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Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Parties see in Chinese New Year

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Fireworks ring in the Year of the Ox

Millions of Chinese people around the world are celebrating the start of Lunar New Year, the most important festival in the Chinese calendar.

In many homes and towns, the Year of the Ox was greeted in traditional style with firecrackers, parties, feasts and incense offerings at temples.

But correspondents say the mood this year was subdued, with many people expressing concern about the economy.

Vietnam is also celebrating its New Year festival - known as Tet.

The BBC's Michael Bristow, in Beijing, says many people in the Chinese capital braved bitterly cold weather to light incense sticks at temples and pray for a prosperous year to come.

He says the police cordoned off roads around the most popular temples, where beggars traditionally gather to benefit from people's new-year generosity.

Lion dancers in the Philipphine Stocks Exchange in Manila

Reflecting widespread concern about the state of the economy, 55-year-old Beijing resident Liu Tieying told the BBC he felt the economy would be a major problem in the coming year.

But he sounded an optimistic note for China, saying he believed the situation would be worse in other countries.

The BBC's Jill McGivering says the Year of the Ox is traditionally associated with calm, fortitude and success through toil.

But she says China has already seen an outbreak of protests and rioting associated with job losses and factory closures - so one of the biggest challenges for the Communist Party will be to maintain public order and confidence in the year to come.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency announced on Monday that the government is to help train as many as one million jobless college graduates over the next three years.

Graduates will also be offered small loans to help them start their own businesses.

Analysts say the moves show the government's increasing concern with rising unemployment.

China's top politicians made high-profile trips over the Lunar New Year holiday.

State television broadcast images of Chinese President Hu Jintao smiling as a baby kissed his cheek on a visit to Jinggangshan, a former base for the communists during the Chinese civil war.

In a speech, he promised more "equal development across society".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited survivors of last May's earthquake which devastated large parts of Sichuan province.

Chinese people in cities across the world are also marking the festival - with lanterns, incense, lion dances and firecrackers lighting up places as far apart as London, Jakarta and Vancouver.

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