Both East and West rise to the occasion

AS Scotland geared up for New Year's celebrations last night parties were already under way across the globe.

The first major city to bring in the bells was Christchurch, New Zealand, where two minor earthquakes failed to dampen enthusiasm for all-night festivities. Thousands of revellers shrugged off a 3.3 magnitude quake that struck just before 10pm to celebrate in the city's Cathedral Square.

This year marked the first time the Vietnam capital, Hanoi, officially celebrated new year with a countdown party, complete with light show and foreign DJs in front of the city's French colonial-style opera house. The move reflects growing western influence in the country which usually devotes its attention to celebrations during Tet, the lunar new year that begins on 3 February.

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In South Korea, up to 100,000 people attended a bell-ringing ceremony in capital Seoul, with officials and citizens striking the large bronze bell in the Bosingak pavilion 33 times at midnight.

At midnight in Taipei, Taiwan, fireworks formed a spiralling dragon climbing up the city's tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101. Some 50 dancers beat drums in the freezing river in a dance to underscore how people should live with nature in harmony.

In Japan, Hogmanay is generally spent at home with family but those who venture out go to temples to pray for good luck in the new year. At Zojoji, a 600-year-old Buddhist temple in central Tokyo, thousands released balloons at midnight carrying notes with their hopes for 2011.

In New York, which has been blanketed by a snowstorm, nearly a million revellers were expected to cram into the streets around Times Square to watch the midnight ball drop.

In mainland Europe, many partied against a background of economic woes, with Greece and Ireland needing financial bailouts and others, such as Spain and Portugal, as the next potential dominoes in the euro crisis.

People gathered in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square in a chilly drizzle to take part in "Las Uvas," or "The Grapes", a tradition in which people eat a grape for each of the 12 chimes of midnight, after which they drink and spray each other with sparkling cava. Chewing and swallowing the grapes in time is supposed to bring good luck. Cheating is said to bring misfortune.

"Before, we used to go out, celebrate in a restaurant, but the past two years we have had to stay at home," said Madrid florist Ernestina Blasco, 48. She said her builder husband is out of work.

In Greece, thousands spent the last day of 2010 standing in line at tax offices to pay their road tax or sign up for tax amnesty. "We can see that the quality of life is being degraded every day. What can I say? I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Giorgos Karantzos of Athens.

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In France, police were on alert for terror attacks and riots. Rampaging youths typically set fire to scores of vehicles on Hogmanay. Interior minister Brice Hortefeux said 53,820 police were mobilised - 6,000 more than usual. France has been extra vigilant following threats from al-Qaeda and the kidnapping of five French citizens in Niger.

Italians ring in the new year with illegal fireworks, shot off in squares and alleys - a tradition that usually results in hand and eye injuries. Naples police chief Santi Giuffre appealed to citizens to "give up or at least cut back on this" practice.

The Dutch celebrated by eating deep-fried doughballs covered in powdered sugar and washed down with Champagne. The Danes jumped off chairs to "leap into the new year." And the Austrians twirled in the new year with a waltz, carrying radios so they can dance to Strauss's Blue Danube at midnight.

In the Irish capital of Dublin, people gathered at the Christchurch cathedral to listen to the bells ringing in the new year.

In London, thousands flocked to a musical and firework display at the 135-metre-high London Eye on the Thames for Big Ben to chime in 2011.

Pope Benedict XVI marked the final hours of 2010 with public prayer in St Peter's Basilica. "The current moment still generates worry for the precariousness in which so many families live," he said. Such tough times, he added, require solidarity "with those who live in conditions of poverty or deprivation".