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German retail sales rise at fastest rate in seven years

BERLIN (Reuters) - German retail sales posted their strongest gain in seven years in January, reinforcing expectations that consumer spending will support growth in Europe's largest economy this year. Data from the Federal Statistics Office on Friday showed retail sales rising 2.5 percent in both real and nominal terms compared to December, when they stumbled 2.1 percent lower in real terms during the important Christmas shopping season.

US retailers reporting weak holiday season results

Victoria's Secret parent L Brands and home decor chain Pier 1 Imports joined other retailers in slashing profit forecasts Thursday following disappointing holiday sales. The two cited heavy discounting, higher marketing costs and poor weather over the late-November to December gift-buying season in the United States, following similar poor reports from Bed, Bath & Beyond and Family Dollar.

Discounts drive U.S. holiday retail growth: ShopperTrak

By Maria Ajit Thomas (Reuters) - Promotions and discounts offered by U.S. retailers drove a 2.7 percent rise in holiday season sales despite six fewer days and a cold snap that kept shoppers from stores, retail industry tracker ShopperTrak said. Reflecting a recovering U.S. economy, retail sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas rose for the fourth consecutive year, even though the number of people walking into stores fell 14.6 percent in the period, ShopperTrak said.

Beyonce retains top spot on U.S. Billboard album chart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Beyonce held onto the top spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart for the second consecutive week as her new self-titled album sold 374,000 copies in the lead-up to Christmas, according to figures released Thursday from Nielsen SoundScan. The pop star's fifth solo album, which was released on December 13, has sold a total of 991,000 copies through December 22, which was the final day for tallying this week's chart.

Beyonce retains top spot on U.S. Billboard album chart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Beyonce held onto the top spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart for the second consecutive week as her new self-titled album sold 374,000 copies in the lead-up to Christmas, according to figures released Thursday from Nielsen SoundScan. The pop star's fifth solo album, which was released on December 13, has sold a total of 991,000 copies through December 22, which was the final day for tallying this week's chart.

Pope prays for South Sudan, Syria on first Christmas

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for humanitarian aid access in Syria and "social harmony" in South Sudan on his first Christmas in the Vatican after months of shaking up the papacy with his humble style and common touch. Francis also pleaded for divine aid to rescue child soldiers "robbed of their childhood" and for peace in the conflict-torn Central African Republic which he said was "often forgotten and overlooked".

Syrian artists turn to black humour to mark Christmas

Syrian artists have turned to black humour to depict the brutal war devastating their country as they marked on Wednesday the third Christmas since the deadly conflict erupted. Their works posted on the Internet reflect the tragedy that has struck Syria where violence has reportedly killed more than 126,000 people and forced millions to flee. One of the most poignant illustrations by graphic designer Sedki al-Imam shows Santa Claus riding his sleigh through a starry, deep blue sky but instead of reindeer it is being pulled by warplanes.

Brief Christmas cheer in Bangui as fighting rages

Fresh exchanges of gunfire rattled the Central African Republic's capital Bangui on Wednesday, but a brief respite from the violence earlier allowed residents and troops to celebrate Christmas, bringing some festive cheer to the strife-torn nation. The main celebratory event in this overwhelmingly Christian-majority country was a moving Christmas Eve mass at the imposing red-brick cathedral in Bangui.

Pope prays for South Sudan, Syria on first Christmas

Pope Francis on Wednesday called for humanitarian aid access in Syria and "social harmony" in South Sudan on his first Christmas in the Vatican after months of shaking up the papacy with his humble style and common touch. Francis also pleaded for divine aid to rescue child soldiers "robbed of their childhood" and for peace in the conflict-torn Central African Republic which he said was "often forgotten and overlooked".

Francis celebrates first Christmas as pope

Pope Francis is celebrating his first Christmas as leader of the world's Catholics, riding a wave of popularity and influence after a year shaking up the papacy with his humble style, sense of humour and common touch. The pope will deliver his first Christmas "Urbi et orbi" blessing at 1100 GMT, a highly anticipated address likely to include themes such as the brutality of poverty and violence against Christians.
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