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Istanbul attack revives terror jitters as millions around the world ring in 2017

world Updated: Jan 01, 2017 10:45 IST
Istanbul attack

Turkish police officers block the road leading to the scene of an attack in Istanbul, early Sunday, January 1, 2017. An assailant believed to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume and armed with a long-barrelled weapon, opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul's Ortakoy district.(AP Photo)

Gunmen who killed at least 39 revelers in an Istanbul nightclub while dressed as Santa Claus revived terror jitters as millions of people around the world ring in 2017 in style on Saturday.

The attack, which also wounded at least 40 more people as panicked clubgoers jumped into the Bosphorus, stoked fears that large crowds of people cramming into major cities to celebrate the New Year could present a target for violent extremists.

Sydney kicked off the party -- which saw tightened security around the globe -- with a spectacular fireworks display that lit up its iconic harbour.

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

Around 1.5 million people thronged Australia’s biggest city to watch midnight fireworks erupting from the Harbour Bridge.

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.

Read | White House condemns ‘savagery’ of Istanbul attack that killed at least 35

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.

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 in the United States and Philippines.

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 neighbourhood, 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.

Syrians children pose for a picture with men dressed in Santa Claus outfits in Aleppo's government controlled Aziziyah neighbourhood on December 31, 2016. (AFP Photo)

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

“This year, what’s new is that we will place concrete blocks and position heavy armoured vehicles at the entrances” to the zone around Brandenburg Gate, said a police spokesman.

However, visitors seemed undeterred by recent events as they began to gather 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.

Brussels reinstated its fireworks show after last year’s was cancelled at the last minute due to a terrorist threat.

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.

There were also audio clips from Team GB’s successes at the Rio Olympics as fireworks exploded into the air from platforms on the water and on the London Eye ferris wheel.

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

A German police man guards the venue at the Brandenburg Gate, during the upcoming New Year's Eve celebrations in Berlin. (REUTERS)

An estimated 3,000 police, including armed officers, were deployed on the streets of the capital for the event.

With more than a million people expected to turn out to watch the ball drop in Times Square, New York is deploying 165 “blocker” trucks and some 7,000 police.

Extra security was also in place in Moscow, Istanbul and London.

‘Leap second’

Rome stationed armoured vehicles and greater numbers of security forces around the Coliseum and St Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis will celebrate a “Te Deum” hymn of thanksgiving.

In an earlier Mass, the pontiff urged people to reflect on the plight of the young as the year drew to a close.

“We have created a culture that idolizes youth... yet at the same time paradoxically we have condemned our young people to have no place in society,” he said.

Elsewhere, issues other than terrorism threatened to dampen the party.

Up to two million people were expected at Rio’s Copacabana Beach. But with Brazil mired in its worst recession in a century, the fireworks have been cut to just 12 minutes.

And normally boisterous Bangkok was seeing in the new year on a more sombre note as the nation grieves for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October.

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

At the stroke of midnight, there will be 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.