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2015 begins: Shanghai tragedy, fireworks elsewhere

Fireworks explode over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge during New Years Eve celebrations in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Thousands of people crammed into Lady Macquaries Chair to watch the annual fireworks show. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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:

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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 - the worst disaster to hit one of China's biggest cities in years - 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.

Last week, the English-language Shanghai Daily reported that the annual New Year's Eve countdown on the Bund that normally attracts about 300,000 people had been cancelled, apparently because of crowd control issues. The report said a "toned-down" version of the event would be held instead but that it would not be open to the public.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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WASTING AWAY IN BVI

Thousands of partiers arrived on speedboats, yachts and ferries to dance the night away on the tiny Caribbean island of Jost Van Dyke that has long hosted one of the region's biggest, most uninhibited New Year's Eve bashes.

In the British Virgin Islands, Jost Van Dyke balloons from about 300 full-time residents to roughly 5,000 people each New Year's Eve as throngs of barefoot, tipsy people groove to reggae bands on white sands and hop from bar to bar. The annual tradition started in the 1960s on the idyllic island - so small it didn't get electricity until 1992.

"Every year it just gets bigger and bigger. People from all over travel here to get drunk, fall down and just have as much fun as they can," said Tessa Callwood, who runs a world-famous beach bar with her husband, Foxy's Tamarind Bar & Restaurant.

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WATCHING THE BALL - OR WHATEVER - DROP

Eager revelers arrived hours early for a prime spot at New York's Times Square, where a Waterford crystal ball will drop at midnight.

It's a tradition that's 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 (pronounced PAS'-tee) - a baked pastry filled with meat and potatoes.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Activists in Boston staged a peaceful "die-in" during First Night, Boston's popular New Year's Eve celebration. Dozens of people participated in the brief protest in front of the Boston Public Library Wednesday evening while others held signs saying "black lives matter" and "a young black man is two times more likely to be shot dead by police than a white young man."

Police reported no arrests or disruptions to nearby festivities.

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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