As 2016 draws to a close, revelers around the world are bidding a weary adieu to a year filled with political surprises, prolonged conflicts and deaths of legendary celebrities.
Sydney sent up a dazzling tribute to 2016’s fallen icons with a New Year’s Eve fireworks display honoring the late singer David Bowie and late actor Gene Wilder, becoming the first major city to bid a bittersweet adieu to a turbulent year.
The glittering display over Sydney’s famed harbor and bridge featured Saturn and star-shaped fireworks set to “Space Oddity,” the classic song by Bowie — one of the seemingly endless parade of beloved entertainers who died in 2016.
Wilder was also honored as the bridge lit up in a rainbow of colors while a song from Wilder’s famed film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” played.
“This year, sadly, we saw the loss of many music and entertainment legends around the world,” fireworks show co-producer Catherine Flanagan said. “So celebrating their music as part of Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks displays is an opportunity to reflect on the year that has been and what the future may hold.”
More than 300,000 visitors are expected to descend on Las Vegas for an extravagant New Year’s Eve celebration.
Nightclubs are pulling out all the stops with performances from DJ Calvin Harris, rappers T-Pain and Kendrick Lamar and artists Drake and Bruno Mars. The city’s celebrity chefs have crafted elaborate prix fixe menus complete with caviar and champagne toasts.
An eight-minute fireworks show will kick off at the stroke of midnight, with rockets launching from the tops of half a dozen casinos.
Federal officials have ranked the celebration just below the Super Bowl and on par with the festivities in Times Square. FBI and Secret Service agents will work alongside local police departments that are putting all hands on deck for the big night.
“I don’t like the way politics is going,” said Daniel Brandt. “Fears are being fanned and people are so angry with each other.”
The tone of public debate in Germany has become shriller over the past two years with the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants. Some Germans blame Chancellor Angela Merkel for attacks such as the recent rampage in Berlin, where a failed asylum-seeker from Tunisia rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.
As the country heads for a general election in which the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party is expected to poll strongly, Brandt said he was hoping for “proper solutions to our problems.”
Two Israeli tourists, on a visit to the German capital, seemed at a loss when asked about their wishes for 2017. “Peace on Earth. Just happiness, really,” said Nathan and Libat, declining to give their last names.
Walking by the Reichstag, Germany’s Parliament building, Hamed Noori said 2016 had been a good year. “I came to Germany from Afghanistan,” he said. “Life is better here.”
Birgitta Bergquist, a recent retiree visiting Berlin from Sweden, said she looked forward to spending more time with her 3-year-old granddaughter. “And we hope the family stays healthy.”
Nicole Durand-Nusser, originally from France but living in Berlin for almost 50 years, said 2016 had been a difficult year: “Brexit, Trump, Erdogan — it’s all getting worse.
“I’m a convinced European and I hope Europe doesn’t collapse in 2017,” she said.
Neslihan Dogruol, a restaurant owner in a chic Istanbul neighborhood, said she hopes for peace in 2017 following a year filled with “unrest and death.”
“2016 affected everyone badly,” she said, referring to major attacks that hit Turkey in the past year.
The restaurant, adorned with snowflakes and tiny decorative lights for the evening, will have fewer people for dinner. “There is a serious gap between 2015 and 2016 in terms of business, people are going out less,” Dogruol said, adding that she expects more people to come for drinks.
Security measures were heightened in major Turkish cities. Traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, will be closed, police said. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers have been put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.
Ankara and Istanbul were targeted by bomb attacks in 2016, killing more than 180 people. Turkey has been in the throes of violence, combatting the Islamic State group, Kurdish militants and a coup attempt blamed on the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
President Vladimir Putin invoked a bit of seasonal enchantment in his New Year’s Eve remarks to the nation.
“Each of us may become something of a magician on the night of the New Year,” Putin said in a short televised address broadcast in the closing minutes of 2016 in each of Russia’s 11 time zones.
“To do this we simply need to treat our parents with love and gratitude, take care of our children and families, respect our colleagues at work, nurture our friendships, defend truth and justice, be merciful and help those who are in need of support. This is the whole secret,” he said.
New Year’s Eve is Russia’s major gift-giving holiday, and big Russian cities were awash in festive lights and decorations. The Moscow subway offered a special holiday train, festooned with lights and artificial greenery.
“I wish for the next year to better than this,” said rider Alexander Pisaryev.
“We are waiting for good, for peace and order,” said another, Valentina Daineka.
Pope Francis has called on the faithful to help young people find a place in society, noting the paradox of “a culture that idolizes youth” and yet has made no place for the young.
Francis said during vespers marking New Year’s Eve that young people have been “pushed to the margins of public life, forcing them to migrate or to beg for jobs that no longer exist, or fail to promise them a future.”
More than responsibility, the pope said the world owed young people a debt, saying it has deprived them of “dignified and genuine work” that would allow them to take part in society, instead condemning them “to knock on doors that for the most part remain closed.”
Temple bells echoed at midnight as families gather around noodles and revelers flock to shrines for the biggest holiday in Japan.
“I feel this sense of duality,” said Kami Miyamoto, 21, an economics student at Meiji University in Tokyo, who traveled home in Hakusan, Ishikawa prefecture, for the holiday.
“The world is heading toward conservative insular policies,” she said of the U.S. election, Brexit and what she believes lies ahead for elections in Europe in 2017. “We learned about how valuable it is to get correct information.”
