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News briefs for Aug. 31

Gustav slams Cuba as Category 4 hurricane

HAVANA – Gustav howled into Cuba’s Isla de Juventud as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane on Saturday while both Cubans and Americans scrambled to flee the path of the fast-growing storm.

Forecasters said Gustav was just short of becoming a top-scale Category 5 hurricane as it powered its way toward mainland Cuba. It was projected to plow into the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico at full force Sunday, and reach the U.S. coast as early as Monday afternoon. A hurricane watch was issued from High Island, Texas east to Florida, an area that includes New Orleans.

McCain, Palin spend first full day of campaigning

ST. PAUL, Minn. – John McCain introduced new running mate Sarah Palin to voters in battleground Pennsylvania on Saturday as they wound their way toward St. Paul and a Republican National Convention where the mood was suddenly threatened by Hurricane Gustav.

Gulf state governors could decide to remain at home if the storm threatens to bring serious damage. It could also affect Monday’s opening-night address by President Bush. Gustav’s projected path suggests it will make landfall late Monday or early Tuesday on Louisiana’s central coast.

Ill-equipped Iraqi police in small city still losing fight against bombers

TAL AFAR, Iraq – Iraqi police in this provincial backwater got a tip earlier this month that a suicide bomber was on the loose. They were even given his name, age and a description of his car.

With all that, they still couldn’t stop him.

Four days after the initial warning, 19-year-old Ashraf al-Yas talked his way through a police checkpoint, drove his vehicle into a crowded farmers market and detonated his explosives. He killed 28 people and injured 72.

Oil companies completing Gulf evacuations

HOUSTON – Royal Dutch Shell, BP and other oil companies wrapped up evacuations and shut down production Saturday as an intensifying Hurricane Gustav churned toward the petroleum-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

As of midday Saturday, slightly more than three-fourths of the Gulf’s oil production and nearly 40 percent of its natural gas output had been shut down, according to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore activity.

UN: Russian troops preventing Georgians from returning to their homes

TBILISI, Georgia – Russian troops remaining in Georgian territory are effectively preventing Georgians from returning to their homes, a U.N. representative said Saturday.

Melita Sunjic, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees in Georgia, said that although it was not clear if Russian soldiers were actually preventing refugees from returning, the warnings by the troops effectively block them.

As officials push religious, anti-West message, many Iranians are defiant

TEHRAN, Iran – They file in slowly, patiently submitting to body searches, men in one line, black-clad, head-scarved women in another. Most are poor, old or very young, and most are ready for some America-bashing.

– The Associated Press

It’s Friday, the Muslim holy day, and thousands of Iran’s faithful are again gathering at Tehran University’s main campus for what has become a weekly ritual; the men under a sprawling blue metal canopy that shelters up to 7,000, the women close by but set apart.