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Loyalty to fore in Year of the Dog

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January 29 welcomes in the Year of the Dog under the Chinese zodiac.

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(CNN) -- Lunar New Year celebrations begin January 29 all over the world, heralding the end of the rooster's reign and welcoming the Year of the Dog under the Chinese zodiac.

The dog -- loyal, brave and true -- may be man's best friend but some of Asia's stargazers predict more of the world's usual quota of doom, gloom and destruction for 2006.

Other analysts point to the rise of the Chinese economy -- now the fifth largest in the world -- as a sign of continued prosperity for the year ahead.

The Chinese zodiac dates back more than 3,000 years. There are various legends as to how the twelve animal signs arose.

According to one version, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who should head the cycle of years.

The gods were asked to decide and proposed a contest: whoever reached the opposite bank of the river first would be lead the cycle, and the rest of the animals would follow according to their finishing order.

The twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unbeknown to the ox, the rat had jumped on his back. As the ox was about to reach the bank, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. The pig, who was lazy, came last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last.

Another story has it that Buddha named a year after each animal and declared that people born under that sign would take on certain characteristics of the animal.

According to Chinese folklore, people born in the year of the dog have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest and hate injustice. Dogs fight for equality and freedom, making them good leaders -- although they do have an acute desire to please.

Famous dogs include pop stars Jennifer Lopez and Madonna, business tycoon Donald Trump, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and current U.S. President George W. Bush, along with his father. South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun, born in 1946, also comes under the sign of the dog.

Dogs can be stubborn, defensive, and vicious if provoked. They strive to be the top dog and will do anything to stay there.

Being born in the Year of the Dog usually signifies friendship with people born in the years of the rat, ox, snake and pig. But there could be difficulties with people born under the signs of the dragon and horse -- such as China's President Hu Jintao (horse), Premier Wen Jiabao (another horse) and former premier Zhu Rongji (dragon).

Exciting, extroverted

Horses are known as exciting, extroverted, vivid and animated. The horse is the life of any party, is intelligent and uses practicality to advantage in business and general life.

Another political horse is Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (b. 1942).

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may be a horse -- his official biography says he was born in February 1942, but some sources think he was actually born in 1941.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian are both rabbits -- known to be sensitive, lucky, smart and not prone to act on impulse.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (b. 1944) and Iran's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (b. 1956) come under the sign of the monkey. Monkeys can run circles around other people with ease. They are curious and clever, able to catch on quickly to most anything.

Among other leaders, UK leader Tony Blair (b. 1953) is a snake, Russia's Vladimir Putin (b. 1952) is a dragon and Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel (b. 1954) is a horse.

The New Year celebrations are the longest and most important in the Chinese calendar for more than 1 billion ethnic Chinese around the world. The celebrations begin with the new moon on the first day of the year and end 15 days later on the full moon with a lantern ceremony.

This year, celebrations for Chinese New Year run from January 29 to February 12.

-- CNN intern Samantha Broun contributed to this report

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