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World bids adieu to a rocky 2008; worries over '09

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  • World bids adieu to a rocky 2008; worries over '09

    World bids adieu to a rocky 2008; worries over '09

    The Associated Press
    Thursday, January 1, 2009

    PARIS: When French shoppers start cutting back on buying champagne,
    oysters and foie gras for New Year's, it's been a rough year.

    As Europe rang in 2009, many revelers said belt-tightening was their
    top New Year's resolution. The vow followed the most volatile
    financial year in decades, a time that saw stock markets melt around
    the world and hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs.

    Throngs of merrymakers popped champagne corks and exchanged kisses on
    Paris' famed Champs-Elysees avenue. But even shoppers in the affluent
    area surrounding the blue-lit Eiffel Tower had scaled back purchases
    for the traditional New Year's Eve feast.

    "We're not going to celebrate in a big way - we're being careful,"
    said architect Moussa Siham, 24. "We will be eating fish for New
    Year's dinner."

    In New York, hundreds of thousands of revelers packed a frigid Times
    Square for the descent of the famous Waterford crystal ball at
    midnight, eager to say goodbye to 2008 and hoping to put economic
    troubles in the past.

    Sydney was the world's first major city to ring in 2009, showering its
    shimmering harbor with a kaleidoscope of light that drew cheers from
    more than a million people.

    Spectator Randolph King, 63, of York, England, whose retirement fund
    was gutted in the global financial crisis, summed up the feeling of
    many as 2008 came to a close.

    "I'm looking forward to 2009," he said. "Because it can't get much

    Political and religious leaders offered few words of consolation, with
    the majority predicting more gloom for the year to come.

    In the splendor of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI
    called for "soberness and solidarity" in 2009.

    During a year's end vespers service Wednesday evening, the pope
    admitted these times are "marked by uncertainty and worry for the
    future" but urged people not to be afraid and to help each other.

    In Greece, arsonists attacked at least 10 banks and two car
    dealerships around Athens early Thursday, police said. No injuries or
    arrests were reported by authorities.

    Police had braced for violence at New Year following serious riots
    earlier this month over the police's fatal shooting of a teenage boy.

    At Athens' main Syntagma Square, some 200 pro-Palestinian protesters
    stageda peaceful demonstration. Under the eyes of scores of riot
    police, the protesters chanted slogans and burned flags of Israel, the
    United States and the European Union.

    President Karolos Papoulias promised to pay heed to the concerns of
    low-income Greeks, who have used the recent riots to express their
    dissatisfaction with dismal economic prospects.

    "Let us listen to the cry of despair by all those who live on the
    margins of society and face insecurity about tomorrow," Papoulias

    In Iceland, an annual New Year's Eve broadcast featuring the country's
    prime minister was forced off the air by demonstrators who stormed the
    hotel where it was being filmed. Protesters lobbed fireworks and water
    balloons at police, who responded with pepper spray.

    Increasingly rowdy demonstrations have been a fixture of Iceland's
    political scene since the country's economy, an early victim of the
    credit crunch, imploded under the weight of its debts.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
    pledged to continue campaigning for stronger regulations to keep
    financial markets in check.

    "The difficulties that await us in 2009 will be great," Sarkozy

    Meanwhile, partygoers everywhere struggled to forget their troubles.

    In Ireland, Danny McCoy, a recently laid-off construction worker,
    mulled over his waning fortunes as he got his hair cut at the
    Drumcondra Barber Shop on Dublin's rough north side.

    "Last New Year's I had a fat wallet. I didn't have to worry about
    paying for my round, never mind the taxi fare home," he said. "Tonight
    I've a mind to keep the festivities close to home, because I can't
    really afford to do anything."

    London Mayor Boris Johnson rejected defeatism in a New Year's message
    projected on the wall of the Shell Building.

    "There are those who say we should look ahead to 2009 with
    foreboding," Johnson said.

    "I want to quote Col. Kilgore in 'Apocalypse Now' when he says
    'Someday captain, this war is going to end'; and someday, this
    recession is going to end," he added. "Let's go forward into 2009 with
    enthusiasm and purpose."

    But one poll found that Britons were preoccupied with their sinking

    Some 48 percent intended to reduce or eliminate debt for their New
    Year's resolution, and 42 percent planned to cut spending, according
    to the surveyby Loudhouse Research.

    In Italy, which is going through a recession, many were forced to hold
    more modest celebrations this year. A retailers' association said
    Italians would spend 9 percent less than last year on their New Year's
    Eve dinner, while 4 percent would not celebrate at all.

    In Malaysia, the government - mindful of the shaky economy - opted
    against sponsoring any celebration at all.

    In Hong Kong, thousands thronged to popular Victoria Harbor for a
    midnight fireworks display, but those with investments linked to
    collapsed U.S. bank Lehman Brothers found little joy in the

    "I don't think there's any reason for me to celebrate after knowing
    that my investment is worth nothing now," said electrical repairman
    Chan Hon-ming, who had purchased a $30,000 Lehman-backed investment.

    In India, many were happy to see the end of 2008, after a series of
    terrorist attacks in several cities, culminating in a three-day siege
    in Mumbai in which gunmen killed 164 people.

    "The year 2008 can best be described as a year of crime, terrorist
    activities, bloodshed and accidents," said Tavishi Srivastava, 51, an
    office worker in the northern city of Lucknow. "I sincerely hope that
    2009 will be a year of peace and progress."

    In Thailand, after protests paralyzed the government for months, the
    country was finally calm on the last day of 2008 as loyalists of
    ousted ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took off for a five-day
    national holiday.

    Celebrations were muted in China, where fireworks and feasting are
    reserved mainly for the Lunar New Year, which in 2009 begins on
    Jan. 26.

    At midnight in Japan, temples rang their bells 108 times -
    representing the 108 evils being struck out - as worshippers threw
    coins as offerings and prayed. In Tokyo, volunteers stirred huge pots
    of New Year's rice-cake soup and doled out blankets and clothing to
    the needy.

    Japan has long boasted a system of lifetime employment at major
    companies, but that has unraveled this year amid the financial crisis.

    "There's no work," muttered Mitsuo Kobayashi, 61, as he picked up a
    wool scarf, a coat and pants. "Who knows what next year will bring?"
    ___ Associated Press writers Dheepti Namasivay in Paris, France,
    Frances D'Emilio and Ariel David in Rome, Italy, Shawn Pogatchnik in
    Dublin, Ireland, Robert Barr in London, England, Patrick McGroarty in
    Berlin, Germany, Valur Gunnarsson in Reykjavik, Iceland, Derek
    Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia,
    Denis Gray in Bangkok, Thailand, Dikky Sinnin Hong Kong, China, Eileen
    Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India,
    and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Japan, contributed to this story.