BONN, JAN. 15 -- Throughout Europe, constellations of candlelight shimmered in town marketplaces. German churches stayed open through the night for peace prayers. Shoppers in Italy and France stormed supermarkets and gas stations, stocking up as if everything would change tomorrow.
Across Europe, the day before the United Nations deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait was a day of dread and contemplation, stiff security and stiff drinks.
All-night vigils were set up outside American and Iraqi embassies. Thousands of schoolchildren marched for peace in Berlin, Bonn and other cities. At a theater in the German city of Wuppertal, actors staged a marathon reading of the Bible and the Koran.
Fear fed unusually strong sales of gas masks as far from the Middle East as Germany. Hoarding -- of coffee, cooking oil, rice and above all gasoline -- was reported across southern Europe, pushing prices for food staples up by as much as 25 percent. In many cases, the most worried shoppers were the elderly, who remember the impact previous wars had on the availability of goods.
Although no food shortages are expected in the early days of a war, gasoline supplies may be limited. In Britain, the government has drawn up contingency plans for lower speed limits and gas rationing. To avert a gas shortage, the International Energy Agency has announced plans for release of about 2.5 million barrels a day from reserves around the world.
The final hours of the countdown brought odd bits of news: Despite hundreds of requests, British betting parlors said they would not accept wagers on whether or when a Persian Gulf war would break out. "It would be tasteless if it's about blood and death," said a spokesman for the William Hill betting chain.
The French Defense Ministry banned the government weather institute from releasing forecasts for the Persian Gulf region because of fears that accurate information could help Iraq plan its military moves.
But the most chilling impact of the last day's wait came in security at airports, train stations and on city streets.
In Bonn, several shopkeepers kept their front doors locked, allowing customers inside only when they were judged harmless. In Paris, bands of security police wearing bulletproof vests patrolled the city's broad avenues, admonishing passersby to be vigilant for suspicious objects. In London, the U.S. Embassy briefed American businessmen, academics and journalists on how to defend themselves against kidnapping and how to detect letter bombs.
"The risk is there; it's imminent and very strong. We all know that," Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis told the weekly magazine Oggi.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has sworn that if there is a war, it will be waged wherever there are Moslems. France has a Moslem population estimated at 4 million. Germany's is much smaller but police have outraged Arabs here by raiding the homes of Libyans, Iranians and Iraqis in a thus far fruitless search for evidence of terrorist preparations.
Airlines, prime targets in the past, have tried to reassure passengers through advertisements, such as one by Singapore Airlines in the London-based Financial Times saying it had stopped service to the Middle East and rerouted Europe-Asia flights to avoid flying over the gulf.
But while airports have tightened security procedures, a spokesman for the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association said airlines generally had taken no new security measures.
The German Interior Ministry has announced that airport security would be toughened and urged travelers to leave electronic equipment at home. But visits to three major German airports this week found generally casual security procedures in place, and a traveler carrying a computer, radio and tape recorders -- equipment favored by terrorists to conceal and set off explosives -- was neither stopped nor questioned.
At Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, 30 percent of all hand luggage is to be hand-checked at random, beginning next week. But Russel Rumenik, director of Pan Am France, said airline security is already so thorough that "with the exception of having everyone fly naked, I don't think you could do much more."
In Rome, a senior American diplomat said U.S. and Italian intelligence sources had suggested that terrorist groups are already poised to strike and warned that Italy would be high on a list of possible targets. He said "dozens" of people were under surveillance, including Iraqi intelligence officers.
The 100,000 Americans in Italy have been warned to keep a low profile and avoid bars, movies and discotheques frequented by Americans. A fax line has been set up to keep people informed of the latest security measures. Special sessions have been organized for children under 12 to teach them how to use a pay phone, how to call emergency services and how to say "I'm scared" in Italian.In Philippine Capital, A Bad New Year's Omen MANILA As President Corazon Aquino offered a toast to world peace at a New Year's reception for diplomats Sunday, the wine glass of Iraqi Ambassador Ali Mahmoud Sumaida slipped from his fingers and thudded to the carpeted floor of Malacanang Palace's ceremonial hall.
The incident, which has been widely interpreted as a bad omen here, seems to sum up the anxiety that has gripped Filipinos as they await the outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf.
Certainly, this country would seem to have more to fear than practically any other in Asia. Nearly 400,000 Filipino workers are employed in Saudi Arabia -- more than a quarter of them in the country's eastern provinces -- and the Labor Department has warned that hundreds could be killed in a war.
At home, where the fragile Philippine economy depends on imported oil for 98 percent of its fuel needs, planners have been drawing up gasoline-rationing schemes and bracing for all sorts of disturbances. These include food riots, a new coup attempt by military rebels, attacks by Communist guerrillas and Iraqi-sponsored terrorism.British House Approves, 534-57, Resort to Force LONDON The House of Commons by a vote of 534-57 endorsed the government's policy of waging war against Iraq to force its withdrawal from Kuwait.
During the debate, Prime Minister John Major said: "We do not want a conflict, we are not thirsting for war." But he added that if it came "it would be a just war."OTTAWA Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney declared that the world community has a moral obligation to drive Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait.
"It is the moral duty of the international community to stop him now," Mulroney told an emergency session of the Canadian Parliament called to debate the Persian Gulf crisis.More Guards Stationed At Beijing Embassies BEIJING Police have strengthened security measures around the U.S. Embassy and other Western diplomatic missions here even though the chances of terrorist attacks in China are considered low, a police spokeswoman said.
Additional Chinese guards also have been posted outside the Iraqi Embassy, she said. Iraqi diplomats have been seen on some university campuses asking where foreigners live, according to student and diplomatic sources.
Most foreign residents seem to be taking the tightening of security in stride. The foreign manager of a privately run restaurant near a diplomatic compound here has been distributing leaflets advertising a "war party" Tuesday night, urging party-goers to "dress for battle."
Special correspondents Sharon Waxman in Paris and Claire Pedrick in Rome contributed to this report, as did Associated Press and Reuter.