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BC-AS--Asian News Digest, AS

January 19, 2015

ASIA:

POPE-ASIA

MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis leaves this Catholic bastion in Asia after a weeklong trip that included a visit to Sri Lanka and drew what Filipino officials says was a record crowd of 6 million faithful in a Manila park where he celebrated Mass. SENT: By Nicole Winfield and Teresa Cerojano. SENT: 1,170 words, photos.

WITH:

— POPE WATCH — Some glimpses of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines as it unfolds. SENT: 1,770 words, photos.

NORTH KOREA-DEFECTOR

UNITED NATIONS — A prominent North Korean defector who fled a prison camp and became the face of international efforts to hold the country accountable for widespread human rights abuses has changed important parts of his life story. Author Blaine Harden says in a statement on his website that he has pressed Shin Dong-Hyuk to “explain why he had misled me” during interviews for Harden’s book on Shin, “Escape from Camp 14.” By Cara Anna. SENT: 800 words, photos.

SRI LANKA-MYSTERY KIDNEY KILLER

KONKETIYAWA, Sri Lanka — Karunawathie is only 40 years old, but she is dying, and no one knows why. An estimated 70,000 to 400,000 people in Sri Lanka’s rice basket suffer, and up to 20,000 have died, from the same mysterious disease, which is not seen at all elsewhere in the country. By Margie Mason. SENT: 2,900 words, photos. A 1,000-word abridged version also moved.

— SRI LANKA-MYSTERY KIDNEY KILLER-Q&A — Questions and answers about mystery kidney disease that has killed thousands of Sri Lankans. SENT: 510 words, photo.

JAPAN-POLITICS

TOKYO — Japan’s leading opposition Democratic Party chose 61-year-old Harvard-trained former Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada as its top leader. He faces the daunting challenge of uniting and rebuilding public trust in the Democratic Party, which has yet to recover from its electoral defeat by the Liberal Democrats in late 2012. SENT: 180 words.

CONGRESS-ASIA

WASHINGTON — The new leader of the House of Representatives panel overseeing U.S. policy to Asia and the Pacific is a rarity in Congress. Congressman Matt Salmon is a deeply conservative Republican who shuns isolationism, favors closer ties with Asia and stands poised to praise as well as criticize China — and even do it in Mandarin.

ALLENBY’S ORDEAL

HONOLULU — His left eye bruised and swollen shut, Australian golfer Robert Allenby is still shaking over a beating and robbery that left him unable to remember anything except being dumped in a gutter near a park of homeless people. “You think ... that happens in the movie, not real life,” Allenby told The Associated Press by phone Sunday. “I’m just happy to be alive.” SENT: 810 words, photos.

FINANCIAL MARKETS

TOKYO — Chinese shares plunge 6.3 percent Monday after the country’s securities regulator imposed margin trading curbs on several major brokerages, a sign that authorities are trying to rein in the market’s big gains. Other Asian stock markets were mostly higher. SENT, photos.

US & INTERNATIONAL

IRAQ-A YEAR OF ISLAMIC STATE

BAGHDAD — Nearly every night for a year, mortar and sniper fire from Islamic State group militants has pinned down outgunned Iraqi troops on the edges of Fallujah. The city, the first to fall to the extremists a year ago this month, exemplifies the lack of progress in Iraq’s war against the Islamic State group, despite U.S.-led airstrikes. By Vivian Salama. SENT: 950 words, photos. This story moved as the Monday spotlight.

— ISLAMIC STATE — The Islamic State group releases at least 200 Yazidis after five months of captivity in Iraq, mostly elderly, infirmed prisoners who likely slowed the extremists down. SENT: 640 words, photos, video.

— ISRAEL-ISLAMIC STATE — Israel’s Shin Bet security service says it arrested the first known Islamic State cell operating inside the country. SENT: 130 words.

UKRAINE

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president vows to reassert government control over eastern regions as the army unleashed a counter-offensive against Russian-backed separatist fighters vying for command over the airport in the city of Donetsk. By Peter Leonard. SENT: 760 words, photos.

FRANCE ATTACKS-TOURISM

PARIS — The swarms of sightseers thin on the huge plaza below Paris’ most visited monument, but plenty of tourists are still braving a visit to the Eiffel Tower and other Paris sites after France’s worst terrorist attack in decades, taking comfort in the extra security presence. By Thomas Adamson. SENT: 670 words, photos.

— EUROPE-TERROR — French police release three women from questioning, but will interrogate nine other people detained in an anti-terror sweep connected to last week’s attacks in Paris. SENT: 760 words, photos.

SYRIA

BEIRUT — An Israeli strike in the Syrian Golan Heights kills the son of Emad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah commander who was assassinated in Damascus in 2008, along with four other fighters from the Shiite militant group, which is battling alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. By Diaa Hadid. SENT: 600 words, photos.

QATAR-ENEMY COMBATANT

DOHA, Qatar — A Qatari man declared an enemy combatant by the Bush administration following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and imprisoned over links to al-Qaida returns home to the Gulf nation after quietly being released by U.S. authorities. Ali al-Marri was held without charge for nearly six years in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina before eventually pleading guilty and receiving a sentence of just over eight years behind bars. By Abdullah Rebhy and Adam Schreck. SENT: 650 words, photos.

MIDEAST-CANADA

JERUSALEM — Dozens of Palestinian protesters hurl eggs and shoes at the convoy of the visiting Canadian foreign minister in a show of defiance toward Canada’s perceived pro-Israel stance. SENT: 480 words, photos.

STATE OF UNION

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is turning to his biggest television audience of the year to pitch tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and put the new Republican Congress in the position of favoring top earners over the middle class. The speech is Tuesday. By White House Correspondent Julie Pace. SENT: 1,070 words, photos, video.

BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING-DEATH PENALTY

WASHINGTON — The focus of the Boston Marathon bombing trial figures to focus as much on what punishment Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should face as his responsibility for the attack. With testimony expected to start later this month, the Justice Department gives no indication it is open to any proposal from the defense to spare Tsarnaev’s life, pushing instead toward a trial that could result in a death sentence for the 21-year-old defendant. By Eric Tucker. SENT: 710 words, photo.

MARTIN LUTHER KING HOLIDAY

SELMA, Alabama — A march in Alabama by stars of the movie “Selma” ahead of the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. recalled painful struggles for civil rights even as tensions sparked by fatal U.S. police shootings prompted black members of Congress on Sunday to vow to fight for criminal justice reform. SENT: 500 words, photos.

MCCAIN-LEGACY TIME

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain is waging another national campaign — this time, to define his legacy. After two unsuccessful presidential bids, the former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war rebounds as the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, giving him a significant say on national security and a chance to ensure that his 2008 loss to Barack Obama isn’t the final word in the colorful McCain chronicles. By Laurie Kellman. SENT: 910 words, photos.

— UNITED STATES-IRAN — Leading Republican critic of Obama’s foreign policy isn’t relenting in pushing new Iran sanctions, unswayed by a White House veto threat and lobbying by Britain’s prime minister. SENT: 480 words.

ALSO GETTING ATTENTION

— MISSING TEENS-CRIME SPREE. US teen sweethearts who blazed trail of crime across South captured in Florida. SENT: 630 words.

— FLORIDA-MALL SHOOTING — A shopping mall in central Florida reopens after a shooting in its food court that left two people dead, including the gunman, and one injured. SENT: 250 words, photos, video.

— OBIT-ALAN HIRSCHFIELD — Alan Hirschfield, who led Columbia Pictures in 1970s, dies in Wyoming at 79. SENT: 130 words.

___

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