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World marks 2013 with fireworks, fanfare and -- for some -- new freedoms

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

People celebrate at Myanmar's first public New Year countdown celebration at the Myoma grounds in Yangon January 1, 2013.

Updated at 5:05 a.m. ET: As the clock struck midnight in each new timezone starting with in the Pacific Rim it was met with spectacular shows from Sydney to Beijing.

In Myanmar, where citizens were holding their first public countdown, the jubilation was at least as heartfelt, even if set against a humbler backdrop. It signaled a new year, as well as a new era of expanding democracy after five decades of military rulers who discouraged or banned public gatherings.

"We feel like we are in a different world," said Yu Thawda, a college student enjoying the festivities in Yangon, the capital.

Not every celebration was imbued with the same degree of hopefulness.

In Russia, Moscow's iconic Red Square was filled with spectators as fireworks exploded near the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin gave an optimistic New Year's Eve address, making no reference to the anti-government protests that have occurred in his country in the past year.

Russians were marking their last New Year’s Eve with unfettered access to beer. New restrictions preventing sale of suds overnight or at street kiosks go into effect Jan. 1, part of a government effort to curb alcoholism.

Beer now considered alcohol, not food, in Russia

"You have to stock at home. And stocking beer is more problematic than stocking vodka," brewing industry official Isaac Sheps told London’s Daily Telegraph. "It’s bulky. It’s big."

In austerity-hit Europe, the mood was also restrained as 2012 came to a close. The coming year is projected to be a sixth straight one of recession amid Greece's worst economic crisis since World War II. In fact, the new year was starting with a 24-hour strike by subway and train workers in Athens to protest salary cuts that are part of the government's austerity measures.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's New Year's message warned her country to prepare for difficult economic times ahead. Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, decided to cancel celebrations in light of the economic crisis.

Damian Shaw / EPA

From Sydney to Siberia, revelers celebrate the arrival of a new year.

Celebrating New Year's Eve with a vespers service in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI said that despite all the injustice in the world, goodness prevails. In Spain, where a recession has left unemployment at a staggering 25 percent, people are hoping for a better new year.

In London, the chimes of the clock inside the Big Ben tower counted down the final seconds of 2012 and fireworks dazzled the sky above Parliament Square. Streamers shot out of the London Eye wheel and blazing rockets launched from the banks of the River Thames.

One night of revelries wasn't enough for some people.

Scotland launched the annual festival known as Hogmanay on Sunday night with thousands of torchbearers marching in Edinburgh, drawing inspiration from pagan traditions. The Scotsman newspaper estimated that 7,000 people participated in the "river of fire" through the city center.

The fete was set to last until Wednesday and draw 80,000 revelers from around the world, according to the official Hogmanay website.

New laws ban sex with prisoners, hound-hunting of bobcats, etc.

First across the line to 2013
The new year’s westward march across the globe began with Samoa ushering in 2013 a full day before the clock strikes midnight in neighboring American Samoa.

It’s a quirk of the international dateline, which Samoa moved a year ago, giving it a jump on the jubilation that erupts as the earth bids farewell to one year and welcomes another, time zone by time zone.

The celebration started small in places like Christmas Island, an Australian territory, and Kiribati, an equator-straddling chain of islands in the Pacific, at 5 a.m. ET Monday.

An hour later, Auckland, New Zealand, became the first major city to begin a new calendar, with fireworks shot from the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere at 1,076 feet.

The really big parties started, though, when the new year reached Australia at 8 a.m. ET. More than a million revelers gathered in Sydney’s harbor for a massive $6.9 million pyrotechnics party hosted by pop star Kylie Minogue.

Mariana Bazo / Reuters

We may have different calendars, customs and beliefs, but most of us mark the arrival of a new year. Take a look at the ways cultures around the world celebrate and bring good luck for the year ahead.

Among those watching in person was Melissa Sjostedt, of Florida, who read about Sydney’s firework spectaculars in National Geographic a decade ago.

"Ever since that, I've always wanted to see this for real, live, in person," she told the Associated Press.

North Korea’s fireworks went off a day after another party, marking the one-year anniversary of Kim Jong Un's ascension to supreme commander. Hong Kong was hosting its biggest bash ever with a $1.6 million fireworks display. In Japan, bells at temples rang 108 times.

David Moir / Reuters

Up Helly Aa vikings from the Shetland Islands march in the torchlight procession to mark the start of Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations in Edinburgh on Dec. 30.

In India, outrage over the fatal gang-rape of a young woman tempered celebrations. 

"The Indian army, air force and navy have decided to cancel all the parties planned to welcome the new year," a senior official told Agence France Presse. "They want to dedicate the last day of the year to the gang-rape victim."

Ashish Gupta, 35, an accountant, said it would be too difficult to enjoy the traditional revelry.

"This New Year is not going to be the same for me and many of my friends," he said.

The Associated Press and NBC News' Stacy Connor contributed to this report.

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