One of the most memorable experiences for Miyamoto in 2016 was a three-week study program in South Korea. She was surprised and moved by the friendship she formed with South Korean students, and she has decided to focus her studies on relations with South Korea.
“Studying about the U.S. and Europe seems to be about looking at the past, but East Asian studies are focusing on the future,” she said.
Miyamoto’s mother is preparing soba noodles, a standard New Year’s Eve dish in Japan, except in their home it will be filled with green onions and shrimp. As the new year rolls in, the entire family, including her younger brother and sister, will drive to a nearby shrine, which, like temples all over Japan, will be filled with those praying for good fortune in the Year of the Rooster, according to the Chinese zodiac.
Residents in Beijing and Shanghai, China’s two largest cities, were passing New Year’s Eve quietly in a relative state of security lockdown, according to Chinese media reports citing police.
The Bund waterfront in Shanghai had no celebrations, authorities announced this week, while the sale, use and transportation of fireworks in central Shanghai will be prohibited altogether. Large buildings that often display light shows also stayed dark. More than 30 people died two years ago in a deadly stampede on Shanghai’s waterfront, where 300,000 people had gathered to watch a planned light show.
Beijing police also said countdowns, light shows, lotteries and other organized activities will not be held in popular shopping districts such as Sanlitun and Guomao. Beijing police advised citizens to avoid crowded areas, closely watch elderly relatives and children, and be aware of exit routes in venues.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his annual New Year’s Eve address that his government will continue to focus on alleviating poverty at home and resolutely defending China’s territorial rights.
Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans ushered in the new year with a massive protest demanding the resignation of disgraced President Park Geun-hye. It was the 10th straight weekend of protests that led to Park’s impeachment on Dec. 9 over a corruption scandal.
The evening rally was planned to overlap with Seoul’s traditional bell-tolling ceremony at the Bosinkgak pavilion at midnight, which was also expected to be a political statement against Park.
The city’s mayor, Park Won-soon, invited as guests a man whose teenage son was among more than 300 people who died during a 2014 ferry sinking, and a woman who was forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s World War II military.
Park Geun-hye came under heavy criticism over the way her government handled the ferry disaster.
“So many unbelievable things happened in 2016. It didn’t feel real; if felt like a movie,” protester Lee Huymi said about the bizarre scandal that brought Park down. “So I hope 2017 brings a movie-like ending to the mess.”
For most people in India, New Year’s Eve is a time for family. In New Delhi and many other cities, newspapers are full of big advertisements for lavish parties at upscale hotels and restaurants. The big draws at the hotel parties are song and dance performances from Bollywood and television stars.
The western city of Mumbai will host big street parties with thousands of people at the iconic Gateway of India, a colonial-era structure on the waterfront overlooking the Arabian Sea. And there was talk about money — India’s recent devaluing of its currency in an apparent effort to cut graft and tax evasion.
“2016 was boring but Modi brought about a twister near the end,” said 18-year-old student Jugal Jadhwani of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement in early November.
“2016 was good and with demonetization 2017 should be good for the Indian economy and India should move to the digital age,” he said.
The Philippines’ notorious tradition of dangerous New Year’s Eve celebrations persisted after President Rodrigo Duterte delayed to next year his ban on the use of powerful firecrackers, often worsened by celebratory gunfire.
Powerful firecrackers and gunfire have maimed hundreds of people and killed some each year across the Philippines despite government crackdowns, an annual government scare campaign and efforts by officials to set up centralized fireworks displays, like on Saturday night.
Duterte’s southern Davao City hasn’t been tainted by the bloody record because of a largely successful firecrackers ban he enforced when he was still the city’s crime-busting mayor. Last month, he said he would delay his plan to replicate his Davao ban nationwide by a year because many have already invested in firecrackers and he was concerned by the impact of an abrupt ban on poor Filipinos employed in the industry.
Before New Year’s Eve, the Department of Health said Saturday that 139 people had been injured by firecracker blasts in recent days, mostly children under 15.
New Year’s is the biggest party of the year in Romania, and thousands flocked to the mountains to ski, hike and celebrate, some in the mood for fun, others anxious about global challenges in 2017.
Former Finance Minister Daniel Daianu, traveling to the mountain town of Sinaia, told The Associated Press that Western governments should pay closer attention to the public mood.
“People are frustrated, people are resentful and people react,” he said. “Unless governments pay attention to fairness and fair play, we could see some very unpleasant surprises.”
Early Saturday, young Romanians roamed streets and trains, wearing peasant costumes and singing traditional songs about goats — a New Year symbol — while waving wands made of dried flowers.
One tradition was squelched this year. Police banned masked revelers in the northeastern village of Ruginoasa from staging a traditional fight between young men involving whips and bats after several people were injured a few years ago.
In Dubai, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to watch as fireworks shoot from the sides of the world’s tallest building, the 828-meter (2,716-foot) Burj Khalifa. The show also will be streamed live online.
But authorities hope they won’t see a repeat of last year’s excitement, when police say faulty wiring sparked a fire several hours before midnight at The Address Downtown, a 63-story skyscraper nearby. The high-rise tower still remains under repair.
The United Arab Emirates, a staunch Western ally that hosts U.S. military personnel fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, remains a peaceful corner in the otherwise turbulent Middle East.
However, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi issued a warning Thursday to Americans that “extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks worldwide during this period with little or no warning.”
Associated Press writers contributing to this report were: Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Michelle Rindles in Las Vegas, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Gerry Shih in Beijing, Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Colleen Barry in Milan, Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Jim Heintz in Moscow and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines.