EUROPE

Second Storm Strikes France

PARIS--Thousands of people in France faced the prospect of New Year's Eve without electricity after a second killer storm in three days brought fierce winds, torrential downpours and violent waves along the Atlantic coast yesterday.

Across Western Europe, the death toll from the storms reached 116; in France alone, 68 people died. Avalanches caused by snowstorms in Austria killed 12 people.

The brunt of the latest storm hit southwestern France, leaving a trail of destruction similar to the one that struck the north on Sunday: fallen power lines, uprooted trees, collapsed roofs and streets strewn with debris.

Report: Kohl to Face Criminal Inquiry

BERLIN--Prosecutors will launch an inquiry to establish whether former German chancellor Helmut Kohl committed a crime by accepting secret campaign donations while in power, ARD television reported.

Quoting unidentified sources, ARD said the prosecutor's office in Bonn would notify parliament today of its plan. No one was available at the Bonn prosecutor's office to comment.

Speculation has grown that new evidence made it probable that a criminal investigation would be opened against Kohl, whose standing as one of Europe's major post-World War II statesmen has been damaged by the affair. Kohl has admitted that secret donors gave him $1 million--despite laws requiring all big political donations to be declared.

THE AMERICAS

Venezuelan Death Toll Could Be 50,000

CARACAS, Venezuela--A top Red Cross official said yesterday that 50,000 people may have been killed by mudslides and flash floods that devastated Venezuela's Caribbean coast two weeks ago.

George Weber, secretary general of the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, said the catastrophe could rank as Latin America's worst natural disaster of the 20th century.

Venezuelan government ministers have said that between 20,000 and 30,000 people are thought to have died in the tragedy. No top government official has mentioned a possible toll as high as 50,000.

AFRICA

Ivory Coast Makes Diplomatic Appeal

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast--Ivory Coast's new military ruler launched a diplomatic offensive, saying the West African country needs help feeding its people, paying salaries and repaying its foreign debt.

There were signs the appeal was beginning to bear fruit, as France began withdrawing extra troops it had sent in the wake of Friday's coup and talked about the "very favorable situation in Abidjan."

Gen. Robert Guei, leader of the junta that overthrew the elected president, Henri Konan Bedie, addressed diplomats at an army barracks in the main city of Abidjan, which operated normally for a second successive day. However, he could not give a timetable for a return to democracy. His appeal coincided with efforts by Bedie, who held talks Monday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to rally regional support for his cause.

ASIA

South Korean to Pardon 1 Million People

SEOUL, South Korea--President Kim Dae-jung said today he will pardon 1 million South Koreans convicted of minor crimes and release two convicted North Korean spies to celebrate the start of the new century. Kim did not say when he would issue the amnesty, but Justice Ministry officials indicated it may come Thursday.

The two North Korean spies to be freed were identified as Son Sung Mo and Shin Gwang Soo, both 71, who have been in jail since they were captured separately in the early 1980s. Once they are released, South Korea will no longer hold any long-serving political prisoners, Kim said.

Armed Sikhs Deny Gandhi Entry

AMRITSAR, India--Sikh officials armed with swords stopped Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi yesterday from entering the seat of the Sikh religion, the site of an army raid 15 years ago that was ordered by her mother-in-law, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi.

While the gold shrine in the Golden Temple complex is the center of the Sikh religion, the Akal Takht building houses the Sikh parliament and administrative offices that control Sikh places of worship worldwide. Priests welcomed Gandhi to the shrine, but she was prevented from entering the Akal Takht.

In 1984, soldiers stormed the temple complex to flush out Sikh separatists on orders from Indira Gandhi. Two months later, Sikh bodyguards assassinated her.

Death Toll Rises in Indonesian Violence

JAKARTA, Indonesia--The death toll has risen to at least 55 people as Christian-Muslim clashes raged for a third day in the eastern Indonesian island of Ambon, the Antara news agency said.

More than 100 others have been injured in the violence that erupted Sunday after a bus driven by a Christian struck a 14-year-old Muslim pedestrian. Some church leaders are pressing the government to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force in the province, known as the Spice Islands during Dutch colonial times.

Police Detain 20 at Tiananmen Square

BEIJING--Police detained at least 20 people gathered in Tiananmen Square, part of China's crackdown on members of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual and meditation movement.

Members of the sect have been staging low-key protests for months at Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of political power in China. But acts of civil disobedience had dropped off for more than a month until the sentencing of four group leaders on Sunday.

Indonesia, Portugal Restore Relations

UNITED NATIONS--Indonesia and Portugal reestablished diplomatic relations 24 years after Lisbon severed ties following Jakarta's invasion of East Timor. U.N. ambassadors from both countries signed an agreement to restore diplomatic links four months after the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

Meanwhile, a U.N. spokesman said U.N. police in East Timor have discovered human remains in a large site at the village of Passabe, where local residents say up to 54 bodies could be buried in a mass grave. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said residents told international peacekeeping troops about the site on Dec. 15.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"We expect this to end quickly. But quickly can be a matter of interpretation."

-- A Russian army officer, talking about the fight to seize Grozny, the Chechen capital --Page A1