A huge crowd has crammed into New York’s Times Square – amid tight security – to take part in traditional New Year’s Eve festivities, and welcome in 2010.
Revellers, watched by a worldwide 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.
Security tight in Times Square
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 re-entering the zone once they had left.
Jitters increased on Wednesday when police sent bomb disposal experts to check a van parked for two days in Times Square.
Massive police presence
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 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 was “probably the most protected real estate in the city, or even the country, for that matter,” he said.
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.
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 re-election victory in November, pressed the button that sets the ball in motion.
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”.
Earlier, millions of partygoers gathered in Moscow, London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney to ring out 2009 and welcome in the new decade, with massive fireworks displays and parties.