IN PICTURES: Europe steps into 2023 after turbulent year

The world's eight billion people ushered in 2023 on Saturday, bidding farewell to a turbulent 12 months marked by war in Europe, stinging price rises, Lionel Messi's World Cup glory and the deaths of Queen Elizabeth, Pele and former pope Benedict.

fireworks explode next to the arc de triomphe
Fireworks explode next to the Arc de Triomphe, at the Avenue des Champs-Elysees during New Year celebrations in Paris, early on January 1, 2023, as the world begins ushering in the new year. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Many were ready to set aside pinched budgets and a virus that is increasingly forgotten but not gone, and embrace a party atmosphere on New Year’s Eve after a few pandemic-dampened years.

Parisians — and a “normal” amount of tourists, comparable to 2018 or 2019, according to officials — took the opportunity to crowd together shoulder-to-shoulder for a fireworks show along the Champs-Elysee.

Police said about a million people showed up for the celebration, where children in pushchairs and partiers with champagne were equally visible.

Fireworks explode next to the Arc de Triomphe, at the Avenue des Champs-Elysees during New Year celebrations in Paris, early on January 1st, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

A group of 10 students sat around playing games while they waited for midnight, spending their first New Year’s Eve on the avenue.

People gather on the Champs-Elysees as they wait for the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Paris on December 31st, 2022. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

“We’re here for the ambiance, to have a good time and to be together,” said 19-year-old Ilyes Hachelef. “And it’s beautiful!”

Hours earlier, Sydney became one of the first major cities to ring in 2023, restaking its claim as the “New Year’s Eve capital of the world” after two years of lockdowns and coronavirus-muted festivities in Australia.

New Year’s Eve fireworks light up the sky over the Harbour Bridge during the fireworks display in Sydney on January 1, 2023. (Photo by Muhammad FAROOQ / AFP)

For some, 2022 was a year of Wordle, the Great Resignation, a new Taylor Swift album, an Oscar slap and billionaire meltdowns.

READ ALSO: Ten very Swedish New Year’s resolutions for 2023

It also saw the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II, Brazilian football icon Pele, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jiang Zemin, and Shinzo Abe. Former pope Benedict XVI also died on New Year’s Eve.

The global population surpassed the historic milestone of eight billion people in November.

A couple kisses as fireworks are shot as part of celebrations for the New Year in downtown Rome, with the ancient Colosseum in the background, on January 1st, 2023. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

But 2022 is most likely to be remembered for armed conflict returning to Europe — a continent that was the crucible of two world wars.

“It was our year. Year of Ukraine,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Saturday, reflecting on his country’s war effort throughout the year.

More than 300 days into Russia’s botched invasion of Ukraine, about 7,000 civilians have been killed and 10,000 more injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

About 16 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.

For those who remain, an 11:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew will be in place amid periodic blackouts and Russian missile barrages.

The latest Russian strikes on Ukraine Saturday claimed at least one more life and wounded several others, said Ukrainian officials, while an explosion was heard in Kyiv just after the New Year.

Fireworks are seen early on New Year’s day in front of the Alps mountains’ Northern Range (Nordkette) near Innsbruck, Austria, early on January 1st, 2023. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

There seemed to be a dulled appetite for grand celebrations in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Moscow cancelled its traditional fireworks show after Mayor Sergei Sobyanin asked residents to vote on how to mark the occasion.

Muscovites such as Irina Shapovalova, a 51-year-old nursery worker, said their main wish for 2023 was for “a peaceful sky above our heads”.

Fireworks explode around the London Eye during New Year’s celebrations in central London just after midnight on January 1st, 2023. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)

Putin said in a New Year’s address that “moral, historical rightness” is on Russia’s side as the country faces international condemnation over the war.

London was meanwhile welcoming crowds to its official New Year’s Eve fireworks display for the first time since the pandemic with around 100,000 ticket holders expected to attend the spectacle.

