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Obama eyes 'breakthrough year'

US President Barack Obama says 2014 "can be a breakthrough year for America" after a long era of recession and slow economic recovery.

Mr Obama spoke to reporters as he concluded his fifth year in office. He and his family were departing later in the day for a holiday in Hawaii.

Asked if this year had been the worst of his presidency, he laughed and said: "That's not how I think about it."

Mr Obama's polls are at or near the low point of his tenure in the White House.

The rollout of the health care website was troubled. High-visibility parts of his agenda have yet to make it through Congress, including a call for gun safety legislation after a major school shooting a year ago and a sweeping overhaul of immigration laws.

The president took questions a few hours after the government announced the economy grew at a solid 4.1% annual rate from July to September. That marks the fastest pace since late 2011 and significantly higher than previously believed.

Much of the upward revision came from stronger consumer spending at a time when unemployment is at a five-year low of 7%. Mr Obama did not mention it, but the stock market is also at or near record levels.

In his review of the year, Mr Obama also noted that US combat troops will finally be withdrawn from Afghanistan during the coming year.

He also again promised to speak in more comprehensive terms about the future of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programmes.

"I have confidence that the NSA is not engaged in domestic surveillance or snooping around," he said.

Yet he added: "We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence."

A presidential advisory panel this week recommended sweeping changes to government surveillance, including limiting the bulk collection of Americans' phone records by stripping the NSA of its ability to store the data in its own facilities.

Separately, a federal judge ruled that some of the NSA's activities were likely to be unconstitutional. Judge Richard Leon called the NSA's operation "Orwellian" in scope and said there was little evidence that its vast trove of data from American users had prevented a terrorist attack.

AP

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