EUROPE

Russian Forces Mount Attack on Grozny

GROZNY, Russia--Russian forces mounted a relentless mortar barrage on a key town south of Grozny and tried to close a circle around Chechnya's capital, where exhausted and frightened residents huddled in frigid basements.

The rain of mortar rounds on Urus-Martan, 12 miles southwest of Grozny, was aimed at driving rebels out of the town so that Russian forces could enter unchallenged. The tactic has worked well in the taking of other towns--including Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city--but Urus-Martan may be tougher.

Aslan Maskhadov, president of the breakaway Russian region, said rebels have pledged to fight in Urus-Martan through the winter.

Award to Ulster Police Angers Sinn Fein

LONDON--Queen Elizabeth II awarded Northern Ireland's police force Britain's highest civilian award for bravery, setting off an angry protest by Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said the government had recommended the awarding of the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary for its contribution in the fight against terrorism in the province.

But Sinn Fein called the award "grossly offensive" and said the police didn't deserve the award because they are responsible for human rights abuses, a shoot-to-kill policy and collusion with Protestant paramilitaries.

U.N. Wants Billions for Aid Victims

GENEVA--The United Nations appealed for $2.34 billion to help "millions of souls" around the world suffering from war, earthquakes and other disasters.

Places that will need more help next year include those that have received the most attention in recent weeks--Kosovo, East Timor, Turkey and Chechnya, said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

But, he said, "as we struggle to catch up and provide the assistance needed in those places, crises are lingering, emerging, resuming or intensifying in many other places around the globe."

THE AMERICAS

Mexico Grounds Taesa Airline After Crash

MEXICO CITY--The government announced today that it is temporarily suspending operations of Taesa, the airline whose DC-9 crashed two weeks ago, killing all 18 people on board.

Aaron Dychter Poltolarek, the deputy transportation secretary, told reporters that investigators found a "series of anomalies and incidents" at Taesa after the crash and decided to suspend its operations while the government conducts a sweeping investigation.

That investigation will look into airline policies, maintenance, training and other areas, he said.

Taesa has long suffered from financial problems and former employees have criticized its maintenance and safety procedures. The cause of the Nov. 9 crash in the western state of Michoacan is under investigation.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Kuwait Rejects Vote for Women

KUWAIT CITY--Kuwait's parliament rejected a decree by the country's ruler to give women the right to vote and run for office. The vote, 41 to 21, came after many liberal lawmakers who support women's rights said they would oppose it to protest the emir's issuing the edict while the parliament was out of session.

Scores of women attended the meeting. Hundreds of men applauded when the result was announced.

Supporters of women's voting rights, however, will have another chance. Five liberal lawmakers have submitted nearly identical legislation and it is scheduled for debate soon. Some parliament members have said they would vote for the new bill.

Man With Toy Gun Shot in Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan--Jordanian police shot and wounded a man who fired a toy gun at security guards outside the Israeli Embassy, the Interior Ministry said.

The 20-year-old man, identified by authorities as Nabil Hassan, was shot in the hand, overpowered and arrested after he "took out a pistol and directed it at Jordanian security forces" 30 yards from the embassy, the ministry said in a statement. It said the pistol was not real "and the shots fired were only sound blasts."

AFRICA

U.N. Reports Violence in Sierra Leone

UNITED NATIONS--Despite a peace agreement in Sierra Leone, the United Nations reported that killings, rapes, looting and abductions by rebels were occurring daily in the West African country.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said a human rights mission last week visited the Lungi and Port Loko areas in the Northern Province. "It was confirmed that human rights abuses, including killings, rapes abductions and house burnings, were occurring almost on a daily basis in the villages within the vicinity of the main Lungi-Port Loko road," he said.

The government and rebels signed a peace accord on July 7 in Lome, Togo, giving the rebels seats in government. A fragile cease-fire has held, apart from clashes in October between rival rebel factions, but disarmament has dragged on.

U.S. Won't Lift Sanctions Against Libya

The United States said it was still too soon to lift sanctions against Libya despite a British decision to reopen diplomatic relations after Tripoli handed over compensation for the shooting of a policewoman.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said Libya had to take action on its promises to "end support for terrorism, cooperate with the investigation of the Pan Am 103 disaster and trial, pay compensation and acknowledge responsibility for the actions of Libyan officials."

FOR THE RECORD

* BUJUMBURA, Burundi--A grenade exploded in a busy central market in the Burundian capital, killing at least six people, shortly after the military announced that it had killed 15 Hutu rebels.

* OTTAWA--The Canadian government said it had hired Jeffrey Wigand, the man who blew the whistle on the U.S. tobacco industry and inspired the movie "The Insider," as a health consultant on national tobacco policies.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Children are not born hating those who are different from them, and no religion teaches them to do so."

-- President Clinton, appealing to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to stop seeking revenge against Serbs --Page A1