ALPHARETTA, Ga. (AP) — Many Black Friday shoppers say they avoided spending money on Thanksgiving Day because, they say, the holiday should be a time for family.
At North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Black Friday shoppers say they encountered lighter crowds than in past years. Stacie Oden of Roswell said she showed up at the Alpharetta mall — among the largest in Atlanta's northern suburbs — at 4 a.m. Friday.
"We came at a great time," Oden said. "The mall was basically ours."
Several shoppers said they believe the mall was a bit emptier Friday than in past years because more and more people are heading out to stores on Thanksgiving.
Best Buy stores in Georgia and elsewhere opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving for an early start on Black Friday sales. Others, such as Target, Macy's and Kohl's, opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.
In Columbus, David Rice and his son, Avery, missed Thanksgiving dinner with their family to wait in line at a Best Buy on Thursday to get two 50-inch Panasonic televisions for $199.99 apiece.
"It's been a lot of fun. We've just been making some memories," David Rice said of the 33 hours they waited to be first in line. "The rest of my family was sitting around talking about it at the Thanksgiving table today and just laughing and saying how goofy it is. And we hadn't ever done anything like this, and probably won't ever do it again. But it was fun."
Some shoppers began camping out even before Thanksgiving. In Dunwoody, police posted a photo on the department's Facebook page of a tent set up outside a strip mall on Wednesday afternoon.
For some out shopping on Thanksgiving Day, the early Black Friday start was more convenient.
"We planned on going shopping anyways. Now we get to sleep tonight, instead of getting up at midnight and coming out. So it's not a bad idea," Rick Roberts told WSB-TV at Lenox Square mall in Atlanta Thursday.
By 9 a.m. Friday at North Point Mall, there were plenty of parking spaces on the outer edges of the lots, though it was tough to find one in the first few rows near the main entrances. Despite a minor traffic jam outside the American Girl store, shoppers said the parking lots were easier to navigate than in previous years.
"The parking lot wasn't as nutty as it usually is," said Derek Hartrampf, who drove to the mall from Canton. He said he thinks stores opening on Thanksgiving now make the Black Friday experience "a little less crazy than normal."
He and others out Friday said Thanksgiving shouldn't be about shopping. Among them was Carol Nanna of Suwanee, who was taking a break Friday morning outside the North Point Macy's, where she found some of her best deals.
"Black Friday means Black Friday," she said. "It shouldn't be on Thursday. That's your family time."
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Pope Francis urged Muslim leaders to condemn the "barbaric violence" being committed in Islam's name against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria as he arrived in neighboring Turkey Friday for a delicate visit aimed at improving interfaith ties.
Francis sought to offer a balanced message as he met with Turkish political and religious officials at the start of his second trip to the Middle East this year. He reaffirmed that military force was justified to halt the Islamic State group's advance, and called for greater dialogue between Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths to end fundamentalism.
"As religious leaders, we are obliged to denounce all violations against human dignity and human rights," Francis told Mehmet Gormez, Turkey's top cleric and other religious officials gathered at the government-run Religious Affairs Directorate. "As such, any violence which seeks religious justification warrants the strongest condemnation because the omnipotent is the God of life and peace."
Francis condemned the "barbaric violence" by IS against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities and the destruction of their places of worship.
The Vatican has voiced particular concern about the expulsion of Christians from communities that have had a Christian presence for 2,000 years and has demanded that they be allowed to return home in safety once the conflict settles.
Francis' three-day visit comes at a sensitive moment for Turkey, as it struggles to cope with 1.6 million refugees fleeing the IS advance in Syria and weighs how to respond to U.S. calls to get more engaged with the international coalition fighting the extremists.
Turkey has accused the group of casting a shadow over Islam and has said Muslim countries have a duty to stand up against its radical views. But Turkey is still negotiating with the United States over helping the coalition, pressing for a safe haven and a no-fly zone along the Syrian border with Turkey and demanding the coalition go after Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Turkey has long been accused of turning a blind eye to IS fighters entering Syria from its territory in the hope that it would hasten Assad's downfall — charges it denies.
