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World welcomes 2011

world Updated: Jan 01, 2011 01:27 IST

Billions of New Year revellers welcomed 2011 in a global blaze of fireworks and parties on Friday, temporarily banishing the misery of extreme weather which has struck countries across the world.

Australia: Some 1.5 million people gathered at Sydney's foreshore for fireworks on the iconic Harbour Bridge, while further north in Australia hundreds of thousands battle devastating floods which have left vast swathes of land under water.

In Europe, crowds thronged landmarks like London's Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, following a big freeze which paralysed travel and cut power and water supplies for tens of thousands.

And New York workers were scrambling to plough snow out of Times Square for the famous New Year countdown, after a "Snowpocalypse" blizzard dumped some 32 inches on the city and surrounding areas.

Party-goers carrying blankets and camping equipment started descending on Sydney harbour more than 12 hours before the fireworks display at 1300 GMT, while scantily-clad revellers packed popular Bondi Beach.

Extreme, 43 degrees C heat brought the risk of wildfires near Adelaide, while thunderstorms threatened to cancel Melbourne's official fireworks celebration.

The tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati, just east of the international dateline, was the first to welcome in 2011 at 1000 GMT. The deeply religious community of about 6,000 marked the occasion with village church services.

In New Zealand, which has experienced a mild heat wave over the festive period, a firework spectacular was held in Auckland as part of a celebration themed "Hot in the City".

Further south in Christchurch, hit by a powerful earthquake in September, officials only approved celebrations after late checks and modifications, including removing the city cathedral's crucifix in case it falls on revelers.

In Asia, about 400,000 were expected at a glittering fireworks-and-laser display along neon-lit Hong Kong's harbor; while millions of Japanese will visit Shinto shrines to "purify" their sins.

Although Lunar New Year is a much bigger event in the continent, thousands will brave Beijing's cold for the countdown at an upmarket shopping center, while about 7,000 were expected at a kite-flying event in central Shanghai.

Thousands of people will jam Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake for midnight, while the "Bangkok Countdown" in a glitzy mall - scene of major anti-government protests this year - is the centerpiece of Thailand's celebrations.

Meanwhile 250,000 people will throng the banks of London's River Thames to hear Big Ben chime the last midnight of 2010, the traditional sound of the British New Year.

Millions of others will crowd landmarks like Rome's Colosseum and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, as well as Paris's Champs Elysee and the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

Earlier, organizers were forced to cancel a giant January 1 snowball fight in Berlin after 8,000 signed up, while in New York this week, people wrote down and shredded bad memories of 2010 in Times Square for "Good Riddance Day".