Prayers Replace Parties in Paris

For Sweden's prime minister, celebrating New Year's after the Asian tsunami (search) felt "completely wrong." Paris, its gay heart heavy with the tragedy, draped black cloth along the Champs-Elysees (search). Elsewhere, prayers substituted for parties in the final minutes of 2004.

Even for those far from Asian and African shores where the giant waves killed more than 120,000, the disaster was too overwhelming for a carefree leap into 2005.

In Europe, thousands were struggling with the loss of loved ones and friends. The confirmed death tolls for many European countries were in the double digits, but officials warned the final tallies would be in the hundreds or even thousands. For Sweden (search) alone, 2,500 tourists were still missing, while Switzerland was waiting to hear from some 700 and the French reported at least 118 disappeared.

"Never has the step into a new year felt heavier," said Goeran Persson, Sweden's premier who urged Swedes to light candles in their windows as a vigil. "We should have celebrated with fireworks and festivities. Now that feels completely wrong."

Many of the estimated 1 million revelers around the glittering, firework-illuminated harbor in Sydney, Australia, marked a moment of silence for victims.

"You could tell people were a little more reverent tonight; it was kept in people's thoughts," British tourist Mark Stiles said.

Stores in major German cities said sales of fireworks were down, in some cases by a third. Some retailers attributed the restraint to appeals from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and others for the money usually spent on pyrotechnics to be donated.

Germany's main party at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was going ahead, but the revelers were urged on big screens to donate to UNICEF. TV stations turned their New Year's Eve galas into charity events for tsunami victims.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of Austria also urged people to forgo fireworks. The city of Innsbruck canceled its display in a silent vigil for 40 residents of the western Austrian province of Tyrol who remain missing in Asia. Mayor Hilde Zach called the move "a sign of solidarity" to mark "the great loss of human life." The southern city of Graz was donating its fireworks fund to tsunami victims.

Crowds of thousands in London fell silent for two minutes in memory of the lives lost in Asia. Then as Big Ben struck midnight, a spectacular fireworks display burst in the sky above the River Thames, casting a brilliant glow over Westminster houses of parliament.

An Olympic-themed light show, reflecting the city's bid for the 2012 games, lit up the London Eye ferris wheel.

In Russia, wearied by a year of economic scandals and terrorist attacks, caution prevailed. Revelers filed through metal detectors onto Moscow's Red Square to watch the fireworks display over St. Basil's Cathedral.

"This year ... ended very badly," said Lena Suyedinya, 26. "I hope next year will be calmer — more peaceful."

Even in the distant Caribbean, one of the region's largest New Year's Eve celebrations on the British territory of Jost Van Dyke was to be punctuated by silence.

In Paris, the 480 scarf-like strips of black cloth hung along the Champs-Elysees and on light posts at the nearby Place de la Concorde — a deliberately discreet but poignant gesture to victims.

"This night cannot be ordinary because of this mourning affecting the entire planet," deputy Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

Parisians still stocked up on champagne and foie gras for feasting but said the tragedy weighed on their minds.

"Our hearts will be in it a little less this year, when we think about all the victims," said Marie-Caroline Lagache, 34. "It's going to be a New Year's Eve that's a bit more lifeless."

Many Asians were too busy counting the dead, feeding survivors and combating disease to even think about partying.

Most government agencies in Indonesia, where the death toll was by far the largest, canceled fireworks and urged people to pray.

"Let's welcome the new year without a party because now we are filled with concern and sadness," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said. "We are still mourning. Let's pray together and hopefully God will not give us another disaster."

Thailand, with thousands dead, canceled a countdown party in Bangkok and officials urged people to attend religious services instead.

Clutching white roses and candles, hundreds gathered Friday night on southern Thailand's tsunami-ravaged Phuket island for a vigil at a shopping mall that replaced planned New Year's Eve festivities.

Thais and foreigners raised lit candles as a band played Elton John's "Candle in the Wind." The candles were then placed in rows of metal flower boxes full of sand and mourners paused for two minutes of silence.

China's state-run CCTV broadcaster announced the cancelation of its live New Year's Eve gala programming.

But celebrations went ahead unaffected in Taiwan. The Philippines, which escaped the tsunami, also was in celebratory mood, with cacophonous fireworks and gunfire before midnight.

Malaysians flocked to mosques, temples and churches for special prayers as firework displays in the mostly Muslim country were banned and celebrations were canceled in mourning for victims of the tsunami.

The Islamic sultanate of Brunei also scrapped New Year's Eve festivities and held prayers at mosques.

Hotels and clubs in most Indian cities, except those in Madras, where tsunamis claimed thousands of lives, were going ahead with celebrations, although some toned down programs and others decided to donate part of the money raised for relief work.