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Asian nations giving enthusiastic welcome to 2013

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Workers set up a stage as preparations are underway for the country’s first ever public New Year’s countdown celebration, at Myoma grounds in Yangon, Myanmar, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. AP PHOTO/KHIN MAUNG WIN

CANBERRA, Australia—Fiscal cliff? Recession? Not in Asia, where the first countries to see 2013 dawn will enthusiastically welcome the new year.

Increasingly democratic Myanmar will have a public countdown for the first time. Jakarta plans a huge street party befitting Indonesia’s powering economy.

In Sydney, eager revelers camped over Sunday night on the shores of the harbor to get the best vantage points as 1.5 million are expected to see the fireworks show centered on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

In Hong Kong, this year’s 12.5 million Hong Kong dollar ($1.6 million) fireworks display was being billed by organizers as the biggest ever in the southern Chinese city. Police expect as many as 100,000 people to watch, local news reports said.

Prepared to party

The buoyant economies of the Asia-Pacific are prepared to party with renewed optimism despite the so-called fiscal cliff threatening to reverberate globally from the United States and the tattered economy of Europe.

But in New Delhi, the festive mood was marred by the death Saturday of a young rape victim.

Several hotels, clubs and residents associations in the Indian capital decided to cancel planned festivities and asked people to light candles to express their solidarity with the victim whose plight sparked public rallies for women’s safety.

“Let there be no New Year celebrations across the country. It will be a major tribute to the departed soul,” said Praveen Khandelwal, the secretary-general of the Confederation of All India Traders, an umbrella group of traders who run shops and businesses across the country.

In a field in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, workers early Monday were testing a giant digital countdown screen with the backdrop of the revered Shwedagon pagoda.

Arranged by local Forever Media group and Index Creative Village, a Thai major event organizer, the celebration will be the first public New Year countdown in Myanmar, a country ruled for almost five decades by military regimes that discouraged or banned big public gatherings.

“We are planning this public new year event because we want residents of Yangon to enjoy the public countdown like in other countries,” said Win Thura Hlaing, managing director of Forever Blossom company, a subsidiary of Forever Media.

With live music performances by singers and celebrities, colorful light shows, food stalls, fireworks and other events at the venue, the countdown is expected to draw 50,000 people, Win Thura Hlaing said.

Jakarta street party

Jakarta’s street party will center on a 7-kilometer (4-mile) main thoroughfare closed to all traffic from nightfall until after midnight. Workers were erecting 16 large stages along the normally car-clogged, 8-lane highway through the heart of the city.  Indonesia’s booming economy is a rare bright spot amid global gloom and bringing prosperity — or the hope of it — to Indonesians.

Spirits in the capital have been further raised by the election of a new, populist governor, who is pledging action in tackling the city’s massive infrastructure problems.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said about 1.5 million spectators were expected to line the harbor to watch the 6.6 million Australian dollar  ($6.9 million) fireworks display, while another 2 million Australians among a population of 22 million would watch it on television.

“This is really putting Australia on the map in terms of welcoming people to the new year,” Moore told reporters at the harbor before the event.

Thousands lined the harbor shore in festive crowds under a blue summer sky by late afternoon, their number undiminished by Australian government warnings that the Washington deadlock on the US debt crisis was partly to blame for a slowing Australian economy.

Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue is host for the event.

‘Goodbye Philippines’

Despite the somber mood in the Philippines due to devastation from a recent typhoon, a key problem for authorities remained how to prevent revelers from setting off illegal huge firecrackers—including some labeled “Goodbye Philippines” and “Bin Laden”—that maim and injure hundreds of Filipinos each year, many of them children.

A government scare tactic, which involved doctors displaying brutal-looking surgical scalpels used for amputations of firecracker blast victims, has not fully worked in the past so health officials came up with a novel idea: Go Gangnam style.

A government health official, Eric Tayag, donned the splashy outfit of South Korean viral star PSY and danced to the tune of his Youtube-hit “Gangnam Style” video while preaching against the use of illegal firecrackers on TV, in schools and in public arenas.

“The campaign has become viral,” Tayag said. “We’ve asked kids and adults to stay away from big firecrackers and just dance the Gangnam and they’re doing it.”

The number of firecracker injuries has gone down since the campaign was launched early this month.—Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Chris Brummitt in Jakarta, Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong, Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this report


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