World welcomes 2013 with fireworks and prayers

World cities from Sydney and Hong Kong to Dubai and London rang in the New Year with spectacular fireworks, as revelers at Times Square in New York sought to top off the global extravaganza.

The celebrations kicked off on a balmy summer's night in Sydney with a $6.9 million pyrotechnics display curated by pop icon Kylie Minogue the highlight.

It was followed by a kaleidoscopic eight-minute jamboree in Hong Kong, with the city's famed Victoria Harbour lit up in spectacular fashion. Asian hubs joined in, notably including long-isolated Yangon for the first time.

As the stroke of midnight moved westward through time zones, the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, was the centerpiece of festivities in the huge expatriate and tourist hub.

And in Britain, tens of thousands braved rain on the banks of the Thames as the London Eye dramatically changed color and 11 minutes of fireworks raised the spirits.

"What an amazing end to an incredible year," said the British capital's own colorful Mayor Boris Johnson, alluding to the Olympic and royal spectaculars of 2012, as an estimated 250,000 people lined the riverbanks and gazed skyward.

While up to a million partygoers were expected to view the traditional drop of a giant crystal ball at Times Square, the mood was more somber in Washington as US lawmakers failed to make a deal over looming tax rises for Americans.

It didn't dim early enthusiasm in the Big Apple though, where South Korean pop sensation Psy will join a host of US music stars at the festivities.

Thousands turned up early to be sure of a good view of the nearly 12,000 pound (5,443 kilogram) ball, which features 32,000 LED lights and 2,688 Waterford crystals and slides down a pole to mark the final minute of the year.

"It's something you need to do in your life. It's New York and New Year's Eve," said an excited Juli, 18, visiting from Austria.

In Rio de Janeiro, officials have promised a bumper 16-minute, 24-tonne display opposite Copacabana Beach.

There was little prospect of such fanfare in Venezuela, though, as the cancer-hit health of President Hugo Chavez cast a shadow over the start of 2013 and prompted the cancelation of major celebrations.

In Caracas, the mayor canceled a traditional end-of-year concert in Bolivar Square, instead asking people to pray at home for ailing Chavez, who suffered a new setback after his latest round of surgery in Cuba. The streets were quiet.

In Myanmar, however, an estimated 50,000 flocked to Yangon's revered golden Shwedagon Pagoda for the city's first public New Year countdown and fireworks display, seen as further evidence of opening up after decades of military rule.

"I came here to have fun and leave disappointment behind," said 27-year-old reveler Sithu.

Meanwhile, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin used a traditional New Year's address to call for unity following a year of protests against his return to the Kremlin for a third term.

And in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated New Year's Eve vespers in St Peter's Basilica, voicing solidarity with the poor and calling on believers to pause to reflect from time to time despite busy lives.

"We have to know how to stop and think. This way our soul can find healing for the inevitable wounds of everyday life," he said.

In Spain, revelers who gathered in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square ahead of midnight -- cowed by cold, rain and recession -- sought to numb the pain of economic crisis with a glass of wine and plenty of cheer.

Manuela Ibanez, 51, who came from Barcelona with her two daughters, said: "At times like this we forget the crisis."

In Paris, however, there was less cheer as authorities issued a reminder that all fireworks are officially banned for the night.

Earlier in Asia, in regions devastated by Typhoon Bopha which hit the southern Philippines in early December killing more than 1,000 people, many survivors said food, work and permanent shelter topped their priorities.

In the capital Manila, authorities had been bracing for the annual rush of injuries as families celebrated with do-it-yourself firework displays and shot celebratory bullets into the air.

Seoul ushered in 2013 with a ritual ringing of the city's 15th-century bronze bell 33 times, reflecting the ancient practice of marking a new year.

Millions visited temples and shrines in Japan for "ninen-mairi" two-year prayers, gathering at family homes to feast on soba noodles and watch the New Year variety show "Kohaku Uta Gassen" or the Red and White Song Contest.

Fireworks also went up in cities across China. And In Taiwan, hundreds of thousands defied chilly winds to pack the square in front of the Taipei City Hall for a concert featuring Taiwanese pop diva A-Mei and Hong Kong-based singer and actor Aaron Kwok.

But in India, rocked by the deadly gang-rape of a young medical student, the armed forces canceled New Year celebrations while many hotels and bars scaled back parties out of respect for the unnamed victim.

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