Fireworks fill the sky as Britain welcomes in 2011

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Britain celebrated the New Year with a blaze of fireworks over London and Edinburgh as thousands partied in the streets to welcome in 2011.

The London Eye was lit up by a colourful nine-minute salvo as people crammed the River Thames embankments for a view of the spectacular show.

Meanwhile at Edinburgh's traditional Hogmanay street party, tens of thousands packed out the city centre as fireworks exploded above the castle.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said the "dazzling" display at the city's landmark Ferris wheel captured the "dynamism, colour and energy" of the capital in front of an expected 250,000 people.

A countdown from 60 projected on the Shell building behind the London Eye got revellers in the party mood, with people joining in from 10 downwards as they welcomed in 2010 with a roar that filled the night air.

The midnight display included a specially-created soundtrack for the first time.

Among the hits were Queen's "We Will Rock You", The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", and Blur's "Song 2".

The show finished with a booming salvo that echoed across the capital as Chinese lanterns floated up from the suburbs and bursts of fireworks went off all over the city.

Michelle Burns, 30, from Canvey Island, east of London, said: "It's been a rough year so hopefully next year will be better."

The celebrations were set to continue 12 hours later with the 25th New Year's Day parade through London, an event popular with television viewers in the United States.

More than 8,500 musicians, cheerleaders and performers were to take part, representing 20 countries, with a special message from Queen Elizabeth II read out to start proceedings.

In the Scottish capital, around 80,000 people turned out for the Edinburgh Hogmanay street party and festival, which culminated with a fireworks display from Edinburgh Castle.

The crowd erupted as the clock struck midnight, with revellers then linking arms and partaking in a mass rendition of "Auld Lang Syne".

"We always say this is the home of Hogmanay," said the celebration's director Peter Irvine.

"This event has a really good feeling and atmosphere. It just works -- I don't think anyone else can do it like we do," he said.

In Stonehaven, northeastern Scotland, the New Year was to be welcomed in with the traditional fireball-swinging ceremony.

In Wales, crowds attended the free Calennig celebrations in Cardiff, while the Millennium Stadium served as a makeshift hospital for those overdoing it.

Earlier on in Afghanistan, British troops saw in the New Year at the Lashkar Gah base, with bagpipes playing "Auld Lang Syne" as soldiers in combat gear exchanged handshakes.

© 2011 AFP

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