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Friday, December 31, 2010
Welcome 2011 : Millions gathering to count in the new year
The sky above Sydney Harbour lights up with the 9 pm fireworks display on the New Year's Eve in Sydney, Australia, Friday. -AP
ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) - Enthusiastic Australians camped out at parks alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge to win the best view of Friday's spectacular New Year's Eve fireworks kicking off celebrations around the world.
As the clock ticked closer to 2011 across Asia, Vietnam's capital was preparing its first-ever official New Year's Eve countdown and Taiwan planned a massive pyrotechnic display in the shape of a dragon. Europeans were looking forward to a celebration that could help them forget their economic worries.
In New York City, nearly a million revelers were expected to cram into the streets of Times Square to watch the traditional midnight ball drop. The 20-inch snowstorm that left the city's streets unplowed will be a memory to the crowd. Crews have removed the large drifts and warm temperatures are helping to melt what's left.
At least 1.5 million people are expected to line the harbor in Sydney, the first major city where the new year arrives. Celebrations begin with aerial displays by vintage aircraft and a parade of boats around the harbor.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, two minor earthquakes Friday did not shake plans for all-night celebrations.
"There is more reason than ever for people to get together and celebrate the beginning of a New Year," Christchurch's acting mayor Ngaire Button said, urging residents to celebrate in the central Cathedral Square, where workers were removing loose masonry after the quakes.
A powerful 7.1-magnitude quake wrecked thousand of buildings in Christchurch on Sept. 4, but nobody was killed.
This year marks the first time Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, officially celebrates the new year with a countdown blowout, complete with a light show and foreign DJs in front of the city's elegant French colonial-style opera house.
Vietnamese in the past paid little attention to the changing of the calendar, instead holding massive celebrations during Tet, the lunar new year that begins on Feb. 3. But in recent years, the Western influence has started seeping into Vietnamese culture with teens, who have no memory of war or poverty and are eager to find a new reason to party in the Communist country.
In South Korea, up to 100,000 people are expected to come out for a bell-ringing ceremony in central Seoul, with officials and citizens striking the large bronze bell hung in the Bosingak bell pavilion 33 times at midnight.
Some South Koreans also go to the mountains or beaches on early Saturday to watch the first sunrise of the new year.
At midnight in Taipei, Taiwan, fireworks will form a spiraling dragon climbing up the city's tallest skyscraper. Some 50 dancers will beat drums in the freezing cold river in a dance to underscore how people should live with nature in harmony.
In Japan, New Year's Eve is generally spent at home with family but those who venture out go to temples to pray for good luck in the new year. At Zojoji, a 600-year-old Buddhist temple in central Tokyo, thousands were expected to release balloons at midnight carrying notes with their hopes for 2011.
In Beijing, about 500 people were expected to gather at the Ancient Bell Museum for the chance to ring in the new year on the 46-ton bell. The city is also trying to start a new tradition, with an orchestra playing a "Hymn to China" at the China Century Monument just two minutes before midnight.
While many Asian countries famed for their firework displays were planning to light up the night skies, Myanmar's military government banned all fireworks for New Year's Eve and said severe action would be taken against anyone selling or using them.
A local news journal, Modern, noted that last year 62 people were given 6 to 12 month prison terms for violating this ruling.
The government gave no reason for the ban but in the past has said that it feared "unscrupulous persons" might take advantage of the fireworks to create disturbances.
In Europe, many people will be partying simply to forget their economic woes after a year that saw Greece and Ireland needing financial bailouts and others, such as Spain and Portugal, battling speculation that they will need similar aid.
If not at home or at private parties, Spaniards traditionally gather in their main town squares to eat 12 grapes one by one as the bell in the square marks the countdown to 2011.
In the Irish capital of Dublin, people will flock to the Christchurch cathedral to listen as the bells chime in the new year.
In London, thousands will witness a musical and firework display at the 135-meter high London Eye, located on the southern banks of the Thames River. The Eye, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, lies almost opposite the Big Ben clock tower at Parliament that will chime in 2011.
In Paris, tens of thousands are expected to pack the Champs Elysees and the area around the Eiffel Tower for dazzling light and firework displays.