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Phone Problems Halt Hostage Talks

Kashmiri militants who have threatened to kill five Western hostages, including a Spokane psychologist, tried to contact negotiators Friday, indicating they may be ready to modify their demands.

But faulty telephone lines in Jammu-Kashmir state prevented the kidnappers from reaching the Western diplomats, a spokesman for the captors and other well-informed sources said.

The little-known Al-Faran group has threatened to kill the hostages this evening unless India frees 21 jailed Kashmiri rebels. In addition to Donald Hutchings, 42, of Spokane, the group is holding two Britons, a German and a Norwegian.

The sources said the kidnappers tried to call Western diplomats Friday on a designated phone number in the state capital, Srinagar. But no call came through, and the American, British and German diplomats left after waiting for an hour.

A short time later, a rebel spokesman called. He was given another phone number to contact the diplomats, but it didn’t work, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

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U.S. Gulf Coast prepares as Alberto brings wind, rain north

UPDATED: 9:03 p.m.

Florida and Mississippi launched emergency preparations Saturday ahead of the arrival of Subtropical Storm Alberto, a slow-moving system expected to cause wet misery across the eastern U.S. Gulf Coast over the holiday weekend.