EUROPE

8 Held in Russian Apartment Bombings

MOSCOW--Eight people have been arrested in connection with the bombing of four apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia that killed some 300 people, federal security officials said. No other information regarding the arrests was released.

Russia has blamed people connected to Chechen rebels for the September bombings, which devastated two apartment buildings in Moscow and two in the southern cities of Buinaksk and Volgodonsk.

France Mobilizes to Clean Up After Storms

PARIS--Six thousand troops were deployed nationwide and the national electricity company brought workers out of retirement as France tapped all its resources in a bid to clean up and restore power to millions of homes after this week's deadly storms.

At least 70 people were killed in France after two fierce storms on Sunday and Tuesday. The storms claimed a total of 122 lives in Western Europe.

Spilled Oil Washes Onto Turkish Coast

ISTANBUL--A Russian-flagged tanker broke in two and sank near the mouth of the Bosphorus, among the world's busiest shipping routes, spilling oil onto Istanbul's residential coastline.

The Turkish coast guard rescued 12 members of the 17-man crew of the Volganeft 248, which ran aground in strong winds overnight. Five other crew members who initially chose to stay on board were taken ashore later, the Anatolian news agency said. Turkish officials said they didn't know how much oil was spilled from the tanker, which has a 4,000-ton capacity.

Pope Holds Last Audience of Century

VATICAN CITY--Pope John Paul II greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Basilica from a moving stairway in his last general audience of the century.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the chief spokesman for the Vatican, said the three-step staircase on wheels, with arm rails for the pontiff to lean on, was used to make the pope more visible. He used the moving platform for only part of his audience and walked unaided in the basilica for the remainder.

Chernobyl Reactor May Be Shut Down

KIEV, Ukraine--Financial constraints could force Ukraine to shut down the only operational reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant next year even if the government wants to keep it running, a top nuclear official said.

Next year's scheduled repairs to reactor No. 3 at Chernobyl, site of the world's worst nuclear accident, will cost some $100 million, said Viktor Stovbun, a high-level official at the Energoatom state nuclear power company, adding that Energoatom does not have the resources to finance the repairs and that the reactor is losing money because previous repairs have closed it for long periods.

ASIA

U.N. Names Leaders of E. Timor Force

UNITED NATIONS--Maj. Gen. Jaime de los Santos of the Philippines will command the U.N. peacekeeping force scheduled to deploy shortly in East Timor, and Maj. Gen. Michael Geoffrey Smith of Australia will be the deputy commander, a U.N. spokesman said.

The United Nations plans to send more than 8,000 troops in February to take over from an 11,000-member Australian-led international force, commanded by Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove, that has restored order there since mid-September following a rampage of looting and killing by Indonesian army-backed militias in reaction to the territory's vote for independence.

AFRICA

Ivory Coast Opposition Leader Returns

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast--Former prime minister Alassane Ouattara returned to Ivory Coast and said the ousting of President Henri Konan Bedie by the army was not a coup d'etat but a revolution to get rid of an "outlaw regime."

"This is not a coup d'etat, this is a revolution supported by all the Ivorian people," he told reporters at Abidjan airport, after stepping off a plane from Paris.

He said he regretted the way power had changed hands, but added: "We were in an outlaw state."

Arrests Made in Cape Town Bombings

CAPE TOWN, South Africa--Authorities seized materials that can be used in bomb-making and arrested members of an Islam-inspired vigilante group in the wake of a string of bloody bombings in Cape Town. The leader and two members of People Against Gangsterism and Drugs were arrested during dawn raids on 10 homes in Cape Town.

Authorities have been embarrassed by setbacks in cracking the case and have made capturing the bombers, who have killed two people and injured 99, their top priority. Police say the group is linked to many of the bombings, but none of the group's members has been charged.

THE MIDDLE EAST

Palestinians Rejoice Over Prisoner Return

NAHAL OZ, Gaza Strip--Families wept at the return of 26 Palestinian prisoners, kissing and hugging them as heroes and distributing sweets to mark their release by Israel under terms of a peace deal.

Israel freed the prisoners after its Supreme Court rejected a challenge by the Victims of Terror Association, an Israeli group opposed to freeing Palestinian activists jailed for violence against Israelis.

American Serviceman Dies in Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY--The U.S. Embassy said an American serviceman died from injuries he suffered during military exercises in the Kuwaiti desert, the official Kuwait News Agency reported. The embassy, which declined to identify the serviceman until his family had been notified, said an investigation was launched into the accident.

FOR THE RECORD

* MEXICO CITY--An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 rocked Mexico's Pacific coast southwest of the capital Tuesday night, but experts said it caused no major damage.

* JERUSALEM--An Israeli travel agent was sentenced to 16 years in prison for raping a beauty queen at knifepoint in October 1998, two months before she was crowned Miss World.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"This whole affair is a deep scar in German history."

-- Wolfgang Thierse, head of the German Parliament, on former chancellor Helmut Kohl's admission of taking illicit cash donations while in office --Page A1