New Year cheer starts early in time-jumping Samoa

APIA, Samoa (AP) - The New Year's Eve parties started a whole day early on the South Pacific island nation of Samoa, after a hop across the international date line transported the country 24 hours into the future - making it the first in the world to ring in the new year.

Samoans began celebrating under a rainbow of fireworks at the stroke of midnight on Thursday - when the country skipped over Friday and moved straight into 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 31.

Samoa and neighboring Tokelau lie near the date line that zigzags vertically through the Pacific Ocean, and both sets of islands decided to realign themselves this year from the Americas side of the line to the Asia side, to be more in tune with key trading partners.

The time-jump revelry in Samoa continued throughout today as the hours ticked down to 2012. Pools and beaches across the capital Apia were packed with Samoans and tourists celebrating the country's sudden position as the first in the world to ring in the new year, rather than the last.

Despite the extended festivities, Samoan police said there had been no reports of any problems.

"More than 90 percent of our people really appreciate the change, and that contributes to its success," said one official who could not be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly.

In Australia, people began crowding onto the shores of Sydney's glittering harbor early Saturday in a bid for the best spot to watch the midnight fireworks extravaganza over the iconic Harbour Bridge. The display was designed around the theme "Time to Dream," a nod to the eagerness many felt at moving forward after the rough year.

At the year's end, many in Japan were left reflecting on the fragility of life, while remaining quietly determined to recover.

"For me, the biggest thing that defined this year was the disaster in March," said Miku Sano, 28, a nursing student in Fukushima city. "Honestly, I didn't know what to say to these people, who had to fight sickness while living in fear about ever being able to go back home."


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