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Philippine typhoon Saola weakens as it nears Taiwan

MANILA (Reuters) -Tropical storm Saola headed towards Taiwan on Monday while bringing heavy rain to the northern Philippines, cutting power to some towns and forcing the evacuation of nearly 2,000 people, authorities said.

With Saola forecast to make landfall over southern Taiwan late on Wednesday or early on Thursday, the typhoon's maximum winds eased to 155 kilometres per hour (96 miles per hour), with gusts of up to 190 kph (118 mph), the weather agency said.

The seventh tropical storm in the Philippines this year, Saola had sustained winds of 185 kph (115 mph) and gusts of up to 230 kph (143 mph) on Sunday evening.

Besides the wind, rain and power cuts, it forced nearly 2,000 people to seek shelter in evacuation centres, the disaster agency said.

"Flooding and rain-induced landslides are still expected, especially in areas that are highly or very highly susceptible to these hazards," the weather bureau said in an advisory.

The provinces of the northern Philippines are among the country's biggest producers of rice, corn, and vegetables.

An archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, the Philippines sees an average of 20 tropical storms a year, though few make landfall there.

Taiwan's fire department said it expected the typhoon to bring heavy rain to the mountainous and sparsely populated southeastern part of the island though that so far it did not predict it directly making landfall.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)