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The crowd blew noisemakers and drank champagne, but the giant ball lowered over New York City's Times Square was a reminder of more serious concerns hovering over New Year's celebrations across the country.

The 6-foot, 240-pound ball that was lowered at midnight to the cheers of some 260,000 revelers was festooned with red, white and blue lights in honor of the thousands of U.S. soldiers who spent their New Year's Eve in the Persian Gulf."We wanted to dedicate this year to the troops overseas," said Steven Israel, owner of the Manhattan building from which the ball was lowered.

In San Francisco, Country Joe McDonald led hundreds of people in song at a peace vigil in Union Square protesting the military buildup in the gulf.

In Boston, people dressed as party favors and cutlery served thousands of pieces of a giant cake, and in Atlanta more than 100,000 people cheered as a giant peach was lowered.

In Southern California, hundreds of thousands partied through the night on the streets of Pasadena as they waited for Tuesday's Rose Parade to begin, while Philadelphians prepared for their annual Mummers Parade.

Crowds around the country were generally spirited but well-behaved.

"People are behaving better now than 30 years ago," said Philip Palacios, 65, who was in Times Square at midnight. "Then, there was pushing and shoving, and everybody was being carried away `borracho' (drunk)."

The Times Square celebrants, wrapped in scarves and wearing paper hats over earmuffs in the 28-degree weather, cheered loudly as the ball descended down a 77-foot flagpole and the clock wiped the final seconds off 1990.

Many wore orange ribbons in honor of the soldiers in the gulf. A group from Pennsylvania held up a sign that read, "Happy New Year 1991 to U.S. Gulf Troops."

The Rose Parade was to be televised to soldiers in the gulf.

Thousands of people attended Pasadena's traditional New Year's Eve street party, arriving early to ensure good seats along the parade route.

Holiday revelers had one extra second to celebrate during 1990 because officials at the Naval Observatory added a leap second to the country's atomic clock. Such leap seconds adjust the time for the slowing of the Earth's rotation.

The celebration was enhanced by the appearance of a blue moon, the second full moon in a month. Such a New Year's Eve appearance last occurred in 1971.

The holiday celebration also provided a last chance to stock up on alcoholic beverages before new federal taxes raised prices Tuesday.