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CHRISTMAS The Irish Republican Army, fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland, announced a three-day Christmas cease-fire from midnight Dec. 23, marking the IRA's first suspension of hostilities in 16 years. Britain said it hoped the cease-fire would help lead to a solution of the 21-year conflict.... In South Africa, black leader Nelson Mandela, recalling his tough prison life and preparing to celebrate his first Christmas in almost 30 years as a free man, called Dec. 24 on the black majority to vow never to spend another Christmas in chains.... The guns of war fell silent Dec. 23 in the Philippines as government forces and communist guerrillas began a three-day truce to mark Christmas in Asia's only Roman Catholic nation.


In Haifa, Israel, sailors aboard the USS Saratoga offered a 21-gun salute and tossed a wreath into the sea in tribute to at least 20 mates who drowned in a ferry accident last weekend.... Two US servicemen from the aircraft carrier USS Midway were killed Dec. 23 and five others were injured when a vehicle taking them on an off-road tour of the United Arab Emirates overturned. The deaths bring to 79 the number of US servicemen killed in Operation Desert Shield.... US Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell predicted Dec. 23 that Congress would deny President Bush ``blank-check authorization'' to attack Iraq if it remains in Kuwait after the UN-imposed Jan. 15 deadline.... A powerful bloc of conservatives Dec. 24 called on the Soviet parliament to assume daily supervision of Kremlin policy in the Persian Gulf crisis. A resolution proposed by the right-wing Soyuz faction would require the Foreign Ministry to give daily reports on the crisis from Jan. 5 to 13. A second provision reserved for parliament final say over the deployment of Soviet military forces.


In Moscow, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev Dec. 24 pushed through parliament a pair of resolutions calling for referendums on private land ownership and preservation of the union. At least four of the 15 Soviet republics have said they would not sign a new treaty renewing the union under any circumstances.... The Yugoslav republic of Slovenia Dec. 23 voted overwhelmingly to become an independent and sovereign state, in a plebiscite that could open the door to secession.


In Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, 14 government soldiers and three civilian women were killed Dec. 24 when Tamil rebels detonated a land mine beneath a military truck that was taking sick troops for treatment.... Taiwanese Premier Hau Pei-tsun was scheduled to make a private trip to Singapore Dec. 26, the first high-ranking Nationalist official to visit the country since it set up full diplomatic links with Beijing. Local media reported that Economics Minister Vincent Siew would travel with Hau.

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