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Manhunt for Charlie Hebdo suspects enters third day

François Nascimbeni, AFP | French police stand in the street in northern France on January 8 amid a manhunt for the suspects behind the deadly shooting at satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo

The hunt for the two suspects behind the deadly attack on weekly Charlie Hebdo entered a third day on Friday, with security forces across the country on alert. Thousands gathered for a second night across the country Thursday to protest the tragedy.

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France deployed elite forces in the search for the two brothers accused of killing 12 people on Wednesday in an Islamist attack on the Paris-based magazine, as the pair spent a second night on the run despite a huge security operation.

The two suspects, brothers Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, were thought to have carried out the attack - the worst in France for half a century - in revenge for the weekly's repeated publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.

A third suspect, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd turned himself into the authorities within 24 hours of the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Police spread out across northern France’s rural Ainse region, where the fugitives are believed to have robbed a petrol station 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Paris and ditched one of their getaway cars.

After the robbery, the pair is believed to have fled the petrol station possibly on foot, armed with at least a Kalashnikov, according to police.

Officers in heavy black bulletproof vests searched outbuildings in rural Ainse, rifles at the ready, under the nervous eyes of local residents.

"I live near the woods," said village resident Roseline, a grandmother. "I'm afraid. Night is falling and they could be hiding nearby."

Both Ainse and the Paris region have been placed on the highest security alert.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that an international meeting on terrorism would take place in Paris on Sunday.

A country in mourning, global solidarity

As the investigation and search unfolded, bells tolled across France at midday Thursday and people gathered outside the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in the pouring rain with banners reading "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie).

The same sign has featured in vigils around the world, from Australia to the United States.

Thousands gathered in Paris for a second night in tribute to those killed as the Eiffel Tower dimmed its lights.

Television footage showed children at a Muslim school in the northern city of Lille holding up sheets of paper emblazoned "not in my name".

Friday was expected to see the Muslim faithful attending prayers across France after the head of the French Muslim Council called on people to gather "in dignity and silence", and urged imams to condemn the "violence and terrorism".

Charlie Hebdo reporter Laurent Leger, who miraculously survived the bloodbath by hiding under a table, gave the first eyewitness account from inside the office.

"I saw a masked man, I saw a lot of blood, I saw half the editorial team on the ground," he told France Info radio. "I saw horror."

Meanwhile, several other incidents rocked the shocked nation including the fatal shooting of a policewoman just south of Paris.

Two Muslim places of worship were also fired at, prosecutors said, although no casualties were reported.

The government has called for mass demonstrations to be held nationwide on Sunday, while President François Hollande has ordered that flags be flown at half mast for three days.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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