Jittery world bids adieu to a year marred by terror

December 31, 2015
People watch and use their smartphones to take picture of fireworks, to celebrate the New Year at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

People watch and use their smartphones to take picture of fireworks, to celebrate the New Year at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

(AP) — In Bangkok, police-flanked partygoers will ring in the new year at the site of a deadly bombing that took place just months ago. In Paris, residents recovering from their city’s own deadly attacks will enjoy scaled-back celebrations. And in Belgium’s capital, authorities anxious after thwarting what they say was a holiday terror plot have canceled festivities altogether.

As the final hours of 2015 draw to a close, many are bidding a weary and wary adieu to a year marred by terror attacks that left nations reeling and nerves rattled. Still, most places are forging ahead with their celebrations as many refuse to let jitters ruin the joy of the holiday.

“We still have this fear but we need to continue to live,” said Parisian Myriam Oukik. “We will celebrate.”

Here’s a look at how people around the world are planning to do exactly that:

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SOUTH KOREA

South Korea will mark New Year’s Eve with traditional bell ringing ceremonies, fireworks and outdoor music and dance performances. Thousands of people, including North Korean refugees, are expected to gather at a town near the border with rival North Korea to watch one of the ceremonies and wish for peaceful Korean unification.

In her New Year’s message, South Korean President Park Geun-hye stressed again that her government is open to dialogue with North Korea but it will “resolutely” cope with any provocation by Pyongyang.

North Korea is expected to mark the new year with a speech by leader Kim Jong Un, which outside observers use to pore over for insight on the reclusive country’s policy direction.

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JAPAN

New Year’s Eve is Japan’s biggest holiday, and millions 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 NHK song competition. As midnight approaches, families bundle up for visits to neighborhood temples, where the ritual ringing of huge bronze bells reverberates through the chill.

Tokyo is on special alert for security issues this year, with posters in subways and other public spaces warning people to keep their eyes open for suspicious packages or activities.

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CHINA

There is an official New Year’s Eve celebration planned near the Forbidden City with performances and fireworks, and one of China’s most popular TV stations will broadcast a gala from the National Stadium, otherwise known as the iconic Bird’s Nest.

For security reasons, Shanghai is closing subways near the scenic waterfront Bund because of a stampede last New Year’s Eve that killed 36 people and blemished the image of China’s most prosperous and modern metropolis.

Beijing’s shopping and bar areas are under a holiday security alert that started before Christmas and has resulted in armed police standing guard at popular commercial areas. Police commonly issue such alerts during holiday periods to ensure safety.

Chen Chen, a hairdresser in Beijing, said “smog” and “corruption” summed up 2015 for him. He hopes for lower prices and an internet safe from scammers and hackers in 2016.

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AUSTRALIA

In Australia, which has been struggling to contain the threat from home-grown extremists, officials encouraged revelers to enjoy the evening, assuring the public that thousands of extra police would be out patrolling the major cities.

“Don’t change your way of life,” Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle recently urged residents of the nation’s second-largest city, who are expected to gather by the hundreds of thousands despite blistering temperatures to watch nearly 11 tons of fireworks light up the sky. “Don’t let events from around the world challenge the way that we live.”

Melbourne’s rival, Sydney, takes seriously its position as one of the first major cities in the world to ring in each new year and plans to celebrate in its typical showy fashion. More than 1 million Sydneysiders are expected to gather along the city’s famed harbor to watch a glittery fireworks display featuring a multi-colored firework “waterfall” cascading off the Harbour Bridge and pyrotechnic effects in the shapes of butterflies, octopuses and flowers.

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THAILAND

It was less than six months ago that a pipe bomb killed 20 people at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, but tens of thousands of people are expected to gather at the same intersection to ring in the New Year with live music and a countdown.

The bombing is not the only shadow hanging over the festivities. Nine years ago, a series of small bombings at various points around the city forced the last-minute cancellation of midnight celebrations at the same venue — which also was ground zero for an extended political protest in 2010 that was quashed by the army with deadly force.

Up to 5,000 police will be in the area, with explosive ordnance disposal experts making a sweep ahead of time.

While the crowd at the countdown will be noisy, noisier still will be the celebration along the city’s Chao Phraya River, where tourism officials have promised a spectacular fireworks display over two of the kingdom’s most iconic landmarks, the Grand Palace and Wat Arun — the Temple of Dawn.

Asked to describe the past year in two words, Korawut Lam, a college student visiting the northern city of Chiang Mai and nursing a hangover from early celebrations, called 2015 “a mess.” What does 2016 represent to him? “A fresh start.”

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INDIA

In recent days, hotels and restaurants in New Delhi and nearby suburbs have been advertising grand party plans for the Indian capital. Live bands, dancing and plenty of drinks are on offer to help revelers ring in 2016.

Security is a concern. On Tuesday, police and anti-terror squads conducted mock terror-attack drills at a crowded shopping mall and food court. Witnesses, however, were unimpressed. Mona Arthur, a Delhi journalist who was in the mall at the time, dubbed the exercise a “mockery of a mock drill.”

