Fireworks exploded overhead and couples kissed as revelers welcomed the New Year in New York City's Times Square

New York (AFP) - New York City’s iconic crystal ball dropped as usual and rain-soaked crowds in Times Square cheered and smooched in celebration, as Americans joined revelers around the world in welcoming the New Year on Tuesday and saying goodbye to a tumultuous 2018.

For many, the sparkling sphere’s time-honored descent came after hours spent in cold, wet weather – a wait made easier by performances from entertainers such as Christina Aguilera, Sting and Snoop Dogg.

Just before the ball fell, Bebe Rexha sang John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and in the first moments of 2109 many in the square sang along as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” boomed from loudspeakers.

For many, the sparkling sphere's time-honored descent came after hours and hours spent in cold

The festivities in New York and elsewhere in the US were the latest stop in a celebratory wave that swept west across the globe from Asia to Europe before reaching America.

Out west, fireworks lit up the sky over the Embarcadero in San Francisco and vendors sold pretty, lighted balloons. Los Angeles City Hall was illuminated in red and violet.

In Rio de Janeiro, the Christ the Redeemer statue briefly came to colorful life through light projections while pyrotechnics lit up more than two million white-clad Brazilians dancing to free concerts on Copacabana Beach below.

A reveler smiles under the rain as people gather for the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square in New York

The global party kicked off on Sydney’s waterfront with the Australian city’s biggest-ever fireworks display, thrilling 1.5 million people. Signage beamed onto a bridge pylon got the year wrong – it said happy 2018 – but city officials laughed off the gaffe.

In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands packed streets along Victoria Harbour for a spectacular 10-minute show that illuminated the night.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, more than 500 couples tied the knot in a free, mass wedding organized by the government to mark the arrival of a new year.

Umbanda faithfuls pray and dance to Iemanja, the goddess of the sea from the ancient Yoruba mythology and one of the most popular deities of the Afro-Brazilian culture, at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro

Fireworks shows, however, were cancelled out of respect for victims of a December 22 tsunami that killed more than 400 people.

In Japan, locals flocked to temples to ring in 2019.

But the night was marred by tragedy in the Japanese capital as a man deliberately drove into a celebratory crowd, injuring nine people, one of them seriously, police said.

- Leaders’ addresses -

In Dubai, fireworks lit up the sky over the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to the delight of onlookers, while nearby Ras al-Khaima tried to enter the Guinness Book of Records with the world’s longest fireworks show.

Fireworks ring in 2019 at the Palm Jumeirah, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Almost eight years into Syria’s civil war, people in Damascus celebrated their first New Year’s Eve since regime forces expelled the last rebels and jihadists from the capital’s suburbs earlier this year.

Dozens of families headed to restaurants and bars in the Old City. Among them was university student Kinda Haddad, who had decided to leave home to celebrate for the first time in years.

“This area was really dangerous in previous years. A mortar round could have fallen on the area at any moment,” the 24-year-old said, alluding to past rebel fire on the capital.

In France, 'yellow vest' protestors have put out a call to see in the New Year on the Champs Elysee in Paris, where a fireworks display and sound and light show is due to take place

Russia saw in the new year over several time zones. Concerts and light shows featured in Moscow city parks, and more than 1,000 ice rinks opened for merrymakers.

But a tower block gas explosion that killed at least four people cast a shadow over festivities.

In his annual New Year’s address broadcast just before midnight, President Vladimir Putin called on Russias to work together to “increase well-being and quality of life”.

In Paris, fireworks and a light show were held on the Champs Elysees, with “yellow vest” anti-government protesters among the 300,000-strong crowd.

Crowds gathered early in front of a stage erected in front of Berlin's landmark the Brandenburg Gate, ahead of a New Year's party

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a televised address, acknowledged his government “can do better” but added: “I believe in us”.

In Berlin, music lovers partied at the Brandenburg Gate.

London ushered in the new year by celebrating its relationship with Europe, despite Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. Mayor Sadiq Khan said the capital would remain “outward looking” after Brexit.

In some African countries, election considerations shadowed New Year revelry.

Fireworks explode over Bangkok to ring in the near year in Thailand

Election officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo were busy counting votes from Sunday’s presidential election.

As the world celebrates, many are wondering whether the turmoil witnessed in 2018 will spill over into the next year.

In Moscow, concerts and light shows will be held across the city's parks and more than 1,000 ice rinks have been opened for merrymakers

In Britain, the political row over Brexit was one of the key stories of this year, and is still to be resolved ahead of Britain’s scheduled March 29 departure.

US President Donald Trump dominated headlines in 2018, ramping up a trade war with China, quitting the Iran nuclear deal, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and meeting his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.

Kim warned on Tuesday that while Pyongyang wanted good relations with Washington, it might consider a change of approach if the US maintained its sanctions.

In Syria President Bashar al-Assad is reasserting control after Trump’s shock announcement of a US troop withdrawal from the country.

The war in Yemen, which has killed about 10,000 people since 2014 and left some 20 million at risk of starvation, could take a crucial turn in 2019 after a ceasefire went into effect in mid-December.

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