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Don't worry, it's not the end of the world

IF you're reading this, then the world hasn't ended.

Thousands of doomsday believers braced themselves at 11.12am for the end of the world . . . but may now be feeling a little silly.

In the words of the Vatican's chief astronomer, Father Jose Gabriel Funes: "The end is not nigh -- at least for now."

According to the Mayan calendar, December 21 is the end of the "long count" of the ancient Mayan civilisation.

Some took this to mean the end of the world, even though a new reading of the calendar by experts revealed that it did not in fact predict Armageddon.

Many believe the date in fact marks the start of a new era in the Mayan calendar.

In Ireland, spectators gathered at the Neolithic burial mound at Newgrange, Co Meath, for the winter solistice, a place with a history stretching back 5,000 years.

And while preparations for an apocalypse were noticeably lacking here, some in China were taking it seriously, with police arresting around 1,000 members of a doomsday cult.

Its members posted on Sina Wiebo, China's version of Twitter, that December 21, would bring "three days of darkness" and urged followers to overthrow communism.

Three towns in Europe, said by believers to be the only places that would survive a global catastrophe today, saw more reporters than survivalists.

In the French village of Bugarach, its population doubled as 200 journalists descended to see if the world would end. And just in case the Mayans were right, French police closed off roads into the village and mountainside.

A similar story unfolded in Sirince, a Turkish village near the ancient city of Ephesus.

In Serbia, hotels around the Rtanj mountain, a site rumoured to have magical powers, were booked out.

Darko, a 28-year-old designer from Belgrade, told reporters: "I do not really believe that the end of the world is coming, but it's nice to be here in case something unusual happens."

In Russia, where a 24-hour party was being held in a Cold War era nuclear bunker for €755 a ticket, President Vladimir Putin reassured the public they had at least 4.5bn years left before the sun ran out of fuel and destroyed the solar system.