USA

Congressional delays in agreeing on fresh measures to boost growth were putting the US economy at increasing risk of a downturn that could become a recession, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill suggested at IMF meetings in Ottawa. The economy shrank at 0.4 percent annual rate in the third quarter, and most private economists forecast a continuing contraction in the fourth, meeting the generally accepted definition of a recession. Democrats want more measures to help displaced workers, while Republicans are urging support for White House plans that emphasize tax breaks over spending.

In its biggest monthly decline since since April 1986, the consumer price index (CPI) fell by 0.3 percent in October. The core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.2 percent, slightly higher than forecast. The overall decline was largely a result of a 10.7 percent drop in the price of gasoline and a 6.3 percent drop in energy prices overall.

The discovery of a second letter to a Democratic US senator apparently containing anthrax strengthened federal investigators' suspicions that the attack through the mail is the work of domestic terrorists. After sorting through 268 barrels of quarantined mail, investigators found only one suspicious envelope, addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont. It was identical to the anthrax-tainted letter sent last month to Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota. In response to the latest find, congressional officials closed the Russell and Dirksen Senate office buildings for a new round of environmental testing while the FBI renewed its call for help in finding whoever was responsible. (Story, Page 2)

Harry Potter and his flying broomstick were sweeping away box-office records over the weekend. The first big-screen adventure of the boy wizard, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," grossed $31.3 million in its debut Friday, the highest single-day take ever, according to distributor Warner Bros. The previous record-holder was "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," which took in $28.5 million on opening day in 1999. Warner Bros. expected the movie to have broken its own single day record by taking in even more on Saturday, as young fans (above) streamed into theatres. At that level of business, "Harry Potter" is virtually assured of shattering the record for best three-day debut.

Stargazers said they were amazed with the light show thousands of tiny meteors gave them early Sunday in this year's much-anticipated Leonids shower. Every few seconds a bit of space dust burned harmlessly into the atmosphere, emitting bright flares. Even though the display was less intense than the 4,000 per minute some had predicted, NASA astronomer Tony Phillips said it was the most spectacular shower since 1966.

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