ASIA

CHINA-SPACE

BEIJING — China says its plan to launch its fifth lunar probe in 2017 with the aim of bringing moon rock back to Earth was on track after a successful moon landing of another space probe over the weekend. By Louise Watt. SENT: 480 words, photos.

CHINA-XINJIANG UNREST

BEIJING —Assailants attacked police officers who were pursuing suspects in China's restive western region of Xinjiang, and two officers and 14 attackers were killed, state media said. SENT: 250 words by 0700 GMT.

PHILIPPINES-BUS ACCIDENT

MANILA, Philippines — A passenger bus plunges from an elevated highway in suburban Manila and fell onto a van passing below, killing at least 17 people and injuring 16 others. SENT: 240 words, photos.

KERRY-VIETNAM

KIEN VANG, Vietnam — From an American gunboat decades ago, John Kerry patrolled for communist insurgents along the winding muddy waters of the Mekong Delta. From those familiar waterways that eventually turned the young lieutenant against the war, the top U.S. diplomat confronted a modern enemy Sunday — climate change. In a remote part of southern Vietnam, rising sea waters, erosion and the impact of upstream dam development on the Mekong River are proving a more serious threat than the Viet Cong guerrillas whom Kerry once battled. By Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee. SENT: 900 words, photos.

NKOREA-DECEPTIVE UNITY

SEOUL, South Korea — For decades North Korea's mighty propaganda machine kept alive the myth of a serene, all-powerful ruling dynasty that enjoyed universal domestic love and support. In a single stroke last week, that all came crashing down. In attempting to justify the execution of his uncle, who was also his No. 2, young leader Kim Jong Un has given the world a rare look behind the scenes of a shadowy government, destroying the image of unity and harmony in the ruling machinery that the state-run media cranks out. It now appears that far from being placid, North Korea was being roiled as by a power struggle after Kim Jong Un took over the country after the 2011 death of his father, the long-time dictator Kim Jong Il, who himself had inherited power from his father Kim Il Sung in 1994. But more shocking was the acknowledgment that the Kim family's authority was challenged at the highest level of government, a frightening prospect of instability as the country pursues its goal of a nuclear armed missile that can reach America's shores. By Foster Klug. UPCOMING: 1,000 words, photos.

YEMEN

SANAA, Yemen — Assailants stab a Japanese diplomat stationed in Yemen's capital when he fights back during a failed kidnapping attempt, officials say, the latest unrest in a country beset by al-Qaida militants. The kidnappers attacked the diplomat not far from the Japanese Embassy in Sanaa, later fleeing with the man's car, a security official says. By Ahmed Al-Haj. SENT: 400 words.

PAKISTAN

PESHEWAR, Pakistan — Police say a roadside bomb has killed three members of a Pakistani bomb disposal team who were on their way to defuse another bomb elsewhere in the city of Peshawar.

AUSTRALIA-AFGHANISTAN

SYDNEY — The last remaining Australian combat troops in Afghanistan were headed home, as Australia's military involvement in the 12-year-old conflict draws to a close. The final group of Australia's combat soldiers in Afghanistan pulled out on Sunday, coinciding with the closure of the international military base at Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Australia's main base in the country, Defense Minister David Johnston said. SENT: 180 words.

CHINA-US-SHIPS

BEIJING — A Chinese newspaper says a U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser had been harassing a Chinese fleet before it nearly collided with a Chinese warship early this month. The Global Times on Monday rejected U.S. military officials' comments that a Chinese warship nearly collided with the USS Cowpens when the U.S. ship was in international waters Dec. 5. SENT: 390 words.

ENTERTAINMENT:

NEW ZEALAND-JAMES CAMERON

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Director James Cameron says his vision for his three "Avatar" sequels is to create a family epic in the mold of "The Godfather" that will introduce viewers to new cultures and go underwater on his fictional moon Pandora. Cameron will film the sequels in New Zealand, where he shot the triple Academy Award-winning original. In an interview with The Associated Press, Cameron also talked about life on a New Zealand farm, where he's growing walnuts and allowing his children to roam. By Nick Perry. UPCOMING: 670 words by 800 GMT, photo.

BRITAIN-OBIT-O'TOOLE

LONDON — Known on the one hand for his starring role in "Lawrence of Arabia," leading tribesmen in daring attacks across the desert wastes, and on the other for his headlong charges into drunken debauchery, Peter O'Toole was one of the most magnetic, charismatic and fun figures in British acting. By Gregory Katz. SENT: 1,330 words, photos, video.

