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China Concedes School Building Flaws in May Quake

A Chinese government committee said Thursday that a rush to build schools during the country’s recent economic boom might have led to shoddy construction that resulted in the deaths of thousands of students during a devastating earthquake in May.

The statement by Ma Zongjin, the chairman of an official committee of experts assessing damage from the May 12 earthquake, is the first time that a representative of the Chinese government has acknowledged that poor construction may have led to the collapses. Until now, officials in Beijing and in southwest China’s Sichuan province, which suffered the most damage, had said the sheer force of the 7.9-magnitude quake caused the collapses.

The school collapses have become the most politically sensitive issue to emerge in the aftermath of the earthquake. This summer, grieving parents held street protests to challenge local governments and demand that officials conduct proper investigations into construction quality. Local officials felt so threatened by the parents that they ordered riot police to break up protests — policemen even dragged away crying mothers — and offered the parents compensation money in exchange for them dropping their demands.

Evacuations Are Advised as Storm Nears the Southeast

As Tropical Storm Hanna surged toward the Atlantic Coast on Thursday, the authorities declared states of emergency in Virginia and North Carolina and recommended evacuation from some coastal regions of South Carolina.

The storm could escalate into a hurricane before making landfall in South Carolina or North Carolina on Saturday morning, forecasters said. It slammed the Bahamas with 65 mph winds and heavy rain on Thursday after killing more than 60 people in Haiti.

“It now appears Hanna will be a Category 1 hurricane when it hits the North Carolina coast early Saturday morning,” Gov. Michael F. Easley of North Carolina said in statement. “Since the exact path is uncertain, everyone who lives in the coastal counties needs to be ready.”

In the storm’s wake, the season’s next storm, Hurricane Ike, could deliver an even heavier blow, forecasters said. The storm, currently a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds, is churning across the Atlantic and could hit the Bahamas by Sunday before turning northwest toward Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.

Bhutto Widower With Clouded Past Is Poised to Lead Pakistan

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is set to become president on Saturday, an accidental ascent for a man known more as a wheeler-dealer than a leader. He will start his tenure burdened by a history of corruption allegations that cloud his reputation even as they remain unproved.

Though he has won the reluctant support of the Bush administration, which views him as a willing partner in the campaign against terrorism, Zardari will assume the presidency with what many consider untested governing skills as a tough Taliban insurgency threatens the very fabric of the nuclear-armed state of 165 million people.

It remains to be seen how forcefully he will act against militants in the face of Pakistani public opposition to American pressure. Nor is it clear how much influence he exerts over the still powerful military and the nation’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.