Millions gather worldwide to ring in 2011

By Beth Fouhy

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 1 2011 9:05 a.m. MST

2010 was a grim year for the European Union, with Greece and Ireland needing bailouts and countries such as Spain and Portugal finding themselves in financial trouble as well.

"Before, we used to go out, celebrate in a restaurant, but the last two years we have had to stay at home," said Madrid florist Ernestina Blasco, whose husband, a construction worker, is out of work.

In Greece, thousands of people spent the last day of 2010 standing in line at tax offices to pay their road tax or sign up for tax amnesty.

"We can see that the quality of life is being degraded every day," Athens resident Giorgos Karantzos said. "What can I say? I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel."

In Asia, thousands gathered along Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor to watch fireworks explode from the roofs of the city's most famous buildings.

In Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, an estimated 55,000 people packed a square in front of the city's elegant French colonial-style opera house for their first New Year's countdown blowout, complete with dizzying strobe lights and thumping techno music spun by international DJs.

Vietnamese typically save their biggest celebrations for Tet, the lunar new year that begins on Feb. 3. But in recent years, Western influence has started seeping into Vietnamese culture among teens, who have no memory of war or poverty and are eager to find a new reason to party.

At Japan's Zojoji temple in Tokyo, monks chanted and revelers marked the arrival of the new year by releasing silver balloons with notes inside. The temple's giant 15-ton bell rang in the background.

In Seoul, South Korea, more than 80,000 people celebrated by watching a traditional bell ringing ceremony and fireworks, while North Korea on Saturday welcomed the new year with a push for better ties with its neighbor, warning that war "will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust."

At the stroke of midnight in Cuba, state television broadcast images of troops at Havana's Morro Castle fort firing 21 salvos of a cannon in honor of the 52d anniversary of former President Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. The live broadcast from the fort was interspersed with images of Castro throughout his decades at the helm of the communist island and some of his brother and current president, Raul Castro. After the brief broadcast, state television resumed its string of holiday salsa programs as some Havana residents fired small firecrackers outside.

In Dubai, the world's tallest building was awash in fireworks from the base to its needle-like spire nearly a half-mile (828-meters) above. Sparkling silver rays shot out from the Burj Khalifa in a 10-minute display.

In France, police were on alert for terror attacks and for celebrations getting out of hand. Rampaging youths typically set fire to scores of vehicles on New Year's Eve. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said 53,820 police officers were mobilized, 6,000 more than usual.

France has been extra vigilant following threats from al-Qaida and the kidnapping of five French citizens in Niger.

In central London, an estimated quarter-million revelers saw in the new year as red, white and blue fireworks — the colors of the Union Jack — shot from around the London Eye, lighting up the sky over the River Thames.

Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

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