to be flown at half-mast for three days starting January
1 in a mark of respect for the dead.
In London, over 150,000 people are
expected to line the banks of the River Thames for a massive fireworks
display aimed at promoting the city's bid to host the 2012 Olympics,
despite calls for the show to be called off.
Up to 400,000 people are also expected
to hit the streets of London from midday on Saturday and enjoy the
carnival atmosphere of a parade featuring 10,000 clowns, dancers,
and other entertainers.
Organisers have said profits from
the event would go towards the Asia disaster victims.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE VIA CHANNEL NEWSASIA