Yasser Arafat was vowing to attend Christmas Eve services tonight in Bethlehem's Manger Square despite being banned from the site by Israeli authorities. (Related story, page 6.) The decision, which appeared to set the stage for a confrontation at an Army checkpoint, was made despite a crackdown on Palestinian militants by Arafat's police. At the same time, the militant Hamas movement announced it would halt suicide bombings inside Israel as well as mortar attacks on Jewish settlements. But Islamic Jihad rejected suggestions that it also would suspend suicide attacks.

The post-Taliban era began in Afghanistan as new interim leader Hamid Karzai chaired his first cabinet meeting on security and reconstruction amid street demonstrations by hundreds of people calling for jobs. But the otherwise upbeat atmosphere was clouded by accusations that US forces had wrongly bombed a convoy of tribal elders headed for Karzai's inauguration. US officials were reported to be investigating the incident, while maintaining that the convoy had been transporting Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.

In one tumultuous weekend, Argentine President Fernando de la Rua resigned, returning political power to the Peronist Party which replaced him with a caretaker until new elections can be held March 3. De la Rua's successor, ex-provincial Gov. Adolfo Rodriguez Saa (below, after being sworn in), then announced a suspension of payments on the massive $132 billion foreign debt. He said funds earmarked for such payments would be used instead for social programs and to create jobs.

An almost-certain showdown with parliament awaited Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri early next year after an aide divulged her plan to drop pending graft charges against former dictator Suharto. Analysts said the plan, if pursued, would aggravate Indonesia's already weak image in law-enforcement. Suharto's health - he emerged from critical condition in a Jakarta hospital over the weekend - has kept him from standing trial for the alleged embezzlement of $571 million in state funds. He has neither expressed regret for the losses nor returned any of the money, reports said.

A search was under way for as many as 15 missing crew members from a sunken boat off the coast of Japan that may have been on a spying mission for communist North Korea. The vessel exchanged machine-gun fire with Japanese patrol ship after a chase that ensued when its captain ignored orders to stop and be searched. The circumstances appeared to match those of two 1999 incidents blamed on North Korea.

Leopold Senghor, who died late last week in France, was to be honored with two weeks of official mourning in Senegal, the African nation's first president after independence. Senghor, an acclaimed poet, also was widely praised for his efforts to promote a positive self-image among African blacks.

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