Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Thousands of Londoners were forced to stay home and shun the traditional celebrations held across the city to herald the New Year as Underground train services ground to a virtual halt because of a 24-hour strike by the staff. Exactly 12 hours before the Big Ben struck midnight and fireworks exploded in Trafalgar Square to welcome 2006, the Tube staff walked out of their jobs protesting a planned restructuring of their duties which, they said, would compromise safety. Mayor Ken Livingstone regretted that the strike spoilt a "great night out for hundreds of thousands of Londoners'', and there were fears that London's New Year Parade on Monday could also be affected as train services are not likely to be fully restored before noon. Organisers of the New Year's eve celebrations as well as those of Monday's parade were distraught and accused both the authorities and the striking staff of "letting down'' Londoners. "We have got 10,000 performers from all over the worldand what has London done? Really let them down,'' the parade organiser Dan Kirkby said.