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Another year has come and gone and with it hundreds of thousands of images have recorded the world's evolving history; moments in individual lives; the weather and it's affects on the planet; acts of humanity and tragedies brought by man and by nature. The following is a compilation - not meant to be comprehensive in any way - of images from the first 4 months of 2012. Parts II and III to follow this week. -- Paula Nelson ( 64 photos total)
Fireworks light up the skyline and Big Ben just after midnight, January 1, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the banks of the River Thames in central London to ring in the New Year with a spectacular fireworks display. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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In today’s pictures, a person swims in a partially frozen lake in China, women seek to wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a little girl tries to escape Santa’s lap at a mall in Pennsylvania, and more.

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As China's population and economy continue to grow, the country is scrambling to solve challenges in housing, elder care, cultural and political institutions, the environment, and other areas of everyday life. Today's collection, a recent gathering of images from across the nation, covers a range of subjects from wheelchair dancers to bear bile farms, a monkey-controlled robot arm to a Tibetan exile protester who set himself on fire earlier today, and much more. [41 photos]

A woman and her son sit inside the capsule of an electric tricycle as they drive along a main road in central Beijing, on March 15, 2012. (Reuters/David Gray)

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The Smithsonian magazine's 9th annual photo contest finalists have been chosen. The contest attracted over 14 thousand photographers from all 50 states and over 100 countries. Fifty finalists from 67,059 images were selected by Smithsonian editors. Those editors will also choose the Grand Prize Winner and the winners in each of the five categories which include The Natural World, Americana, People, Travel and Altered Images. Photos were selected based on technical quality, clarity and composition, a flair for the unexpected and the ability to capture a picture-perfect moment. (Smithsonian invites everyone to select an additional "Readers' Choice" winner by voting through March for their favorite image on line.) -- Paula Nelson (25 photos total)
BEHIND THE BLUE Lilongwe, Malawi, May 2011 (Paolo Patruno/Bologna, Italy)

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The Chinese Lantern Festival takes place on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. As they mark the end of the Spring Festival, celebrants create colorful lanterns, set off fireworks, and hold parades. In one village, residents hurl molten metal against a wall to create an impressive display of sparks in a 300-year-old tradition. Gathered below are some vibrant images from this year's Chinese Lantern Festival. [29 photos]

A blacksmith throws molten metal against a cold wall to create sparks, as he and others celebrate the Lantern Festival which traditionally marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations, in Nuanquan, Hebei province, China, on February 6, 2012. For over 300 years, the village, which is famous for its blacksmith skills, has maintained the tradition which they consider a cheaper alternative to buying fireworks during the Lantern Festival. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

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This Big Picture post gives us a glimpse of daily life in parts of China, documented by wire photographers from the Associated Press, Reuters and Getty. The post begins with a short essay by Reuters photographer Jason Lee. Lee photographed six-year-old Wang Gengxiang, known as the "Masked Boy." Gengxiang was severely burned in an accident involving a burning pile of straw last winter. Most of the skin on the little boy's head was burned off, requiring him to wear a full surgical mask. The mask is said to prevent his scars from becoming infected. According to the local media in the village where Gengxiang was photographed, the doctors cannot continue his skin-graft surgery until his damaged trachea (or windpipe) is strong enough. The Lee essay is following by a black slide, and then more "slice of life" photography from a still somewhat mysterious China. -- Paula Nelson (50 photos total)
Wang Gengxiang on Children's Day, June 1, 2010, and after he was severely burned in an accident, at Mijiazhuang village on the outskirts of Fenyang, North China's Shanxi province, September 9, 2011. Gengxiang, age 6, known as "Masked Boy", was severely burned in an accident involving a burning pile of straw last winter. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

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China Daily via Reuters

People inspect the scene where a bus dropped at the collapsed Wuyishan Gongguan Bridge in Fujian province, China, on Thursday, July 14.One person died and 22 were injured after the bridge collapsed Thursday morning in east China's Fujian Province.

China Daily / Reuters

Rescuers and injured people are seen at the collapsed Wuyishan Gongguan Bridge in Wuyishan, Fujian province July 14, 2011. One person was killed and 22 others were injured after the bridge collapsed Thursday morning in east China's Fujian province, according to local authorities, Xinhua news agency reported.

Jonathan Woods writes

It's shocking more people were not killed in this accident. No further information was immediately available about the cause of the collapse.

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SPEAKER SCUFFLE
SPEAKER SCUFFLE: An injured Muslim worshiper lay on the ground after clashing with supporters of Bulgaria’s nationalist party ‘Attack’ in front of the Banya Bashi Mosque in central Sofia Friday. The Attack party organized a rally to protest the use of loudspeakers at the mosque. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

FEAT OF STRENGTH
FEAT OF STRENGTH: Men dragged the Baltic Queen, a vessel that weighs 20,000 tons, in Tallinn, Estonia, Friday. Some 20 ‘Hercules’ dragged the vessel for about 10 yards. (Wang Yaxiong/Xinhua/Zuma Press)

STEPPING DOWN
STEPPING DOWN: Tokyo Electric Power Company President Masataka Shimizu attended a news conference at the head office in Tokyo Friday. He resigned to take responsibility for the company’s much-criticized handling of the March 11 disasters that crippled Fukushima Daiichi. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

STRECHING NOODLES
STRECHING NOODLES: A man stretched thin noodles on wood frames in a village in Fuzhou in southeast China’s Fujian province Friday. The food, called ‘Changshou Mian,’ which means ‘longevity noodles,’ dates back more than eight centuries. (Liu Tao/EPA)

UNDER WATER
UNDER WATER: An old school bus sat in floodwater from the rising Mississippi River in St. Francisville, La., where a dozen homes and businesses were flooded Friday. Residents were leaving under a mandatory evacuation order set to kick in on Saturday. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

BROKEN GLASS
BROKEN GLASS: A policeman drove while sitting in the cab of a water tanker that had its windows smashed by a group of protesters in Mumbai Friday. Demonstrators protesting against a temporary cut in water supply attacked private water tankers with sticks and stones in central Mumbai. (Reuters)

READY, AIM, FIRE
READY, AIM, FIRE: A masked Palestinian demonstrator used a sling-shot to hurl stones at Israeli troops, not pictured, during the weekly demonstration against Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah, Friday. (Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

SINKING SHIPS
SINKING SHIPS: A Libyan navy corvette exploded during an air strike by British Royal Air Force Tornado jets on the port of Al Khums, Libya, Friday. NATO aircraft sank eight warships belonging to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in overnight attacks, the alliance said. (Crown Copyright/Handout/Reuters)

SHOW OF SUPPORT
SHOW OF SUPPORT: People waited behind a bamboo barricade to get a glimpse of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee after she took an oath as the new chief minister of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal in Kolkata Friday. (Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters)

NEED FOR SPEED
NEED FOR SPEED: Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso of Spain could be seen in the rear mirror during the second free practice at the Montmelo racetrack in Montmelo, Spain, Friday. The Formula One race will be held on Sunday. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

LIKE MARILYN MONROE
LIKE MARILYN MONROE: A dog lay on a subway grate as protesters set up tents at the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid Thursday during a protest against Spain’s economic crisis and its sky-high jobless rate. Young people camped in main squares across Spain. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

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