— BRITAIN-OBIT-O'TOOLE-PHOTO GALLERY, O'TOOLE-OSCARS-GLANCE.

OBIT-JOAN FONTAINE

CARMEL, Calif. — Academy Award-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who found stardom playing naive wives in Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion" and "Rebecca" and also was featured in films by Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Nicholas Ray, died at age 96. By Hillel Italie and Bob Thomas. SENT: 1,430 words, photos, video.

BOX OFFICE

LOS ANGELES — Undaunted hobbits trumped princess power at the multiplex. Per studio estimates, Warner Bros. "Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" was No. 1 at the weekend box office with $73.7 million, besting last weekend's No. 1 film, Disney's animated fable "Frozen." By Jessica Herndon. SENT: 1,050 words, photo.

BUSINESS:

WORLD MARKETS

TOKYO — Asian stocks opened mixed as traders sought direction ahead of a key decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve expected later this week. The Nikkei 225 index for the Tokyo Stock Exchange slipped 0.6 percent to 15,312,95 in early trading despite a positive report from the central bank's "tankan" survey showing an improvement in large manufacturers' confidence. SENT: 240 words, photos.

JAPAN-ECONOMY

TOKYO — Business confidence at Japan's major manufacturers rose to a six-year high, a quarterly central bank survey showed amid optimism over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic recovery program. The Bank of Japan's "tankan" business confidence index rose to 16 for large manufacturers from 12 in September, and the best showing since 2007. By Yuri Kageyama. SENT: 240 words, photos.

CHINA-MANUFACTURING

HONG KONG — Chinese manufacturing grew a bit slower in December than the previous month in a new sign of the shaky recovery in the world's second-biggest economy. The preliminary version of HSBC's purchasing managers' index released Monday slipped to 50.5 from 50.8 in November. SENT: 210 words.

U.S. & INTERNATIONAL:

CHILE-ELECTIONS

SANTIAGO, Chile — Michelle Bachelet easily won Sunday's presidential runoff, returning center-left parties to power by promising profound changes in response to years of street protests. By Luis Andres Henao. SENT: 780 words, photos.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC-MILITIA

BANGUI, Central African Republic — The Christian militiamen fighting to oust Central African Republic's Muslim president from power hide in the hills on the edge of the capital, armed with clubs and machetes, waiting to launch their next attack on the city. In a rare meeting with journalists, they tell The Associated Press they won't put down their weapons until Michel Djotodia is gone, potentially setting the stage for a protracted sectarian conflict that has already left more than 600 dead. By Krista Larson. SENT: 950 words, photos.

HEALTH OVERHAUL-POLL

WASHINGTON — Americans who already have health insurance are blaming President Barack Obama's health care overhaul for their rising premiums and deductibles, and overall 3 in 4 say the rollout of coverage for the uninsured has gone poorly. An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that health care remains politically charged going into next year's congressional elections. Keeping the refurbished HealthCare.gov website running smoothly is just one of Obama's challenges, maybe not the biggest. The poll found a striking level of unease about the law among people who have health insurance and aren't looking for government help. Those are the 85 percent of Americans who the White House says don't have to be worried about the president's historic push to expand coverage for the uninsured. By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jennifer Agiesta. SENT: 950 words, photos, graphic, multimedia.

SOCHI-STIFLING CRITICS

SOCHI, Russia — They are fearless, stubborn and increasingly under siege. Environmentalists, activists and journalists in Sochi have spent years exposing the dark side of Vladimir Putin's showcase Winter Games — and now they're paying the price. In recent months, these campaigners have been detained, put on trial and even barred from going to the beach. By Nataliya Vasilyeva. UPCOMING: 1,300 words by 5 a.m., photos.

NAVY SONAR-MARINE LIFE

SAN DIEGO — The Navy is seeking permits to greatly expand its use of sonar over the next five years in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans just as scientists are beginning to understand how much the underwater noise affects marine mammals. Scientists started closely examining sonar's impact after finding evidence that a Navy exercise in the Bahamas led to a mass stranding of endangered beaked whales in 1999. This summer, the Navy started allowing scientists off the Southern California coast to tag whales right before its sonar testing, giving biologists unprecedented data on how mammals react during military training. That research is ongoing but recent published scientific studies have discovered the harm is much greater than thought. By Alicia Chang and Julie Watson. SENT: 900 words, photos.

___

YOUR QUERIES: The editor in charge at the AP Asia-Pacific Desk in Bangkok is Dave Thurber. 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.