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Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Saturday vowed to pursue reforms while gradually lowering taxes as central planks of a programme he hopes will secure victory in January 25 elections.

"Our national plan ... in 2015-2021 includes reforms to boost growth and competitiveness, " the prime minister of the centre-right coalition told hundreds of ministers and supporters of his conservative New Democracy party.

Previous interruptions to that reform programme were due to cleaning up the public sector and to aid investment and competitiveness, he told his audience in an Athens hotel.

Samaras and his party are running behind leftist leader Alexis Tsipras and his radical Syriza party in the opinion polls, ahead of the snap parliamentary elections.

The prime minister praised the reform work his coalition has done over the past two and a half years to prevent Greece from leaving the eurozone.

But global markets have plunged at the beginning of last week, seized by a fresh bout of fears that Greece may be forced to abandon the euro if Syriza came to power.

The far-left Syriza party wants to abandon the austerity policy imposed by the EU and IMF as part of the country's 240-billion-euro ($282 billion) international bailout.

Greece has seen some improvement in its public finances under the current coalition, returning to economic growth last year after six painful years of recession, thanks to the deep and deeply unpopular reforms required by the international creditors.

However he stressed that the timid return to growth had not yet permeated through to the public at large, with the unemployment rate still the highest in the eurozone at 25 percent and with one in five people deemed to be living in poverty.




At first glance, a hip young Jewish singer and a 60-year-old Muslim Algerian shopkeeper might appear to have little in common.

But among the sea of people rallying in Paris on Sunday, they came together after a blood-soaked week in which 17 people -- journalists and cartoonists, Jews, Muslims, police officers -- were killed in jihadist attacks.

Under wintry blue skies, they shared a simple and defiant message: France will not be divided by fear or by religious differences.

"We can live together," said Daniel Benisty, 30, who is Jewish like the four men killed when Islamist gunman Amedy Coulibaly stormed a kosher supermarket in the French capital on Friday.

"It's the idea of living together because we share the same values, liberty, fraternity, equality, to live in peace and respect each other despite our differences."

"Exactly!" agreed Riad, the 60-year-old shopkeeper. "I think people have woken up."

Riad, who asked to be identified only by his first name, said the events of the past week reminded him of the dark days of the Algerian war which saw France hit by a wave of extremist violence.

"How can this happen in 2015? I don't recognise these Islamists, they're not Muslims."

The families of those killed in the three days of terror wept and held hands, later falling into the arms of French President Francois Holland who greeted them one by one.

The moving scene came after some of the world's leaders linked arms and led the mammoth procession, which saw hundreds and thousands crammed tightly into main arteries and side streets of Paris.

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders were among representatives of around 50 nations who marked a minute of silence.

With public transport overwhelmed, thousands headed on foot to the rally where people broke into spontaneous applause as the heads of state and government passed by the swarm of people waving flags and banners.


- 'Are the bad men coming?' -

On display was a bewildering mix of emotions -- anger, sadness, hope and fear.

Isabelle Dahmani, a French Christian married to a Muslim, Mohamed, brought their three children aged 11, nine and four to show them there is nothing to fear.

The nine-year-old burst into tears watching the news this week, Isabelle admitted, saying her daughter had asked if "the bad men are coming to our house?"

The oldest son teased his embarrassed sister while the four-year-old, dressed in pink from head to toe with a piece of paper saying "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) pinned to her jacket, hid giggling behind her mother's legs.

The phrase that has become the slogan of support for the cartoonists and journalists massacred at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly was seen everywhere.

"We are in a free country. We want to stop this terrorism. We want them to see and understand Republican values," Isabelle told AFP.

"But we are kind of anxious, you never know what can happen," she added, revealing the fear that is still acute in the French capital.

Her husband Mohamed, who is a non-practising Muslim, said that after the attacks, "I didn't want to leave the house, I was mostly scared of retaliation."

"One must not confuse Muslims with terrorists," he said.



Heavily armed gunmen shouting Islamist slogans stormed a Paris satirical newspaper office Wednesday and shot dead at least 12 people in the deadliest attack in France in four decades.

Police launched a massive manhunt for the masked attackers who reportedly hijacked a car and sped off, running over a pedestrian and shooting at officers.

Police said witnesses heard the attackers, who were armed with a Kalashnikov and rocket launcher, shout "we have avenged the prophet" and "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest).

Two police were confirmed among the dead and four people were critically injured.

The capital was placed under the highest alert status after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly that has sparked anger in the past among Muslims for publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohamed.

Television footage showed large numbers of police in the area, bullet-riddled windows and people being carried away on stretchers.


The attack took place at a time of heightened fears in France and other European capitals over fallout from the wars in Iraq and Syria where hundreds of European citizens have gone to fight alongside the radical Islamic State group.

President Francois Hollande, who immediately rushed to the scene of the shooting, described it as a barbaric terrorist attack.

