Despite heavier discounting and longer store hours than last year, the start of the holiday shopping season was only so-so, according to industry statistics. ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which logs sales at more than 45,000 retail outlets, reported a 0.9 percent drop in sales on Black Friday - so named because of how post-Thanksgiving sales push stores into profitability for the year. Analysts, however, hesitate to use first-day sales as an accurate barometer for season-long results, especially after last year, when the Saturday before Christmas turned out to be the busiest shopping day. Major retailers report their final November sales results later this week, but thanks to better-than- expected sales on Friday, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has posted a solid 4.3 percent gain thus far at stores open a year or more.

About 500 Americans from Ethiopia far outnumbered dueling demonstrators on both sides of the Iraq war in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush spent the Thanksgiving weekend at his ranch. The former group called on Bush to pressure the Ethiopian government to release opposition party leaders, detained when the aftermath of May's disputed election grew violent. About 200 antiwar protesters, meanwhile, were led by Cindy Sheehan, whose 26-day vigil outside the ranch drew several thousand supporters in August. A dozen Bush supporters gathered several miles away in a counter-demonstration.

Two US soldiers were reprimanded but will not be prose cuted for their roles in the cremation of Taliban rebels in southern Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reported. Investigators determined the burning of the corpses was not a violation of the Geneva Convention because it was done for hygienic reasons and in ignorance of Islamic beliefs that prohibit cremation. Two other soldiers were reprimanded for using the incident to taunt surviving Taliban fighters in a psychological ploy.

All but two of nine inmates who escaped from a maximum security area of a county jail in Yakima, Wash., were recaptured over the weekend. The other men were still on the lam Sunday. The escape was made through the ceiling, using bed sheets tied into a rope.

Lawyers for condemned killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams called their scheduled private meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California next month "a positive sign." The attorneys hope the rare private audience will lead to a clemency for Williams, who is set to die by lethal injection at San Quentin prison Dec. 13. A cofounder of the Crips street gang, Williams has become a leading antigang activist since his 1979 conviction for the robbery-murders of four people. A number of celebrities who champion his cause point to his nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. Williams maintains that he's innocent.

Elevated monorail trains in downtown Seattle clipped each other while rounding a curve Saturday night in opposite directions, causing two minor injuries. The line dates to the 1962 World's Fair.

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