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News Briefs

Mudslides Stir Political Storm

THE WASHINGTON POST -- MEXICO CITY

Mexico’s devastating floods and mudslides have erupted into a political storm fed by a looming presidential race and instant communications that brought the anguish of ravaged communities to the world’s computer screens long before rescue teams arrived on the scene.

The catastrophe, whose death toll rose above 400 Monday, caught the government off-guard and left some communities cut off from help as long as three days. Face to face with irate victims, an exasperated President Ernesto Zedillo was reduced over the weekend to ordering one persistent complainer to “shut up.” In one of the hardest hit states, police roughed up and arrested a group of homeless survivors, including women and children, after their protests got out of hand.

Rain and new mudslides continued to frustrate victims and rescuers in one of the country’s worst natural crises of this decade. Flood waters have spread to a dozen states, inundating more than 175 towns and cities and forcing an estimated 300,000 people out of their homes.

While the federal government’s official death toll Monday was 326, tallies by state governments placed the number of dead at 425, and Catholic Church officials said they expected final count to be near 600.

Israel Confirms Jewish Emigrations From Cuba in Past Several Years

THE BALTIMORE SUN -- BEER SHEVA, ISRAEL

Hundreds of Jews have been emigrating from Cuba to Israel over the last several years in a hushed-up arrangement between America’s staunchest ally and one of its longest-standing enemies -- the government of Israel and Fidel Castro.

Israeli officials confirmed anonymously the arrangement for the first time Monday. Leaders of the already depleted Jewish community in Cuba also confirmed the emigration from Cuba to Israel of more than 400 Jews since the early 1990s, leaving behind approximately 1,000 in Cuba’s once-thriving Jewish community.

There was no comment from the Cuban government, which was closed for a national holiday Monday. A leader of the Jewish community in Cuba denied the operation was secret.

“Yes, the agreement exists ...,” Raquel Marichal, a member of the executive board of the Cuban Hebrew Community, told Reuters. “But there is no secret emigration. ”

Some Guard Squadrons Losing Half of Pilots Over Vaccine

THE BALTIMORE SUN -- WASHINGTON

Pentagon officials continue to downplay the exodus of military personnel over the anthrax vaccine, despite continued warnings by subordinates that the mandatory six-shot regimen is leading hundreds of National Guardsmen and reservists to resign or seek transfers.

According to interviews and documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, upward of 50 percent of pilots in some Air National Guard squadrons are resigning or seeking nonflying jobs. Some of the documents describe units “struggling” to conduct missions and training with the “hurdle” of the anthrax vaccine, which some military personnel fear is neither safe nor effective.

Two weeks ago, top Pentagon officials assured Congress that the numbers were small and having little effect on retention or the ability of the military to carry out its missions.

“We do not see any impact that can be directly attributed to the anthrax program,” Assistant Defense Secretary Charles Cragin told the House National Security subcommittee. “Concern about anthrax shots is not the determining factor behind a member’s decision to withdraw from military service.”

And Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver Jr., head of the Air National Guard, also brushed aside reports of those refusing the shots. “So when I hear all these other figures about these mass resignations and whatnot, they’re just not there,” the general told the subcommittee.