Revelers bid adieu to a year of conflicts, celebrity deaths
As 2016 draws to a close, revelers around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts and deaths of legendary celebrities.
How people are ushering in the new year:
After a year that saw the deaths of a seemingly endless parade of entertainers, Sydney will honor some of the most beloved. The city’s famed fireworks display over the harbor will pay homage to Prince and David Bowie, and will be set to a music medley inspired by the late singers.
“We are hoping to make it rain purple this year for the first time, not only off the barges, but also off the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” fireworks director Fortunato Forti said, referencing Prince’s hit “Purple Rain.”
The 7 tons of fireworks launched from barges on the harbor will also include a “Willy Wonka moment” in tribute to the late actor Gene Wilder’s most famous role, fireworks co-producer Catherine Flanagan said. And there will be a nod to the Bowie classic “Space Oddity,” with Saturn, moon and star-shaped fireworks. Bowie lived in Sydney for about 10 years during the 1980s and ‘90s.
“This year, sadly, we saw the loss of many music and entertainment legends around the world,” Flanagan said. “So celebrating their music as part of Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks displays is an opportunity to reflect on the year that has been and what the future may hold.”
Around 1.5 million revelers are expected to ring the harbor to join in the festivities. An extra 2,000 police will be on duty and buses will be used to block off certain pedestrian areas following the deadly truck-driving attacks in Berlin and Nice, France.
Officials urged residents to carry on celebrating as normal, despite the threats of extremist attacks across the globe and in Australia. On Friday, a man was arrested after police say he posted threats on social media related to Sydney’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. New South Wales police said he was acting in isolation and had no known links to extremist groups.
“Ultimately the best way that we can respond to the threats around the world is to fight for our freedoms, enjoy our freedoms, and part of that is ensuring that we go about and celebrate New Year’s Eve,” state Premier Mike Baird said.
More than 300,000 visitors are expected to descend on Las Vegas for an extravagant New Year’s Eve celebration.
Nightclubs are pulling out all the stops with performances from DJ Calvin Harris, rappers T-Pain and Kendrick Lamar and artists Drake and Bruno Mars. The city’s celebrity chefs have crafted elaborate prix fixe menus complete with caviar and champagne toasts.
An eight-minute fireworks show will kick off at the stroke of midnight, with rockets launching from the tops of half a dozen casinos.
Federal officials have ranked the celebration just below the Super Bowl and on par with the festivities in Times Square. FBI and Secret Service agents will work alongside local police departments that are putting all hands on deck for the big night.
In Berlin the mood was more somber than celebratory.
“I don’t like the way politics is going,” said Daniel Brandt. “Fears are being fanned and people are so angry with each other.”
The tone of public debate in Germany has become shriller over the past two years with the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants. Some Germans blame Chancellor Angela Merkel for attacks such as the recent rampage in Berlin, where a failed asylum-seeker from Tunisia rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.
As the country heads for a general election in which the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party is expected to poll strongly, Brandt said he was hoping for “proper solutions to our problems.”
Two Israeli tourists, on a visit to the German capital, seemed at a loss when asked about their wishes for 2017. “Peace on Earth. Just happiness, really,” said Nathan and Libat, declining to give their last names.
Berlin hosts Germany’s biggest open-air New Year’s Eve celebration near the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate. Security, as in previous years, was tight Saturday, with police checking the bags of those entering the party zone.
Authorities have also increased police presence at hotspots in other major cities, including Cologne, where a string of robberies and sexual assaults last year that were blamed largely on migrants from North Africa prompted nationwide outrage.
Neslihan Dogruol, a restaurant owner in a chic Istanbul neighborhood, said she hopes for peace in 2017 following a year filled with “unrest and death.”
“2016 affected everyone badly,” she said, referring to major attacks that hit Turkey in the past year.
The restaurant, adorned with snowflakes and tiny decorative lights for the evening, will have fewer people for dinner. “There is a serious gap between 2015 and 2016 in terms of business, people are going out less,” Dogruol said, adding that she expects more people to come for drinks.
Security measures were heightened in major Turkish cities. Traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, will be closed, police said. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers have been put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.
