USA

Users of Amtrak were waiting for word on whether the troubled passenger rail service would suspend operations as soon as tomorrow unless the federal government provides at least $200 million in emergency funding. A shutdown likely would have serious repurcussions, especially for commuters; 60,000 people travel on its trains every business day, with the heaviest volume in the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston. Against that backdrop, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta was to meet with Amtrak officials as the Monitor went to press on a way to forestall a shutdown.

By a 7-to-2 decision, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of at least 150 convicted murderers, ruling that juries – not judges – must make life or death decisions. But in an unrelated case, the court ruled that judges may increase prison sentences for defendants who used guns in committing their crimes.

More than 300,000 fire-charred acres of Arizona were expected to be declared a federal disaster area as the Monitor went to press. FIrefighters were working along a 50-mile front in a desperate effort to try to contain the blaze. More than 180 homes have already been destroyed and roughly 30,000 people evacuated from four towns. Above, in neighboring Colorado, Trudy Townsend (l.) and Richard Taylor watch as another fire rages near Durango.

President Bush took his promotional campaign for the proposed new Department of Homeland Security to Port Elizabeth, N.J., telling federal border-control workers it would make the US safer. The Customs Sevice, which is responsible for northern New Jersey and New York ports, is only able to search 2 to 3 percent of the 3,500 containers that arrive daily from around the world. Last week the administration announced $92.3 million in federal grants to 51 ports. Bush said improved knowledge and equipment already are making ports safer.

The Federal Reserve is expected to leave interest rates unchanged when it opens two days of meetings today, despite the dollar's sharp decline in value. Ex-Fed governor Laurence Meyer told the Financial Times there was almost no possibility of a rate hike at either of the next two Fed policy meetings. The dollar slipped to its lowest value in more than two years against the euro. On Wall Street, the Nasdaq index fell below its closing low in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, then rallied slightly by midday.

Detectives in Salt Lake City were questioning a convict who worked as a painter in the home of Elizabeth Smart more than a year ago. Richard Ricci, was arrested on a parole violation nine days after the teen-ager's kidnaping, is "potentially a big piece of the puzzle," Chief Rick Dinse said.

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