USA

Retailers can expect to see holiday shopping rise modestly - about 3 percent or a bit more, industry analysts sugested as the Christmas buying season opens Friday. Higher energy prices, however, should restrain consumers, who bumped up sales 4.8 percent last year, analyst Kevin Regan of FTI Consulting said. In a nationwide survey conducted by Kurt Salmon Associates (KSA), about half the respondents said they'd spend the same as last year. Twenty-one percent said they expected to spend more; 30 percent planned to spend less. Retailers will have to "execute on multiple fronts to have a happy season," KSA's Madison Riley said. What shoppers want, the survey found, are (in order) bargains, selection, and convenience. Above, Kingston Eversull brings out Christmas decorations at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Dan Rather will step down in March as the anchor of the "CBS Evening News" after 23 years in the job, he announced Tuesday. Rather, who replaced Walter Cronkite, said he and the network's management had discussed his stepping down periodically since 1999. He denied that the decision was related to an independent investigation into the September "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's National Guard service that caused a nationwide preelection furor and led to apologies by Rather and the network. Rather said he will stay on as a correspondent for both editions of "60 Minutes."

The price of a first-class postage stamp, last raised in 2002, could be headed from 37 cents to 41 cents or higher, but probably not until early 2006, The Wall Street Journal reported. The US Postal Service is expected to seek approval from Congress for a 10-percent rate hike early next year.

The suspect in shooting deaths of six deer hunters in Sawyer County, Wis., and a survivor agree that the tragedy began with a confrontation on private land. But they differed on who fired first. Survivor Lauren Hesebeck told investigators that Chai Vang turned after a verbal exchange and fired his semiautomatic assault rifle from 40 yards away. Vang, a Laotian immigrant, claims he fired only after one of Hesebeck's friends shot at him and missed. Authorities have said there was only one gun among the victims.

Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were waived Wednesday after collectors on the famous highway went on strike. Non-union employees were expected to begin staffing the tollbooths thereafter until a contract dispute is settled.

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