Ankara and Istanbul were targeted by bomb attacks in 2016, killing more than 180 people. Turkey has been in the throes of violence, combatting the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and a coup attempt blamed on the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Temple bells will echo at midnight as families gather around noodles and revelers flock to shrines for the biggest holiday in Japan.
“I feel this sense of duality,” said Kami Miyamoto, 21, an economics student at Meiji University in Tokyo, who traveled home in Hakusan, Ishikawa prefecture, for the holiday.
“The world is heading toward conservative insular policies,” she said of the U.S. election, Brexit and what she believes lies ahead for elections in Europe in 2017. “We learned about how valuable it is to get correct information.”
One of the most memorable experiences for Miyamoto in 2016 was a three-week study program in South Korea. She was surprised and moved by the friendship she formed with South Korean students, and she has decided to focus her studies on relations with South Korea.
“Studying about the U.S. and Europe seems to be about looking at the past, but East Asian studies are focusing on the future,” she said.
Miyamoto’s mother is preparing soba noodles, a standard New Year’s Eve dish in Japan, except in their home it will be filled with green onions and shrimp. As the new year rolls in, the entire family, including her younger brother and sister, will drive to a nearby shrine, which, like temples all over Japan, will be filled with those praying for good fortune in the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac.
Residents in Beijing and Shanghai, China’s two largest cities, will pass New Year’s Eve in a relative state of security lockdown, according to Chinese media reports citing police.
The Bund waterfront in Shanghai will not have any celebrations, authorities announced this week, while the sale, use and transportation of fireworks in central Shanghai will be prohibited altogether. Large buildings that often display light shows will also stay dark. More than 30 people died two years ago in a deadly stampede on Shanghai’s waterfront, where 300,000 people had gathered to watch a planned light show.
Beijing police also said countdowns, lightshows, lotteries and other organized activities will not be held in popular shopping districts such as Sanlitun and Guomao. Beijing police advised citizens to avoid crowded areas, closely watch elderly relatives and children, and be aware of exit routes in venues.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his annual New Year’s Eve address that his government will continue to focus on poverty alleviation at home and resolutely defending China’s territorial rights on the foreign front.
Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans ushered in the new year with a massive protest demanding the resignation of disgraced President Park Geun-hye. It was the 10th straight weekend of protests that led to Park’s impeachment on Dec. 9 over a corruption scandal.
The evening rally was to overlap with Seoul’s traditional bell-tolling ceremony at the Bosinkgak pavilion at midnight, which was also expected to be a political statement against Park.
The city’s mayor, Park Won-soon, invited as guests a man whose teenage son was among more than 300 people who died during a 2014 ferry sinking, and a woman who was forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s World War II military.
Park came under heavy criticism over the way her government handled the ferry disaster.
“So many unbelievable things happened in 2016. It didn’t feel real; if felt like a movie,” protester Lee Huymi said about the bizarre scandal that brought Park down. “So I hope 2017 brings a movie-like ending to the mess. Everything getting solved, quickly and all at once, leaving us all happy.”
For most people in India, New Year’s Eve is a time for family. In New Delhi and many other cities, newspapers are full of big advertisements for lavish parties at upscale hotels and restaurants. The big draws at the hotel parties are song and dance performances from Bollywood and television stars.
Police with breath analyzers check for drunk driving, and security is tightened in malls and restaurants.
The western city of Mumbai will host big street parties with thousands of people at the iconic Gateway of India, a colonial-era structure on the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Sea. There’ll be music and dancing and occasional fireworks.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
In Dubai, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to watch as fireworks shoot from the sides of the world’s tallest building, the 828-meter (2,716-foot) Burj Khalifa. The show also will be streamed live online.
But authorities hope they won’t see a repeat of last year’s excitement, when police say faulty wiring sparked a fire several hours before midnight at The Address Downtown, a 63-story skyscraper nearby. The high-rise tower still remains under repair.
The United Arab Emirates, a staunch Western ally that hosts U.S. military personnel fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, remains a peaceful corner in the otherwise turbulent Middle East.
However, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi issued a warning Thursday to Americans that “extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks worldwide during this period with little or no warning.”
Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Michelle Rindles in Las Vegas, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Gerry Shih in Beijing, Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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