"An act of exceptional barbarism has just been committed here in Paris against a newspaper, meaning (against) the expression of liberty," Hollande said at the scene.

One man who witnessed the shooting said he saw two attackers shooting their way out of Charlie Hebdo at around 11:30 am (1030GMT).

"I saw them leaving and shooting. They were wearing masks. These guys were serious," said the man who declined to give his name.



"At first I thought it was special forces chasing drug traffickers or something. We weren't expecting this. You would think we were in a movie."

Hollande called for "national unity", adding that "several terrorist attacks had been foiled in recent weeks".

The White House condemned the attack in the "strongest possible terms," while British Prime Minister David Cameron called it "sickening."

"We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press," Cameron said in a message on Twitter.

Wednesday's shooting is one of the worst attacks in France in decades.



In 1995, a bomb in a commuter train attributed to Algerian extremists exploded at the Saint Michel metro station in Paris, killing eight and wounding 119.

- Death threats -

The satirical newspaper gained notoriety in February 2006 when it reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, causing fury across the Muslim world.

Its offices were fire-bombed in November 2011 when it published a cartoon of Mohammed and under the title "Charia Hebdo".

Despite being taken to court under anti-racism laws, the weekly continued to publish controversial cartoons of the Muslim prophet.

In September 2012 Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of a naked Mohammed as violent protests were taking place in several countries over a low-budget film, titled "Innocence of Muslims", which was made in the United States and insulted the prophet.

French schools, consulates and cultural centres in 20 Muslim countries were briefly closed along with embassies for fear of retaliatory attacks at the time.



German Chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to let Greece leave the eurozone if Greeks elect a government that jettisons the country's current austerity course, Germany's Der Spiegel news weekly reported Saturday.

The report, which cited sources close to the German government, comes as polls show a radical leftist party leading the field three weeks ahead of a snap election in Greece.

The Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras has pledged to reverse reforms imposed by Greece's international creditors and renegotiate its bailout deal.

"The German government considers a eurozone exit (by Greece) to be almost inevitable if opposition leader Alexis Tsipras leads the government after the election and abandons budgetary discipline and does not repay the country's debts," Der Spiegel reported on its website.

Both Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had come to view a potential Greek exit from the 19-currency eurozone in a less dramatic light, the report explained.

They both now felt such an outcome would be "bearable", Der Spiegel quoted unnamed sources as saying.



Lithuania joined the eurozone at the stroke of midnight on Thursday, hoping to anchor itself in Europe as its former master Russia flexes its military muscle in the region.

The first Soviet republic to declare independence, in 1990, Lithuania is the last of the three Baltic states to join the currency union and will be the last country to do so for the foreseeable future, with remaining European Union members at least two years, and probably much more, away.

By becoming the 19th member of the euro bloc, Lithuania hopes for a boost in trade and lower borrowing costs to help it recover from a 15 percent contraction in 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis.

But central bank Governor Vitas Vasiliauskas stressed the “geopolitical” significance of the move which puts the former Soviet state firmly in the sphere of what used to be considered Western Europe.

“You live where you live, you have to keep that in mind,” he told Reuters when asked about benefits of euro zone entry, referring to the recent flare-up in tensions in the region.

Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis, which included the annexation of Crimea, has awoken fears in the Baltics, which have sizable ethnic Russian minorities, that they could be next.

NATO scrambled its jets more than 150 times in 2014 in response to Russian sorties, three times more than the previous year. Moscow also held surprise military exercises in Kaliningrad, its enclave that borders Lithuania, in December, with 9,000 troops and 55 ships.

Despite rising political tensions, Lithuania’s credit rating is now well into investment grade, and rating agency Fitch expects its economy to growth by 3.5 percent in 2015, three times as fast as the euro zone as a whole.




Pakistan on Sunday executed four more militants after ending a six-year moratorium on the death penalty following a Taliban school attack that killed 149 people, officials said.

The hangings follow those of two convicted militants on Friday after death warrants for the six men were signed the day before.

"Ghulam Sarwar, Rashid Tipu, Zubair Ahmed and Akhlaq Ahmed have been hanged for an assassination attempt on General Pervez Musharraf", Pakistan's former leader, a prison official in the eastern city of Faisalabad told AFP.

Pakistan's decision to reinstitute executions was slammed by human rights groups, with the United Nations also calling for it to reconsider the move.

Two senior government officials of central Punjab province, where the executions took place, confirmed the hangings.

"The brutal killers were clearly frightened and sought mercy from the jail staff on their cruel, inhuman and un-Islamic act," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said.

"They admitted that their brutal and inhuman acts had finally brought them to the gallows," it added.

The government ended the six-year ban on capital punishment for terror-related cases following Tuesday's bloody rampage on an army run school that killed mostly children.

Pakistan's military chief on Thursday signed the death warrants for the six militants who were on death row, after the government ended the moratorium on Wednesday.

