NEW YORK, Dec 31, 2009 (AFP) - A huge crowd crammed under tight security into New York's Times Square to witness the traditional midnight drop of the New Year crystal ball and the first seconds of 2010.
Revelers, watched by a worldwide live TV audience, shrugged off snow and rain to attend the massive annual gathering in the heart of Manhattan.
The descent of the multi-colored Waterford crystal ball marked the final moments of 2009 in a more-than-century-old tradition before a ton of confetti showered on the cheering crowd.
Partygoers on the square exchanged kisses, whooped and swayed to the rhythm of feel-good patriotic and classic songs as fireworks from Central Park lit up the Manhattan skyline.
For the security services, however, this was no time to relax.
New York is on a heightened state of alert following the Christmas Day alleged attempt by a Nigerian man to detonate explosives on a Northwest Airlines plane flying to Detroit.
Thousands of police officers were deployed in and around Times Square, backed by undercover officers, surveillance cameras, rooftop snipers, and devices able to detect radiation or biological agents.
Partygoers crowding into Times Square were not allowed to carry backpacks or alcohol and were banned from reentering the zone once they left.
Jitters increased Wednesday when police sent bomb disposal experts to check a van parked for two days in Times Square. The van was declared all clear shortly after, but not before police had evacuated the area, including the Nasdaq stock market building.
City police commissioner Ray Kelly told CBS television Thursday that the failure to detect the van earlier was "a concern." But Kelly insisted that Times Square was "the safest area" in the city.
"There will be a big uniformed presence and lots of unseen officers in plain clothes, radiation sensors," police spokesman Paul Browne said on Fox television. It's "probably the most protected real estate in the city, or even the country, for that matter."
New York State Governor David Paterson and Governor Jon Corzine of neighboring New Jersey announced their respective police agencies would step up cooperation.
"While there have been no known threats in the region, both governors agreed that extra security measures should be taken as a precaution," they said in a statement Thursday.
The ball, which slides down a pole for 60 seconds and stops at exactly midnight, is a favorite New York tradition and is watched live on television by viewers all around the world.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will be sworn in for a third term on Friday after a narrow reelection victory in November, pressed the button that sets the ball in motion.
|US President Barack Obama (C) waves to a crowd after playing a round of golf at the Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii, on December 31, 2009. The First Family is on vacation. AFP PHOTO|
This year the arrangement of crystals featured a ribbon pattern in a Celtic-style knot illustrating the theme chosen by organizers: "Let there be courage."
Elsewhere in the city, the opulent Tavern on the Green in Central Park staged its last dinner before bankruptcy, while at Madison Square Garden, pop star Mariah Carey sang the new decade in.
The good news for security is that 2009 is on course to see New York's lowest murder rate since data was collected with 461 homicides, compared to a high of 2,245 in 1990.