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Winter storm brings snow, cold to West, chilling parties along Vegas Strip, Rose Parade route

A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.

Giddy residents in Southern California foothills snapped photos of snow-covered lawns as kids tossed snowballs. In suburban Phoenix, swimming pools and cactus-lined backyards were dusted with the white stuff.

Those planning to usher in 2015 along the Las Vegas Strip or watch flower-decorated floats in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, were bracing for near-freezing temperatures.

Marco Berri, 26, of Brazil said he would likely buy some scarves and gloves to keep warm in Las Vegas, but the cold wouldn't keep him inside.

"We're gonna be in the street. It doesn't matter how cold it is," said Berri, one of about 340,000 revelers expected to pack the Strip and the downtown Fremont area on New Year's Eve.


35 killed, 42 injured in Shanghai stampede during crowded New Year's event downtown

SHANGHAI — Thirty-five people died in a stampede during New Year's celebrations in downtown Shanghai, city officials said — the worst disaster to hit one of China's showcase cities in recent years.

A Shanghai government statement said another 42 people were injured amid the chaos about a half-hour before midnight.

The deaths and injuries occurred at Shanghai's popular riverfront Bund area, which can be jammed with spectators for major events.

CCTV America, the U.S. version of state broadcaster China Central Television, posted video of Shanghai streets after the stampede, showing piles of discarded shoes amid the debris.

One photo from the scene shared by China's state-run Xinhua News Agency 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.


Shanghai stampede kills dozens as glittery fireworks, beach parties elsewhere mark 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:


STAMPEDE IN SHANGHAI


Palestinians join International Criminal Court to press war-crimes case against Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Turning up the pressure on Israel, the Palestinians announced Wednesday that they are joining the International Criminal Court to pursue war-crimes charges against the Jewish state — a risky, high-stakes move that brought threats of retaliation from Israel and criticism from the U.S.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acted a day after suffering a defeat in the U.N. Security Council, which voted down a resolution setting a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.

"We want to complain. There's aggression against us, against our land. The Security Council disappointed us," Abbas said.

Turning to the international court at The Hague marks a major policy shift, transforming Abbas' relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile. The ultimate goal is to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the territories and agreeing to Palestinian statehood.

The strategy carries risks, including the possibility the Palestinians themselves could be accused of war crimes over rocket attacks by the extremist group Hamas on Israeli population centers and other violence against Jewish targets.


Bad weather hinders effort to recover AirAsia bodies and debris; families endure more waiting

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia — Chiara Natasha's entire family was coming to visit for New Year's.

The petite, dark-haired 15-year-old had just moved to Singapore in November to study at a Methodist girls' school on a government scholarship. Her parents and two brothers had promised to join her to celebrate the holiday and help her settle into dormitory life.

But instead of greeting her relatives at the airport, she returned home Sunday to Surabaya, Indonesia, to seek any word about the fate of AirAsia Flight 8501, praying that they had somehow survived.

Families who lost loved ones aboard the jetliner endured another excruciating day of waiting Wednesday as bad weather hindered efforts to recover any more bodies and sent wreckage drifting far from the crash site.

"Help us, God, to move forward, even though we are surrounded by darkness," the Rev. Philip Mantofa, whose church lost about 40 members in the disaster, told families gathered in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.


Maryland governor says he will commute sentences of state's last 4 death-row inmates to life

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — In one of his final acts as governor, Democrat Martin O'Malley announced Wednesday that he will commute the sentences of four death-row inmates to life in prison without parole.

Two years ago, the General Assembly abolished the death penalty, leaving five inmates on death row. One of them, John Booth-El, died in prison this year.

The governor said he had met or spoken with many of the relatives of the people killed by the inmates. Some victim family members and prosecutors were upset with O'Malley's decision.

O'Malley said that if he didn't commute the sentences the legal process would "needlessly and callously subject survivors, and the people of Maryland, to the ordeal of an endless appeals process, with unpredictable twists and turns, and without any hope of finality or closure."

None of the executions was imminent because the state didn't have a procedure to carry one out.


Italian prosecutor: 98 still unaccounted for from fire-ravaged ferry; storm hampers towing

BRINDISI, Italy — Stormy weather in the Adriatic Sea thwarted efforts Wednesday to tow a fire-ravaged ferry to Italy so authorities can investigate the blaze that killed at least 11 people and search the ship for more possible dead.

Ninety-eight people were still unaccounted for Wednesday after a pre-dawn fire raced through the Norman Atlantic ferry on Sunday, Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

It's not clear if those people ever boarded the ferry — which left Greece on Saturday bound for Italy — if they were rescued, or if they died in the fire or in the sea. Hundreds were rescued in the maritime disaster, but the exact number of ferry survivors and how many were onboard to begin with are still not known.

Volpe said he hoped that Greek authorities would be able to say many people had been rescued by various ships and brought to Greece. Greece's coast guard later said nine Greeks were still missing but did not resolve other questions.

Greece's merchant marine ministry said Italy is not giving the ministry lists of who has been rescued and mishandling the process of identifying the rescued and missing.


Rocket strike on Afghan wedding party kills at least 26 people in grim end to year of change

KABUL, Afghanistan — A rocket fired amid fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan soldiers killed at least 26 people at a nearby wedding party Thursday, authorities said, a grim end to a year that saw the end of the 13-year U.S.-led combat mission there.

The rocket struck a house in southern Helman province's Sangin District, where Afghan security forces have been battling insurgents in the six months since U.S. forces withdrew from the area.

Police spokesman Fareed Ahmad Obaid said the rocket wounded at least 45 people. Bashir Ahmad Shakir, a provincial council member, said the death toll could be up to 30 killed with as many as 60 wounded.

Abdul Haleem, a cousin of the bride who was hosting her wedding, said that nine of his children were missing after the rocket struck his house as guests waited outside for the bride to arrive.

"Nine children of mine are missing; I just collected body parts," he said. "I don't know whether it's my children or someone else."


Idaho mother accidentally shot by 2-year-old son after he unzipped gun pocket, family says

SPOKANE, Washington — Concealed weapons are part of everyday life in Idaho, and that's unlikely to change in the Mountain West state despite a shocking accident in which a 2-year-old boy reached into his mother's purse, got ahold of her gun and shot her in the head inside a Wal-Mart.

Veronica J. Rutledge, 29, was shopping Tuesday morning with her son and three nieces in Hayden, Idaho, when the small-caliber handgun discharged one time, killing her.

Terry Rutledge, Veronica's father-in-law, told The Spokesman-Review that the boy unzipped the special gun compartment in the woman's purse where the weapon was kept while she was looking at clothing.

Terry Rutledge said his daughter-in-law did not put the weapon "loosely into her purse."

Victoria Rutledge had a concealed weapons permit, and guns were a big part of Rutledge's life, her father-in-law said.


10 people to watch in 2015 who have the potential to affect the 2016 campaign for president

WASHINGTON — In the year that will pass before the 2016 campaign for president formally kicks off with the votes in the Iowa Caucus, any number of candidates, donors, political operatives — and people who have nothing to do with American politics — will shape the race for the White House. Here's a look at 10 people (OK, 12 people) who will be worth watching in the next year.

1. Elizabeth Warren, Potential Rival

The populist senator from Massachusetts is, at the dawn of 2015, the only person who appears able to mount a competitive challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination. The architect of President Barack Obama's consumer financial protection agency, Warren would be able to quickly raise millions from an already enthusiastic following. She has repeatedly insisted she is "not running for president," but her consistent use of the present tense has left some liberals begging her to get into the race.

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