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2008 sweeps in across the globe

Spectators swarmed to the Rose Parade route Tuesday morning, joining thousands of people who had spent New Year's Eve partying along the streets or just camped curbside to stake out their viewing spots.
The \"Magic of Mardi Gras\" float takes part in the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California
The "Magic of Mardi Gras" float, the winner of the Tournament Special Trophy, takes part in the 119th annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 1. Mark Avery / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A pickup truck that morphed into a space craft, a giant blossoming rose and a Chinese dragon undulating in the breeze were among the floats that got cheers from thousands of spectators as the Rose Parade rolled Tuesday.

Those who spent New Year's Eve camped curbside were joined at dawn by giddy visitors arriving by car, bus and train. The city estimates more than a million people visit Pasadena during the parade and Rose Bowl game festivities.

Gail Paulson was drawn to the parade route although she is blind.

"There's a lot a blind person can appreciate at this parade. There's electricity in the air, the smell of the flowers, the clomping of the horses," Paulson, 64, of Oxnard, said as her guide dog Elton led her to a seat.

The 119th edition of the Tournament of Roses began as sunshine bathed the 5 1/2-mile parade route. This year's theme was "Passport to the World's Celebrations."

One of the biggest crowd pleasers was American Honda's "Passport to the Future." It featured a pickup truck that morphed in a cloud of smoke into a spaceship.

"It was awesome _ what it looked like after it transformed. It looked like it was a rocket ship," said Noah Herndon, 10, from Glendale.

Parade of protesters
Some 1,200 law enforcement officers were assigned to the parade to deal with any disruptions. Twenty-three people were arrested, many during the night for drunk-in-public violations, police said.

Two groups were protesting at the parade. Dozens of anti-war protesters led by "Peace Mom" Cindy Sheehan staked out spots across from television cameras, hoisting signs reading "Impeachment is Patriotic." The protesters were booed by parade watchers sitting in the grandstand.

"This is not the occasion for this," said Mary Feichtel, 63, of Florida.

One protester was arrested for holding up a sign and obstructing others' view of the parade, Pasadena Police Department Lt. Keith Jones said.

After the parade finished, a group of more than 100 anti-war protesters marched down the route. Sheehan spoke to a gathering of protesters at Pasadena City Hall.

"We are all here for accountability," Sheehan said. "You didn't ruin anybody's parade, they got to see the truth."

Members of the Chinese Falun Gong spiritual movement protested a float honoring the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Demonstrators wanted people to turn their backs on the float as it rolled along the route, though few appeared to join in the protest.

"I don't know enough about it to turn my back," said Marcia Thoop, 55, of Arcadia as she watched the float, adorned with Olympic mascots and flanked by plate-twirling acrobats, drive by.

Many in the crowd had come from Illinois to watch the afternoon Rose Bowl football game between No. 6 Southern California and No. 13 Illinois.

Illinois native Jenny Sweer, 43, cuddled up in a sleeping bag in a beach chair waiting for the parade to begin.

"I'm cold and tired. I didn't get much sleep. It's a good year to be here because we're from Illinois," Sweer said.

Bush heads back to Washington
President Bush on wished Americans a happy and healthy 2008, and said he was ready to return to work.

After spending a weeklong vacation at his central Texas ranch, the president told reporters he had a good rest and spent the time with friends.

"Laura and I wish our fellow Americans a happy and healthy 2008," the president said, holding hands with the first lady before boarding Air Force One for his flight back to Washington.

Bush said he particularly wanted to tell U.S. troops and their families that "we respect you, we admire you."

Times Square ball drop
In New York, more than a million revelers in Times Square cheered as the giant crystal ball made its 100th drop on Monday night and a ton of confetti rained down on the urban canyon, ushering in the new year.

University of North Carolina junior Reid Medlin, 21, attended the celebration with his friends Rachel Rand, 20, and Jeremy Crouthamel, 20. They were in the city for the first time and planned to stay up all night because they had no hotel.

"I think the best part is being here with friends," Medlin said as confetti floated down on him and people kissed around him. "This was beautiful. It makes you appreciate everything."

Rand said it didn't matter that they didn't have a place to sleep.

"I'm too happy to go to bed," she exclaimed.

Earlier, across the globe, people gathered for parties, shot off fireworks and held out hopes for a peaceful and prosperous 2008.

100-year-old tradition
The Times Square new year's ball tradition began a century ago with a 700-pound ball of wood and iron, lit with 100 25-watt incandescent bulbs. This year's event featured an energy-efficient sphere clad in Waterford crystals, with 9,576 light-emitting diodes that generated a kaleidoscope of colors.

Organizers said well over a million people attended the festivities.

They were treated to an entertainment lineup that included Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest handling the countdown to 2008 and musical performances by Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus and other acts. Even New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez showed up, shaking hands and posing for photos as he waited for midnight.

Milwaukee resident Jennelle Joset and her mother, Wanda Bowers, arrived at the scene around 1 p.m., wearing hats with big plastic wheels of cheese to show their Wisconsin pride.

"It's on my bucket list," Bowers said. "I had to do this once, to see it once before I die."

There were strict rules for revelers: no alcohol, large bags or backpacks -- and no re-entry after leaving the viewing area. The few public restrooms were closed by the afternoon.

The first celebration in the area, in 1904, was held by New York Times owner Adolph Ochs, who was building a new headquarters in the neighborhood.

