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New year dawns on a somber world

Happy New Year? Not this year, not in this region.

Authorities around Asia, which was battered by an earthquake and tsunami last weekend that killed more than 120,000 people, scaled back or canceled celebrations Friday to mark the new year.

In Indonesia, the nation hit hardest by the tsunami, most government agencies canceled fireworks displays and urged people to pray instead. A display in the capital, Jakarta, was turned into what officials described as a mass prayer service for the victims in Aceh province, where more than 80,000 people were killed.

Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians flocked to mosques, temples and churches Friday for special prayers nationwide. Government officials in this mostly Muslim country canceled public concerts and celebrations.

The neighboring Islamic sultanate of Brunei on Borneo island, which was not hit by the tsunami, also scrapped New Year's Eve festivities.

Many Asian hotels, shopping malls and night clubs planned a minute of silence before midnight instead of the traditional New Year countdowns.

Throughout Europe, and elsewhere in the world, people were forgoing parties, canceling fireworks and toning down New Year's celebrations in mournful deference to the millions of dead, wounded and homeless.

French draped the Champs-Elysees in black mourning cloth. In Italian piazzas from Pisa to Naples, residents planned a minute of silence or to replace fireworks with candles. The cities of Bologna and Turin canceled parties. In Germany, Austria and other countries, money for pyrotechnical shows is being instead donated to victims.

Tribute to baseball great diverted from Nicaragua

NEW YORK _ Roberto Clemente Jr. is sending money and 2 tons of supplies _ originally destined for Nicaragua to honor his late father's ill-fated humanitarian flight exactly 32 years ago _ to tsunami victims.

On Dec. 31, 1972, the Hall of Fame outfielder who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955-72 was killed when his plane crashed while carrying supplies from Puerto Rico to victims of earthquake-torn Nicaragua.

Also ...

MEDICAL CHALLENGE: Western health officials, including a 30-person team of U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy personnel, headed to devastated areas across Sri Lanka on Friday after officials warned about possible disease outbreaks among the 1-million people in crowded camps.

"Our biggest battle and fear now is to prevent an epidemic from breaking out," said Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. "Clean water and sanitation is our main concern."