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BC-AS--Asian News Digest, AS

December 28, 2013

ASIA:

INDIA-TRAIN FIRE

NEW DELHI — A fire has engulfed two coaches of an express train in southern India, killing at least 23 passengers, many of whom became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open, officials say. By Nirmala George. SENT: 320 words.

THAILAND-POLITICS

BANGKOK — Gunmen kill an anti-government protester and wound two others in the Thai capital, raising fears that the country’s deepening political crisis was headed toward sustained violence on the streets of Bangkok. By Chris Brummitt. SENT: 520 words, photos.

ANTARCTICA-ICEBOUND SHIP

SYDNEY — A Chinese icebreaker that was en route to rescue a ship trapped in Antarctic ice is forced to turn back after being unable to push its way through the heavy sea ice. By Kristen Gelineau. SENT: 400 words, photos, video.

CHINA-REEDUCATION CAMPS

BEIJING — In a step toward rule of law, China’s national legislature has voted to abolish a much-criticized penal system that had allowed police to lock up people for up to four years without due process. SENT: 250 words.

CHINA-ONE CHILD POLICY

BEIJING —State media say China’s top legislature has sanctioned the ruling Communist Party’s decision to allow couples to have a second child if one parent is an only child. SENT: 130 words.

AUSTRALIA-ZIMBABWE AMBASSADOR

SYDNEY — Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Australia has asked the Australian government for asylum, saying she fears for her safety and believes Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s government is “illegitimate.” SENT: 300 words.

BUSINESS AND FINANCE:

FEATURES:

U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL:

CONNECTICUT SCHOOL SHOOTING

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Police in Connecticut release thousands of pages of documents from the investigation into last year’s school massacre in Newtown, providing the most detailed picture yet of the rampage and the 20-year-old gunman’s chilling fascination with guns and violence. The documents also fill in more details about how the shooting unfolded, teachers protected their students and the school janitor confronted the shooter. By John Christoffersen. SENT: 1,000 words, photos, audio, video.

IRAN-NUCLEAR

VIENNA —Iran is taking steps to improve its ability to speed up uranium enrichment that could delay implementation of a nuclear deal with six world powers because Tehran’s moves are opposed by the United States and its allies. By George Jahn. SENT: 800 words.

TURKEY-CORRUPTION PROBE

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish riot police blast opposition protesters with water cannons, tear gas and plastic bullets in Istanbul in scenes reminiscent of the summer’s mass anti-government demonstrations. By Susan Frasier. SENT: 890 words, photos. UPCOMING: Updating with spot developments.

ARGENTINA-ACONCAGUA KID

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A 9-year-old boy from Southern California has become the youngest person in recorded history to reach the summit of Argentina’s Aconcagua mountain, which at 22,841 feet (6,962 meters) is the tallest peak in the Western and Southern hemispheres. Tyler Armstrong of Yorba Linda reached the summit on Christmas Eve with his father Kevin and a Tibetan sherpa, Lhawang Dhondup, his team says. By Michael Warren. SENT: 840 words, photo.

NSA-PHONE RECORDS-ACLU

NEW YORK — The heated debate over the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records falls squarely into the courts as a federal judge upholds the legality of the program, citing its need in the fight against terrorism just days after a different federal judge concluded it was likely not constitutional. By Larry Neumeister. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

— DETAINED IMMIGRANTS — The American Civil Liberties Union has urged a federal judge to force the U.S. government to quickly turn over documents it needs to help reform a system in which thousands of immigrants are detained for months or years. SENT: 500 words.

LEBANON

BEIRUT — A powerful car bomb kills a prominent Lebanese politician critical of Syria and Hezbollah. The bomb hit his SUV as it drove through a ritzy business district near Beirut’s waterfront and left five others dead. His allies blame the Shiite Hezbollah group, hiking tensions between Lebanon’s two main political camps at a time when the country’s factions are already deeply at odds over the war in neighboring Syria. By Ryan Lucas and Bassem Mroue. SENT: 1,000 words, photos, video.

CLEANING METH HOMES

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tens of thousands of houses have been used as meth labs the last decade and a cottage industry is developing around cleaning them up. Many Americans are more aware of the production of the highly addictive drug thanks to AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad,” which featured a high school chemistry teacher who became a meth cooker and dealer. In real life, cleanup contractors are the ones who deal with a property when a batch explodes or police raid an operation and shut it down. However, there is little oversight of the growing industry, opening the door for potential malfeasance. By Adrian Sainz. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

MILITARY-SEXUAL ASSAULT

WASHINGTON — The number of reported sexual assaults throughout the military shot up by more than 50 percent this year, an increase that defense officials say may suggest that victims are becoming more willing to come forward after a tumultuous year of scandals that shined a spotlight on the crimes and put pressure on the military to take aggressive action. By Lolita C. Baldor. SENT: 990 words.

SOUTH SUDAN-VIOLENCE

JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan’s government agrees at a meeting of East African leaders to end hostilities against rebels accused of trying to overthrow the young country, but the cease-fire is in doubt because the head of the rebellion was not invited. An army spokesman suggests fighting could go on despite the announcement by politicians in Nairobi. By Jason Straziuso and Tom Odula. SENT: 900 words, photos.

