Samoa Observer, Associated Press
PARIS — With glittering fireworks and celebrations from New Zealand to Times Square, the world eagerly welcomed a new year and hope for a better future Saturday, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.
Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, which jumped across the international dateline to be first to celebrate, welcomed 2012 with booming pyrotechnic displays. Fireworks soared and sparked over Moscow's Red Square, crowds on Paris' Champs-Elysees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight, and up to a million revelers were expected to jam New York's Times Square for the famed crystal-paneled ball drop.
But across the world, people battered by weather disasters, joblessness and economic uncertainty hoped the stroke of midnight would change their fortunes.
"What I see is that prices are going up, and all I hope for is to keep working and for my family to enjoy good health," said Joaquin Cabina, 53, a car mechanic in Madrid.
In Times Square, Fred Franke looked forward to saying goodbye to 2011.
"2012 is going to be a better year. It has to be," said Franke, 53, who was visiting New York with his family even after losing his job in military logistics this month in Jacksonville, Fla.
World leaders evoked 2011's events in their New Year's messages. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said dealing with Europe's debt crisis would bring its countries closer. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wished well being and prosperity to all Russians "regardless of their political persuasion" after large-scale protests against him.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who polls suggest will be defeated by his Socialist challenger in spring elections, warned Europe's crisis is not finished and "that 2012 will be the year full of risks, but also of possibilities."
That ambivalence echoed at the Vatican, where a gold-robed Pope Benedict XVI marked the end of 2011 with prayers of thanks and said humanity awaits the new year with apprehension but also with hope for a better future.
"With the spirit filled with gratitude, we prepare to cross the threshold of 2012, remembering that the Lord watches over us and takes care of us," Benedict said. "In him this evening we want to entrust the entire world. We put into his hands the tragedies of this world of ours and we also offer him the hopes for a better future."
The first major fireworks celebrations started in Auckland, New Zealand and in Sydney, where more than 1.5 million people watched the shimmering pyrotechnic display designed around the theme "Time to Dream".
Hundreds of thousands of people took to Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate for a massive party complete with live performances from the Scorpions and other bands and a spectacular firework display.
In New York, the crowd cheered as workers lit the crystal-paneled ball that drops at midnight Saturday and put it through a test run, 400 feet (122 meters) above the street. The sphere, now decorated with 3,000 Waterford crystal triangles, has been dropping to mark the new year since 1907, long before television made it a U.S. tradition.
Some revelers, wearing party hats and "2012" glasses, began camping out Saturday morning, even as workers readied bags stuffed with hundreds of balloons and technicians put colored filters on klieg lights.
As the country prepared for the celebration, glum wasn't on the agenda for many, even those that had a sour year.
"We're hoping the next year will be better," said Becky Martin, a former elementary school teacher who drove from Rockford, Ill., with her family to attend the Times Square celebration after spending a fruitless year trying to find a job. "We're starting off optimistic and hoping it lasts."