Australians ready to usher in 2008

Revelers in Australia staked out prime spots along Sydney's iconic Harbor Bridge foreshore Monday, ready to be among the first to usher in 2008 with a massive fireworks display. Meanwhile, celebrations in other parts of Asia were marred by casualties.

In Thailand, New Year's revelers were among 27 people wounded when suspected Muslim insurgents set off five bombs early Monday in a tourist town on the Malaysian border. Three people were injured when a fire tore through firecracker stalls in the Philippines.

In Australia's largest city, about a million people were expected on the waterfront or aboard 3,000 boats in Sydney Harbor to enjoy the annual midnight show. City of Sydney creative director Wayne Harrison said some camped overnight along the harbor to secure the best viewing areas.

With a theme "The Time Of Our Lives," the fireworks extravaganza will include 20,000 pyrotechnic effects to be fired from the bridge, Harrison said.

A children's lights show and pyrotechnics spectacular kicked off at 9 p.m. local time, as a prelude to the main event at midnight.

In Japan, which will see in the New Year two hours after Sydney, the country's three main mobile phone carriers urged holiday-makers to hold off calling family and friends or sending messages from their phones in the first two hours of 2008 to prevent a system overload.

"We will try to deliver as many 'congratulations' as we can, but we may have to restrict services temporarily," read an advertisement sponsored by NTT DoCoMo Inc., KDDI Corp. and Softbank Corp. in the nation's major newspapers Monday.

In Thailand, four hours behind Sydney, bombs exploded in the hotel and nightlife area of Sungai Kolok, including two inside a hotel discotheque and one hidden in the carrying basket of a motorcycle outside a hotel, said army spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote."Sungai Kolok is a tourist town and people were here to celebrate the New Year. I think this is why they targeted the town," Akara said.

In the Philippines, three hours behind Sydney, a raging fire destroyed nine firecracker stalls north of Manila, sending flaming debris and dark-gray smoke billowing into the sky.

Two bystanders were hurt in Bocaue, fire marshal Absalon Zipagan said. Another villager suffered bruises when he fell to the ground while scampering to safety.

Investigators suspect the fire was accidentally lit by a cigarette or reckless testing of firecrackers in an alley of stalls, he said. ( AP )

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