Asian Nations Giving Enthusiastic Welcome to 2013

Fireworks explode in the sky above Sydney Harbour during the pre-New Year's Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012.
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By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Fiscal cliff? Recession? Not in Asia, where the first countries to see 2013 are enthusiastically welcoming the new year.

Increasingly democratic Myanmar is having a public countdown for the first time. Jakarta plans a huge street party befitting Indonesia's powering economy.

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In Sydney, eager revelers camped Sunday night on the shores of the harbor to get the best vantage points as 1.5 million were expected to gather to watch the fireworks show centered on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

The shores were packed when an eight-minute preliminary show for young children exploded over the harbor three hours before the main event in Sydney and as the clock struck midnight in Samoa and other South Pacific islands to the east, ushering in the new year there.

In Hong Kong, this year's 12.5 million Hong Kong dollar ($1.6 million) fireworks display is billed by organizers as the biggest ever in the southern Chinese city. Police expected as many as 100,000 people to watch, local news reports said.

The buoyant economies of the Asia-Pacific are prepared to party with renewed optimism despite the so-called fiscal cliff threatening to reverberate globally from the United States and the tattered economies of Europe.

Celebrations were planned around the world, with hundreds of thousands expected to fill Times Square in New York City to watch the drop of a Waterford crystal-studded ball.

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One day after dancing in the snow to celebrate the first anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's ascension to supreme commander, North Koreans were preparing to mark the arrival of the new year, marked as "Juche 102" on North Korean calendars. Juche means self-reliance, the North Korean ideology of independence promoted by national founder Kim Il Sung, who was born 102 years ago. His grandson now rules North Korea.

In New Delhi, the festive mood was marred by the death Saturday of a young rape victim.

Hotels, clubs and residents' associations in the Indian capital decided to cancel planned festivities and asked people to light candles to express their solidarity with the victim whose plight sparked public rallies for women's safety.

"Let there be no New Year celebrations across the country. It will be a major tribute to the departed soul," said Praveen Khandelwal, secretary-general of the Confederation of All India Traders, an umbrella group of operators of shops and businesses across the country.

In a field in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, workers were testing a giant digital countdown screen with the backdrop of the revered Shwedagon pagoda.

Arranged by local Forever Media group and Index Creative Village, a Thai event organizer, the celebration is the first public New Year countdown in Myanmar, a country ruled for almost five decades by military regimes that discouraged or banned big public gatherings.

"We are planning this public New Year event because we want residents of Yangon to enjoy the public countdown like in other countries," said Win Thura Hlaing, managing director of Forever Blossom company, a subsidiary of Forever Media.

With live music performances by celebrities, light shows, food stalls, fireworks and other activities, the countdown is expected to draw 50,000 people, Win Thura Hlaing said.

Jakarta's street party centers on a 7-kilometer (4-mile) main thoroughfare closed to all traffic from nightfall until after midnight. Workers erected 16 large stages along the normally car-clogged, eight-lane highway through the heart of the city. Indonesia's booming economy is a rare bright spot amid global gloom and is bringing prosperity — or the hope of it — to Indonesians.

Spirits in the capital have been further raised by the election of a new, populist governor who is pledging to tackle the city's massive infrastructure problems.

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In Sydney, Lord Mayor Clover Moore said about 1.5 million spectators were expected to line the harbor to watch the 6.6 million Australian dollar ($6.9 million) fireworks display, while another 2 million Australians among a population of 22 million would watch on television.