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New Year's Parties in Asia, Australia Take Somber Tone

  • Phil Mercer

All around Asia, New Year's Eve celebrations are being cancelled, replaced by services to remember the more than 120,000 people killed in the earthquake and tsunami that it sent out. But in Australia, organizers have decided to turn celebrations into giant fundraising events and give people the chance - in one organizer's words - to make a difference to the lives of those who survived the devastation.

In Malaysia, thousands flocked to mosques, temples, and churches for special prayers to mark a somber New Year's Eve.

The government has banned public celebrations as a sign of mourning for at least 66 Malaysians who died in the tsunami waves that struck coastlines Sunday throughout the Indian Ocean.

There has been a similar scaling-back of events in India and Sri Lanka - among the hardest-hit countries.

Thailand - where the killer waves smashed beach resorts crowded for the Christmas holidays - has abandoned a party planned for the capital, Bangkok.

Instead, people are being urged to attend religious services to mourn victims.

But multimillion-dollar firework shows planned around Sydney's famous Harbor Bridge are going ahead, despite calls for them to be scrapped.

Event coordinator Ed Wilkinson explains that organizers are urging people who attend the event to contribute to a tsunami disaster fund, in hope of raising about $7 million (U.S.).

"We want to make sure that we are offering people an opportunity to not only celebrate the end of the year, but also to make a difference," he said.

In Brisbane, the government said it was too late to scrap the planned fireworks as the event was privately sponsored and the contracts had to be honored.

But further north in Townsville, the authorities have canceled a fireworks display. The city's mayor said instead that several thousand dollars would be donated to the relief effort.

Australians have donated more than $14 million on top of the $45 million already committed by the government.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says most of this aid will go to Indonesia.

"We are a friend and a neighbor of Indonesia's," he said. "We just know that we have a very great responsibility to do what we can to help."

In Singapore, the annual broadcast of the countdown to the New Year has been scrapped, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged revelers to tone down their celebrations.