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Terror Fears Mute New Year’s Cheer

As the world’s metropolises prepare to bid the year farewell on Thursday, some of them are too afraid to celebrate.

Fireworks light up the sky over Sydney's Opera House (L) and Harbour Bridge during New Year celebrations in Sydney on January 1, 2016.  AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN / AFP / SAEED KHAN        (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Fireworks light up the sky over Sydney's Opera House (L) and Harbour Bridge during New Year celebrations in Sydney on January 1, 2016. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN / AFP / SAEED KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

From Brussels to Mogadishu, cities around the world are cancelling their usual celebrations and hoping 2015 ends quietly. 

Terror attacks in cities dominated the news in 2015. As the world’s metropolises prepare to bid the year farewell on Thursday, some of them are too afraid to celebrate.

In Brussels, 100,000 people turned out last year for public fireworks. Those have been canceled this year. “In these circumstances, we can’t check everyone,” said Yvan Mayeur, mayor of the Belgian capital. Prime Minister Charles Michel said the cancellation stems from “information we have received.”

Two people were arrested earlier in the week after allegedly plotting an attack during the holidays, with another six arrests on Thursday, and the city has been on edge since the November Paris attacks and the subsequent manhunt for suspects, which quickly spread to Brussels. On Wednesday, Belgian police arrested a 10th suspect in connection to the attacks. He was found in the capital’s Molenbeek neighborhood, where many of the suspects have ties.

Paris, hit by both a deadly January assault at the offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine and last month’s massacres, called off its beloved fireworks display on the Champs-Élysées, which has drawn 600,000 in the past. “We have decided to mark the New Year in an atmosphere of sobriety and togetherness,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

Toned-down celebrations this year aren’t limited to cities struggling with the direct aftermath of the Paris attacks. Turkey is dealing with security concerns after detaining two alleged Islamic State militants on Wednesday who officials said were planning to attack Ankara, the Turkish capital, on New Year’s Eve. Police in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, arrested two suspects accused of planning a New Year’s Eve suicide attack. London increased the number of armed police on patrol and had officers cancel vacations. The Red Square in Moscow is closed for the evening. Somalia banned Christmas and New Year’s celebrations over terror concerns.

Terror isn’t the only urban risk darkening New Year’s celebrations around the world. Shanghai canceled most of its events in a bid to prevent crowd control issues after 36 people died and 49 were injured in a stampede near the waterfront on New Year’s Eve, 2014. Hamas has banned celebrations in the Gaza Strip for religious regions. Brunei has done the same.

But for most of the world — from Sydney, where 2016 is already underway, to Quito, where celebrants will burn effigies at midnight — it’s New Year’s business as usual, at least for the most part. New York is forging ahead with its annual Time Square bonanza, though there will be an eye-opening 6,000 cops on scene, including 500 trained specially in anti-terror measures.

Even in Brussels, with its central celebration canceled, residents and visitors have plenty of ways to throw down on the night when the world goes out on the town. According to the city’s website, DJs are set to play at venues around the capital. The city’s tourism bureau tweeted:

Photo credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Benjamin Soloway is an associate editor at Foreign Policy@bsoloway

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