COURT ORDERS GAY COMMISSIONED A federal appeals court Nov. 16 ordered the US Naval Academy to graduate midshipman Joseph Steffan, who was expelled after saying he was gay, and directed the Pentagon to commission him as an officer. In its decision, the court said Navy rules requiring Mr. Steffan's expulsion ``solely because he admitted his homosexual orientation are not rationally related to any legitimate goal.'' In a related development, President Clinton's compromise ``don't ask don't tell'' policy allowing gays in the military advanced toward passage Nov. 15 with approval in the House of Representatives. It passed a defense authorization bill containing the controversial policy and sent it to the Senate for voting later this week. The bill also repeals a ban against women serving on warships. Religious freedom

President Clinton Nov. 16 signed a law making it harder for government to interfere with religious freedom. It targets a 1990 Supreme Court decision that made it easier for state and federal governments to pass laws that restrict an individual's religious practices. American released

American oil worker Kenneth Beaty, held captive in Iraq for the last six months, returned home Nov. 16 with Sen. David Boren (D) of Oklahoma, who negotiated his release. His release was widely seen as a goodwill gesture by Iraq to get UN sanctions lifted so it can start exporting oil again. South Korea alert

South Korea has put its troops on alert for possible North Korean military provocations while President Kim Young Sam is in the US, officials said Nov. 16. Tensions have increased along the border between the nations since North Korea refused to allow inspections of its nuclear plants. Northern Ireland talks

Britain signaled Nov. 16 it would override objections by pro-British Protestants in Northern Ireland to its offer to bring the IRA into new peace talks if the gunmen laid down their arms. After more than 20 people died in recent violence, the worst month of bloodshed there in 17 years, Prime Minister John Major said he was determined to pursue a settlement. Kashmir peace

A month-long standoff between Indian troops and Muslim militants in Kashmir ended peacefully when the guerrillas surrendered before dawn Nov. 16, officials said. The siege has fueled a four-year-old uprising against Indian rule in the area, the only Muslim-majority region in mainly Hindu India. VMI sued

The Justice Department Nov. 15 asked a federal court to order the Virginia Military Institute to end its ban on female students. The department rejected a proposal by the state to instead set up a ``Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership'' program at Mary Baldwin College, a women's college. Student loans

The US Education Department unveiled its new direct loan program Nov. 15, under which the government will lend students money instead of funneling the loans through banks and guarantor agencies that charge extra. In its first phase, 105 schools will offer direct loans to nearly 300,000 students. Clinton's ratings

President Clinton's approval rating has fallen to a post-World War II low of 49 percent for a chief executive a year after election, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Nov. 15. The impetus appears to be increasing concern over crime, with 21 percent of those interviewed identifying it as the nation's biggest problem, ahead of unemployment 9 percent and health care 8 percent. (Mayors' crime summit, Page 3.) Lebanon fighting

Iranian-backed guerrillas launched their heaviest assault on Israel's self-styled security zone in south Lebanon since the signing of the Israel-PLO peace accord, security sources said. The Shiite Muslim Hizbullah claimed responsibility. It opposes the US-sponsored Middle East peace process and the recent Israeli-PLO accord. The attacks came a day after the announcement that US Secretary of State Warren Christopher will visit the Middle East next month to revive the peace process.

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