Hurricane Dean was battering Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula Tuesday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties and its peak winds dropped to 105 m.p.h. That reduced its strength from a Category 5 storm to Category 2, the US National Hurricane Center said. Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and other popular resorts appeared to escape significant damage, reports said.

Sectarian violence in Iraq is "unacceptable," and "France is ready to play a role" in stabilizing the situation, Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher pledged. Winding up a three-day visit to Baghdad, he said, "Everyone knows that [the US] cannot bring this country out of difficulty alone." Koucher's trip took analysts by surprise because, by his own admission, "we were not supporters of the American intervention."

"Chemical Ali" and 14 other Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's regime went on trial Tuesday for their roles in the crushing of a Shiite uprising in 1991 that brought death to tens of thousands of people. Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Hussein and his defense minister, already has been sentenced to execution in another case, along with two codefendants.

For the fourth time this year, the Central Bank of China raised interest rates to try to cool the booming economy and thwart expectations of worsening inflation. The hike means borrowers will pay 7.02 percent interest on short-term loans and 3.60 percent for long-term loans. That had been expected since the government said earlier this month that inflation – at 5.6 percent – was the highest in a decade.

After more than three months in a Tehran prison, Iranian-American Haleh Esfandiari was freed on bail Tuesday. But it was not clear whether she'd be allowed to return to the US.She was accused of acting against national security and reportedly was denied legal representation. Esfandiari, who directs a Middle Eastern studies program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, had gone to Iran to visit her elderly mother.

Back on the attack over US plans for a missile-defense shield in eastern Europe, Russia's military chief of staff warned the Czech Republic that it would be making "a big mistake" if part of the system were built there. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky urged the Czech government not to reach a final decision on the matter until after the US presidential election late next year. Led by President Vladimir Putin, Russian leaders have bitterly opposed the plan from the start.

A $3.3 billion program aimed at cracking down on the spiraling violence in Brazil's cities was announced by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, although skeptics questioned whether his government "can actually implement it." The initiative is aimed at improving the quality of police work, social programs, and educational opportunities for convicted criminals and at building more prisons to relieve overcrowding. Justice Minister Tarso Genro said its effects would be seen "in three to five years."

A federal court in Australia ruled Tuesday that the government acted wrongly in revoking the visa of an Indian national, who subsequently returned home. Mohamed Haneef, a physician, was accused of supporting terrorism after a cellphone service card in his name was found on a relative linked to two failed car-bomb attacks in Britain. Haneef denied any wrongdoing and has said he hopes to return to Australia. The Immigration Ministry said it would appeal the ruling.

Everyone aboard a ferry that capsized and sank 24 miles off the coast of southern Thailand is believed to have been rescued, authorities said Tuesday. The vessel, with 34 passengers and a crew of four, capsized in stormy weather. Ferries are used heavily for transportation between the mainland and resort islands, and first reports said this one might have been carrying 100 or more people.

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