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By Dhanya Skariachan, Lisa Baertlein and Phil Wahba CHATHAM, N.J./LOS ANGELES/WHITE PLAINS, New York (Reuters) - The 2013 holiday shopping season may end up being remembered for its ugly sweaters and, for many retailers, even uglier discounts. With growing online competition, no fashion must-haves and weak consumer confidence, most U.S. retailers will have to offer both big discounts and stellar service to get consumers to spend freely, according to retail analysts who joined Reuters reporters on visits to stores in New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois ahead of the holiday season. "People are being a lot more selective in where they spend their money," said Wedbush analyst Gabriella Santaniello while touring the Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park, California. Still, a trip to the mall with a trained expert provides vital clues ahead of the holiday season, which usually accounts for almost half of retailers' profits.
By Tarek Amara BIZERTE, Tunisia (Reuters) - Tunisia's "Arab Spring" revolution, born out of economic despair, is failing to deliver the jobs and opportunities of a better life that its people long for, and had once expected. While Tunisia has largely avoided the bloodshed afflicting much of the region, a prolonged political crisis is hurting the economy badly and Mohammad Abd El Momen is one of the victims. We got the tragedy," said El Momen, who until July worked at a factory making safety boots for construction workers in Europe. Then his Italian employers - like many foreign investors - gave up and closed the plant in Bizerte, a coastal city 65 km (40 miles) north of Tunis.
By Dominic Evans BEIRUT (Reuters) - Western countries which demand that President Bashar al-Assad step down should either stop dreaming or forget attending peace talks in January, Syria said on Wednesday. Responding to an announcement that the long-delayed "Geneva 2" conference aimed at resolving Syria's civil war will be held on January 22, it said Assad's government would take part in the meeting but reiterated that it had no plans to surrender power. The head of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebel brigades has rejected the Geneva talks and says there will be no ceasefire during the meeting. The National Coalition opposition group, which also has Western support but minimal influence over fighters on the ground, says it will decide next month whether to go to Geneva.
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, offering signs of a steady improvement in the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 316,000, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there were no special factors influencing the report. The so-called continuing claims data covered the household survey week from which the November unemployment rate will be calculated.
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's prosecutor general on Wednesday ordered 24 detained activists to be held for four days for protesting a newly passed law criminalizing demonstrations without permits. The decision comes as tensions over the law have raised fears of a new cycle of street violence between the military backed government and democracy advocates.
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thousands of demonstrators massed outside four Thai government ministries, a major state office complex and 24 provincial halls on Wednesday in a widening effort to cripple the administration and oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. By evening, more than 13,000 protesters surrounded Thailand's top crime-fighting agency and an adjacent government complex. They already occupy the Finance Ministry and have forced the evacuation of four other ministries in two days. I urge all police to leave this compound," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters outside the Department of Special Investigation, the country's equivalent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
By Ayman al-Warfalli BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Libya's army clashed with Islamist militants in the eastern city of Benghazi early on Wednesday and three soldiers were shot dead, security and medical officials said. Western powers, worried about stability in Libya, have promised more aid to the army to curb former fighters and militants who helped topple veteran ruler Muammar Gaddafi two years ago, but have since challenged the OPEC country's government. Fighting broke out on Monday between army special forces and members of militant group Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, killing at least nine people before the Islamists retreated from their main base.
Royal Mail said rising parcel revenue and ongoing cost cuts helped the newly-privatised postal operator almost double its operating profit in the first half of the year. Reporting for the first time as a London listed company following the government's high-profile sale of a 60 percent stake, Royal Mail said on Wednesday operating profit after transformation costs had jumped to 283 million pounds. That figure for the six months to September 29 was 96.5 percent ahead of the 144 million pounds posted in the same period a year ago, helped also by a one-off VAT credit of 35 million pounds and lower than expected transformation costs. The group, which is closing mail centres and improving operations to handle Briton's growing penchant for parcels, said parcel volumes had been flat in the period due to an e-shopping slowdown in the hot summer but said it would post "significant revenue growth" for the nine months to December.