Colder weather helps Calif. firefighters




MALIBU, Calif. &

Favorable weather and an aerial assault helped firefighters make progress against a blaze that destroyed dozens of homes along winding canyon roads, the second major fire here in as many months.




A cool breeze blowing in from the Pacific Ocean kept temperatures low and moisture levels high Sunday, while 30 aircraft repeatedly dropped fire retardant and water that snuffed out most of the flames.




The fire was 70 percent contained after burning more than 4,720 acres. Fire officials said they hope to have the blaze under control by today.




Residents made their way back Sunday to see if their homes were among the 53 that were burned to the ground. Several homes along Corral Canyon Road, which bore the brunt of the blaze, were reduced to blackened wrecks, while many others were virtually unscathed.




"There's no rhyme or reason to it," said Frank Churchill, who returned home with his wife and four children to find his white stucco home largely undamaged, while three neighboring homes were leveled. "It doesn't make sense."




Online shopping season kicks off




NEW YORK &

Retailers are hoping last week's strong start to the holiday shopping season at malls and stores translates into a busy buying season online, which officially begins today.




The Monday after Thanksgiving, tagged "Cyber Monday" by the National Retail Federation, marks the first big online shopping surge for many merchants as consumers return to their work computers.




A number of retailers are hosting one-day sales or special offers for the occasion. Internet research firm comScore Inc. estimated online sales may exceed $700 million online today.




As for brick-and-mortar outlets, ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks total sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, reported late Sunday that sales on Friday and Saturday combined rose 7.2 percent to $16.4 billion from the same two-day period a year ago.




The biggest draw was electronics, benefiting chains like Best Buy Co. and discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. Popular-priced department stores including J.C. Penney Co. and Kohl's Corp. drew in crowds with good deals.




Writers keep pressure on studios




LOS ANGELES &

Striking TV and movie writers kept up the pressure on studios by picketing and intensifying an Internet campaign that uses the very medium at issue in the contentious negotiations.




Both sides were set to resume contract talks today. The Writers Guild of America went on strike Nov. 5 over payment for work aired on the Web. Writers want more money when TV shows and films are sold on Internet sites such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes.




Studios, networks and producers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, say it is too early to know which business model will succeed on the Web. They want flexibility to experiment without having to be locked into payment formulas.




As the strike enters its fourth week, writers have stepped up their use of blogs, short videos, MySpace pages and other Web-based methods aimed at keeping their ranks together and reaching a wider audience, including TV viewers who will soon have to settle for reruns of their favorite prime time shows.




The guild's West and East coast branches have posted strike schedules, press releases and other information on its official Web sites.




Airbus signs contracts with China




BEIJING &

Airbus said it signed contracts today to sell 160 commercial passenger jets to China in a deal worth around $14.8 billion.




The order includes 110 of the European company's A320 jets and 50 of the slightly larger A330 planes, Airbus officials said in Beijing, where they were accompanying French President Nicolas Sarkozy on his first state visit to the Asian trading giant.




Airbus and Chinese partners this summer signed an agreement to produce A320s in China in anticipation of large Chinese orders for the popular single aisle jet that seats 150 or more passengers. Size-wise, the plane is well suited for Chinese domestic routes expected to show strong growth in the years ahead as the economy continues to expand.




Airbus and its American archrival Boeing Co. predict China will become the world's second-biggest aircraft market after the United States, with airlines buying 1,900 to 2,600 planes over the next two decades.




The order stands to push Airbus past Chicago-based Boeing in total orders for commercial aircraft this year.




Iraqi Shiite leader defends Iran




BAGHDAD &

Iraq's most influential Shiite politician said Sunday that the U.S had not backed up claims that Iran is fueling violence here, underscoring a wide gap on the issue between Washington and the Shiite-led Baghdad government.




A draft bill to ease curbs on ex-Saddam Hussein loyalists in government services also drew sharp criticism from Shiite lawmakers, opening old wounds at a time when the United States is pressing the Iraqis for compromise for the sake of national unity.




The Americans have long accused the Iranians of arming and training Shiite militias, including some linked to the U.S.-backed government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.




U.S. officials have also alleged that Iran has provided weapons used to kill Americans &

a charge the Iranians vehemently deny.




"" The Associated Press




"These are only accusations raised by the multinational forces and I think these accusations need more proof," Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraq Council, told reporters.




Travelers returning home after Thanksgiving turkey find busy airports and some delays




ATLANTA &

Holiday travelers heading home after a long weekend of turkey, leftovers and holiday shopping found heavy crowds but most didn't find the delays they feared most.




In Atlanta, home to one of the nation's busiest airports, rainy weather and fog delayed some incoming flights more than two hours, though lines were moving Sunday night.




"In terms of security checkpoints things are moving smoothly, but the issue now is due to low visibility," said Herschel Grangent, spokesman for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.




A spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation said Sunday that few flights were canceled and delays were minimal for the estimated 311,000 passengers traveling through Midway Airport and O'Hare International Airport.




"Certainly, the weather has been kind to everyone &

travelers, airports and all transportation agencies and avenues alike," spokeswoman Karen Pride said Sunday. "We're very happy that there have been a minimal number of delays for flights and not a lot of crowds at the airports."