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News Briefs

Hurricane Michelle Barrels Across Cuba, Florida Keys Brace

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- MIAMI

Michelle, the most powerful hurricane to hit Cuba in more than half a century, plowed across the Caribbean island Sunday, pummeling it with torrential rains and howling winds.Authorities in Cuba had already evacuated 750,000 people from low-lying areas, and 625,000 head of livestock were herded to higher ground.

Sustained winds of 124 mph were reported at Cayo Largo, a weather station off Cuba’s southern coast, and forecasters predicted that the storm could dump 10 to 20 inches of rain, causing widespread flooding. Waves along Cuba’s southern shoreline were expected to surge as much as 20 feet.

Forecasters said the storm had probably peaked by late Sunday. To the north, in the Florida Keys, winds increased steadily Sunday to reach over 50 mph on Sand Key. Authorities have ordered all 90,000 residents and tourists in the archipelago to leave, but many are staying on. Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley estimated that no more than 20% of his city’s 25,000 people had departed.

Michelle was not expected to score a direct hit on the Keys but could subject the chain of low-lying islands off the Florida peninsula to hurricane-force winds and a storm surge that could make seas 2 to 3 feet higher.

Pakistanis Tone Down Call to Halt Airstrikes During Ramadan

THE WASHINGTON POST -- ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, today backed away from calls to halt the bombing of Afghanistan during Ramadan, but cautioned visiting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that continued airstrikes during the holy month could cause negative political fallout throughout the Muslim world, senior U.S. and Pakistani officials said. Rumsfeld and Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar later told reporters that while they were sensitive to Islamic concerns, military objectives took precedence in the war on terrorism.

“I'm certainly aware of the views of the president of Pakistan and interested in the views of any number of countries in the Muslim world,” Rumsfeld said. But he said Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement and bin Laden's al Qaeda network still pose a threat to Americans, and “it is important that the terrorists be stopped.”

In the United States, top military leaders said the Afghan campaign was on schedule and making "great progress" toward its goal of destroying al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command and is the commander of U.S. forces in the war, warned in separate television interviews that the United States and its allies still face a long and difficult task.