USA

Wages and benefits paid to American workers rose 1 percent between July and September, the fastest quarterly pace in more than two years, the Labor Department reported Tuesday. The rise was fueled by a big jump in the cost of employee benefits such as health insurance and pensions. Over the past year, wages and salaries have risen 3.2 percent.

Investigators questioned and released two people Monday in connection with the 40,000-acre California wildfire that authorities suspect was set by arsonists near Palm Springs. Residents in Cabazon, where the fire started last Thursday, said they saw two young men leave the area. No arrests have been made and the authorities said they plan to interview a number of people in the case, which carries a $500,000 reward. The fire killed four emergency crewmen and destroyed 34 homes.

While on a barnstorming campaign tour Monday, trying to fire up Republican voters to turn out for the Nov. 7 elections, President Bush said the GOP's goal is to win in Iraq, while the Democrats' aim is "to get out." At a stop in Texas, he sought to rally support for Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a write-in candidate to succeed Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader.

Two unions representing California prison employees sued the state Monday in an effort to block Gov. Arnold Schwarze-negger (R) from shipping inmates to other states. He says he has the authority to respond to an overcrowding emergency by transferring about 2,200 medium-security inmates to Arizona, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, beginning next month. The unions claim the plan violates a state law.

Arrests of illegal immigrants crossing the US-Mexican border fell 8.4 percent to 1.1 million last year, the Homeland Security Department announced Monday. Officials attributed the drop to stronger enforcement, facilitated by the addition of more than 1,900 border patrol agents as well as other security measures.

Friends of freelance videographer Brad Will demonstrated in front of the Mexican consulate in New York Monday to protest his shooting death while reporting on an antigovernment uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, last week. Four municipal workers are among five men turned over to authorities there for possible involvement in the incident.

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