FEARS that the end of the world is nigh have spread across the world with only days until the end of the Mayan calendar, when believers expect a cataclysmic end to the Earth.
December 21 marks the conclusion of the 5,125-year "Long Count" Mayan calendar and panic-buying of candles and essentials has been reported in China and Russia, along with a rise in sales of survival shelters in the US.
The precise manner of Armageddon remains vague, ranging from a collision between Earth and the mythical planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, a crash with a comet, or the annihilation of civilisation by a solar storm.
In the US, Ron Hubbard, a manufacturer of survival shelters, has seen sales take off.
"We've gone from one a month to one a day," he said.
In the French Pyrenees the mayor of Bugarach, population 179, has attempted to prevent pandemonium by banning UFO-watchers and light aircraft from the flat-topped mount Pic de Bugarach. According to New Age lore it is an "alien garage" where extraterrestrials are waiting to abandon Earth, taking a lucky few humans with them.
In Omutninsk, in the Kirov region, Russians are buying supplies after a newspaper article, supposedly written by a Tibetan monk, confirmed the end of the world.
In China, panic-buying of candles was reported in Sichuan province, inspired by a post on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, predicting that there would be three days of darkness when the apocalypse came.
In Mexico, where the Mayan civilisation flourished, the end of time has been seen as an opportunity. Hundreds of events have been organised.
NASA has been seeking to dispel doomsday fears. It says there is no evidence that Nibiru exists.
The space agency also rejected apocalyptic theories about unusual alignments of the planets, or that the Earth's magnetic poles could suddenly "flip".
Conspiracy theorists contend that the space agency is involved in an elaborate cover-up to prevent panic.
Mayans themselves reject any notion that the world will end. Pedro Celestino Yac Noj, a Mayan sage, burned seeds and fruits to mark the end of the old calender at a ceremony in Cuba. "The 21st is for giving thanks and gratitude and the 22nd welcomes the new cycle, a new dawn," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)