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The Year of the Rat begins

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On 07 February 2008, the Chinese Lunar New Year began, heralding in the Year of the Rat. Countries across the globe are celebrating the Lunar New Year and taking time to reflect on the influence of Chinese culture on their population. The Chinese constitute the largest migrant group in the world.

The Australian government took the time to honor the holiday festivities, noting how Chinese immigrants contribute to their society.

"In our multicultural society today, Chinese New Year has become a major celebration, which now encompasses the wider Australian community," Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said.

"Chinese New Year is about Australians sharing in other cultures and celebrations. This is one of the ways in which Australians, whatever their background, connect to one another," he added.

Canada also wished a happy Chinese New Year by announcing funding for the Chinese Community in Ottawa, as part of a general federal funding program for immigration related activities in Canadian provinces. The ethnic Chinese population was recorded at 3.5 percent of the total population in Canada in 2001, according to the nation's statistical agency.

"Our government supports the Chinese community in Canada. This funding will benefit thousands of immigrants with help finding a job and building their new lives in Canada," said Canadian Immigration Minister Diane Finely. "When immigrants thrive, we all benefit."

With the long history of Chinese immigration to the United States, the nation will also see its fair share of festivities. During the 2006 fiscal year, approximately 35,000 Chinese immigrants became U.S. citizens and almost 90,000 Chinese immigrants were granted permanent residence.

New York City has a love-hate relationship with rats, so welcoming in the Lunar New Year has proven to be logistically difficult for the major U.S. city. Last year, parades included live pigs for the Year of the Pig and -- while in ancient times the rat was welcomed as a protector and a harbinger of prosperity -- this year someone will wear a costume instead.

The United Kingdom has unique historical ties with China, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown took time to recognize the influence of the Chinese, both culturally and economically.

"I'm delighted to have this opportunity to send you my warmest wishes for the Chinese New Year," Brown said.

"We are becoming more and more interdependent economically," he added. "I particularly welcome the growing contacts between our young people - the new and expanded initiatives to bring more Chinese students to the UK and to give more British students the opportunity to experience China first hand."

We at wish all those celebrating the Chinese New Year a happy and prosperous Year of the Rat!