On Friday two militants Aqil, alias Doctor Usman, and Arshad Mehmood were hanged in Faisalabad jail.

Aqil was convicted for an attack on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009 and was arrested after being injured.

Arshad Mehmood was convicted for his involvement in the assassination attempt on Musharraf in 2003.




Word spread quickly: a polar bear, then two, were spotted near this remote Inuit village on the shores of Hudson Bay, about 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) north of Montreal.

Children were whisked indoors. Hunters armed with rifles set out from Kuujjuarapik on snowmobiles in a blizzard to kill the intruders, before the bears could get close enough to take a bite out of any of the town's 1,500 residents.

Clashes between bears and people so far south of the Arctic were unheard of a century ago.

"Polar Bears were just stories when I was growing up in the 1920s," said elder Alec Tuckatuck.

But there have been more and more sightings of late, he said, as warming forces the world's largest carnivore to abandon its traditional ice-covered hunting grounds and migrate further south.

As of early December, stable ice had not yet formed on Hudson Bay, where the bears would traditionally feast on seals, adding layers of fat that would carry them through the next summer.

The summers in Kuujjuarapik are getting longer and winters are relatively "very short," Tuckatuck commented. "We now have (only) seven months of snow," he lamented.

This is having a dramatic impact on the lives of Inuit and bears alike -- and leading to more unwanted clashes between them, some even further south than Kuujjuarapik.


A polar bear was spotted in 2010 in Shamattawa, Manitoba, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Hudson Bay.

In the Nunavut hamlet of Taloyoak, six intrepid polar bears had to be put down in the past three months after wandering into the community.

"They're not cuddly little Coca-Cola bears," Bob Lyall, of the local Hunters and Trappers Organization, told Canadian media. "They're hungry bears coming through town and looking for food."

In Kuujjuarapik, Inuit hunters have also had to search elsewhere than ice floes for food.

The bay ice, Tuckatuck said, "can break up (underfoot) at any time."

Hunters cannot safely venture onto the ice in search of seals or beluga whales, and so they have turned their sights inland on caribou -- marking a major cultural shift away from the ice that long sustained their people.


- 'Climate bomb' -


In his bright yellow ski pants and parka, Tuckatuck recalls the effects of global warming started to be felt here in the 1980s, long before nations began negotiations to cut greenhouse gas emissions linked to the phenomena.

That's when people here started noticing a change in "the timing of the ice (forming), the timing of melting," said Tuckatuck.





There may be no corner hardware store at the International Space Station, but that doesn't mean the astronauts can't get what they need.

In a first, the space station crew was able to craft a new tool in space, using their specially designed Zero-G 3D printer and a design emailed from the ground.

The tool, a ratchet, was designed by Made in Space, the California company that created the 3D printer on board the orbiting space lab.

The 3D printer has been used on the space station before, but only for designs that were tested and loaded before it left Earth.

This time, the tool was designed and tested on the ground and then emailed to the printer, which spit it out in about four hours, the company said in a statement.

"The ratchet was designed as one print with moveable parts without any support material," the company said.





His motives are a mystery and his acts described as random and deranged, but analysts say the gunman who took a Sydney cafe full of terrified people hostage could still score a propaganda coup for jihadists.

Bearing a black jihadist flag, the Iranian-born Islamist created precisely the sort of lone-wolf attack urged by groups such as the Islamic State -- replete with bomb threats, hostages and panic in a major Western city.

Although any link to a specific group has yet to be established, the explosions and flashes of the dramatic police storming of the cafe that left two hostages and the hostage-taker dead, drove home the increasing reality of the "lone wolf" threat.

The gunman was named in Australian media as an Iranian-born "cleric" called Man Haron Monis, aged 49, who had sent offensive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers and was out on bail on charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.

He was described as a "fringe Islamist" who acted on his own, and while the reasons for his acts remained murky, analysts said IS could take it as a win for their cause.

"The key thing with these attacks isn't to cause lots of casualties, it is to cause a media buzz, get everyone focused on it, everyone talking about it," said Matthew Henman, the head of London-based IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.




Ratings agency Fitch cut France's credit grade by one notch to "AA" on Friday, saying Paris's efforts to trim its fiscal deficit have fallen short to avoid a downgrade.

"The weak outlook for the French economy impairs the prospects for fiscal consolidation and stabilizing the public debt ratio," Fitch said.

The AA grade -- two steps below the top triple-A rating -- was decided despite France having reduced its projected deficit for fiscal 2015 to 4.1 percent of GDP, down from 4.3 percent, under pressure from the European Commission.

"On its own, this will not be sufficient to significantly change Fitch's projections of France's government debt dynamics," the agency said.

"The 2015 budget involves a significant slippage against prior budget deficit targets."

It noted that the draft 2015 budget projected government debt to GDP ratio will peak at 98 percent in 2016, higher and later than previous projections.

But Fitch doubted those targets could be met.