The oil tanker Braer, wrecked off Britain's Shetland Islands Tuesday, began breaking up in heavy seas yesterday, a British transportation official said. Even before the tanker broke up, a seven-mile oil slick had spread into the sea. With the bad weather abating a little, government aircraft took to the skies to spray chemical dispersants over the slick. But concern for sensitive wildlife areas remained, and fishermen said the dispersants would kill many fish. A debate has flared on the wisdom of shippin g oil between Shetland and Fair Islands, a 20-mile wide passage. US to warn Iraq

The Bush administration is set to issue an ultimatum to Iraq that it must immediately remove newly deployed surface-to-air missiles from a safety zone in the south or face allied military retaliation, two US officials said yesterday. The demand, which could set the stage for another clash with Saddam Hussein before President Bush leaves office in two weeks, follows consultation with Britain, France, and other allies. Russia freezes prices

A year after freeing prices that had been regulated by the state for decades, Russia has restored price controls on basic foodstuffs in an attempt to cushion the hardships of market reforms. New Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said the measure was needed to curtail "inflation and unjustified price increases on major products, goods, and services." Armored car robbery

In Rochester, N.Y., gunmen in ski masks robbed an armored car depot of $10 million in the nation's second such heist in 10 days. Police today are questioning employees of the Brink's depot and said workers would be given lie-detector tests about what might have been an inside job. On Dec. 27, $8.27 million was taken in a heist at an armored truck company in New York City. Zheng Yi to NY

A Chinese writer who helped lead the Tiananmen Square democracy movement has ended three years as a fugitive, The New York Times reported. Zheng Yi arrived yesterday from a secret location outside China. Japanese Prince chooses

Crown Prince Naruhito has decided to marry the daughter of Japan's top career diplomat, ending years of speculation about who might become the nation's next empress, news reports said yesterday. He reportedly will wed Masako Owada, 29-year-old daughter of Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Hisashi Owada. Boutros at home

United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali arrived in Cairo yesterday. He plans to hold talks with a special emissary on a plan to resolve the crisis caused by Israel's expulsion of 415 Palestinians, after he celebrates Coptic Christmas today.. Nureyev dies

Rudolf Nureyev, the Soviet ballet dancer who stunned the world by defecting to the West and became the most celebrated classic dancer of his generation, died in Paris yesterday. He was widely reported to be suffering from AIDS, but his doctor said the cause was a heart condition.

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