Millions gather worldwide to ring in 2011

By Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The sky above Sydney Harbour lights up at midnight during the fireworks display to celebrate the New Year's Day in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011.

Rob Griffith, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Revelers smooched and cheered the famous ball drop in New York's Times Square as the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the U.S. ushered in 2011. Most tried to set aside concerns about the worldwide economic downturn as partiers from New Zealand to Asia to Europe toasted to hopes of a more prosperous year to come.

In New York, a sea of people stretching for blocks braved tight security and cool temperatures Friday night to take part in the storied Times Square New Year's celebration, first begun in 1904. Crowds counted down to midnight as the glowing 6-ton Waterford Crystal ball descended the flagpole at the top of One Times Square to mark the new year's arrival.

City authorities don't give crowd estimates.

Chris Tulloch, 48, a computer engineer who came from upstate New York with his wife Sherine to experience Times Square for the first time, said the celebration was a good start for the new year.

"The amount of people in the crowd, the friendships that we formed, made us realize so many people have the same hopes and dreams for 2011 as we do," he said.

New York was the city in the spotlight as it coped with the lingering effects of a debilitating Dec. 26 snowfall, which hadn't been entirely cleared even as visitors were arriving for the New Year's celebration. Security in Times Square was tighter than usual, eight months after a would-be terrorist attempted to detonate a car bomb there.

Wendell Belt, 42, a retail worker from Philadelphia, came to New York to celebrate in Times Square with family. But he said he couldn't look past the troubled economy and feared 2011 wouldn't be any better than 2010.

"If the jobs don't come back, if the economy doesn't improve, if so many people are still looking for work, then we'll just have another bad year," Belt said.

In Las Vegas, thousands braved temperatures that dipped into the low 30s to watch an eight-minute fireworks show launched from the roofs of seven casinos. Jay-Z and Coldplay counted down the clock with crowds watching on the marquee of the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

In Honolulu, President Barack Obama was expected to ring in 2011 with friendly competition at his family's annual New Year's Eve talent show. The White House kept keeping Obama's talent a closely guarded secret. Several friends and family members were to join the Obamas at their rented oceanfront home in Kailua.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, Republican Susana Martinez formally became governor at the stroke of midnight, becoming the state's female chief executive. She replaced Bill Richardson.

More than 26,000 people turned out for a New Year's Eve rave at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The police presence was strong to try to prevent drug and other problems sometimes associated with the music events.

Festivities began hours earlier in the South Pacific, as Australians and New Zealanders were among the first to celebrate at midnight. In New Zealand's Auckland, explosions of red, gold and white burst over the Sky Tower, while tens of thousands danced and sang in the streets below. In Christchurch, revelers shrugged off a minor 3.3 earthquake that struck just before 10 p.m.

Multicolored starbursts and gigantic sparklers lit the midnight sky over Sydney Harbor in a pyrotechnics show witnessed by some 1.5 million spectators.

"This has got to be the best place to be in the world tonight," Marc Wilson said.

In Europe, Greeks, Irish and Spaniards were partying through the night to help put a year of economic woe behind them.

As rain clouds cleared, around 50,000 people, many sporting large, brightly colored wigs, gathered in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square to take part in Las Uvas, or The Grapes, a tradition in which people eat a grape for each of the 12 chimes of midnight.

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