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Sydney spectacular to set off global New Year celebrations
[SYDNEY] Australia's biggest city was on Wednesday preparing to lead the world in welcoming the New Year with spectacular fireworks over Sydney Harbour, defying terrorist fears days after a deadly siege.
From Hong Kong to London, New York to Rio, millions around the world will celebrate when the clock ticks past midnight, ringing in 2015 with massive fireworks displays, concerts and light shows.
In Sydney, rocked by deadly drama just before Christmas when an Iranian-born gunman with a history of violence and extremism took 17 hostages in the city's financial hub, tonnes of fireworks will explode over the harbour with an expected attendance of 1.6 million people.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the two hostages who died - cafe manager Tori Johnson and barrister Katrina Dawson - will be remembered with floral tributes on the pylons of the Harbour Bridge.
"We are celebrating that we are a multicultural, harmonious community but we will be thinking about what happened," she said.
In the aftermath of the siege, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said security agencies had picked up a heightened level of "terrorist chatter" and warned that "the terror threat remains high and... at this level, an attack is likely".
But Mr Moore downplayed fears of another such incident, telling AFP: "We are very confident that it will be a safe event."
Across Asia, millions will be partying with Hong Kong's dazzling skyline along Victoria Harbour set to light up during an eight-minute pyrotechnic display.
In Taiwan, the landmark skyscraper Taipei 101 will be at the centre of celebrations, with performances by pop singers and a firework display at midnight expected to attract hundreds of thousands.
In Japan, the Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo brought out stocks of lucky charms and set up large offertory boxes as it prepared to welcome a huge wave of worshippers overnight.
The gigantic shrine expects three million visitors in the first three days of the new year.
In Afghanistan, the date will bring the last day of NATO's combat mission in the war-weary nation, with a new "train and support" mission to begin as the conflict against the Taliban still rages.
Meanwhile in Berlin, the end of another era will be remembered with "Baywatch" star David Hasselhoff joining a huge open air concert in front of the Brandenburg Gate where he famously sang for freedom after the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago.
In Paris, the Champs-Elysees will be reserved for pedestrians to allow them to watch a visual spectacle projected onto the Arc de Triomphe 15 minutes before the start of the new year.
The ticking of the clock past midnight will be significant for Lithuania as it adopts the euro while the small Baltic state of Latvia takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union, putting it on the frontline of negotiations with neighbouring Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
In Spain, millions of revellers will descend on Madrid's Puerta del Sol to eat the traditional 12 grapes for each stroke of midnight while in Barcelona a massive fireworks display will be held.
London stages New Year's Eve fireworks along the River Thames but this year there's a fee after crowd numbers raised safety concerns in recent years.
Edinburgh will be holding its traditional Hogmanay street party along the Royal Mile with tens of thousands of people expected.
Marking 2015 on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro more than two million people are expected to attend a huge fireworks show that will open celebrations marking 450 years since the founding of the city.
And in New York, approximately one million revellers are expected to descend on Times Square to watch the New Year's Eve Ball Drop.
The event lineup will feature a live performance by pop star Taylor Swift.