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MIDDLE EAST DEVELOPMENTS US Defense Secretary Richard Cheney yesterday warned Iraq the clock was ticking toward war over its invasion of Kuwait.... US forces in the Gulf have been put on a high state of alert in case Iraq tries to stage a surprise attack over the Christmas holiday, military sources said yesterday.... Iraq said Saturday it would use chemical weapons to fight any attack by the US-led military alliance seeking to drive its troops from Kuwait.... Egypt has tightened security at the Suez Canal after learning of plots to block it if war breaks. Egyptian security sources said yesterday they had received warnings that ships carrying cement from the Gulf and Far East might sink themselves or dump their cargo in the waterway if military action began.... The six Gulf Cooperation Council member states are talking directly with Iran to create a new regional security system to balance the threat from Iraq's military might and try to prevent future violent upheavals in the area.... US and Israel officials yesterday launched inquiries into the drowning of 19 US sailors when a ferry sank off the coast of Israel last Friday.


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In Paris, Cambodia's four warring factions failed yesterday to endorse an ambitious UN peace plan. The factions heard repeated warnings that the world's patience was wearing thin over their failure to stop squabbling and endorse the UN plan to end more than a decade of civil war in Cambodia.... The Philippine government accepted the surrender of 1,716 Muslim separatist guerrillas in formal ceremonies at a military camp yesterday. Muslim rebels have been fighting for years for an independent Moro homeland on Mindanao and other southern islands.... The UN Security Council voted to end decades of UN trusteeship over the Northern Marianas, the Marshall Islands, and Micronesia in the Pacific. The action allows the Marshalls and the Federated States of Micronesia, once US territories, to be recognized as independent nations.


Cyclone Joy, the most destructive to threaten Australia for many years, was gathering force off the city of Cairns yesterday. Joy was upgraded yesterday to a Category 4 cyclone on a scale of five. It could pack winds of 140 m.p.h.... Fierce bush fires yesterday ringed Sydney as the city sweltered in 104 degree temperatures, police said. Heat-wave conditions and hot, gusty winds fueled large fires throughout New South Wales in what fire officers said was the most critical bush fire conditions in two decades.... In New Zealand, activists from the environmental group Greenpeace used inflatable rafts to stop a Japanese ship harpooning minke whales, a Greenpeace spokeswoman said. The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986. Japan and several other countries have continued, using a clause allowing killing for scientific research. Greenpeace maintains that whale meat is available to Japanese consumers.

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