EUROPE

Pope Issues Christmas Plea

VATICAN CITY--Pope John Paul II, in his Christmas message for the new millennium yesterday, attacked abortion and called for a ban on the senseless use of weapons.

In his "Urbi et Orbi" ("To the City and the World") message to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square, the pope, 79, said humanity had much to regret about past centuries and urged the world to look to God's truth to avoid more mistakes.

Looking tired at times and dressed in resplendent gold and white vestments, he was speaking 12 hours after fulfilling a dream of his papacy by opening the Holy Door of St.Peter's Basilica to usher in his church's millennium celebrations.

Ukrainian Ambassador to U.S. Relieved

KIEV, Ukraine--President Leonid Kuchma has relieved Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Anton Buteiko, of his duties, Kuchma's press service said.

The statement said only that Buteiko was being transferred to another job. No replacement was immediately announced. Buteiko, 52, an attorney and career diplomat, was named ambassador to the United States in November 1998.

THE AMERICAS

Cuban Jet Crashes in Venezuela; 22 Dead

CARACAS--A Russian-made Cuban jet crashed near the Venezuelan city of Valencia, killing all 22 people on board, said Venezuelan Infrastructure Minister Julio Montes.

The head of the control tower at Valencia airport, who gave his name as Sergeant Zapata, said the Cubana de Aviacion flight crashed in the Valencia area, some 100 miles west of the capital Caracas.

It was not clear if the flight was part of an aid delivery effort launched by the international community after mudslides killed up to 30,000 people in the Caribbean state of Vargas, near Caracas, a week ago.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Iranian Conservatives Form Alliance

TEHRAN--Iran's conservatives have formed a broad coalition to challenge supporters of President Mohammed Khatemi in crucial parliamentary elections in February, one of the organizers said.

The alliance of a dozen rightist groups hopes to capitalize on widespread discontent in the face of economic hardship to defeat Khatemi's allies, who give priority to greater political and social liberties.

Rivalry between the two sides has gathered pace ahead of the Feb. 18 elections, which could shape the fate of Khatemi's liberal reforms.

Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a leader of the conservative camp in parliament, told a news conference the alliance has agreed on a list of common candidates to be topped by former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Clash Kills Hezbollah Fighter in Lebanon

MARJAYOUN, Lebanon--A Hezbollah fighter was killed and a pro-Israeli militiaman wounded yesterday in a clash in southern Lebanon. The skirmish was followed by an Israeli air attack.

A South Lebanon Army militia source said the militia member was lightly wounded in a Hezbollah assault on a post inside Israel's southern Lebanon occupation zone.

Turk Invites Greece to Maneuvers

ANKARA, Turkey--Turkey's top general has proposed joint military maneuvers with its longtime rival Greece, news reports said.

The offer from Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu is the latest sign of thawing relations between neighbors who have nearly gone to war three times in the past 25 years.

"We are always ready for friendship and cooperation. I have even proposed making joint exercises," the Turkish dailies, Hurriyet and Milliyet, quoted Kivrikoglu as saying. He did not say if Greece had accepted the offer.

Iranian Students Sentenced to Death

TEHRAN--An Iranian court has sentenced two students to death for their role in a social unrest in Tehran in July, a newspaper reported.

The daily Fath quoted a student group as saying that Akbar Mohammadi and Ahmad Batebi had been convicted by the court as mohareb, or someone who makes war on Islam, a charge punishable by death under Islamic law.

ASIA

China Tries 4 Falun Gong Members

BEIJING--China put four leading members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement on trial today, cordoning off the courthouse in western Beijing with scores of police to prevent protests by group members.

The four could receive 20 years in prison or more if convicted of "using an evil cult to undermine the implementation of laws" and other crimes, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement.

Nepal Finds Wreckage of Plane

KATMANDU, Nepal--Search teams found the wreckage of a private Nepalese plane in the hills close to Katmandu today and a rescue official believed all on board died in the crash.

The Twin Otter aircraft, carrying seven Nepalese passengers and three crew, crashed minutes before it was due to land in the Nepalese capital on Saturday.

"There are no chances of any survivors," a Rescue Coordination Committee official at Katmandu's airport said. The official, who did not want to be identified, said wreckage and body parts were strewn over the hillside crash site.

Kashmir Fighting Kills 10

JAMMU, India--Clashes between separatists and security personnel in Kashmir left seven militants and three policemen dead, officials said.

Guerrillas fired at policemen who had asked them to halt at a checkpoint at Safawal, a village near Samba, on Friday night, police said. Three policemen were killed in that attack.

Also Friday, army soldiers raided a militant hideout and gunned down six guerrillas in Lakshan village in Doda district, an army spokesman said. Another militant was killed in the Kalkote area of Rajouri district in Jammu province, he said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"No matter how much the military leaders want it, they won't capture Grozny by New Year's."

-- Malik Saidullayev, a pro-Russian Chechen politician --Page A1