"Those who veer away from the message of Islam — which is a call for peace — and spread violence and savagery are in a state of rebellion against Allah no matter what they call themselves," Gormez told the pope in stressing Turkey's opposition to the fundamentalists.
He and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan both complained about rising Islamophobia in the West, with Erdogan saying prejudices against Muslims were helping fuel radical Islamic groups like the IS in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Africa.
"Those who feel defeated, wronged, oppressed and abandoned ... can become open to being exploited by terror organizations," Erdogan said.
Erdogan said he hoped Francis' visit would strengthen ties between Christians and Muslims. But the pope's visit was met largely with indifference among Turkey's people, 99 percent of whom are Muslim.
"I don't know what a Catholic leader is doing in a Muslim country," said Akay Incebacak, an Istanbul resident ahead of Friday prayers at the Sisli Mosque. "We need to discuss whether our religious leaders are welcome or met with that much respect abroad."
The pope was greeted at Ankara's Esenboga Airport by a line of Turkish dignitaries before heading to the mausoleum of the Turkish republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, where he laid a wreath.
"My wish is that Turkey, which is a natural bridge between the two continents, is not just a point of intersection, but at the same time a point where men and women belonging to all cultures, ethnicity and religion live together in dialogue," Francis wrote in a guest book at the mausoleum.
Beyond the geopolitical issues, the three-day visit will give Francis a chance to reach out to Turkey's tiny Christian community — less than 1 percent of Turks are Catholic — and visit with the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
Francis will tour two of Istanbul's most impressive sites, the Haghia Sofia — the Byzantine church-turned-mosque that is now a museum — and the nearby Sultan Ahmet mosque, Turkey's most important place of Muslim worship. The Vatican's plans call for him to pause in the mosque for a moment of "reflection."
The Vatican added a speech to Francis' itinerary Sunday at an event in which some Syrian refugees are expected to attend. The absence of any meeting with refugees had raised eyebrows given that Francis had met with refugees in Jordan and in the Palestinian territories and has made welcoming refugees a major thrust of his papacy.
In his opening remarks to Erdogan at his massive new presidential palace, Francis praised Turkey's welcome of refugees and said the international community had the "moral obligation" to help Ankara provide for them.
Security was tight: Turkish media reports said some 2,700 police officers would be on duty during the Ankara leg of the trip alone, and that a court had issued an order allowing police to stop and search cars and carry out random identity checks on people along routes used by the pope.
Francis waded into some local controversy when he became the first head of state to be received by Erdogan at his huge new $620 million palace in Ankara, a 1,000-room complex on once-protected farmland and forest that dwarfs the White House and other European government palaces.
While Francis' spare living conditions are well-known, the Vatican dismissed a request by the Ankara branch of the Turkish Chamber of Architects for him to boycott the meeting, saying he would be received wherever the government chose to receive him.
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A renewed plunge in oil prices is a worrying sign of weakness in the global economy that could shake governments dependent on oil revenues. Yet it is also a bonus for consumers as prices fall at the pump, giving individuals more spending money and lowering costs for many businesses.
The latest slide was triggered by OPEC's decision this week to leave its production target at 30 million barrels a day. Member nations of the cartel are worried they'll lose market share if they lower production.
Partly because of the shale oil boom in the U.S., the world is awash in oil but demand from major economies is weak — so prices are falling.
Brent crude, an international benchmark, was at $72.50 a barrel on Friday, down nearly 30 percent in the past three months and at its lowest in four years. U.S. crude oil slid 6.2 percent to near $69 a barrel on Friday and is down 27 percent over three months.
Overall, the slide will come as a boon for consumers in oil-importing regions like Asia and Europe. But there are also some possible negatives.
Many of Europe's economies are net importers of oil, so lower prices are likely to give a welcome, if small, boost to growth. Cheaper energy reduces costs for industry and puts more money in consumers' pockets. That will be particularly useful in the 18-nation eurozone, where unemployment is high.
In Germany, the price at the pump for Super E10 fuel has fallen from 1.53 euros per liter ($7.16 per gallon) at the start of September to 1.42 euros per liter ($6.69 per gallon) this week, according to the ADAC motoring association.
