Bush Seeks Democratic Transition in Cuba

President George Bush is expected to make a speech today urging reforms like free speech and competitive elections.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Welcome back to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. We're always available online at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Mike Pesca.

ALISON STEWART, host:

And I'm Alison Stewart.

Coming up: A new message from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, just the latest in an increasingly sophisticated media campaign. We'll dig in.

But first, let's hear about today's top stories from our own newscaster, Ms. Rachel Martin.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Good morning, everyone.

Evacuations continue today in Southern California as the fires there rage on. More than 1,000 houses have been burned and five deaths are linked to the blazes. The blazes have affected roughly 600 square miles. President Bush has offered federal disaster assistance and is scheduled to visit the affected areas Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee their homes, many, more than once. Like Joanne Faryon. She's a reporter for KPBS in San Diego. I talked to her yesterday and she told me, she and her family left their home Sunday outside in San Diego suburb. Now they're staying at a friend's garage in an area called Pacific Beach which hasn't yet been affected by the fires.

JOANNE FARYON: It's a huge sense of relief. We all slept for the first time.

MARTIN: Yeah.

FARYON: And that it just feels a lot different.

MARTIN: Are you worried, though, about your house?

FARYON: You know, yesterday when I hadn't slept and I didn't know where we were going to go and especially being a mother and having a son in the car and I wasn't sure are we going north, are we going south, where are we going to stay, when there was - in that moment, I thought, oh, we may not have a house. You know, I - obviously, it would be horrible if we lost our house, but it's not, it's actually not the first thing on our minds right now. The first thing is where do we spend tonight or where do we go tomorrow.

MARTIN: That was Joanne Faryon of San Diego. She and her family have had to evacuate twice to escape the fires in Southern California.

In other news, President Bush is expected to make a speech today warning Cuba's government that passing power from one Castro to another is not the best thing for the Cuban people. According to the White House spokeswoman, Bush will use the speech to urge a democratic transition in Cuba. The 81-year-old Cuban leader Fidel Castro passed power to his brother Raul last year after Fidel fell ill. Bush is expected to suggest reforms like granting property rights and access to the Internet. A commentary by Castro in the government-led Cuban press says, the so-called transition Bush is endorsing is just a new attempt by the U.S. to conquer Cuba by force.

And remember we told you last week about the school board in Maine voted to give middle-schoolers access to birth control without parental permission? Well, the vote sparked a big controversy. And now the school board is revisiting their decision. Three supporters of the plan could now be kicked off the Portland's school committee. And earlier this week, a member of the committee submitted a plan that would give parents the option of blocking access to prescription contraceptives. It would also limit contraceptives to students who are at least 14 years old.

That's the news. It's always online at npr.org.

Unidentified Man: This is NPR.

MARTIN: Alison and Mike, back to you.

STEWART: Thank you, Rachel.

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