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2011 was a year of global tumult, marked by widespread social and political uprisings, economic crises, and a great deal more. We saw the fall of multiple dictators, welcomed a new country (South Sudan), witnessed our planet's population grow to 7 billion, and watched in horror as Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. From the Arab Spring to Los Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, citizens around the world took to the streets in massive numbers, protesting against governments and financial institutions, risking arrest, injury, and in some cases their lives. Collected here is Part 1 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering 2011's first several months. Be sure to also see Part 2, and Part 3 of the series - totaling 120 images in all. [40 photos + 1 more]

A wave approaches Miyako City from the Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the area March 11, 2011. The earthquake, the most powerful ever known to have hit Japan, combined with the massive tsunami, claimed more than 15,800 lives, devastated many eastern coastline communities, and triggered a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. (Reuters/Mainichi Shimbun)

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MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU: Paul French walked down a road Friday in Perth, Australia, on day five of his over 4,000-kilometer (2,500 miles) journey from Perth to Sydney. He aims to walk 35-40 kilometers a day, five days a week, in full Storm Trooper costume to raise money for the Starlight Foundation, which helps ill and hospitalized children in Australia. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

GREEN SEA MONSTER GREEN SEA MONSTER: People swam in seawater covered by a thick layer of green algae at Zhanqiao Pier Thursday in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China. The algae forced the beach to close at 3 pm. (Zuma Press)

SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT: A man got a shave Friday in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where are least three barbers have set up shop giving free haircuts and shaves to protesters. (Zuma Press)

LAUNDRY DAY LAUNDRY DAY: A girl waved her wet skirt to dry it as she stood by her family’s laundry, hung up on a fence by a river in Beijing Friday. (Alexander F. Yuan/Associated Press)

AFTER DEATH AFTER DEATH: A man held the hand of a rebel who was killed on the Brega front line as his body lay in a pickup truck outside a hospital in Ajdabiya, Libya, Friday. The U.S. and some 30 other countries formally recognized Libyan rebels Friday. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)

LOOKING IN LOOKING IN: North Korean soldiers looked in from outside a United Nations meeting room as U.S. Army Gen. James Thurman, not pictured, visited the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea, Friday. Gen. Thurman became the new commander of the 28,500 U.S. troops in Korea Thursday. (Getty Images)

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After weeks of debate, the United Nations finally approved a no-fly zone in Libya, helping rebels fighting Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy at perhaps the last possible moment. Rebels had been driven back by the Libyan army to their last stronghold, the eastern city of Benghazi, and appeared ready to be overrun there as well. Two nights of bombardment by coalition forces have sent the army into retreat, and a missile struck Khadafy's compound in Tripoli, but the final outcome of the conflict is far from clear. Collected here are images from the last few days of fighting. For an earlier Big Picture post on the conflict, see the links below. -- Lane Turner (33 photos total)
Vehicles belonging to forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi explode after an air strike by coalition forces, along a road between Benghazi and Ajdabiyah March 20. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

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