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BC-AS--Asian News Digest, AS

February 26, 2014

ASIA:

UNITED STATES-AFGHANISTAN

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama threatens to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year if a crucial security pact is not signed — and he ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for just that scenario. At the same time, in a rare phone call with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama indicated he was willing to wait his mercurial counterpart out and sign a security agreement with a new Afghan president after April elections. That would allow the U.S. to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country. SENT: 870 words, photos.

VIETNAM-DISSIDENT BEATEN

HANOI, Vietnam — A Vietnamese dissident says unidentified men assaulted him this week as he was heading to a meeting with an Australian diplomat to talk about the human rights situation in the country. Dissident Nguyen Bac Truyen says men on motorbikes dragged him from a taxi and punched him Monday in the capital, Hanoi. SENT.

BITCOIN SETBACK

TOKYO — The sudden disappearance of one of the largest bitcoin exchanges only adds to the mystery and mistrust surrounding the virtual currency, which was just beginning to gain legitimacy beyond the technology enthusiasts and adventurous investors who created it. Prominent bitcoin supporters said the apparent collapse of the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange was an isolated case of mismanagement that will weed out “bad actors.” But the setback raised serious questions about bitcoin’s tenuous status and even more tenuous future. At least one supporter said the blow could be fatal to bitcoin’s quest for acceptance by the public. SENT: 1,140 words, photos, video.

— BITCOIN-Q&A — Here’s an explanation of what bitcoins are, how exchanges work, and why the demise of the exchange, Mt. Gox, means many people may have lost a lot of money. By Raphael Satter. SENT: 970 words with photos.

HONG KONG-ECONOMY

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s finance chief forecasts that the economy of the Asian financial center could grow up to 4 percent this year after expanding 2.9 percent in 2013. Financial Secretary John Tsang said that he predicts 3-4 percent growth in 2014 for the semiautonomous southern Chinese city. That’s lower than the 4.5 percent average annual growth rate over the past decade. SENT: 120 words.

NEW ZEALAND-ASSET SALES

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government on Wednesday announced plans to sell a slice of a third state-owned power company as the final step in a contentious program of asset sales. SENT: 350 words.

ART-BEYOND BOLLYWOOD

WASHINGTON — Indian-Americans are doctors, engineers, motel owners, taxi drivers and spelling bee champs — just a few takeaways from a new exhibition at the Smithsonian. Looking closer, though, curators are probing the history behind certain cultural stereotypes of this population of 3.3 million Americans in a new exhibit opening Thursday. By Brett Zongker. SENT, photos.

WORLD MARKETS

BEIJING — Global stocks were mostly lower Tuesday amid jitters about China’s housing market and a surprise drop in a key measure of U.S. consumer confidence. Markets were earlier rattled by a deceleration in Chinese housing price increases in January and weakness in the currency, which has long been a one-way bet on slow steady appreciation. SENT: 270 words, photo.

US & INTERNATIONAL

EUROPE-UKRAINE

BRUSSELS — A firm course change in Ukraine — westward and turning away from Moscow — would have momentous consequences for the balance of power in Europe. Taken to its logical conclusion, Ukraine’s farm fields, mines and factories, which are now mainly oriented toward the Russian market, could eventually chiefly produce for the European Union. By John-Thor Dahlburg. SENT: 1,020 words, photos.

— UKRAINE-PROTESTS — Protesters rally against “the bandits” in Kiev and some even speak of secession. One lawmaker from Russia tells the protesters that Russia will protect them, and a few Russian military vehicles full of troops make a rare appearance on the streets of Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based. SENT: 980 words, photos.

— UKRAINE-BAILOUT BLUES — Ukraine needs money, and fast — in weeks, not months. But bailing out the country of 46 million people will not be as easy as simply writing a big check. A look at how much the country needs, where it might get it and a variety of possible complications and caveats. SENT: 940 words, photos.

OBAMA-HEALTH OVERHAUL

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Tuesday that about 4 million people have signed up for health insurance through U.S. or state marketplaces set up under his health care law. But with a key deadline approaching fast, he urged some of his most steadfast backers to help sign up millions more. “We’ve only got a few weeks left. March 31st, that’s the last call,” Obama said, explaining that anyone not signed up by that date will have to wait until open enrollment begins anew in the fall. In the meantime, they risk being fined for not having coverage. SENT: 320 words.

AP EXCLUSIVE: WOMEN IN COMBAT

FORT EUSTIS, Virginia — Only a few Army women say they’d like to move into one of the newly opening combat jobs, but those who do say they want a role that takes them right into the heart of battle, according to preliminary results from a survey of the service’s nearly 170,000 women. That survey and others across the Army, obtained by The Associated Press, also revealed that soldiers are nervous about women entering combat jobs but determined to do it fairly. By Lolita C. Baldor. SENT: 1,240 words, photos.

