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Asia Welcomes 2004 with Hope; Celebrations Marred by Violence - 2004-01-01


The arrival of the new year in Asia was met with celebration and hopes 2004 would bring health and prosperity. But in Indonesia, a bombing in the war-torn province of Aceh marred celebrations.

Revelers in Hong Kong welcomed in the New Year with a countdown and optimism that 2004 would be better than 2003.

Hong Kong's local cable news channel interviewed this resident in a crowd of thousands of revelers. One reveler said last year was difficult because of the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

SARS claimed at least 200 lives in the territory, which was hit hard by the disease and its accompanying blow to the economy.

At sunrise on New Year's Day Taiwanese residents gathered at the presidential office to witness the annual raising of the flag. President Chen Shui-bian led the ceremony. President Chen said he hopes China would jointly pursue peace with Taiwan and he reaffirms that the island nation would not seek independence from China. Beijing wants to reunite Taiwan with mainland China, but in past months President Chen's talk about Taiwanese independence raised diplomatic tensions.

At least 18 people were killed and another 22 reported missing in the Philippines on New Year's Day.

Most of the deaths were caused by fireworks and stray bullets fired to mark the arrival of the New Year. Police reported that at least 500 people were injured in accidents, but characterized the celebrations as generally peaceful. In North Korea, state-run newspapers ran editorials saying again that Pyongyang wants a peaceful resolution to the 14-month standoff over its nuclear weapons program. The isolated Stalinist state has raised international and regional concern since admitting to having a nuclear weapons program.

Three hours before midnight in Indonesia, a bomb attack killed more than a dozen revelers who were welcoming the new year at a concert in a remote town in eastern Aceh.

Aceh has been ravaged by 27 years of fighting between separatists and government forces, but it is not clear if the bomb attack was related to the conflict.

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