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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 16:06 GMT
Asia on New Year alert
An Indonesian woman sells paper-made trumpets for the New Year celebration on a street in Jakarta
Indonesians are hoping for a peaceful New Year
Tight security is in force across East Asia as millions of people begin to celebrate the New Year.

Following the bombings in Bali in October, Indonesian police are reported to have deployed about 2,000 officers on the island itself - and 200,000 across the archipelago.

Visitors walk under the upcoming Year of the Sheep decorations at the Nakamise shopping mall near Sensoji temple in Tokyo
Will the Year of the Sheep bring Japan better fortunes?

In Australia, which was home to nearly half of the more than 190 people who died in the Bali blast, hundreds of thousands of people have already celebrated the passing of midnight peacefully, with a huge fireworks display over Sydney Harbour Bridge.

But in the southern Philippines, home to several Muslim militant groups, four people were killed by a mortar or grenade attack on a market as shoppers bought firecrackers for the New Year's celebrations.

At least 26 other people were wounded in the attack near Tacurong city on the island of Mindanao, which happened shortly before 2000 local time (1200 GMT) police said.

"A lone witness saw a small, long-haired man pull the grenade out of his pocket and throw it on to the ground. There was a stampede," army brigade commander Colonel Agustin Dimaala said.

Sydney peace display

The New Year celebrations have so far passed peacefully elsewhere in the region.

In Australia, the fireworks display over Sydney Harbour Bridge climaxed with the word Peace lit up in fireworks and the blazing shape of a dove carrying an olive branch.

But security is tight. Police have banned cars from the central business district of Sydney and have blocked streets around the bridge.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri is attending New Year celebrations on Bali, in a bid to support its ailing tourist industry.

New beginnings

The Indonesian authorities are hoping the celebrations will mark the beginning of a more peaceful year.

President Megawati will bang a gong on Kuta beach at midnight before joining dancers and singers for a rendition of Return My Bali, written by her brother, Guruh Sukarnoputra.

There is also a massive police deployment on the streets of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, with guards on duty at shopping and entertainment centres, mosques, churches and public facilities.

Skyscraper security

In a bid to prevent another 11 September-style attack, police in Malaysia tightened security around the world's tallest building, the Petronas Twin Towers in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Party goers there will join Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in watching skydivers leap from the 452-metre (1,483-foot) towers at midnight.

Celebrations may be more muted than usual in South Korea, amid the continuing stand-off between Washington and Pyongyang over the North's alleged nuclear programme.

South Korea's President-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, on Tuesday warned Washington over the potential consequences of its hardline approach.

Anti-US demo

"It ought to be borne in mind that a failed US policy toward the North would be a matter of life and death for South Koreans," he said.

South Korea's long-standing military alliance with the US - there are 37,000 US forces stationed in the country - has also been tested by the acquittal last month of two soldiers charged with killing two teenage girls in a road accident.

In the latest of a series of anti-US protests, at least 20,000 South Koreans have gathered in the capital, Seoul, chanting songs and slogans by candle-light to call for major changes to a military accord with the United States.

  The BBC's Fiona Werge
"Sydney proved nobody does fireworks like the Australians"

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See also:

16 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Nov 02 | Africa
27 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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