USA

President Bush was to sign his long-sought legislation creating a Homeland Security Department as the Monitor went to press, and to name Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to head it. Setting up the cabinet-level agency will require the biggest federal reorganization since the Defense Department was established more than 50 years ago, and is expected to take many months. With 170,000 employees from 22 existing agencies, the new department is charged with preventing terrorist attacks in the US or coordinating a response if they occur.

Candidates for Congress or for president may draw salaries from donations to their campaigns, the Federal Election Commission decided. The panel's 5-1 vote allows candidates to pay themselves either the equivalent of their most recent salaries, or what they'd earn in office, whichever is smaller. The proposal's sponsor, commissioner Michael Toner, said, "It may allow people like blue-collar workers, school teachers, and others who don't make six-figure salaries to run for office."

More than 170 illegal migrants from the Dominican Republic were intercepted on four boats in the past four days, the Coast Guard said Monday. All were repatriated. So far this month, the Coast Guard said it picked up 441 Dominicans, 296 Haitians, and 25 Cubans, with most returned home. Under current policy, only would-be asylum-seekers from Cuba are allowed to remain - if they reach US soil.

Sales of existing homes jumped 6.1 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.77 million, the National Association of Realtors reported. Homebuyers taking advantage low mortgage rates fueled the increase, which was greater than analysts had expected. Nationwide, the median price of an existing house was $159,600 last month, the association said, up 9.8 percent from the same time last year.

In what was billed as the first church-launched drive for mass HIV screening, a Baptist minister interrupted his sermon Sunday to be tested for the disease. The Rev. Darius Pridgen urged members of the True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, N.Y., to follow suit, and warned teens of the danger of premarital sex. About 105 people from the mainly African-American congregation went for screening at a next-door school, the Buffalo News reported. Eight other area churches plan similar events.

Americans face an increased risk of violence from Maoist rebels in Nepal and should postpone travel to the Hima-layan kingdom or, if there, use extreme caution, the State Department advised. While the rebels haven't made any specific threats, US officials said, a Nov. 15 press statement warned of possible action against the "American mission" in Nepal.

Reviving a tradition, thousands of current and former Texas A&M students held an unofficial, off-campus bonfire Sunday night. The university discontinued the bonfires, formerly held the night before the annual football game with archrival Texas, after a 59-foot stack of logs collapsed in 1999, killing 12 people and injuring 27 others. By contrast, this year's bonfire stood only about 15 feet.

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