Asian nations giving enthusiastic welcome to 2013


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Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Sydney's skyline erupted with tons of exploding fireworks as the first country to usher in 2013, extravagant displays lit up Hong Kong and Beijing, and increasingly democratic Myanmar joined the party for the first time in almost five decades.

Asia welcomed the New Year on a grand scale, partying with renewed optimism despite the so-called fiscal cliff threatening to reverberate globally from the United States and the tattered economies of Europe, where the party was expected to be a bit more subdued.

Celebrations were planned around the world, culminating with the crystal ball drop in New York City's Times Square. One million people are expected to cram into the area for the countdown.

Global celebrations began Monday in Sydney, where the balmy summer night was split by 7 tons of fireworks fired from roof tops and barges, many cascading from the Sydney Harbor Bridge, in a 6.6 million Australian dollar ($6.9 million) pyrotechnic extravaganza billed by organizers as the world's largest.

In a field in increasingly democratic Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, about 90,000 people experienced the country's first public New Year countdown, after almost five decades under military regimes that discouraged or banned big public gatherings.

"This is very exciting and also our first experience in celebrating the New Year at a big countdown gathering. We feel like we are in a different world," said Yu Thawda, a university student who came with three of her friends.

In austerity-hit Europe, the mood was more restrained _ if hopeful. In Athens, fireworks over the ancient Acropolis will usher in 2013 _ projected to be a sixth straight year of recession amid the country's worst economic crisis since World War II.

Still, In his televised New Year's Eve message, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised Greeks that the worst of the crisis is past, and declared 2013 a "year of hope" that will see the beginning of the country's rebirth.

Celebrating New Year's Eve with a vespers service in in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI said that despite all the death and injustice in the world, goodness prevails.

In his homily, Benedict said taking time to meditate in prolonged reflection and prayer can help "find healing from the inevitable wounds of daily life."

In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people lined the Victoria Harbor to view this year's 12.5 million Hong Kong dollar ($1.6 million) fireworks display, said to be the biggest ever in the southern Chinese city.

One day after dancing in the snow to celebrate the first anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's ascension to supreme commander, North Koreans marked the arrival of the new year, marked as "Juche 102" on North Korean calendars. Juche means self-reliance, the North Korean ideology of independence promoted by national founder Kim Il Sung, who was born 102 years ago. His grandson now rules North Korea.

In New Delhi, the festive mood was marred by the death Saturday of a young rape victim.

Hotels, clubs and residents' associations in the Indian capital decided to cancel planned festivities and asked people to light candles to express their solidarity with the victim whose plight sparked public rallies for women's safety.

Jakarta's street party centers on a 7-kilometer (4-mile) thoroughfare closed to all traffic from nightfall until after midnight. Workers erected 16 large stages along the normally car-clogged, eight-lane highway through the heart of the city. Indonesia's booming economy is a rare bright spot amid global gloom and is bringing prosperity _ or the hope of it _ to Indonesians.

In the Philippines, where many are recovering from devastation from a recent typhoon, health officials have hit upon a successful way to stop revelers from setting off huge illegal firecrackers that maim and injure hundreds of Filipinos each year.

A health official, Eric Tayag, donned the splashy outfit of South Korean star PSY and danced to his Youtube hit "Gangnam Style" video while preaching against the use of illegal firecrackers on TV, in schools and in public arenas.

"The campaign has become viral," Tayag said.

Economic problems weighed down the festive atmosphere in Europe. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year message warned her country to prepare for difficult economic times ahead. The Cypriot capital, Nicosia, decided to cancel its New Year celebrations in light of the economic crisis. Nicosia said 16,000 euros ($21,000) saved from the canceled event will be given to some 320 needy schoolchildren.

But Scotland's Edinburgh, which traditionally hosts one of the biggest New Year's Eve parties in Europe, remains in good spirits. Organizers say that some 75,000 people are expected for the Scottish capital's Hogmanay _ or year-end _ celebrations.

Hong Kong feng shui master Raymond Lo predicted 2013 would be less turbulent than 2012 because the Chinese New Year in February will usher in the year of the snake, bringing an end to the year of the dragon, which was associated with water. Water is one of the five elements in feng shui theory, the Chinese practice of arranging objects and choosing dates to improve luck.

"Water is fear. So that's why we have had so much turbulence especially in the winter months," such as doomsday prophecies, school shootings and concerns about the fiscal cliff, said Lo.

"But the good news is that the coming year of the snake is the first time that fire has come back since 2007. Fire actually is the opposite to water, fire is happiness. So therefore the year of the snake is a much more optimistic year. So you can see signs of economic recovery now," he added.

___

McGuirk reported from Sydney. Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar; Jean Lee in Pyongyang, North Korea; Chris Brummitt in Jakarta, Indonesia; Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; Ashok Sharma in New Delhi; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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