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Aides to President Boris Yeltsin hastened to try to limit potential damage over his pointed reminder to the US that Russia remains "a great nuclear power." Yeltsin lashed out angrily at American criticism of the Russian war effort in Chechnya, which has taken a heavy toll in civilian casualties and refugees. He made the comment in Beijing in a meeting with Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin. But in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied Yeltsin was signaling a cooling of relations with the US, calling them "very good."

On the ground in Chehnya, Russian commanders claimed the capture of Urus-Martan, a key southern suburb of the capital, Grozny, after weeks of shelling and bombing. If true, that would mean a tightening of the noose around Grozny, whose residents have been issued an ultimatum to leave by tomorrow.

Official newspapers in Syria welcomed the announcement of resumed peace negotiations with Israel, but warned that the return of the entire Golan Heights would be the price of a final deal. The negotiations are scheduled to open in Washington next week after a 3-1/2-year hiatus. In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister David Levy said Israel "will not go into an arrangement" that means giving back all of the strategic plateau seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

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The Syrian-Israeli talks will not come at the expense of peacemaking efforts between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, Secretary of State Albight said. She assured Palestinian Authority President Arafat in a visit to the West Bank that Israel can devote itself to pursuing peace on two tracks at the same time.

As many as 300,000 Cubans were being martialed for another march in Havana as the Monitor went to press to demand that the US send back six-year-old refugee Elian Gonzalez. Cuba was seen as winning two partial victories, with the admission by US officials that the boy's father can assert a claim for his return by relatives in Miami - and with the handover of six people accused of hijacking a tourist boat later seized by the US Coast Guard. Cuban officials say they'll stage a 600,000-person march today.

Late opinion polls indicated a likely runoff Jan. 16 to choose the successor to Chilean President Eduardo Frei. Voters face a six-candidate ballot Sunday, with socialist former public works minister Ricardo Lagos and right-wing economist Joaquin Lavin the expected finalists. Lavin, political observers say, has succeeded in distancing himself from once-close ties to his mentor, former dictator Eduardo Pinochet.

Flights were departing and landing normally again at the main airport in Montenegro after Yugoslav soldiers and local police ended an armed standoff. The soldiers were trying to prevent construction of a hangar on the civilian side of the facility, which the Yugoslav government said was strategically important to the national defense. The standoff was one of the clearest signs of tension so far between authoritarian President Milosevic and Montenegro's pro-Western leaders, who have threatened to declare independence as did the federation's other ex-members, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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