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In pictures: World welcomes New Year despite terror fears

SYDNEY (AFP/REUTERS) - The world greeted 2016 with Champagne and cheers, but tightened security put a damper on the party in Europe and a huge fire at a hotel in Dubai scared gathering revellers.

Fireworks were cancelled in Brussels and Paris as November’s terror attacks cast a pall, but Dubai put on a spectacular show as it refused to let the hotel blaze, which injured 16 people, disrupt celebrations.

Sydney, traditionally the first to host a major New Year’s bash, kicked off the global festivities when it lit up the skies with pyrotechnics at the stroke of midnight (1300 GMT).

In Dubai, a huge fire ripped through a luxury 63-storey hotel, the Address Downtown, close to the world’s tallest tower where people had gathered to ring in the New Year.

Despite the dramatic scenes from the inferno, the festivities went ahead as planned and crowds cheered the arrival of 2016 with bursts of light and colour in a massive fireworks show that started at the iconic Burj Khalifa skyscraper, even as smoke was still billowing from the nearby blaze.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

 
 
 
 

Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore and other Asian cities may rival Sydney’s pyrotechnic splash, but Brunei offered a sober evening after banning Christmas in a shift to hardline Islamic law.

Jakarta also remains on high alert after anti-terror police foiled detailed plans for an alleged New Year suicide attack in the Indonesian capital.

Turkish police have detained two Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suspects allegedly planning to stage attacks in the centre of the capital Ankara, which was packed on New Year’s Eve.

After Asia and the Middle East, the chimes of midnight moved across Africa, Europe and finally the Americas.

Cairo, trying desperately to attract tourists to bolster the economy, staged celebrations in front of the pyramids near the Egyptian capital, with ambassadors, artists and intellectuals all invited.

Egypt has been in turmoil since the 2011 uprising but was further hit by the Oct 31 crash of a Russian airliner over the Sinai killing 224 people.

In stark contrast, Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown is hoping to reclaim its mantle as host of the best beach parties in Africa after Ebola scared people away.

The city of 1.2 million was deserted 12 months ago during the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded.

“This New Year’s Eve I am going to dance and party until the cock crows,” said 35-year-old Franklyn Smith.

In Ivory Coast, 3,100 prisoners held after post-election violence in 2010-2011 will also start 2016 on a happy note after President Alassane Ouattara announced in his New Year’s address he would reduce their sentences.

Meanwhile, in Moscow the police for the first time closed off Red Square, where tens of thousands of revellers traditionally gather.

“It’s no secret that Moscow is one of the choice targets for terrorists,” Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said recently.

In the heart of Europe, more than 100,000 police were deployed throughout France to guard celebrations that come six weeks after the militant attacks in Paris.

Annual festivities and fireworks in Brussels were cancelled as the Belgian capital – home to Nato and the European Union – remains on high alert.

There were instead plenty of private firework displays throughout Brussels at midnight, accompanied by cheers and loud music, but the celebrations were vastly diminished compared to last year’s.

“People are scared. They are staying home and avoiding public places,” taxi driver Abdullah told Agence France-Presse in the Ixelles neighbourhood as he waited for customers who he estimated have dropped 40 per cent this year.

Belgian officials are battling terror on two fronts – with police holding five people over an alleged New Year attack plot in Brussels as well as arresting a tenth suspect over the Paris attacks.

Paris, still reeling from the Nov 13 slaughter of 130 people, also cancelled its main fireworks display on the Champs Elysees avenue, and more than 100,000 police were deployed throughout France to guard celebrations as defiant Parisians turned out on the iconic tree-lined boulevard to greet 2016 in the biggest public gatherings since the attacks. 

The authorities had agreed that France’s biggest public gathering since the attacks can go ahead on the famous boulevard, with bolstered security.

“The people of Paris and France need this symbolic passage into the New Year,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

“It’s New Year. We wanted to have fun as usual, in spite of everything, so we came on the Champs as this is the perfect place for it,” said a woman who said her name was Joy, along with her friend Rebecca, in their 20s, who came for the celebrations.

In his New Year address, President Francois Hollande said France “has not finished with terrorism yet” and that the threat of another attack “remains at its highest level”.

Britain welcomed in 2016 with giant fireworks shows in London and Edinburgh as hundreds of thousands of revellers hit the streets to see in the New Year. Some 12,000 fireworks filled the clear night sky in London, exploding around the London Eye ferris wheel on the opposite side of the River Thames as Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament's clock tower chimed in the New Year.

Scotland Yard posted around 3,000 officers across central London in what was reported to be an unprecedented anti-terror security effort.

“Our plans are purely precautionary and not as a result of any specific intelligence,” said Superintendent Jo Edwards, spokeswoman for Scotland Yard.

Fireworks were banned in towns and cities across Italy, in some cases because of a recent spike in air pollution but also because of fears that, in the current climate, sudden loud bangs could cause panic.

In Madrid, thousands of people flocked to Puerta del Sol square, however police limited the number allowed in to just 25,000.

Berliners did better with about a million expected at the Brandenburg Gate for a free mega-street party.

But in a sign of the jitters over possible attacks, Germany shut down two train stations in the southern city of Munich about an hour before midnight on Thursday following a tip from the intelligence service of a friendly country that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group was planning a suicide bomb attack. The stations – Munich’s central station and Pasing station some 8km away – reopened several hours later after the tip-off could not be substantiated.

In the United States, the authorities said they had arrested and charged a 25-year-old American Muslim convert over an alleged attempt to launch a New Year’s Eve attack in Rochester, upstate New York in the name of ISIS.

Afterwards, Rochester, about 530km north-west of New York City, cancelled its New Year's Eve fireworks display.

In New York City, more than a million people in New York's Times Square hailed the arrival of 2016 with kisses, cheers and a measure of relief as America's biggest New Year's Eve celebration unfolded without a hitch under a blanket of unprecedented security. The transition to the new year was marked by the descent of the traditional lighted crystal ball from atop a skyscraper at the centre of the famed Manhattan crossroads, the climax of an annual rite of winter dating back to 1904.

The city for the first time was deploying its new Critical Response Command, which includes more heavily armed officers trained to detect and respond to attacks.

An estimated two million people watched fireworks over the sea at at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, which will later this year host the Olympics.  

Alongside the party, swarms of worshipers dressed in white waded into the ocean to leave offerings for Yemanja, the goddess of the sea in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble faith.