PARIS/BERLIN/VIENNA – Police and security officials Europe-wide are gearing up for the New Year’s Eve celebrations following a year of terror attacks across the continent.
Two million people are expected in Berlin. Just under two weeks ago, the German capital became the latest city to suffer when a man with links to known Islamists drove a truck into a crowd at a Christmas market, killing 12 people.
Berlin Police spokesperson Thomas Neuendorf outlined the measures.
““Fewer police officers will be able to celebrate on New Year’s Eve. Of course, in addition to the extra staff, all departments are manned at a maximum; in police cars, at emergency call centres, in all locations we have the maximum number of staff, which would not be available on other nights,” he said.
Paris, too, has stepped up surveillance. The French capital is preparing to welcome some 600,000 people on the famous Champs Elysées alone. Across France, 96,000 soldiers and police officers will be deployed as authorities warn the terrorist threat remains acute.
Brussels will hold its usual firework display amid a heightened security presence.
“I have the feeling that the atmosphere has got a little bit cooler compared to previous years after the events that hit us at the beginning of the year. I think there are fewer people in the streets and it’s less festive,” one man told the press.
Last year, celebrations were called off in the Belgian capital after Paris was targeted in a string of coordinated and deadly attacks. In March, 2016, Brussels itself was to be hit with three suicide bombings.
Police in Austria’s major cities are on alert as well. Aside from possible terror attacks, country’s police force is ready to crack down on sexual assailants. Viennese police distributed pocket alarms to women at popular New Year’s Eve venues around the capital due to possible harassment by men. The alarms are meant as a precaution against the types of attacks against women that occurred last year in Cologne, Germany. During the 2016 New Year’s celebrations in Cologne, at least 100 women were assaulted or robbed — including a plainclothes policewoman who reported being assaulted — after approximately 1,000 men gathered in the streets.
The area is reportedly visited by hundreds of thousands of people.
Elsewhere, Madrid, Rome and Milan have also announced plans to step up surveillance and security measures.