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Istanbul attack overshadows New Year festivities

New Year fireworks illuminate the sky over the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge in Sydney on January 1, 2017. AFP PHOTO 

New York, United States | AFP |

An attack that killed 39 revelers in an Istanbul nightclub overshadowed New Year celebrations around the world to ring in 2017.

The massacre stoked fears that large crowds of people cramming into major cities could present a target for violent extremists.

Festivities in New York, where a crowd estimated at nearly a million people packed into Times Square, apparently went off without a hitch, however. Security was very tight.

Revelers screamed with glee and couples kissed at the raucous instant when the traditional ball dropped at the Big Apple’s ionic crossroads. Fireworks lit up the sky and the voice of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” rang out.

President-elect Donald Trump sent his best wishes to the American people.

“Looking forward to a wonderful & prosperous 2017 as we work together to #MAGA,” Trump tweeted at the stroke of midnight.

Following truck attacks in Berlin during Christmas and in Nice over the summer, New York deployed some 7,000 police and dozens of garbage trucks to prevent vehicles from crushing the crowd.

“It’s the best place in the world to be on New Year’s Eve,” said Alma Alanis, a lawyer from Mexico with her companion, Eduardo Chavarria. They arrived at midday and spent hours waiting for the big moment.

Sydney kicked off celebrations attended by some 1.5 million people with a spectacular fireworks display that lit up its iconic harbor.

Crowds in Hong Kong also flocked to the waterfront to watch fireworks explode over Victoria Harbour, while in Japan thousands packed the streets of Tokyo to release balloons into the air.

Celebrations swung into Europe with the night sky over Moscow’s Red Square literally painted red by the fireworks.

And around half a million people thronged Paris’s famous Champs-Elysees, where the Arc de Triomphe was lit up with a colourful countdown to 2017 and the word “welcome” in dozens of languages.

Under the watchful eye of some 2,000 military police, around two million people watched a fireworks display on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach that while impressive was shortened this year due to a severe economic crisis.

The raucous celebrations drew to an end a year of political shocks, from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union to the election of maverick leaders like Trump in the United States.

It has also been a year of celebrity deaths from David Bowie to Prince and Mohammed Ali.

2016 was also a year of bloodshed and misery that has seen the war in Syria, Europe’s migrant crisis and numerous terror attacks dominate the headlines.

– ‘Tonight is about fun’ –

The violence continued on Saturday, with twin bomb blasts killing at least 27 in a busy market area in central Baghdad.

But this did not stop people from flooding the streets of the Iraqi capital to celebrate and families in evening dress headed to swanky hotels for parties.

Fadhel al-Araji, a 21-year-old from the Sadr City neighborhood, already had his beer in the back of his car.

“Tonight is about fun… Everybody can do what they want and nobody cares. We need a night like this, Iraq needs it,” he said, behind the wheel of his beat-up Toyota.

In the shattered Syrian city of Aleppo, 20-year-old student Abdel Wahab Qabbani was also determined to see in 2017 in a positive frame of mind.

“The last two years, I didn’t go out for New Year. This time, I’m going to party,” he said.

The Gulf emirate of Dubai marked the New Year with its usual gigantic pyrotechnics off the world’s highest skyscraper, Burj Khalifa, as well as other landmarks.

This year’s celebration passed without problems, unlike last year when a fierce blaze broke out at a nearby tower.

– ‘Concrete blocks’ –

But revelers did have to contend with reinforced security measures and a heightened police presence.

There were some 2,000 extra officers in Sydney after a man was arrested for allegedly making online threats against the celebrations and garbage trucks were deployed to block any attempt to plow a vehicle into the crowd.

Following the deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market on December 19, the German capital beefed up security, deploying extra police, some armed with machine guns.

However, visitors seemed undeterred by recent events as they gathered under a freezing Berlin sky for a series of concerts ahead of a large midnight fireworks display in the area.

Paris saw fireworks again, after muted 2015 celebrations following the massacre of 130 people by jihadists in the French capital.

Nearly 100,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers were deployed across France.

In London, more than 100,000 people lined the banks of the River Thames to watch a spectacular 12-minute fireworks display set to a soundtrack featuring music by Bowie and Prince.

Mayor Sadiq Khan proclaimed that despite the vote for Brexit, “London is open to the world.”

An estimated 3,000 police, including armed officers, were deployed on the streets.

Nevertheless, revelers at least got one extra second to enjoy the night’s festivities.

At the stroke of midnight, there was a “leap second” decreed by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service to allow astronomical time to catch up with atomic clocks that have called the hour since 1967.


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