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2015 arrives with old challenges, new possibilities

After a turbulent year marred by terror woes, Ebola outbreaks and a horrific series of airline disasters, many could be forgiven for saying good riddance to 2014 and gratefully ringing in a new year.

Across the globe, revelers looking for a respite from the gloom converged on the beaches of Brazil, the shores of Sydney harbor and New York's Times Square to welcome 2015. A look at how the world is celebrating:


New York, New York

About one million excited partygoers have braved the cold and packed themselves tightly into New York City's Times Square, listening to performances from artists such as Idina Menzel, O.A.R. and Meghan Trainor, and cheering as the the famed glittering ball dropped at midnight.

Thousands of revelers arrived early Wednesday morning at the Crossroads of the World to secure coveted spots with pristine views of the 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball perched high atop 1 World Trade for the annual New Year's Eve celebration.

"This was on my bucket list," said MacKynze Slatinsky, 15, who traveled with her sister and best friend from Monroe, Michigan, to bring in 2015 in New York, arriving at 10:30 a.m. to land a spot with a view on 44th Street. "It's really crowded and cold but what a great experience."

Revelers eager to claim spots to ring in 2015 in Times Square arrived hours early on Wednesday, enduring freezing temperatures and a scarcity of restrooms before the glittering ball drop at midnight at the Crossroads of the World.

People packed into metal pens and set up all around Times Square. Once a pen filled up, it was closed off. Police began filling another until everyone was in place for the big ball drop, CBS New York reported.

"You get wanded; make sure there's no weapons, knives, and seems secure," said Tom Bridgman of Chicago.

Also, thousands of NYPD officers, including all of the new academy grads, were out in force in Times Square and all over the city.


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.

Families grieve as crews recover AirAsia Flight 8501 victims' remains

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.


Stampede in Shanghai

Thirty-five people were killed in a stampede during New Year's celebrations in downtown Shanghai, city officials said.

The deaths - the worst disaster to hit one of China's showcase cities in years - occurred at Shanghai's popular riverfront Bund area, which can be jammed with spectators for major events. A Shanghai government statement said early Thursday that another 43 people were injured amid the chaos about a half-hour before midnight.

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.


Putin hails Crimea annexation

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his New Year's speech to hail his nation's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula. He said Crimea's "return home" will "forever remain a landmark in the national history."

Putin sends New Year's note to President Obama


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.


Watching the Ball - or Whatever - Drop

The ball drop is a tradition that's being increasingly copied across the United States with twists celebrating local icons.

American cities put their own spin on New Year's ball drops

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

NYPD on alert before massive New Year's Times Square celebration

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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