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World Greets 2016 with Hopes for Less Violence

  • VOA News

A reveler takes a photo of himself during the annual New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.

A reveler takes a photo of himself during the annual New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.

People around the world welcomed the New Year 2016 with hopes for improved economic conditions and much less violence.

Despite warnings about possible terrorist plots that caused heightened security precautions in many population centers, New Year celebrations almost everywhere were happy and untroubled.

In Munich, trains ran on time Friday. Police in southern Germany lifted a terrorism alert in the city Friday, hours after evacuating two train stations to prevent a feared New Year's Eve suicide attack by extremists from the Islamic State (IS) group.

German police secure the main train station in Munich, Germany, January 1, 2016.

German police secure the main train station in Munich, Germany, January 1, 2016.

​After midnight festivities in the Bavarian capital took place peacefully, state interior minister Joachim Herrmann said there was no longer any specific information indicating a terror attack "today or tomorrow at a specific location." Nevertheless, he said, there is still a high risk of terrorism in Europe, including in Germany and in Bavaria.

Munich police said precautions were ordered Thursday evening officials as a result of "very concrete" information that suicide attackers were planning to detonate explosions in the city's train stations at midnight, at the climax of Munich's New Year's celebrations. Herrmann said an intelligence tip indicated that five to seven IS militants were involved.

In another scare involving transit links where large crowds could be expected, about 500 people were evacuated from two subway stations in Moscow Friday. The RIA news agency said police had been tipped about possible bomb attacks.

There was no indication whether police using bomb-sniffing dogs recovered any suspicious material.

Earlier, barricades were put up at entrances to Moscow's iconic Red Square, traditionally a popular spot for revelers to ring in the New Year. Precautions against terrorism have been on the rise around the Kremlin since a Russian passenger jet broke apart and crashed in Egypt in October, several few weeks after Russian warplanes launched an intensive aerial campaign against IS fighters and other targets in Syria.

IS militants have said they planted explosives aboard the commercial jet, which was carrying vacationers from Red Sea resorts to St. Petersburg in Russia.

Pope's New Year Wishes

In Vatican City, Pope Francis told pilgrims he was praying that 2016 would be a better year than 2015. He called for an end to the "arrogance of the powerful," which he said relegates the weak and the poor to the outskirts of society.

Pope Francis leads mass on New Year's Day, Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, Jan. 1, 2016.

Pope Francis leads mass on New Year's Day, Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican, Jan. 1, 2016.

In his New Year's homily to about 10,000 people in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope also called for an end to "false neutrality" and nations' inaction. He said this encourages conflict, hunger and persecution and ultimately is responsible for the human tide of refugees that the world has seen during the past year.

"How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights?" the pope asked.

The Roman Catholic Church marks January 1 each year as a World Day of Peace.

Fireworks' glow eclipse terrorism fears

Despite the concerns about possible terrorist activity, grand New Year's celebrations took place unimpeded throughout the world, before large crowds of revelers.

In New York City, nearly a million people joined traditional festivities in Times Square, singing and calling out greetings, wearing party hats and other regalia toasting the arrival of 2016. Television cameras broadcast the scenes throughout the country and around the world. Six thousand police — in uniform or undercover, some with radiation detectors and other high-tech equipment — were on duty to protect the crowd.

Demi Lovato performs at the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.

Demi Lovato performs at the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.

​British vocalist Jessie J sang John Lennon's song Imagine just before a huge crystal ball high above the square lit up at the stroke of midnight. Confetti flew and fireworks light up the night sky in the biggest celebration in the U.S. Afterwards, the crowd was treated to recordings by Frank Sinatra (New York, New York), Ray Charles (America) and Louis Armstong (Wonderful World).

Concerns about security were higher than usual in the United States, and all holiday celebrants were urged to be vigilant, following recent terror attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris.

Several hundred kilometers from New York City, federal authorities arrested a 25-year-old man said to be an aspiring IS fighter, hours before he allegedly intended to carry out a New Year's Eve attack on a restaurant. Emanuel Lutchman, arrested Wednesday in Rochester, New York, was charged with attempting to provide material support to terrorists.

Other Terror Concerns

Elsewhere around the world, heightened fears of terrorism resulted in restrictions on holiday celebrations in several locations.

Jakarta was on high alert, after Indonesian police said they uncovered plans for a terror attack in the capital.

Authorities in Brussels canceled New Year's Eve fireworks displays in the Belgian capital, because they would have been unable to adequately screen crowds of spectators. "It's better not to take any risks," Mayor Yvan Mayeur said. Two people were arrested earlier in the week in connection with a suspected New Year's Eve terror plot, and police detained six others on Thursday.

Belgian soldiers stand guard on Brussels' Grand Place, Dec. 30, 2015, after two people were arrested in Belgium on Sunday and Monday, both suspected of plotting an attack in Brussels on New Year's Eve, federal prosecutors said.

Belgian soldiers stand guard on Brussels' Grand Place, Dec. 30, 2015, after two people were arrested in Belgium on Sunday and Monday, both suspected of plotting an attack in Brussels on New Year's Eve, federal prosecutors said.

Security investigations in Belgium have been wide-ranging since the November terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Altogether, police in Belgium have detained 10 people suspected of involvement in the Paris bloodbath.

The main fireworks display in Paris was canceled Thursday night, but other celebrations went forward on a reduced scale. President Francois Hollande said in a New Year message that France is not finished with terrorism, and that the threat remains at its highest level.

Britain welcomed in 2016 with giant fireworks shows in London and Edinburgh, as hundreds of thousands of revelers hit the streets.

Fireworks filled the clear night sky in London, watched by 113,000 ticket holders lining the banks of the River Thames, along with thousands of others craning for a view from vantage points around the city.

As Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament's clock tower chimed in the New Year, fireworks exploded around the London Eye Ferris wheel on the opposite side of the Thames.

Fireworks explode over the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster's Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, as the New Years Day celebrations begins in London, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016.

Fireworks explode over the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster's Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, as the New Years Day celebrations begins in London, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016.

Rio de Janeiro kicked off its Olympic year with a fiesta on Copacabana Beach for more than 2 million people. Brazil's most popular New Year's Eve show was illuminated by 24 tons of fireworks. To celebrate Rio's hosting of the 2016 Summer Games in August, the soundtrack for revelers included music from previous Olympics and songs paying homage to samba on its 100th anniversary.

Elsewhere, two suspected IS members were detained in Turkey Wednesday. They were believed to be planning suicide attacks on revelers in Ankara.

In downtown Dubai, a massive fireworks display took place as scheduled at midnight local time, even as a massive fire burned at a luxury hotel, leaving at least 14 people injured.

Hours earlier, in Sydney, one of the first places to ring in 2016, Australians were treated to a spectacular fireworks display that lit up the city's famed harbor. The 12-minute light show incorporated seven tons of pyrotechnics that cost $5.1 million. In Hong Kong, revelers gathered along Victoria Harbor, which was illuminated with a dazzling fireworks display.

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