EUROPE

Russian Troops Push South in Chechnya

GROZNY, Russia--Russian forces tightened their squeeze on rebels hiding in Chechnya's rugged southern mountains, while Russia's top commander in Chechnya said that the final assault on the capital, Grozny, had begun.

After seizing most of northern Chechnya, Russian troops have been pushing south in recent weeks, and yesterday they repulsed three attempts by militants to escape south to Georgia, the military command said. Russian jets and helicopter gunships attacked three rebel bases in the southern mountains.

Russian paratroops sealed a key rebel supply route in the Argun Gorge in southern Chechnya, which leads to Georgia, the Russian Tass news agency reported. The Russian military said dozens of rebels had been killed, but there were no losses among government forces. The toll could not be confirmed.

Oil Washes Up on French Coastline

BREST, France--Oil that spilled from a broken tanker began washing up on France's Atlantic coastline, days before cleanup teams expected it to contaminate the shores.

Experts had been tracking the spill for more than 10 days, and were expecting the viscous, heavy oil to wash ashore Sunday.

But the gummy patches of oil hit land yesterday and in an area anti-pollution teams had not expected it--on the shore of the island of Belle Ile off the Brittany coast.

Luxembourg Grand Duke to AbdicateLUXEMBOURG--Grand Duke Jean said he would abdicate in September in favor of his eldest son Prince Henri after more than 35 years on the throne.

"I feel the moment has come to confer responsibility to the next generation," the 78-year-old monarch said in his year-end broadcast to the nation. Henri, 44, will be the sixth sovereign since the current Luxembourg dynasty was founded in 1890.

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker paid tribute to Jean's reign, which saw this country of 400,000 at the heart of Europe go from having a declining economy to being the world's wealthiest nation per capita.

ASIA

Indonesian General Denies Inciting Riots

JAKARTA, Indonesia--Determined to clear his name as allegations of war crimes swirl around him, Indonesia's former military chief denied that army commanders had instigated the destruction of East Timor after it voted for independence.

Gen. Wiranto testified before a government-appointed panel investigating human rights abuses in East Timor, where three months ago anti-independence militiamen went on a rampage reportedly with the army's backing.

War crimes have become a thorny problem for the government, which is trying to avoid provoking its politically powerful generals. Indonesian and U.N. investigators, however, said they have ample evidence implicating Wiranto and other top commanders in the violence.

Troops, Rebels Clash at Sri Lankan Base

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka--Fighting raged in Sri Lanka's north as government troops tried to recapture lost territory near a key military base that has been under guerrilla attack for days, military officials said.

At least six soldiers and dozens of rebels were killed and many more wounded as troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam separatists exchanged heavy artillery and mortar fire, military officials said.

China Puts Falun Gong Followers on TrialBEIJING--China plans to put four leading members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement on trial Sunday in the most significant prosecution since the government outlawed the group five months ago.

All the defendants are Communist Party members who held positions of influence in government or business. The background of the defendants--Li Chang, Wang Zhiwen, Ji Liewu and Yao Jie--underscores Falun Gong's reach, the Communist government's fear of the popular group and the difficulties in suppressing it.

AFRICA

Rebels Kill at Least 28 in Algeria

ALGIERS--Islamic militants opened fire on vehicles at a roadblock, killing at least 28 people, Algerian security services said.

It was the largest massacre in strife-torn Algeria since voters overwhelmingly approved President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's peace plan in September,

The afternoon attack took place close to the town of Khemis Miliana, about 50 miles west of the capital Algiers.

The attack came hours before Bouteflika's new prime minister, Ahmed Benbitour, named a new government expected to push the president's project for civil concord.

Hutus Attack Tutsi Village in Rwanda

KIGALI, Rwanda--Machete-wielding Hutu militiamen killed at least 29 civilians and wounded 40 in an attack on Tamira village in northwestern Rwanda, military commanders and aid officials said.

The attack, about 50 miles northwest of Kigali, was the first major attack by ethnic Hutu rebels in Rwanda in more than a year, and the victims were mainly Tutsis who had fled the country after a wave of attacks in 1959, and had returned only in the last few years.

Another Explosion in Cape Town CAPE TOWN, South Africa--An explosion outside a Cape Town restaurant injured seven police officers who were responding to a phoned-in bomb threat.

The explosion was the latest in a series of bombings in Cape Town that have injured scores and killed at least two, threatening the city's tourist industry.

FOR THE RECORD

* FREETOWN, Sierra Leone--Lining up at an army barracks, a group of soldiers turned rebels collected back pay for 22 months of work, ending a dispute with the government over unpaid salaries that resulted in a two-day rampage in Freetown.

* BUCHAREST, Romania--In a last-minute Christmas buying spree, Romanians rushed to buy shirts, socks or ties belonging to late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in a secondhand sale launched in Bucharest.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"It is the solemn beginning of the Great Jubilee. We are spiritually linked to that unique moment of history when God became man."

--Pope John Paul II, in his Christmas sermon at St. Peter's Basilica

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