The city had just renamed the oddly shaped square in the newspaper's honor, and at midnight Ochs had pyrotechnists illuminate his building at 1 Times Square with fireworks shot from street level.

Three years later, when the city banned fireworks, Ochs brought in the iron and wooden ball, to be lowered from the building's flagpole at midnight.

A different sort of light show was set in Brooksville, Fla., where the ball being dropped was a 200-pound fiberglass tangerine, with light bulbs inside. And in downtown Miami, the Big Orange was to slowly climb to the top of the Hotel Inter-Continental, followed by a laser and fireworks show.

About a million people were expected for the 32nd First Night celebration in Boston. The party lineup included a half-dozen ice sculptures around the city, each weighing 30 to 45 tons, performances by hundreds of artists, and a midnight fireworks display over Boston Harbor.

Authorities in several cities including Phoenix, Dallas and Detroit pleaded with residents not to ring in the new year by shooting bullets skyward. Emergency Medical Service technicians in New Orleans even planned to don combat helmets made from the same fiber used in bullet-resistant vests for the second straight year.

The Chicago Transit Authority continued its New Year's Eve tradition of offering penny fares on buses and trains as thousands were expected to head to the city's fireworks shows on Navy Pier. Philadelphia also had a huge fireworks display planned, with 4,000 fireworks shells scheduled to explode over the Delaware River.

More than 300,000 people were expected to crowd the Las Vegas Strip and downtown resorts for the countdown to midnight. They were expected to spend more than $200 million in restaurants, theaters and clubs _ with a big chunk of that going to the hefty door charge, usually around $250, at the Strip's slick nightclubs.

For that much money, patrons could see pop star Avril Lavigne, booked to host the party at the new Prive Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. The Luxor's LAX scored both Hilton sisters -- Nicky and Paris -- for its bash.

"It's a party city, it's wild out here!" said Stephanie Smith, 21, of West Covina, Calif., as her friends polished off yard-long margaritas and walked the sidewalk outside the Wynn Las Vegas resort.

Around the world
A million revelers cheered fireworks in Sydney. Summer Olympics organizers hosted dance and music in Beijing. And rare celebrations resounded in war-torn Baghdad.

Reminders of violence were apparent as security was tightened in many nations.

Fireworks were canceled in downtown Brussels, Belgium, where police last week detained 14 people suspected of plotting to help an accused al-Qaida militant break out of jail.

Festivities in Paris centered on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue and the Eiffel Tower, where about 4,500 police and 140 rescue officials patrolled the streets.

In Thailand, an army spokesman said he believed that five bombs set off by suspected Muslim insurgents in a Thai-Malaysian border tourist town likely targeted New Year's revelers. The bombs, which wounded 27 people, exploded in the hotel and nightlife area of Sungai Kolok, spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote said.

Baghdad witnessed something Iraq had not seen since before the invasion of 2003 _ people publicly partying to welcome in a new year.

The ballrooms of two landmark hotels -- the Palestine and the Sheraton -- were full of people for New Year's Eve celebrations. After years of car bombings, mortar fire and suicide attacks, Iraq's capital was sufficiently calm to warrant the two high-end parties in the once-posh hotels.

New habits
Several European countries rang in the new year with new habits.

The smoke-filled cafe became a thing of memory in France. Following up on a ban last year on smoking in many indoor locations, cigarettes were prohibited in dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, casinos and cafes.

Fabienne Simon, a 27-year-old smoker, said the ban was "not that bad."

"There is nothing better than to go to a nightclub, a coffee place where there are no cigarettes," she said. "You come out, it's great, you aren't smelling of cigarettes."

Two European Union newcomers, Cyprus and Malta, started using the euro at the stroke of midnight. The Mediterranean islands, both former British colonies, were scrapping the Cyprus pound and Maltese lira to bring the number of countries using the shared currency to 15.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy gave the first traditional New Year's greeting of his presidency, with a "message of hope, faith in life and in the future." In Russia, Vladimir Putin delivered the last New Year's Eve address of his eight-year presidency, boasting of economic improvements and claiming to have restored a sense of unity among Russians, who are likely to see him stay in power as prime minister after he steps down in a few months.

In Moscow, thousands gathered in Red Square, watching a concert beneath the colorful onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral, and fireworks above.

12 iconic bongs
In London, people gathered in Trafalgar Square and along the banks of the River Thames to watch a fireworks display and hear Big Ben -- Parliament's iconic bell -- welcome the New Year with 12 resounding bongs.

Berlin held a massive fete: In a stretch leading from the city's famous Brandenburg Gate along Tiergarten park to the western part of town, officials set up three stages, 13 bands, 40-yard tall Ferris wheel and over 100 beer stands and snack joints.

In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI took a somber note, lamenting what he called the "trivialization" of sexuality and lack of faith among young people during a vespers' service in St. Peter's Basilica.

China started its Olympic year with a New Year party including fireworks, singing and dancing put on by the organizers of the Summer Olympics.

In Brazil, about 2 million people gathered at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, witnessing a fireworks display that lasted nearly 20 minutes. In Sao Paulo, South America's biggest city, local media said 2.3 million people celebrated at the Avenida Paulista, Brazil's financial center.

In Sydney -- one of the first cities to celebrate the New Year -- one million revelers cheered as fireworks sprayed from the iconic Harbor Bridge. Fireworks displays were being repeated at the stroke of midnight in cities around the world.