She and a friend were shopping when two police officers ran past them. Then a security official said two terrorists had entered the mall.

“The whole thing was comical,” said Arthur, who was irritated that no information was given to shoppers on where to go or what to do.

Asked to sum up her wishes for 2016 in two words, she replied: “Hope and change.”

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INDONESIA

Indonesian is on high alert after authorities said last week that they had foiled a plot by Islamic militants to attack government officials, foreigners and others in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Aboout 150,000 police officers and soldiers have been deployed to safeguard churches, airports and other public places.

National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anton Charliyan said security is focusing on anticipating attacks in vulnerable regions including the capital Jakarta, the tourist resort of Bali and restive Papua West where President Joko Widodo is celebrating the new year.

More than 9,000 police are deployed in Bali, the site of Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack that killed 202 people in 2002.

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PHILIPPINES

In the Philippines, no specific terrorist threat timed for New Year’s revelries has been detected in the capital, Manila, or other major cities although government forces are always on alert due to the presence of small but violent Muslim militant groups in the country’s south.

Concern on New Year’s Eve is instead focused on the use of illegal fireworks, which last year injured more than 850 people. Shopping malls and cities have organized fireworks displays to discourage people from lighting their own firecrackers. A huge religious sect, the Iglesia ni Cristo, will attempt to break Guinness world records for the largest fireworks display and the highest number of sparklers to be lit in one place.

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BRAZIL

Rio de Janeiro’s main soiree on Copacabana Beach will 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 are expected on the beaches on Thursday.

Police say more officers will be on hand this year than the 1,600 deployed for last year’s bash, but declined to provide specifics. Police have said they will be using special trucks that can carry 15 officers, who will be monitoring any potential terror threats. Capt. Ivan Blaz, spokesman for Rio’s police force, told The Associated Press that they have received no reports of terrorism.

The partying will happen at a time when Brazil is mired in crisis. The economy has plunged, the opposition is pushing to impeach President Dilma Rousseff and a host of financial and government scandals have soured Brazilians.

Meire Gomes, who sells jewelry downtown, summed up 2015 in two words as “economic crisis.” His projection for 2016: “Olympic crisis.”

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FRANCE

The French are still recovering from the Nov. 13 attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris, and authorities are preparing for a possible worst-case scenario on New Year’s Eve. About 60,000 police and troops will be deployed across the country on Thursday.

“The same troops who used to be in Mali, Chad, French Guyana or the Central African Republic are now ensuring the protection of French people,” said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Paris has canceled its usual fireworks display and will instead display a 5-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight, relayed on screens along the Champs Elysée.

In previous years, more than 600,000 French and foreign visitors gathered on the famous avenue for New Year’s Eve. This year, it will be closed to vehicles for just one hour instead of the usual three.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said the “noble and decent” show will be aimed at “sending the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together.”

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BELGIUM

Authorities in Belgium’s capital canceled the planned New Year’s Eve fireworks display amid fears of a terrorist attack.

The decision came one day after authorities arrested two men in connection with an alleged plot to unleash holiday season attacks against police, soldiers and popular locations in Brussels.

The city’s mayor, Yvan Mayeur, said it would be impossible to screen the thousands of revelers who would otherwise be gathering in Brussels to ring in the new year.

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NEW YORK

Around 1 million people are expected to converge on New York City’s Times Square for the annual celebration. The party begins with musical acts, including Luke Bryan, Charlie Puth, Demi Lovato and Carrie Underwood, and ends with fireworks and the descent of a glittering crystal ball from a rooftop flagpole.

This year’s festivities will also be attended by nearly 6,000 New York City police officers, including members of a new specialized counterterrorism unit.

Ronnie Boyd, a Brooklyn resident who sells knickknacks and scarves on Times Square street corners, described his 2015 in two words thusly: “Lousy economy.” As for his hopes for 2016? “More money.”

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KENYA

In the east African nation of Kenya, which has been repeatedly attacked by members of an Islamic extremist group based in Somalia, police are urging vigilance as people prepare to celebrate New Year’s Day, on the eve of which many Kenyans gather in hotels to watch midnight fireworks displays. Unauthorized celebratory fireworks are a safety hazard “in view of the elevated threat of terrorism,” police warned in a statement.

“Kenyans should remain vigilant at all times and know that we are facing a real terror threat since the split of al-Shabaab into two groups, one supporting al-Qaida and another Islamic State,” Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet told The Associated Press. “We are facing a real terror threat because these two groups are struggling to outsmart each other. This therefore is not a time to drop our guard, particularly during this festive season.”

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Associated Press staffers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney; Nirmala George in New Delhi; Louise Watt in Beijing; Nicolas Garriga in Paris; Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia; Jason Corben in Bangkok; Mauricio Savarese in Rio de Janeiro; Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo; Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; and David B. Caruso in New York contributed to this report.

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