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Renewed hope as world celebrates

LONDON: Sydney's skyline erupted in fireworks as Australia ushered in 2013 yesterday, while extravagant displays soon followed in Hong Kong and Beijing, and even the once-isolated country of Myanmar joined the party for the first time in decades.

Asia greeted the new year with an atmosphere of renewed optimism despite the "fiscal cliff" impasse of spending cuts and tax increases in US threatening to reverberate globally. Celebrations were held around the world, culminating with the traditional crystal ball drop in New York City's Times Square, where one million people crammed into the surrounding streets.

The balmy summer night in Sydney was split by seven tonnes of fireworks fired from rooftops and barges, many cascading from the city's Harbour Bridge, in a $6.9m pyrotechnic extravaganza billed by organizers as the world's largest.

In Myanmar, after nearly five decades under military regimes that discouraged or banned big public gatherings, about 90,000 people experienced the country's first New Year's Eve countdown in a field in the largest city of Yangon. "We feel like we are in a different world," said Yu Thawda, a university student. Singers, celebrities, light shows and other festivities were part of the public party. The reformist government that took office last year urged the public to go out and have fun.

In North Korea, cannons boomed at midnight in Pyongyang as people crowded the streets of the capital to watch a fireworks show over the Taedong River. After being in mourning a year ago for leader Kim Jong Il's death, North Koreans celebrated the end of a big year that included the rise of new leader Kim Jong Un and the recent launch of a satellite into space.

Hotels, clubs and other sites in New Delhi, the Indian capital, cancelled festivities after the death on Saturday of a young rape victim touched off days of mourning and reflection about women's safety. People were asked to light candles to express their solidarity with the victim. The army, navy and air force were also ordered to cancel any parties, said a defence ministry spokesman.

"There is no New Year celebration ... There will be a candlelight tribute at 6 pm. After that the club will be closed," said Rajiv Hora, secretary of the Delhi Golf Club.

In the Philippines, where many are recovering from devastation from a recent typhoon, health officials 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 while preaching against the use of illegal firecrackers on TV, in schools and in public arenas.

In austerity-hit Europe, the mood was more restrained - if hopeful. In his televised message, 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 St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI said despite all the 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."

"Evil makes more noise than goodness: a heinous murder, widespread violence, serious injustices make the news; on the other hand acts of love and service...commonly remain in the shadows," he told thousands of people who attended the Mass.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year's message warned her country to prepare for difficult economic times ahead. Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, decided to cancel celebrations in light of the economic crisis. Nicosia said $21,000 saved from the cancelled event will be given to some 320 needy schoolchildren.

Scotland's Edinburgh, which hosts one of the biggest New Year's Eve parties in Europe, also had good cheer. Organisers said about 75,000 people attended the Scottish capital's Hogmanay 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 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.



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