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Leaders Offer Stark Outlook For 2012

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

After a year that saw the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, economic turmoil in Europe and elsewhere, and the drama of the Arab Spring pro-reform protest movements, world leaders have offered messages of hope and trepidation as the globe said goodbye to 2011.

In their New Year’s messages, leaders of European nations offered a stark analysis, warning that Europe’s financial crisis is not yet over and that 2012 may bring more difficulties.

In her New Year's Eve address to the nation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the coming year may be more difficult than 2011 as the region struggles with the debt crisis.

"The path to overcoming this remains long and won't be free from setbacks," she said. "But at the end of it, Europe will emerge stronger from the crisis than when it went into it."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said 2012 will be full of risks and possibilities as Europe tries to maneuver out of the euro-zone debt crisis, which he called probably the most serious European crisis since World War II.

"We have to be courageous and we have to be lucid,” Sarkozy said. “What is happening in the world announces that 2012 will be a year full of risks, but also full of possibilities. Full of hope, if we know how to face the challenges. Full of dangers, if we stand still."

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Italians must be prepared to make sacrifices to prevent Italy’s “financial collapse” due to high debt and low growth.

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said Greeks must be ready for what he called a “very difficult year” as the country implements painful austerity measures to avert default.

Pope Benedict, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, said humanity awaits the New Year with apprehension, but also with hope for a better future.

U.S. President Barack Obama said 2011 had been a “time of great challenge and great progress” for America. Obama said he was hopeful the U.S. economy would continue to strengthen in 2012, but he warned that difficulties still loom inside the U.S. and on the world stage.

“We've got some difficult debates and some tough fights to come,” Obama said. “As I've said before, we are at a make-or-break moment for the middle class. And in many ways, the actions we take in the months ahead will help determine what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is starting his second term as head of the world body on New Year’s Day, said he hopes to push forward the moves toward democracy that were suggested by the Arab Spring pro-reform movements.

In the EU, the start of the year means that Denmark is taking over the six-month EU presidency from Poland.

Denmark’s presidency comes amid a crisis in the bloc over the future of the euro and Britain’s decision at a summit in December to refuse to participate in new EU financial stabilization measures. Denmark is among the 10 EU member states that do not use the euro.

Ireland, meanwhile, will be taking over from Lithuania as Chair of the OSCE, the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe.

The OSCE plays a role in negotiations aimed at settling conflicts including between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, over the Transdniester territory in Moldova, and between Russia and Georgia.

At the UN, Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo are starting two-year terms on the 15-nation Security Council.

Also January 1, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia are were formally launching what they are calling a Common Economic Space.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in December that the initiative will permit the free movement of services, capital, workers and goods between the three countries.

He said the goal of the initiative is to set up, by 2015, what is described as a Eurasian economic union, modeled after the European Union.

The three countries have already set up a Eurasian Economic Commission to be the planned union’s regulatory body.

In July of 2011, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia removed customs barriers between the three states to launch a Customs Union.

compiled from agency reports

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