World greets New Year despite fears and huge Dubai fire
On a New Year’s Eve haunted by fears of terrorism, a spectacular fire in one of Dubai’s tall towers captured the world’s attention. With few exceptions, the celebrations rolled on, and while fire still raged, the Dubai Media office declared on Twitter: “New Year celebrations in Dubai will continue as scheduled.”
As 2015 drew to a close, many people were bidding a weary and wary adieu to a year marred by attacks that left nations reeling and nerves rattled.
In Bangkok, site of a deadly bombing months ago, police flanked partygoers. In Paris, residents recovering from their city’s own deadly attacks prepared for scaled-back celebrations. And in Munich, police were worried about the threat of a terror attack.
A look at how people around the welcomed the new year:
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
In the megacity of Dubai, a fire broke out two hours before midnight in The Address hotel, in the area where a massive fireworks display was being prepared.
The five-star hotel is near the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. At least one person suffered a heart attack from the smoke and over-crowding during evacuation, and 14 suffered minor injuries.
Organizers said the Burj Khalifa had been fitted with 400,000 LED lights and 1.6 tons of fireworks would be used in the display.
Burning debris rained down from The Address building as firetrucks raced to the scene. It was unclear what caused the fire, which ran up the 63-story building. The Address has 626 luxury apartments and 196 hotel rooms, according to Skyscraper Center, which tracks skyscrapers.
The French are still recovering from the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, and authorities were preparing for a possible worst-case scenario on New Year’s Eve. About 60,000 police and troops were being deployed across the country.
French President Francois Hollande used his traditional New Year’s Eve speech to warn that the terrorist threat is still at its “highest level.”
“2015 has been a year of suffering and resistance,” he said. “Let’s make 2016 a year of courage and hope.”
Paris canceled its usual fireworks display in favor of a 5-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight, relayed on screens along the Champs Elysee.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the show was to be aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together.”
Less than six months after a pipe bomb killed 20 people at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, tens of thousands of people rang in the new year at the intersection with live music and a countdown.
Up to 5,000 police officers were in the area, with explosive ordnance disposal experts sweeping the area ahead of time.
Security was beefed up in Malaysia’s biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, where fireworks greeted the new year at a historic square and at the Petronas Twin Towers, one of the world’s tallest buildings.
Concern in the Philippines on New Year’s Eve focused on the use of illegal fireworks, which last year injured more than 850 people. Shopping malls and cities organized fireworks displays to discourage people from lighting their own firecrackers.
An annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a black wooden statue of Jesus Christ, was held a day earlier than usual Thursday to prevent injuries from mounds of trash and unexploded firecrackers that litter Manila’s streets after New Year’s revelries.
New Year’s Eve is Japan’s biggest holiday, and millions of people crammed into trains to flee the cities for their hometowns to slurp down bowls of noodles, symbolizing longevity, while watching the annual “Red and White” song competition on television. As midnight approached, families bundled up for visits to neighborhood temples, where the ritual ringing of huge bronze bells reverberated through the chill.
Tokyo was on special alert for security issues, with posters in subways and other public spaces warning people to keep their eyes open for suspicious packages or activities.
South Koreans marked New Year’s Eve with traditional bell ringing ceremonies, fireworks and outdoor music and dance performances. One celebration was organized at a town near the border with rival North Korea to watch one of the ceremonies and wish for peaceful Korean unification.
In the final hours of 2015, Pope Francis encouraged humanity to hang on to recollections of good deeds so that gestures of goodness can be seen triumphing over evil.
Francis presided over a year’s end prayer service Thursday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica, where he mused about how people are sometimes driven by “insatiable thirst for power and by gratuitous violence.” He said it was impossible to forget “so many days marked by violence, by death, by the unspeakable suffering of so many innocents.”
New Zealand, the first nation with a sizable population to celebrate the New Year, counted down the seconds to midnight with a giant digital clock on Auckland’s landmark Sky Tower. Horns blared and crowds cheered as the tower was lit up with fireworks, with colors shifting from green to red to white.
