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World celebrates the end of 2009 and start of a new decade

Across the world, millions celebrated the end of 2009 and the beginning of a new decade with street parties and spectacular firework displays, despite nagging security fears. In Paris, around 200,000 revellers partied on the Champs-Elysées.


AFP - New Yorkers greeted the New Year under the protection of snipers in Times Square and millions worldwide shrugged off security fears to usher in a fresh decade with massive celebrations.

Russians were treated to a surprise cartoon caricaturing President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, while at least five people were killed and about 600 injured in revelry involving fireworks and guns in the Philippines.

Parties to bid farewell to a decade that saw the September 11, 2001 attacks, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a disastrous economic crisis brought out millions in the world's major cities.

But strict security measures were taken across the globe after the Christmas Day attempt by a Nigerian suspect to blow up a US airliner bound for Detroit.

Fireworks burst into the night sky in Auckland, New Zealand, the first major city to see in the New Year.


In Australia, about 1.5 million people watched fireworks from the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge and four barges.

Police minister Michael Daley urged revellers to keep a lid on their drinking.

"If you're one of these fools that can't handle their grog and likes to go out and ruin other people's nights, make yourself a New Year's resolution to grow up and behave yourself and start practising that on New Year's Eve," he said.

Thousands crammed into Hong Kong's harbor, where 9,000 fireworks were unleashed from the city's tallest skyscraper and other buildings.

Such spectacles, however, were banned in Thailand, after fireworks caused a New Year's Eve blaze at a Bangkok nightclub a year ago killing 65 people.

The US embassy in Indonesia said meanwhile it had received a warning of a possible attack on the resort island of Bali, the scene of multiple bombings targeting Westerners, but local authorities denied knowledge of any alert.

In the Philippines, where the five deaths occurred, making noise by exploding firecrackers and firing guns into the air are common ways of greeting the New Year.

The celebrations draw on ancient superstitions in which the noise is meant to drive away evil spirits.

Huge parties were held at iconic European sites, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Scores of cars were burnt in French cities, but authorities said the number was lower than the hundreds witnessed a year ago.

In London, more than 200,000 people lined the banks of the River Thames to watch fireworks explode from the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel across from Big Ben.

Spain had an extra reason to party, with the country taking over the EU presidency for six months at midnight.

"This is the best street party in the world. Now I am going to work on my first hangover of 2010," said Gerry Shalloe, a 32-year-old English teacher from Ireland who lives in Madrid.

But there was mourning in Finland after a lone gunman chose the last day of the year to kill four people in a rampage in a shopping mall. He also murdered a former girlfriend and later turned his weapon on himself.

Russians gathered on Moscow's Red Square to toast 2010 and were later treated to a surprise cartoon on state television gently mocking Medvedev and his strongman prime minister.

Television cartoons of Russian leaders have been a virtual taboo over the last half decade.

Pope Benedict XVI, in traditional prayers in St Peter's Basilica on the last day of the year, called on Christians to help families hit by economic difficulties and unemployment.

US cities celebrated in the shadow of last week's attempted airliner attack.

Thousands of police officers were deployed in New York, backed by surveillance cameras, rooftop snipers and devices able to detect radiation or biological agents.

Partygoers in Times Square were not allowed to carry backpacks or alcohol and were banned from reentering the zone once they left.

On Wednesday, police ordered the brief evacuation of Times Square and investigated what they said was a suspicious van -- which later proved to be harmless.

"We assume here that New York is the number one terrorist target in America," city police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

In Afghanistan, where Western powers have been fighting the Taliban for most of the past decade, US-led soldiers were on alert after two militant attacks claimed the lives of eight Americans and five Canadians.

South African President Jacob Zuma used his New Year message to rally for unity for the 2010 football World Cup -- the first ever to be held in Africa.

New Year's Eve also presented the world with a "Blue Moon" -- a second full moon in a single month -- for only the second time in nearly two decades.

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