Amid New Year's Eve terror threats, cities celebrate 'renewal and hope'
As cities around the world cautiously stepped up security for New Year's events, many mayors emphasized courage and community.
From Beijing to Brussels, New Year's Eve celebrations on Thursday promised a chance to recover, recharge, and hope for a more peaceful 2016, as mayors and police departments prepared to ensure a safe start to the year.
After ISIS-related attacks in Paris and California, among others, and New Year's plots foiled just days before in Turkey and Belgium, a few cities have deemed public celebrations too much of a risk. Authorities in Brussels cancelled fireworks after arresting eight suspected plotters in the last week, one month after the city's four-day lockdown as police searched for suspects in the November 13 Paris attacks.
But many cities decided to go forward, despite a number of threats. Dozens deployed more security, while iconic sites in Beijing and Moscow have limited the size of New Year's crowds.
"The people of Paris and France need this symbolic passage to the new year. ...We need to send a signal to the world: Paris is standing," Mayor Anne Hidalgo told Le Journal du Dimanche. Parisians will still gather at the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées, but watch a video display, rather than traditional fireworks, and 60,000 troops will be deployed throughout France.
Turkey has been on high alert, particularly in the capital, Ankara, where a suicide attack killed 103 in October. On Wednesday, police arrested two suspected ISIS sympathizers with bombs "ready for use" in New Year's attacks, but authorities said celebrations would go on as planned. In Istanbul, increased security will take an unusual form: police officers plan to go undercover in outfits from Santa Claus to pretzel vendors, as the BBC reported.
That spirit was present across Europe, where several cities had received threats: celebrate, but safely. "Caution is a good counselor, fear is not," Berlin's interior minister Frank Henkel told the city, while London Mayor Boris Johnson encouraged Brits to "Get out there and soak up the best we have to offer" amid increased police presence.
In Sydney, one of the first cities to usher in the new year, around one million were expected to watch fireworks over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, taking the Lord Mayor's advice "Don't change your way of life." To get a seat at the $5 million (USD) event, featuring both aboriginal traditions and a pop soundtrack, residents waited hours (and in some cases, days) to grab a prime viewing spot.
New York's Times Square ball-drop, which typically attracts 1 million, was also expected to go forward, with metal screenings and high numbers of police and antiterrorism officers.
Back in Europe, migrant shelters in Germany have called off fireworks to avoid "reliving the trauma" for some of the country's newest residents, according to the Guardian.
Unity and diversity were central themes of Paris Mayor Hidalgo's New Year's message, which she posted on Twitter.
"You knew how to pick yourselves up, come together, and make life triumph," Ms. Hidalgo told Parisians. "You have proven that your courage knows no limits. ...I will be at your side to make this year a time of renewal and hope."
As Paris resident Francoise Malterre told the Associated Press:
It was a very strange year and we just want 2016 to be different, simply a normal one. ...It does not need to be an excellent one, but just a normal one.