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John Lennon fans gather to celebrate birthday

A crush of fans circled a flower-graced mosaic in Central Park's Strawberry Fields and sang lyrics from "Imagine" yesterday to honor Beatles legend John Lennon on what would have been his 70th birthday.

On the day the Liverpool Lad would have become a septuagenarian, thousands of fans from around the world gathered to remember the superstar who just wanted to give peace a chance.

"His music speaks to people of any nation, any age, and that's why I think so many young people now who never would have known him still find him so appealing," said Karen Kriendler Nelson, 69, who lives nearby and often visits the mosaic that spells out Lennon's song "Imagine."

Joan Acarin and his wife, Laia, visited the memorial during their trip from Spain.

"The values Lennon defended are still alive," said Joan Acarin, 41, a lawyer from Barcelona. "It's the idea that we do not have to fight wars."

Fans began arriving Friday, spilling onto the sidewalk of Central Park West, where Lennon and wife Yoko Ono lived in the Dakota building for nine years. He was shot to death by a deranged gunman as he came home on the evening of Dec. 8, 1980.

This year, the memorial includes a mosaic donated by the city of Naples, Italy. A plaque lists 121 countries that endorse Strawberry Fields as a Garden of Peace.

In Liverpool, Lennon's first wife, Cynthia and, their son, Julian, unveiled a sculpture to celebrate his life.

The two held hands and joined the crowd in singing Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance." "I think the mourning is over for John. I think it's time to celebrate," said Cynthia, 71."Think about his life that was positive and good and just enjoy that." They were married from 1962 to 1968.

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