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World celebrations ring in 2015

Revelers converged on the beaches of Brazil, the skyscrapers of Dubai and New York’s Times Square to say good riddance to a turbulent 2014 marred by terror woes, Ebola outbreaks and a horrific series of airline disasters.

But tragedy struck in Shanghai, Baghdad was on edge and protesters in the United States planned a sobering reminder of one of the year’s biggest stories.

A look around the world:

BIG BEN BONGS IN THE NEW

In London, hundreds of thousands of people were expected to line the River Thames for a fireworks display timed to the midnight bongs of Big Ben, Parliament’s famous bell.

Revelers in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, will flood the streets for Hogmanay, one of Europe’s biggest year-end celebrations. The three-day festival — derived from Viking celebrations of the winter solstice — began Tuesday with a torch-lit procession of 35,000 people, including marching bands and troupes in full Viking regalia, and a fireworks display atop Calton Hill.

MORE SECURITY IN NEW YORK

Security was tight. Thousands of police officers were on scene, with rooftop patrols and police helicopters protecting the crowd, along with the bomb squad and a unit specializing in chemical and biological threats sweeping hotels, theaters, construction sites and parking garages.

“We have on the counterterrorism area no specific threats directed against Times Square,” Police Commissioner William Bratton told reporters below 1 Times Square hours ahead of the ball drop.

The celebration came in a city facing more demonstrations against police brutality even as it mourns the deaths of two officers shot in their patrol car by a man who vowed online to kill “pigs.” A march from Union Square north as close to Times Square as possible was planned for Wednesday evening. Police said they had prepared for protests and were on heightened alert. Since the shootings, authorities have investigated at least 70 threats made against police officers, and 16 people have been arrested.

STAMPEDE IN SHANGHAI

Thirty-five people were killed in a stampede during New Year’s celebrations in downtown Shanghai, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

The deaths and injuries occurred at Shanghai’s popular riverfront Bund area, which can be jammed with spectators for major events. The report early Thursday cites the Shanghai government in saying that another 42 people were injured.

One Xinhua photo from the scene showed at least one person doing chest compressions on a shirtless man while several other people lay on the ground nearby, amid debris. Another photo showed the area ringed by police.

The cause of the stampede remained under investigation, the Xinhua report said.

BREAKING A RECORD IN DUBAI

The Gulf Arab emirate of Dubai was aiming to break the world record for the largest LED-illuminated facade with its spectacular display centered on the world’s tallest building.

Some 70,000 LED panels around the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa flashed colored lights and projected images of the country’s leaders when clocks there struck midnight as a massive fireworks display erupted. The celebration draws throngs of thousands of spectators every New Year’s Eve.

Emaar Properties said a team from Guinness World Records monitored the preparations. Last year, Dubai won the title for the world’s largest firework display, according to Guinness.

TRYING TO CELEBRATE IN BAGHDAD

In Iraq’s war-scarred capital, Baghdad authorities ordered a one-off lifting of the overnight curfew in force for more than a decade to allow the city’s revelers to stay out late on the streets.

Traffic was unusually heavy starting shortly after sunset and authorities closed commercial streets to vehicles in the city’s center as a precaution against possible suicide bombings by militants of the Islamic State terror group.

HOPE IN HAVANA

Across the capital of Havana on Wednesday, people were roasting pigs for their traditional New Year’s Eve family dinners, often using a pit dug in the backyard.

While contemplating the new year, they wonder about the nation’s future after a recently announced U.S.-Cuba detente.

“If relations between Cuba and the United States change, it will bring many years of joy,” Javier Ramos as he roasted the pig for his family feast.

If not, he added, Cubans will still figure out a way to be happy.

BIG BEN BONGS IN THE NEW

In London, hundreds of thousands of people were expected to line the River Thames for a fireworks display timed to the midnight bongs of Big Ben, Parliament’s famous bell.

Revelers in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, will flood the streets for Hogmanay, one of Europe’s biggest year-end celebrations. The three-day festival — derived from Viking celebrations of the winter solstice — began Tuesday with a torch-lit procession of 35,000 people, including marching bands and troupes in full Viking regalia, and a fireworks display atop Calton Hill.

WATCHING THE BALL — OR WHATEVER — DROP

New York will drop its Waterford crystal ball at midnight, in a tradition being increasingly copied across the United States with twists celebrating local icons.

Among the items being dropped: a big chili in Las Cruces, New Mexico; a replica peach in Atlanta; a musical note in Nashville, Tennessee; a large pine cone in Flagstaff, Arizona; an oversized spurred cowboy boot in Prescott, Arizona; a 600-pound (270-kilogram) walleye made of wood and fiberglass in Port Clinton, Ohio; an 80-pound (36-kilogram) wedge of cheese in Plymouth, Wisconsin; and in Escanaba, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a replica of a pasty — a baked pastry filled with meat and potatoes.

AT THE COPA … COPACABANA

More than 1 million people are expected to flock to the golden sands of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, where two dozen artists and DJs will perform on three stages. Tourists and locals routinely party until dawn on the beach, staying awake to watch the tropical sun rise for the first time in 2015.

A massive fireworks display that’s blasted from boats on the Atlantic Ocean will light the sky over the crowd, which traditionally dresses in all white, a Brazilian tradition to bring purification and a peaceful year. Another tradition calls for partygoers to enter the sea up to their knees and jump over seven waves shortly after the New Year begins, for luck.

PRAYERS IN INDONESIA

The loss of AirAsia Flight 8501 and a deadly landslide in Central Java muted celebrations in Indonesia. In the capital, the city conducted prayers for the victims of the tragedies, in addition to the annual Jakarta Night Festival.

Other Indonesian cities opted to cancel or tone down their celebrations. Surabaya’s Mayor Tri Rismaharini banned any kind of New Year entertainment in Indonesia’s second-largest city, where most of the 162 people on the AirAsia flight that crashed Sunday were from. Hundreds of Surabaya residents, including young children, lit candles and braved a drizzle at a park to observe a minute of silence for crash victims.

“Let us pray for the grieving families of those on board the plane. Let us pray this will be the last tragedy for Surabaya,” Rismaharini told the crowd.

TOSSING REFRIGERATORS OUT OF THE WINDOW?

In South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, New Year’s Eve has historically brought an increase in petty crime and vandalism. In the city’s Hillbrow district there has been a strange, and dangerous, tradition of throwing unwanted items, like furniture and even stoves and refrigerators, out of high-rise apartments. To try to make the holiday safer in the inner-city, the Joburg Carnival was launched three years ago.

POLICE PROTESTS IN U.S.

Amid the celebration, some U.S. cities are on alert for New Year’s Eve protests related to recent police killings of unarmed black men.

Boston’s mayor and police commissioner urged activists to hold off on a planned late afternoon “die-in.”

No plans for major protests were announced in New York, where the police department is still mourning two officers shot to death in a patrol car. But security will be tight, with more personnel than usual.

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