Raucous celebrations as Asia greets Year of Snake
AFP and APBEIJING -- A billion-plus Asians ushered in the Year of the Snake on Sunday with a cacophony of fireworks, after a Chinese televised gala featuring megastars including Celine Dion kicked off a week of festivities.
February 11, 2013, 12:52 am TWN
From Australia to South Korea, millions of people traveled huge distances to reunite with their families for Lunar New Year — the most important holiday of the year for many in Asia — indulging in feasts and celebrations.
As the clock struck midnight, Beijing's skyline lit up with color as residents braved freezing temperatures to set off fireworks, traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits — a scene repeated across China.
State broadcaster CCTV aired its annual gala variety show during the countdown to the New Year — which rakes in hundreds of millions of viewers — featuring a gamut of iconic stars including Celine Dion who sang in Mandarin.
Dion performed the classic Chinese folk song “Jasmine Flower” in a duet with local idol Song Zuying, before launching into her global hit “My Heart Will Go On” from the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.
But the capital's streets were eerily quiet on Sunday, with nine million out of 20 million residents returning to their ancestral homes for the festival, according to the state-run China Daily.
This year also saw a sharp reduction in the sale of fireworks as heavy smog in recent weeks has fueled fears that Beijing's notorious air pollution levels could touch dangerous highs during the festival.
More than 260,000 boxes of fireworks were sold in the city in the days leading up to the New Year, a 37-percent drop compared to last year's sales, after the smog left citizens “worried,” the Beijing News reported.
Beijing was largely helpless in the face of the January smog, while schools canceled outdoor activities, some factories closed and government cars were ordered off the streets.
Last year's fireworks display created a thick haze that sent 2.5 microgram pollution levels as high as 1,500.
Beijing on Saturday night also saw just 25 injuries and 83 fire emergencies related to fireworks, down almost 29 percent and 45 percent, respectively, from last year.
Beijing permits fireworks displays over a 16-day period surrounding the Lunar New Year, but largely restricts them to suburban areas outside the densely populated city center.
The holiday will continue through the week.
Chinese leaders have made few public appearances in recent days, although state broadcaster said new Communist Party leader Xi Jinping visited Saturday with policemen, subway construction workers, taxi drivers and street cleaners in Beijing to thank them for their service.
Celebrations were also reported aboard Chinese patrol ships in waters surrounding East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are at the center of a bitter territorial row with Japan.
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