Thousands of people gathered in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square to listen to the twelve chimes that accompanied the last twelve seconds of 2023 and eat a grape to the rhythm of each one, fulfilling a rite that most Spaniards copied at home from the television.

READ ALSO: Five Spanish New Year traditions to bring luck for 2023

Four women take a selfie against the backdrop of the Real Casa de Correos on the Puerta del Sol, in Madrid on January 1st, 2023. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Europa Press | Jesús Hellín
In Berlin, thousands gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to watch a light and music show and usher in the new year.

The new year will kick off with a new leader in Brazil, where Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva takes the reins on Sunday following his razor-thin win in October polls.

Fireworks explode over Berlin landmark the Brandenburg Gate on January 1st, 2023. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

The Middle East region welcomed 2023 with a traditional fireworks show from the world’s tallest building, the 830-metre (2,723 feet) Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Laser lights added to the spectacle at the landmark which carried messages including, “Hugging again,” an apparent reference to the end of Covid restrictions.

However, China begins 2023 battling a surge in Covid infections after unwinding restrictions to contain the virus.

Hospitals in the world’s most populous nation have been overwhelmed by an explosion of cases following the decision to lift strict “zero-Covid” rules.

New Year Eve’s parties were still planned, though authorities in Shanghai said there were no formal activities on the city’s famed Bund waterfront.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the country in a televised New Year’s Eve address that, despite the outbreak, “the light of hope is right in front of us”.

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How New Year’s Eve fireworks chaos sparked a racism debate in Germany

Following NYE celebrations that saw a death, fireworks-related hospitalisations, and dozens of arrests after revellers attacked emergency services, some conservative politicians have started blaming migration groups for the chaos.

How New Year's Eve fireworks chaos sparked a racism debate in Germany

What began as a debate over a fireworks ban has quickly become one on the state of racism in Germany.

German politicians have spent the last few days condemning attacks against Berlin emergency service workers in particular, which saw 145 New Year’s Eve revellers arrested for everything from firing flare guns at police cars, to throwing bottles at paramedics and firefighters.

While that has some politicians and calling for a ban on people buying or shooting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, some conservatives are being criticised for suggesting that migrant groups are responsible.

READ ALSO: Germany debates fireworks ban after New Year’s Eve chaos

READ ALSO: Germany’s NYE celebrations marred by death, injuries and attacks

On Monday, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Christoph de Vries tweeted one of the first such comments, saying: “If we want to fight against riots in our big cities and violence against the policy and fire crews, we have to talk about the role of people, phenotype: west Asians, darker skin type. To put it correctly.”

However what started as a viral tweet by one MP didn’t end there. Influential CDU MP and former Health Minister Jens Spahn told T-Online he was against a nationwide ban on fireworks because NYE violence tended to be clustered in neighbourhoods with high populations of people from migration backgrounds.

“It’s more about unregulated migration, failed integration and a lack of respect for the state instead of fireworks,” Spahn said.

German Police Society Head Rainer Wendt appeared to agree with Spahn. “Many emergency service personnel agree that groups of young men with a migration background are overrepresented in these riots,” he told Focus Magazine.  

Conservative newspaper BILD accused German politicians of “smearing the truth away” in migration.

CDU accused of trying to score political points

German progressive politicians hit back at the framing.

“The fact that colleagues from the CDU are using these incidents to instigate a racist discourse is probably due to the election campaign in Berlin and isn’t suitable for finding answers to these challenges,” Berlin Green MP Canan Bayram told Buzzfeed DE.

Berlin-Neukölln MP Hakan Demir called the debate “not good, but unfortunately typical,” accusing conservatives of using NYE as a chance to blame Germany’s ills on people with migration backgrounds.

He tweeted: “They are our young people. They were born here. So they are German young people. We can talk about higher penalties and a ban on fireworks. But we also have to talk about better political education, poverty and prevention.”