ADELAIDE, Australia — Enthusiastic Australians camped out at parks alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge to win the best view of Friday's spectacular New Year's Eve fireworks kicking off celebrations around the world.
As the clock ticked closer to 2011, cities across Asia readied for midnight events ranging from traditional prayers in Japan to a massive pyrotechnic display in the shape of a dragon in Taiwan. Europeans were looking forward to celebrations that could help them forget their economic worries.
In New York City, nearly a million revelers were expected to cram into the streets around Times Square to watch the traditional midnight ball drop. The 20-inch snowstorm that blanketed the city will be just a memory thanks to work crews and warmer temperatures.
At least 1.5 million people are expected to line the harbor in Sydney, the first major city where the new year arrives. Celebrations began with aerial displays by vintage aircraft and a parade of boats around the harbor, while spectators set up fold-out chairs, picnic blankets and blowup beds.
"We know how to party on New Year back home, but Sydney is a bigger and better party than anywhere else," said Marcio Motta, a 26-year-old from Sao Paolo, Brazil, who is studying English in Australia.
At the Opera Bar Beach House, hundreds of people paid up to $500 for the view and a party with a beach theme.
"This has got to be the best place to be in the world tonight," said guest Marc Wilson, 41.
In New York City at midnight Thursday — with just 24 hours to go — hundreds of people milled around Times Square as crews finished preparing TV sets for New Year's Eve broadcasts and vendors sold hats and noisemakers.
Among the tourists were students from Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan, who were scoping out a good location for Friday night and marveling at the preparations.
"For sure, we're going to be here," said Ahmed Lachheb, 23, from Sfax, Tunisia.
"I'm going to be here near the closest restroom just in case," added Mohamed Azuz, also 23, from Tripoli, Libya.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, two minor earthquakes Friday did not shake plans for all-night celebrations.
"There is more reason than ever for people to get together and celebrate the beginning of a New Year," Christchurch's acting mayor Ngaire Button said, urging residents to celebrate in the central Cathedral Square, where workers were removing loose masonry after the quakes, which caused little damage.
A powerful 7.1-magnitude quake wrecked thousand of buildings in Christchurch on Sept. 4, but nobody was killed.
This year marks the first time Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, officially celebrates the new year with a countdown blowout, complete with a light show and foreign DJs in front of the city's elegant French colonial-style opera house.
Vietnamese typically save their biggest celebrations for Tet, the lunar new year that begins on Feb. 3. But in recent years, the 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 in the Communist country.
At midnight in Taipei, Taiwan, fireworks will form a spiraling dragon climbing up the city's tallest skyscraper.
In Japan, New Year's Eve is generally spent at home with family but those who venture out go to temples to pray for good luck in the new year. At Zojoji, a 600-year-old Buddhist temple in central Tokyo, thousands were expected to release balloons at midnight carrying notes with their hopes for 2011.
In the Philippines, powerful firecrackers have injured at least 245 people in recent days and Health Secretary Enrique Ona urged safety during Friday's celebrations, saying he feared up to 1,000 injuries.
Many Filipinos, influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year's celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers sometimes bigger than dynamite sticks to welcome the new year.
While many Asian countries famed for their firework displays were planning to light up the night skies, Myanmar's military government banned all fireworks for New Year's Eve. The government gave no reason for the ban but in the past has said that it feared "unscrupulous persons" might take advantage of the fireworks to create disturbances.
In Europe, many people will be partying simply to forget their economic woes after a year that saw Greece and Ireland needing financial bailouts and others, such as Spain and Portugal, battling speculation that they will need similar aid.
In London, thousands will witness a musical and firework display at the 135-meter high London Eye, located on the southern banks of the Thames River. The Eye, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, lies almost opposite the Big Ben clock tower at Parliament that will chime in 2011.
If not at home or at private parties, Spaniards traditionally gather in their main town squares to eat 12 grapes one by one as the bell in the square marks the countdown to 2011.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her New Year message that Europe is dealing with a major test and must strengthen the euro, even as she celebrated Germany's emergence from the economic crisis, powered by strong exports.
Merkel said in her televised message being broadcast Friday that "it was a good year for Germany."
Still, Merkel said that "we will have to prove our strengths in future too."
Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.
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