Celeb deaths, terrorism on minds of partygoers as world greets 2017

Celebrations in Australia and elsewhere in the Pacific region kicked off a night of revelry on Saturday under stringent security as partygoers elsewhere round the globe geared up to ring in the new year.

A dazzling fireworks show in Sydney at midnight (1300 GMT) paid tribute to the late stars of 2016 in a light display depicting space odysseys, candy canes and purple rain.

Fireworks in the shape of the planet Saturn exploded over Sydney's harbour, honouring the late musician David Bowie, while late actor Gene Wilder also received a tribute with the tune of Willy Wonka playing as the iconic skyline erupted with candy-coloured fireworks.

Anna Fassbinder, 18, from Cologne said it took her breath away. "It was incredible, they did things with fireworks I didn't think were possible," she told dpa.

At a fireworks display earlier Saturday evening, more than 1 million people around Sydney's harbour foreshore cheered as purple fireworks rained down from the Harbour Bridge to the sounds of Prince's hit "Purple Rain."

Advance planning was required for those wanting to watch the event with their own eyes. The most sought-after vistas from peninsulas around Sydney's Opera House are now ticketed, and hundreds slept out in queues overnight to get the best spots when gates opened on Saturday morning.

Around 1.5 million people were expected to pack the Australian city's harbour area to see 7 million Australian dollars' (5.04 million US dollars') worth of fireworks go up in smoke in a 12-minute extravaganza, with 1 billion more viewers expected via live stream on social media.

Police have assured the public there are no known terrorist threats to the festivities, but for the first time buses will be used to block roads leading to the pedestrian zones to prevent truck attacks such as those in Berlin and Nice.

Parties in cities across Germany are set to take place against a backdrop of heavy police presence and bolstered security measures.

In Cologne, where hundreds of women reported being harassed, assaulted and in some cases raped by groups of men during last year's celebrations, authorities had increased the number of police officers on the beat tenfold to around 1,500 in the city centre alone. Fireworks, a popular New Year's Eve tradition in Germany, were also banned in some areas.

Admission to the party at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, Germany's biggest New Year's Eve celebration, began 10 hours ahead of midnight, allowing time for thorough checks. The event kicks of at 20:15 (1915 GMT), with a host of acts performing in the run-up to the chimes of midnight.

Terrorist threats impacted party plans outside Europe as well. India has deployed heavy security after Israel warned it of imminent "terrorist attacks" on tourists and western targets in the country. Meanwhile in China, police have warned residents to avoid crowded areas and there are no official celebrations in Beijing this year.

New Year's Eve celebrations elsewhere:

- In Japan, temples and shrines across the country rang their bells 108 times around midnight, as people, often dressed up in kimonos, came to pray for good health and prosperity in the new year. The number of such visitors during the first three days of the year is expected to reach 100 million, though many Japanese are not religious.

- In New Zealand, one of the first countries to bring in the New Year, Max Key, the son of the former prime minister John Key, DJed as five minutes of fireworks went up from Auckland's Sky Tower.

- In Thailand, fireworks have been banned from New Year's celebrations after the government decreed a one-year mourning period for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October aged 88. But as the year ticked over, hundreds of thousands of people were expected to jointly sing a new year song composed by Bhumibol himself, followed by the royal anthem.

- In Kuala Lumpur, places like the iconic Merdeka Square and the Petronas Twin Towers were expected to attract thousands to usher in 2017 against a backdrop of fireworks and live music.

- For a handful of tiny Pacific nations, the bells to mark the start of 2017 had long chimed by the time other countries joined in the fun. Samoa, for example, celebrated the new year at midnight (1000 GMT), 19 hours before revellers were set to do the same in New York.

Last update: Sat, 31/12/2016 - 18:33
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