Simultaneous fireworks displays erupted along Sydney’s famed harbor, where people crowded onto balconies, into waterside parks and onto boats as they jockeyed for the best view, clinking glasses and whooping with joy as the first pyrotechnics exploded.
More than 1 million people had been expected to watch the glittery display, featuring a multicolored fireworks waterfall cascading off the Sydney Harbour Bridge and effects in the shapes of butterflies, octopuses and flowers.
An official New Year’s Eve celebration was staged near Beijing’s Forbidden City with performances and fireworks, and one of China’s most popular TV stations broadcast a gala from the National Stadium, known to most as the iconic Bird’s Nest.
For safety reasons, Shanghai closed subway stations near the scenic waterfront Bund, mindful of a stampede last New Year’s Eve that killed 36 people and blemished the image of China’s most prosperous metropolis.
Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers banned New Year celebrations in the Palestinian coastal enclave. Police spokesman Ayman Batniji said hotels and restaurants were allowed to hold parties a day earlier or a day later.
“Celebrating the new year contradicts the instructions of Islamic religion,” Batniji said. “It’s a Western custom that we don’t accept in Gaza.”
In Cairo, people put aside fears of the growing number of militant attacks throughout the country to celebrate the new year. Engineering graduate Mohamed Youssef, whose military service begins in a few months, attended a house party.
“It doesn’t matter if they deploy me to Sinai or throw me in the western desert,” he said. “I don’t care if I lose a leg or my life. Tonight, we drink and dance!”
Police in Kenya, which has been repeatedly attacked by al-Shabaab militants from neighboring Somalia, urged vigilance as many people prepared to celebrate the new year in hotels and watch midnight fireworks displays. Unauthorized fireworks were banned as safety hazards “in view of the elevated threat of terrorism,” police said.
In Brussels, 2016 was to be rung in without the customary fireworks display and downtown street party. The festivities were canceled by Mayor Yvan Mayeur, who said it would have been impossible to administer adequate security checks to all 100,000 people expected to attend.
On Thursday morning, forklifts and trucks removed generators and other equipment from the Place de Brouckere, the broad square in central Brussels where the fireworks show was supposed to happen. Some people called that knuckling under to the extremist threat.
In Munich, police warned of an imminent threat of a terror attack as midnight approached and ordered two train stations cleared.
But up to a million revelers were expected at Berlin’s annual New Year’s Eve party at landmark Brandenburg Gate. Traditionally, Germans welcome the new year with fireworks, jelly doughnuts and lots of champagne and sparkling wine.
Major celebrations marked by fireworks spectaculars were planned in London, Edinburgh and other big cities despite a terror threat judged to be severe. Police advised revelers not to go to the fireworks displays without tickets and to be ready to have their belongings searched.
Rio de Janeiro’s main soiree on Copacabana Beach was to have dual themes: the 100th anniversary of samba music and the kickoff to the Olympics, which the city will host in August. More than 2 million people were expected on the beaches Thursday.
Around 1 million people were expected to converge on Times Square for the annual New Year’s Eve celebration. The party was to begin with musical acts including Luke Bryan, Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato and Carrie Underwood and end with fireworks and the descent of a glittering crystal ball from a rooftop flagpole.
This year’s festivities will were being attended by nearly 6,000 police officers, including members of a specialized counterterrorism unit.
Officials urged revelers to leave bags, backpacks and strollers at home as police readied for hundreds of thousands of partiers to flood the Las Vegas Strip. It’s wasn’t a first-of-its-kind request, but it got extra emphasis following deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.
Nearly 1,000 uniformed officers and an undisclosed number of undercover officers were to be posted along the popular 4-mile-long, casino-filled corridor.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman lamented the prospect that fear might keep people from celebrating New Year’s Eve.
“We cannot let that rule,” she said.