EUROPE

Russians Step Up Chechnya Airstrikes

GROZNY, Russia--Russian warplanes circled incessantly over Chechnya's capital yesterday, showering bombs on Grozny as the military vowed to step up its weeks-long effort to penetrate the city's center.

The Defense Ministry said Russian forces killed 120 rebels across the breakaway region over the previous 24 hours. The rebels did not report any losses, but commander Isa Munayev said at least 18 civilians were killed in attacks on Grozny.

Russian bombers zoomed over Grozny all day, with at least eight jets in the air at any given time. Plumes of black and white smoke spewed from fires, and bombing was especially intense around a meat canning factory and the horse-racing track.

In some of the heaviest airstrikes in weeks, the Russian military command reported more than 120 raids around Chechnya over the past day. Blasts echoed through the Argun gorge, which leads south through the rebel-held mountains to Georgia.

Serb Reportedly Slain to Stop Testimony

BELGRADE--The gangland-style slaying of Serbia's most notorious paramilitary leader was aimed at silencing a man who could tie key figures in President Slobodan Milosevic's government to Balkan war crimes, opposition members said.

Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, was gunned down Saturday in a plush Belgrade hotel as he sat in a sectioned-off part of the lobby. He was a hero to radical Serbian nationalists and symbol of terror to thousands of non-Serbs.

"Someone was making sure that one of the key people who knew too much should not live too long," said Mirza Hajric, adviser to Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency. "Unfortunately, he missed an opportunity to testify against President Milosevic."

Arkan, 47, had been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague for atrocities committed by his Tigers militia during secessionist wars in Bosnia and Croatia.

Finland Near Electing Woman President

HELSINKI--Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen moved closer to becoming Finland's first woman president, winning the first round of an election that has turned into a battle of the sexes.

Full returns showed Social Democrat Halonen captured 40 percent of the vote, ahead of opposition leader Esko Aho with 34.4 percent. Aho and Halonen will face each other in a runoff election on Feb. 6 to settle who will replace outgoing President Martti Ahtisaari for a six-year term.

U.S. Peacekeeper Charged With Murder

VITINA, Yugoslavia--An American soldier serving with the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo was charged with sexually assaulting and killing an 11-year-old ethnic Albanian girl, the U.S. military announced.

Staff Sgt. Frank J. Ronghi is accused of murder and indecent acts with a child, said Col. Ellis Golson. It is the first time a peacekeeper from any country has been accused of such serious crimes since the 50,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force entered the province on June 12.

British Minister Says She Smoked Pot

LONDON--British cabinet minister Marjorie Mowlam, who heads the Labor Party government's campaign against drugs, said that she smoked marijuana as a student in the United States in the early '70s.

"I tried marijuana, didn't like it particularly and unlike President Clinton I did inhale," Mowlam, 50, said in an interview with Sky television. "But it wasn't part of my life then and that's what happened." Mowlam was studying politics at Iowa State University after graduating from Britain's Durham University.

She made the admission after London's Sunday Telegraph reported that a fellow student had seen her holding a marijuana cigarette at a party.

AFRICA

Mandela Blasts Burundi Government

ARUSHA, Tanzania--Nelson Mandela launched his high-profile bid to bring peace to Burundi by telling its leaders that they were responsible for the continued slaughter in the tiny central African country.

The former South African president delivered a tongue-lashing to Burundi's government and opposition politicians in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, saying they had failed to display the talent and vision needed to end the six-year civil war in which 100,000 have died.

THE AMERICAS

Albright Hails Mexican Anti-Drug Efforts

OAXACA, Mexico--Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, hailing close ties with Mexico, all but promised that Mexico need not fear a failing grade next month in the Clinton administration's annual evaluation of its neighbor's counter-drug performance.

Both Albright and Mexican Foreign Secretary Rosario Green praised the levels of cooperation the countries have reached on a range of issues. Green said the U.S.-Mexican "dialogue of the deaf" of previous years is past.

Cuba Seeks European Aid for Boy's Return

HAVANA--Growing impatient with 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez's extended U.S. stay, Cuba's foreign minister left for Europe to seek support for the boy's return.

"It is inconceivable and unacceptable that this small child remains kidnapped," Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told the Prensa Latina news service before leaving. He was to visit Italy, San Marino, France, Denmark and Russia and also meet with Vatican and Spanish officials before returning to Cuba on Jan. 28.

ASIA

China Ordains New Tibetan Lama

BEIJING--The Chinese government ordained the reincarnation of a Tibetan "living Buddha" in a move that could exacerbate bitter relations between Beijing and the Tibetan government in exile.

Supported by the Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region approved selection of a 2-year-old boy as the reincarnation of the Sixth Reting Lama, who died in February 1997, the official New China News Agency said. But many Tibetan Buddhists were likely to reject the boy as a fake unless the Dalai Lama, in exile in Dharmsala, India, accepts him as the legitimate reincarnation.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"I try to stay busy so I can forget, but whenever I rest, I remember."

-- Rokmane Feraj, ethnic Albanian woman whose husband was killed by Yugoslav soldiers during the Kosovo war --Page A15