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NYC, world ring in 2012, bid adieu to a tough year

By Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 1 2012 12:15 a.m. MST

Natalie Tolli, a 13-year-old from Yonkers, said "it was the best time I ever had, especially seeing Justin Bieber in his red hat."

The father, George Tolli, said he and his wife and three daughters and son waited since 2 p.m. to get their place.

"It was a pleasant surprise, very controlled," he said. "In my 51 years, I've never been here for New Year's. But I did it for the kids. And it was worth it."

In Las Vegas, police shut down a four-mile section of the Strip to vehicle traffic six hours before midnight, letting revelers party in the street. Casino nightclubs touted pricey, exclusive bashes hosted by celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Fergie, and fireworks were expected to shoot from the rooftops of eight of the city's most famous casinos.

Atlanta welcomed thousands to its downtown, where a giant peach dropped at midnight. Fireworks were to be launched from the top of the Space Needle in Seattle; in Houston, tens of thousands were celebrating at a party with country singer Delbert McClinton.

In summer temperatures at Key West, Fla., three separate midnight drops took place. A giant facsimile of a conch shell was lowered at Sloppy Joe's Bar, Ernest Hemingway's favorite watering hole when he lived in Key West. At the Schooner Wharf Bar, the bar owner dressed as a pirate wench and dropped down from a mast of a tall sailing ship. And at the Bourbon Street Pub complex, a drag queen named Sushi descended in a glittering 6-foot red women's high heel.

The town of Eastport, Maine, lowers an 8-foot-long wooden sardine from a downtown building at midnight, in celebration of its sardine canning and fishing history.

In San Francisco, revelers were lining the waterfront for the annual fireworks show. Though the city's fickle weather and persistent fog can never be counted on to cooperate, forecasters say the skies above the city should be clear overnight.

The first worldwide celebrations started in the island nation of Samoa, which hopped across the international date line at midnight on Thursday, skipping Friday and moving instantly to Saturday.

Samoa and the neighboring nation of Tokelau lie near the dateline that zigzags vertically through the Pacific Ocean; both sets of islands decided to realign themselves this year from the Americas side of the line to the Asia side to be more in tune with key trading partners.

In Sydney, more than 1.5 million people watched the shimmering pyrotechnic display designed around the theme "Time to Dream." In London, some 250,000 people gathered to listen to Big Ben chime at the stroke of midnight.

World leaders evoked 2011's struggles in their New Year's messages with some ambivalence.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Europe's crisis is not finished and "that 2012 will be the year full of risks, but also of possibilities."

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.

"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."

In Brazil, heavy rains didn't halt parties as upward of 2 million people gathered on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro and nearly as many on a main avenue in Sao Paulo, South America's biggest city. Massive fireworks displays and top music acts graced stages across the nation.

Brazil has seen healthy economic growth in recent years, as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Growth, however, has stalled in recent months, and Brazilian leaders are trying to stimulate the economy in the new year.

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