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Hurricane Gustav Alters Plans at Republican National Convention

Hurricane Gustav and the threat it poses to the U.S. Gulf coast have led leaders of the Republican Party to sharply curtail events planned for the opening Monday of the party's National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. As VOA's Dan Robinson reports, planned festivities surrounding the formal nomination of Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican Party presidential and vice presidential candidates will be effectively suspended until more is known about the impact of Hurricane Gustav.

Effectively tearing up the long-prepared plans for the convention, Senator McCain said this is a time for Americans to do the right thing and put politics aside, as the nation awaits the landfall of Hurricane Gustav along the Gulf coast. "Of course, this is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans. We have to join with 300 million other Americans on behalf of our fellow citizens," he said.

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, told reporters in St. Paul on Sunday that the convention will convene Monday afternoon, but that business will be kept to a bare minimum of about two and a half hours. "There are certain basic minimum requirements of constitutiing the Party and the convention that are required. The call to the convention that was issued almost two years ago requires us to meet tomorrow [i.e., Monday] to open the convention and to constitute not only the the Republican National Committee, but the convention itself. That is all we will do tomorrow," he said.

Davis said the convention agenda will refrain from political rhetoric while it is meeting, adding that major speakers, such as California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, are not being told to cancel plans to come to St. Paul.

He said the convention will likely reconvene later in the week to complete the formal nominations of Senator McCain and Governor Palin, but he noted that officials will continue to monitor the effects of Hurricane Gustav.

But Senator McCain said there is a possibility he would deliver his acceptance speech to the convention via satellite from a location somewhere in the Gulf region. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney earlier postponed visits to St. Paul.

However, other than daily updates for the thousands of reporters who came here to cover the event, there is likely to be very little taking place.

Senator McCain also said arrangements were being made to fly delegates back to states in the path of the hurricane, another indication of the disruption the storm has caused.

The Bush administration was severely criticized for its handling of preparations for Hurricane Katrina three years ago and the aftermath of the flooding of New Orleans. Senator McCain's Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama, has sought to portray McCain as offering a continuation of the Bush administration's policies.

Senator McCain went to great lengths in his televised remarks to emphasize what he called the excellent work being done in preparation for Hurricane Gustav.

Meanwhile, in the convention center in St. Paul, the thousands of U.S. and foreign reporters gathered to report on what was supposed to be the Republicans' triumphant nomination of McCain, after Democrats did the same for Senator Obama, are now planning their next steps as news coverage is dominated by the storm.