NIGERIA-VIOLENCE

DAMATURU, Nigeria — Islamic militants set fire to a locked dormitory at a school in northern Nigeria, then shoot and slit the throats of students who tried to escape through windows, leaving at least 58 dead. They “slaughtered them like sheep,” one teacher says of the pre-dawn attack — the latest in a string of deadly assaults by militants seeking to create an Islamic state in Africa’s top oil producer. By Adamu Adamu and Michelle Faul. SENT: 850 words, photos.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY

ATLANTA — A new study may be another signal of a national decline in childhood obesity. Government researchers found that obesity among children ages 2 to 5 dropped — to 8 percent, from 14 percent a decade ago. It’s not enough to say the nation has clearly turned the corner. The only decline was seen in preschoolers, not in older children. Some experts note that even the improvement in toddlers wasn’t a steady decline, and say it’s hard to know yet whether preschooler weight figures are permanently curving down or merely jumping around. But one of the study’s authors voiced optimism: “There’s a glimmer of hope.” By Medical Writer Mike Stobbe. SENT: 750 words, photos.

— HEALTHIER SCHOOLS — It’s not just what kids get in the lunch line. The Obama administration also is moving to ban marketing junk foods on the football scoreboard or elsewhere on school grounds. SENT: 900 words, photos, video.

DRUG WAR-MEXICO

MEXICO CITY — Mexico makes clear its determination to keep Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in the country’s highest-security prison for the foreseeable future, putting off U.S. extradition in a move that could bolster President Enrique Pena Nieto’s nationalist credentials but also shine a spotlight on Mexico’s woeful judicial system. By Michael Weissenstein, Mark Stevenson and E. Eduardo Castillo. SENT: 490 words; UPCOMING: 1,000 words by 6:30 p.m., photos.

TV-MILES O’BRIEN-INJURY

LOS ANGELES — U.S. public television science correspondent Miles O’Brien said Tuesday his left arm was amputated above the elbow after an apparently minor injury in Asia put his life in jeopardy. In a blog post on his personal website Tuesday, which was verified by PBS, O’Brien recounted the Feb. 12 blow to his arm he suffered while on assignment and the medical emergency that followed. By Lynn Elber. SENT, photos.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC-TINY TRAVELERS

CARNOT, Central African Republic — Muslim children orphaned by the sectarian violence that has broken out in this country are traveling great distances by foot on their own, journeying more than 100 kilometers in some cases, to reach a Catholic church where hundreds of people have taken shelter. Many of the refugees are from an ethnic group of nomadic herders, accustomed to long treks across the countryside. By Krista Larson. SENT: 900 words, photos.

UGANDA-GAYS

KAMPALA, Uganda — A Ugandan newspaper publishes a list of what it calls the country’s “200 top” homosexuals, outing some Ugandans who previously had not identified themselves as gay one day after the president enacted a harsh anti-gay law that many worry will lead to more violence against gays. Western leaders have called the signing “tragic” and say they are reconsidering aid to the East African country. By Rodney Muhumuza. SENT: 815 words, photos.

TRAVEL-SAMURAI ARTIFACT COLLECTOR

DALLAS — Gabriel Barbier-Mueller bought his first samurai armor about 20 years ago from an antiques dealer in Paris, sparking a fascination that helped him create one of the most significant private collections in the world related to the Japanese warriors. Although the vast majority of the Texas-based businessman’s pieces come from auction houses, art dealers and collectors, he still relishes visiting small European antiques stores seeking hidden treasures and strolling flea markets, as he adds helmets, weapons and other samurai artifacts that span the centuries. By Jamie Stengle. SENT: 750 words, photos.

ENTERTAINMENT

PALESTINIANS-OSCAR HOPEFUL

JERUSALEM — In the Holy Land, the state of Palestine does not yet exist. But in Hollywood, it’s already got an Oscar finalist. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ announcement that “Omar,” one of this year’s candidates for best foreign language film, hailed from “Palestine” has raised more than a few eyebrows in these parts, where Israelis and the Palestinians are engaged in peace talks aimed at establishing just such a state. By Aron Heller. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

OSCARS-RED CARPET READY

LOS ANGELES — The picture-perfect looks to be unveiled on Oscar’s red carpet have been months in the making and often require a team of professionals. By Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen. SENT: 870 words, photos.

ALSO GETTING ATTENTION

— BACKYARD GOLD BONANZA — A California couple out walking their dog on their property stumbled across a modern-day bonanza: $10 million worth of rare, mint-condition gold coins buried in the shadow of an old tree. SENT: 850 words, photos.

— BURLESQUE BOOM — Bump-and-grind of burlesque booming across US decades after heyday. SENT: 850 words, photos, video.

— SYRIA — The leader of a powerful al-Qaida-linked group in Syria gives a rival breakaway group a five-day ultimatum to accept mediation by leading clerics to end infighting or be “expelled” from the region. SENT: 800 words, photos.

— BRITAIN-TERRORISM ARRESTS — British police say a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who is a well-known advocate for the rights of terrorism suspects was arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offenses. SENT: 300 words.

— KERRY KENNEDY — Kerry Kennedy is expected to take the stand in her drugged-driving trial a day after her lawyer said she was “sleep-driving” because she had accidentally taken a sleeping pill. SENT: 440 words, photos.

___

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.

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