Afghan refugee boys play on a wooden cart left on a roadside during the last sunset of the year on the outskirts of Islamabad

Afghan refugee boys play on a wooden cart left on a roadside during the last sunset of the year on the outskirts of Islamabad

2015 begins: Shanghai tragedy, fireworks elsewhere

Shanghai stampede kills dozens as glittery fireworks, parties elsewhere mark 2015

  • Dec. 31, 2014 2:00 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Revelers crowded New York’s Times Square and converged on the beaches of Brazil and skyscrapers of Dubai 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 delivered a sobering reminder of one of the year’s biggest stories.

A look around the world:

STAMPEDE IN SHANGHAI

Thirty-six 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 a half-hour before midnight at Shanghai’s popular riverfront Bund area, which can be jammed with spectators for major events. A Shanghai government statement said Thursday that another 47 people were receiving hospital treatment, including 13 who were seriously injured.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed witness as saying people had scrambled for coupons that looked like dollar bills that were being thrown out of a third-floor window. It said the cause of the stampede was under investigation.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK

A million people crammed into New York’s Times Square welcomed the new year with kisses, hugs and cheers after the giant, Waterford crystal ball dropped at midnight and a ton of confetti rained down.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, flanked by his wife and two children, pushed the ceremonial button that set the 11,875-pound glittering ball in motion. Revelers from around the world waving pink balloons and wearing pink foam hats exchanged good wishes and danced as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared on loudspeakers.

Agustina Bernacchia, a tourist from Argentina, had arrived early to secure her spot. She said she wanted to experience the New Year’s Eve party she’d always seen on TV.

“It was a dream for us,” Bernacchia said.

___

SHIVERING IN THE NEW YEAR

New Year’s Eve revelers in bunny costumes — the corsets and fishnets kind — and designer suits walking down the Vegas strip Wednesday night had scarves wrapped around their necks against temperatures expected to drop into the 20s. Occasional flurries fell, but none stuck around long enough to be snow.

Laura Mayo of Las Vegas was wearing a plush fur coat, but not shivering bunny Rechelle Sheridan. “It takes away from the costume,” the 25-year-old city resident said.

Synchronized bursts of colour shot from the rooftops of seven casino-hotels along the Las Vegas Strip as fireworks filled the sky, ushering in the new year. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority had said it expected about 340,000 people to attend.

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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.

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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STRAY BULLET; ONE INJURED

A 20-year-old woman waiting to see New Year’s fireworks at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, was struck in the leg by a stray bullet fired from somewhere outside the park.

Authorities say no one else was hurt in or around the theme park and the injury wasn’t life-threatening.

___

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 centred 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 centre as a precaution against possible suicide bombings by militants of the Islamic State terror group.

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WIND-SWEPT FIRE DETROYS PHILIPPINE SHANTIES

A huge fire that was believed to have been ignited by firecrackers razed nearly a thousand shanties and killed three people in a creekside slum in the Philippine capital of Manila.

It was one of more than a dozen fires across the country linked to raucous New Year’s celebrations.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Fire Protection said nearly a thousand houses, mostly shanties and huts, were destroyed, displacing about 4,000 poor families.

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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.

___

AT THE COPA … COPACABANA

More than 1 million people flocked to the golden sands of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach, where two dozen artists and DJs performed 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 lit the sky over the crowd, most dressed 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 saw 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.

In New York, where the police department is still mourning two officers shot to death in a patrol car, protesters marched late Wednesday night. They came as close to Times Square as possible, but did not interrupt the New Year’s celebration.

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