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Fireworks, revelry greet new year with hopes for a better future

With glittering fireworks and celebrations from New Zealand to Times Square, the world eagerly welcomed a new year and hope for a better future Saturday, saying goodbye to a year of hurricanes, tsunamis and economic turmoil that many would rather forget.

Revelers in Australia, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, which jumped across the international dateline to be first to celebrate, welcomed 2012 with booming pyrotechnic displays. Fireworks soared and sparked over Moscow's Red Square, crowds on Paris' Champs-Elysees boulevard popped Champagne corks at midnight, and up to a million revelers were expected to jam New York's Times Square for the famed crystal-paneled ball drop.

In Times Square, Fred Franke looked forward to saying goodbye to 2011.

"2012 is going to be a better year. It has to be," said Franke, 53, who was visiting New York with his family even after losing his job in military logistics last month in Jacksonville, Fla.

At the Vatican, a gold-robed Pope Benedict XVI marked the end of 2011 with prayers of thanks and said humanity awaits the new year with apprehension but also with hope for a better future.

"With the spirit filled with gratitude, we prepare to cross the threshold of 2012, remembering that the Lord watches over us and takes care of us," Benedict said.

The first major fireworks celebrations started in Auckland, New Zealand, and in Sydney, where more than 1.5 million people watched the shimmering pyrotechnic display designed around the theme "Time to Dream".

Hundreds of thousands of people took to Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate for a massive party complete with live performances from the Scorpions and other bands and a spectacular fireworks display.

Other cities prepared for celebrations both traditional and unusual. Atlanta was expecting to welcome thousands to its downtown, where a giant peach is dropped every New Year's Eve at midnight. Las Vegas prepared to host hundreds of thousands of partyers on the Strip with rooftop fireworks and celebrity-studded parties at nightclubs.

In Europe, around 80,000 partygoers at the Hogmanay street party in Edinburgh were welcoming 2012 at the stroke of midnight before erupting into a mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne. In London, some 250,000 people gathered to listen to Big Ben chime at the stroke of midnight during London's scaled-back New Year's celebrations. Fireworks are set off from the London Eye, the giant wheel on the south bank of the river.

The mood was festive in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, where, for once, revelers were the first in the world to welcome the new year, rather than the last. Samoa and neighboring Tokelau hopped across the international date line at midnight on Thursday, skipping Friday and moving instantly to Saturday.