ISRAEL-RECRUITING CHRISTIANS

NAZARETH, Israel — Israel’s government and a Greek Orthodox priest are campaigning for more of Israel’s Christian Arabs to enlist in the military — long considered a taboo in the community, which historically views itself as part of the Palestinian people. The campaign has set off an emotional debate over identity among Christians, a tiny minority within Israel’s predominantly Muslim Arab minority. By Karin Laub. SENT: 1,100 words, photos.

BRITAIN-IMMIGRATION FEARS

LONDON — With work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians set to expire on Jan. 1, Britain’s tabloid press is warning of an influx of criminals and welfare cheats as PM David Cameron scrambles to toughen laws on new arrivals. No one knows how many will actually come, but the anti-immigrant mood being stirred up is strengthening right-wing parties angry about EU rules. By Sylvia Hui. SENT: 1,150 words, photos.

HONDURAS-TEENAGE COP KILLER

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Edwin Mejia didn’t want to go out to steal that morning. The $75 he had earned the day before for stealing his first bike was a fortune compared to the $5 he made selling his mother’s tortillas. His decision to take to the streets that day with his partner, also a 15-year-old, ended in two deaths and two beatings, renewing the cycle of poverty and violence that pervades life in Honduras. By Alberto Arce. SENT: 2,400 words, photos. An abridged version is available.

BRANSON-BEHIND THE MUSIC

ST. LOUIS — Documentary filmmakers A.J. Schnack and David Wilson knew it would be easy to make fun of Branson, middle America’s flag-waving, family-friendly celebration of musical variety shows and early-bird dinner specials. The Midwest natives felt a stronger obligation to dig beneath the surface and portray local performers and town leaders as more than aw-shucks Ozark folk. The result is “We Always Lie to Strangers.” The new film offers a more nuanced story of how the southwest Missouri resort is dealing with the aftermath of an economic recession and an aging audience. By Alan Scher Zagier. SENT: 800 words, photos.

ENTERTAINMENT

FILM-HOLLYWOOD’S YEAR

LOS ANGELES — Despite a string of summertime flops, Hollywood is expected to have a banner year at the domestic box office, coming in just shy of $11 billion, the largest annual take ever. But because of higher ticket prices, actual attendance at North American theaters may not break any records because of years of decline. With the current domestic box office tally nearly 1 percent ahead of last year at this time, 2013 could surpass 2012′s overall haul of $10.8 billion by more than $100 million, according to box-office tracker Rentrak. By Film Writer Jessica Herndon. SENT: 800 words, photos.

AVATAR-RUNAWAY PRODUCTION

LOS ANGELES — In the old days, filmmakers flocked to Hollywood for its abundant sunshine, beautiful people and sandy beaches. Today, a new filmmaking diaspora is spreading across the globe to places such as Vancouver, London and Wellington, New Zealand. Fueled by politicians doling out generous tax breaks, filmmaking talent is migrating to where the money is. The result is an incentives arms race that pits California against governments around the world and allows powerful studios to cherry-pick the best deals. By Ryan Nakashima. SENT: 820 words, photos.

— MOVIEMAKING NOMADS — Artists without borders: The global nature of filmmaking puts a strain on industry specialists. SENT: 570 words, photos.

— TV-DUCK DYNASTY — The A&E channel says it’s reversing its decision to drop “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson from the show for his remarks about gays. SENT: 110 words, photos. UPCOMING: 400 words by 9 p.m.

— BRITNEY SPEARS RESIDENCY-VEGAS — Las Vegas gets one of its youngest-ever pop fixtures as Britney Spears begins her two-year residency at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, with 50 shows scheduled in both 2014 and 2015. SENT: 300 words. UPCOMING: Updates from midnight show, photos.

SPORTS

YE--SPORTS STORY OF THE YEAR

NEW YORK — The Boston Marathon bombing is selected as the sports story of 2013 in an annual vote conducted by the AP. The top five stories had nothing to do with the games themselves: terrorism, two involving performance-enhancing drug use, legal settlements, and murder charges. By Rachel Cohen. SENT: 950 words, photos.

ALSO GETTING ATTENTION

— CLIFF PLUNGE — A driver who plunged 300 feet off of a Southern California ocean cliff was rescued after firefighters waded into the surf to free him from the car. SENT: 120 words.

— RUSSIA-PUSSY RIOT — Two members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot who spent nearly two years in prison for their irreverent protest in Moscow’s main cathedral say they still want to topple President Vladimir Putin. SENT: 340 words, photos.

— LEGALIZING MARIJUANA-DENVER — Denver starts issuing retail marijuana licenses, clearing the way for pot shops to open on the first of the year. SENT: Updated 500 words, photos.

— TEENAGER EXECUTED — Leaving the decision on whether to throw out the conviction of a 14-year-old boy executed in South Carolina in 1944 up to a judge reminds supporters of George Stinney of how the teen’s fate was also in one man’s hands nearly 70 years ago, when the governor could have spared the teen from the electric chair. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

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YOUR QUERIES: The editor in charge at the AP Asia-Pacific Desk in Bangkok is Hrvoje Hranjski. Questions and story requests are welcome. The news desk can be reached at (66) 2632-6911 or by email at asia@ap.org.

The Asia Photo Desk can be reached at (81-3) 6215-8941 or by fax at (81-3) 3574-8850.

Between 1600 GMT and 0000 GMT, please refer queries to the North America Desk in New York at (1) 212-621-1650.

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