Dropping fuel prices also, however, add to one of the eurozone's biggest headaches: low inflation. Weak inflation makes it harder for troubled economies like Greece to reduce debt. It is also a problem for the European Central Bank, which wants to nudge up inflation from just 0.3 percent currently to around 2 percent.
The few European countries that do produce oil — mainly Britain and Norway in the North Sea — face a drop in revenues that could balance out the positives of cheaper fuel.
Russia gets about 50 percent of its state revenue from oil exports, so the government's concerns are clear. The national economy is already sliding into recession under the impact of Western sanctions and investors are pulling money out.
Officials for the moment are putting on a poker-face — Putin said Friday that "I'm sure the market will become balanced by the middle of next year."
For Russian consumers, the outlook is mixed. Prices at the pump have actually gone up in the past few months, in line with a rise in inflation that has been fueled by the drop in the national currency, the ruble. In local money, 95-octane gasoline costs 35.99 rubles a liter ($2.8 a gallon) in Moscow, up from 35.53 per liter two months ago.
In Japan, which is a net importer of oil, gas at the pump remains relatively high as it takes some time for cheaper crude prices to filter down to consumers. Also, a recent drop in the yen's value will reduce the savings Japan can reap from lower oil prices.
In June, regular gasoline cost $1.40 a liter ($5.29 a gallon) at the Esso filling station in Shimbashi, near the glittering Ginza shopping strip in Tokyo. The price rose to $1.46 a liter ($5.53 a gallon) in July and was $1.44 a liter ($5.44 a gallon) on Friday morning.
Prices are expected to fall but that will complicate the government's efforts to end Japan's deflation.
CHINA, EMERGING ASIAN ECONOMIES
The Chinese government adjusts retail prices in line with the global market. As a result, Beijing has cut prices repeatedly this year. On Friday, highest grade gasoline cost $1.20 a liter ($4.54 a gallon) in the capital, down from $1.35 a liter ($5.11 a gallon) in June. Cheaper fuel would ease financial pressure on manufacturers and small businesses at a time when economic growth has declined steadily over the past two years.
Elsewhere in Asia, the impact is varied. In Indonesia, fuel costs have risen because the government has cut its expensive subsidies, more than offsetting the decline in global oil prices. The higher prices triggered street protests and the latest fall in crude prices may help ease tensions once it flows through to pump prices.
Malaysia is among the few oil-exporting nations in Asia, so the drop is hurting its coffers. But it is also taking advantage of the market drop to cut expensive fuel subsidies.
CANTON, Ohio (AP) — A northeast Ohio middle school teacher whose skull was crushed by a rock dropped onto her vehicle from a Pennsylvania overpass is recovering from her sixth surgery.
Sharon Budd of Lake Township had surgery about a week before Thanksgiving Day to remove plastic skull pieces that had been protecting her brain but became contaminated, The Repository (http://bit.ly/11ADUc7 ) in Canton reported.
Her husband, Randy Budd, said she was walking, talking and in good spirits days later. And, three days after her latest hospital release, she had an extra reason to celebrate on the holiday: It was also her 53rd birthday.
She will need at least two more major surgeries, but the family remains hopeful, her husband said in a letter thanking their community and supporters that was published by the newspaper.
"The doctors continue to be amazed of her progress. ... On this Thanksgiving Day, which is also Sharon's birthday, we couldn't be more grateful!" he wrote.
Budd was riding with her husband and daughter when the 4.6-pound rock crashed through the front window and struck her head July 10. She lost her right eye, suffered brain damage and went through rehabilitation at a Danville, Pennsylvania, hospital.
Four young men were charged in the case.
One testifying under a deal with prosecutors said the defendants set out to do damage that day and laughed as they drove away from the scene after hearing the rock hit a vehicle.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — As the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide prepare to face off on the football field, the mayors of their towns have made a friendly wager.
The Opelika-Auburn News reports (http://bit.ly/1AYVzJQ ) that Auburn Mayor Bill Ham Jr. and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox have bet $100 on Saturday's Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. The money will be donated to a charity chosen by the winning team.
If Auburn University wins, the money will go to the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lee County. If the University of Alabama wins, the money will go to the Tuscaloosa Pre-K Initiative.
The two mayors made the same bet last year when Auburn beat Alabama 34-28.