New Year's parties rock around the world
Extravagant firework displays lit up the skies from Sydney to New York in a global New Year's party as people around the world set aside their worries to welcome 2012.
Turning the page on a year of financial turmoil in Europe and the United States, uprisings across the Arab world, devastation in Japan, and the dramatic killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout, revelers danced to pop stars, drank champagne, and cheered out the final seconds of 2011.
In New York, pop diva Lady Gaga and Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit the switch sending the city's famous crystal ball on its countdown drop. Confetti poured out over Times Square, where up to a million people had been expected, and multi-colored, star-burst fireworks erupted over Manhattan's skyscrapers.
The atmosphere was tense in Los Angeles, which celebrated the New Year under the cloud of a string of deliberately set fires. More than 30 fires were started overnight Thursday and Friday, mostly targeting cars either outside homes or in car ports under buildings.
In Hawaii, US President Barack Obama, who is vacationing there, celebrated privately with his family.
Earlier in Asia, Sydney and Hong Kong set the standard with glittering extravaganzas.
Japanese celebrations were rocked at 2:28 pm (0528 GMT), when a powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake swayed tall buildings in the capital of a nation still traumatized and rebuilding after March's quake-tsunami disaster.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered a somber New Year's message, warning that controlling the government's budget deficit was a priority for 2012 to avert another crisis.
Dubai led the way in the Middle East and, despite financial crisis, Europe spared no expense on the pyrotechnics.
London hosts the 2012 Olympics and its firework display kicked off with a recording of the moment the capital learned it would host the Games.
An estimated 250,000 people lined the banks of the River Thames, watching rings of fireworks in the Olympic colors flash in the sky, while the famous clock tower in the parliament building lit up with fireworks at every chime of the Big Ben bell.
There was no avoiding the looming euro-zone crisis in some other European capitals.
In a New Year's address, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano delivered a stark message calling on the nation to make sacrifices to "prevent the financial collapse of Italy."
But in Madrid, many wanted to ignore their country's deep financial woes, gathering in the Puerta del Sol -- the square that became a focal point for the "indignant" protest movement. "Today is a day to forget the crisis," said Luis Zorrilla, a 46-year-old teacher.
In Berlin, another spectacular display lit up the night sky with partying at the Brandenburg Gate, while in Paris, some 360,000 people flocked to the Champs-Elysees.
In the heart of Vienna the New Year was rung in by the great bell of Saint Stephen's Cathedral, followed by the strains of the Blue Danube Waltz.
In Amsterdam, revelers watched the first "kiss" between two giant inflatable puppets representing a Dutch boy and girl, which "walked" towards each other as the seconds ticked down to 2012.
Later Sunday, some 10,000 hardy swimmers took a bracing plunge into icy North Sea waters off the Netherlands coast for the traditional New Year's dip.
"Not a bad way to start the year, don't you think?" Tjerk Drouen, 38, said after his swim off the coast of Scheveningen, his cheeks reddened by the cold.
Thousands of Egyptians packed Cairo's Tahrir Square under a blaze of fireworks to ring in the New Year, capping a roller-coaster year of political upheaval and deadly clashes, but also the first steps towards democratic rule.
"We're here to welcome the New Year together, Christians and Muslims," said one woman holding an Egyptian flag.
In Pakistan, three people were killed and at least 60 wounded by stray bullets in the port city of Karachi as revelers fired guns into the air.
Five Kenyans were killed on New Year's Eve in a blast in a bar in the eastern town of Garissa, close to the border with Somalia.
Across the Atlantic in Rio de Janeiro, huge crowds of white-clad party-goers -- Brazilians and foreign tourists -- rang in the New Year on Copacabana beach, watching a spectacular "green" fireworks extravaganza.
Remote Pacific islands were first to welcome in the New Year, including Samoa for the first time, having wiped Friday off its calendar by jumping west across the international dateline.
© 2012 AFP