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New Zealand mud, Berlin fires, lunar orbit greet 2012

By Sid Astbury, Helen Maguire, Joseph Nasr and Jasper Mortimer

BERLIN — Fireworks, light shows and bell ringing hailed the arrival of 2012 on New Year’s Eve as many put the troubles of 2011 — tsunamis, economic brinkmanship and harsh repression of freedom waves — behind them.

In an extra-terrestrial event, the first of NASA’s twin Grail satellites entered orbit around the moon, to be followed on New Year’s Day by its sister craft Grail B. “Pop the bubbly and toast the moon! (NASA’s) Grail A spacecraft is in lunar orbit,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California tweeted.

In Berlin, partiers filled the Brandenburg gate and the 2-kilometer-long (1.2-mile-long) party street, Strasse 17 June, to capacity. Berlin’s police raced to respond to more than 1,000 requests for help and to put out fires caused by fireworks.

It was already January 1 in rainy New Zealand as Berlin started celebrating, but concert-goers at the Coromandel music festival were still recovering from broken bones caused by slipping in the mud. Hospital officials called in a fire hose to wash them off as they entered the hospital, the Herald reported Sunday.

In Istanbul and Ankara, revelers danced and sang in the fashionable boutique and restaurant streets, and Turkey’s third biggest city, Izmir, put on a spectacular fireworks display over its bay.

But in Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurdish southeast of Turkey, restaurants and nightclubs declared a subdued program as a mark of respect for the 35 Kurdish smugglers killed by the air force three nights before.

And in Van, the eastern province hit by two earthquakes in October and November, the state arranged parties and fireworks for thousands of people still living in tent cities. Children with conical hats and flowers painted on their cheeks told NTV television they had rehearsed for a show staged for their parents in the tent city, and they had received presents from other parts of Turkey.

In Moscow, large crowds watched nearly 1,000 fireworks explode over the Kremlin, buoyed by the abnormally warm temperatures hovering around freezing. An estimated 4 million Moscovites and tourists were out in the streets. Top security around Red Square banned glass bottles and alcohol.

Also in Moscow, 70 opposition activists were arrested. But in his New Year’s message, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dismissed the demonstration as “nothing unusual” and “the price of democracy.” Mass protests against his rule followed the disputed parliamentary election earlier in December.

In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI called for the rediscovery of belief.

Asia opened the New Year celebrations, with more than 1.5 million spectators at the Sydney harbor watching a grand fireworks display. One Australian was not there — Tom Denniss, 50, who set off Saturday morning from the Opera House to run 29,000 kilometers (18,019 miles) through 25 countries.

The Chinese capital broke tradition and joined western New Year’s celebrations for the first time with a grandiose digital light show around Beijing’s landmark Temple of Heaven, where emperors used to pray for good harvest. But unlike in Western cities, the Beijing celebrations were watched by only a few thousand people because of the small size of the Temple’s park.

About 350 kilometers (217 miles) overhead, astronauts aboard the International Space Station were to have passed the dateline 16 times during the day. They decided to toast just three times — as the new year began in Moscow, in London, and in the U.S. space agency NASA’s Houston, Texas, headquarters. The astronauts were treated to a feast of caviar, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and chocolate.

In his final weekly address to the nation for 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of “difficult debates and some tough fights to come” in 2012, with his presidency at stake in November elections.

At the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Shinto priests performed the year-end purification ceremony. About 3 million people visit the shrine during the New Year holidays each year to pray for their health and wealth.

In Spain, residents of the central town of Villar de Corneja gathered at midday in the main square to eat 12 grapes accompanying the sound of 12 chimes of bells — a Spanish tradition that is believed to bring good luck in the new year.

In Thailand, provincial authorities hosted a New Year’s countdown party on the country’s largest hydropower dam — Bhumibol Dam in Tak province, 380 kilometers (236 miles) north of Bangkok — to dismiss predictions by a psychic 37 years ago that the structure would collapse on Saturday.

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