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Millions mark arrival of 2011

Revelers smooched and cheered the famous ball drop in New York's Times Square as the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the U.S. ushered in 2011. Most tried to set aside concerns about the worldwide economic downturn as partiers from New Zealand to Asia to Europe toasted to hopes of a more prosperous year to come.

In New York, a sea of people stretching for blocks braved tight security and cool temperatures Friday night to take part in the storied Times Square New Year's celebration, first begun in 1904. Crowds counted down to midnight as the glowing 6-ton Waterford Crystal ball descended the flagpole at the top of One Times Square to mark the new year's arrival.

City authorities don't give crowd estimates.

Chris Tulloch, 48, a computer engineer who came from upstate New York with his wife, Sherine, to experience Times Square for the first time, said the celebration was a good start for the new year.

"The amount of people in the crowd, the friendships that we formed, made us realize so many people have the same hopes and dreams for 2011 as we do," he said.

Festivities began hours earlier in the South Pacific, as Australians and New Zealanders were among the first to celebrate at midnight. In New Zealand's Auckland, explosions of red, gold and white burst over the Sky Tower, while tens of thousands danced and sang in the streets below. In Christchurch, revelers shrugged off a minor 3.3 earthquake that struck just before 10 p.m.

Multicolored starbursts and gigantic sparklers lit the midnight sky over Sydney Harbor in a pyrotechnics show witnessed by some 1.5 million spectators.

"This has got to be the best place to be in the world tonight," Marc Wilson said.

As rain clouds cleared, around 50,000 people, many sporting large, brightly colored wigs, gathered in Madrid's central Puerta del Sol square to take part in Las Uvas, or The Grapes, a tradition in which people eat a grape for each of the 12 chimes of midnight.

In Hong Kong, thousands gathered along Victoria Harbor to watch fireworks explode.

At Japan's Zojoji temple in Tokyo, monks chanted and revelers marked the arrival of the new year by releasing silver balloons with notes inside. The temple's giant 15-ton bell rang in the background.

In Seoul, South Korea, more than 80,000 people celebrated by watching a traditional bell ringing ceremony and fireworks, while North Korea on Saturday welcomed the new year with a push for better ties with its neighbor, warning that war "will bring nothing but a nuclear holocaust."

In Dubai, the world's tallest building was awash in fireworks from the base to its needle-like spire nearly a half-mile above. Sparkling silver rays shot out in a 10-minute display.

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