An expected 1.5 million New Year's revelers pitched tents and opened picnic baskets in Sydney on Thursday to get one of the world's biggest parties started — bidding farewell to a tough year and welcoming a new decade.
Preparations were under way across the world for pyrotechnics, parties and prayers in the final countdown to 2010, with far eastern points in Oceania and Asia the first to herald the end of the period dubbed "the Naughties."
The mood of celebrations was tempered in some places by the effects of the financial downturn, which bit hard in 2009, sending economies into recession, causing millions to lose their jobs and home foreclosures to rise dramatically in some countries.
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There were also reminders of threats and the fight against terrorism that during the decade led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and rising militant violence in Pakistan.
The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia warned of a possible terrorist attack on the resort island of Bali on New Year's Eve, citing information from the island's governor. The e-mail warning to U.S. citizens said predominantly Muslim Indonesia's counterterrorism efforts have been partly successful in recent years, but violent extremists continue to pose a deadly threat.
Signs of economic recovery emerged late in 2009, but the year may be one that many people are glad to put behind them.
"I think 2010 will be a good year — you can never tell, but I think so," said Marek Kiera, a Sydney property investor who watched interest rates tumble amid the global financial crisis.
"We have invested so much in something that may go up in value," said Kiera, who went with his wife and three young children to a park in inner Sydney to watch the fireworks show. "Hopefully there will be a boom like in the late '80s, when properties doubled in value."
Organizers said 1.5 million people were expected to line the shore for the annual fireworks extravaganza over Sydney's landmark harbor bridge and opera house — the centerpiece of Australia's celebrations that generates some of the most striking images from a night of revelry across the globe.
Smaller fireworks displays and partying were planned across Australia and the South Pacific, the first region to greet each new day because of its proximity to the International Date Line.
In New Zealand, dance parties, bands and fireworks were planned in the main cities, and live entertainment in many holiday spots, including the southern tourist spot of Queenstown. In the capital, Wellington, celebrations included a display by world unicycle games competitors.
Asia will be partying, too, though probably not as hard as most of Europe and the Americas. The world's most populous nation, 1.3-billion-strong China, uses a different calendar that will mark the new year in February. Islamic nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan also use a different calendar.
In Beijing, President Hu Jintao was to make an end-of-year speech but no major celebratory events were planned.
Pyrotechnics displays were planned to illuminate Hong Kong's crowded skyline, high-glitz parties were planned in Singapore and thousands were expected to gather at Indonesia's national monument in the capital, Jakarta, for a fireworks show.
Millions of Japanese were to welcome the new year by flocking to shrines to pray for good fortune in 2010.
In Tokyo, the Sensoji temple was draped with banners greeting the new year in preparation for traditional New Year's Day ceremonies when thousands of people pray for good fortune. Shoppers mobbed the city, stocking up on seafood and other items.
In Sydney, crowds defied gray skies and drizzling rain in the middle of summer to line parks and public places along the harbor. High-rise apartments with water views prepared for toney parties.
Sydney revelers were asked to wear something blue, the color chosen to match the fireworks show's theme: Awaken the Spirit.
"Sydney has an amazing spirit — soulful, sexy and sophisticated and we want to celebrate and awaken her spirit for the new year ahead," artistic director Rhoda Roberts said.
In other cities such as Melbourne and Adelaide, revelers sweltered in 100 degree F (38 degree C) heat.
Thousands of police were deployed across Australia to guard against alcohol-fueled misbehavior, with commanders warning that troublemakers should stay home or face jail.
In Turkey, Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said authorities were deploying around 2,000 police officers around Taksim Square to prevent pickpockets and the molestation of women that have marred New Year celebrations in the past. Some officers would be under cover, disguised as street vendors or "even in Santa Claus dress," Guler said.
Firecrackers were already exploding across the Netherlands early Thursday on the only day of the year the Dutch are allowed to set off fireworks.
Unlike countries like Australia, the vast majority of fireworks shows in the Netherlands are do-it-yourself affairs where families spill onto the street in front of their homes and light strings of fire crackers and other fireworks.
Many Dutch families also fire up their deep-fat frying pans on New Year's Eve to cook the traditional treat of oliebollen — deep-fried balls of dough laced with raisins and dusted with icing sugar.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Cara Anna in Beijing contributed to this story.
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