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WORLD: Paula loses strength as it hits Cuba

Paula loses strength as it hits Cuba

HAVANA -- Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Paula turned rutted country roads into red-brown, muddy quagmires and strong winds lashed humble homes, rural schools and thatched tobacco-drying huts in Cuba on Thursday.

A Category 2 hurricane the previous day, Paula lost strength as it crawled along the island's northwestern coast and was downgraded to a tropical storm in the morning. Cuban officials said they were optimistic the system would not bring a repeat of the devastation wrought by three monster storms that hit in 2008.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Paula had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph and its core was about 40 miles southwest of Havana, with reports of heavy rain in the westernmost part of the island.

Militants kill security chief

SAN'A, Yemen -- An attack by suspected al-Qaida militants early Thursday killed a security chief of a southern Yemeni town and triggered a series of clashes between soldiers and militants that killed eight people, mostly government troops, security officials said.

The violence comes as Yemeni officials reported an increase in al-Qaida attempts to assassinate security officials.

Yemen's weak central government is struggling to contain al-Qaida militants who expanded operations in this largely lawless country after their Yemeni and Saudi branched merged a year and a half ago to form al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mexican lake victim possibly mistaken ID

MEXICO CITY -- The American tourist who reportedly was shot and killed by Mexican pirates on a border lake may have been a victim of mistaken identity, a U.S. consulate official said Thursday.

''I think what you had is two innocent American tourists who mistakenly stumbled into a bad area and were pursued and the shooting occurred,'' said Brian Quigley, spokesman for the U.S. consulate in Matamoros, near Brownsville, Texas.

Quigley was responding to a report by Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based public policy research group that suggests that David and Tiffany Hartley may have been mistaken for drug runners.