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BC-AS--Asian News Digest, AS

June 12, 2014

ASIA:

SOUTH KOREA-SHIP SINKS-MISSING OWNER

SEOUL, South Korea — Several thousand police officers were mobilized to raid a sprawling South Korean church compound near Seoul to hunt for Yoo Byung-eun, a fugitive billionaire businessman wanted in relation to the deadly ferry sinking in April. Authorities believe Yoo owns the ship and that alleged corruption may have contributed to its sinking. The government is offering a $500,000 reward for tips about him. We answer some key questions about the massive raid. By Hyung-jin Kim. SENT: 670 words, photos.

MYANMAR-CHILD LABOR-PHOTO ESSAY

YANGON, Myanmar — Each morning, 11-year-old Chit Toke wakes up in the small bamboo shack beside a creek where his family lives. He walks over to the river where boats are docked. They are waiting for laborers to unload gravel collected from river beds to supply the booming construction industry in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Chit Toke joins the queue of workers, seeking to earn enough to help feed his family. Child labor remains widespread in Myanmar as the country tries to rebuild its economy after five decades of military misrule. By Esther Htusan. SENT 430 words, photos.

PAKISTAN

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. missile strike has killed at least 10 people in a northwestern tribal district near the Afghan border. By Asif Shahzad. DEVELOPING STORY. SENT: 130 words. UPCOMING: Updated story.

UNITED STATES-AUSTRALIA

WASHINGTON — The United States has few closer allies than Australia, but climate change could prove a touchy issue when Australia’s conservative prime minister makes his first White House visit Thursday. By Matthew Pennington. SENT: 600 words, photo.

BUSINESS AND FINANCE:

CHINA-STARTUP BOOM

BEIJING — Nils Pihl has spent 18 months building what he calls cutting-edge software to crunch “really big data sets.” But instead of going to Silicon Valley, the 27-year-old Swede and his four colleagues have been working on his invention from a small apartment overlooking smoggy northwest Beijing. In typical startup fashion, they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars after countless pitch meetings and were racing to prepare their product for launch. China might seem an odd choice for young tech entrepreneurs. Instead of innovation and risk taking, the country is more associated with state domination of the economy, rampant intellectual property theft and heavy duty government censorship of social media. But perceptions are changing. By Jack Chang. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

JAPAN-ALSTOM

TOKYO — The possible bid by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for turbine businesses of French engineering firm Alstom is part of Japan’s effort to carve out a share of the lucrative global energy infrastructure business. Mitsubishi and German rival Siemens AG say they’re considering a joint bid for parts of Alstom and will decide by Monday whether to pitch it to Alstom’s board. By Elaine Kurtenbach. SENT: 600 words.

U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL:

IRAQ

BAGHDAD — Al-Qaida-inspired militants seize control of Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, pushing deep into Iraq’s Sunni heartland as soldiers and security forces abandon their posts. The swift advance in former insurgent strongholds that had largely been calmed before U.S. troops withdrew nearly three years ago has spread fear that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government will be unable to stop the extremist group as it presses closer to Baghdad. By Sameer N. Yacoub and Adam Schreck. SENT: 1,200 words, video, photos.

ARCTIC SPIES

OSLO, Norway — In early March a ship left Romania, glided through the Bosporus Strait and headed north. A month later, at the headquarters of Norway’s military intelligence service, the spy chief disclosed its identity. It is a $250 million spy ship that will snoop on Russia’s activities in the Arctic. As climate change eats away ice at the North Pole, Arctic nations are fishing for secrets in East-West spy games. The military dimension remains important, but this time there is an economic aspect: getting ahead in the competition for potential oil and gas resources, along with new shipping lanes and fishing waters. By Karl Ritter. SENT: 1,300 words, abridged version of 800 words, photos, map.

SYRIA SURVIVING THE BLOCKADE

HOMS, Syria — Over the course of the 700-day blockade, Zeinat Akhras’s world shrunk to her living room and her kitchen. She survived reading books, eating plants — and refusing to look in the mirror, because seeing her withered state might break her spirit. The 65-year-old pharmacist still bears the effects of more than two years trapped in her home, surrounded by rebel fighters. By Diaa Hadid. SENT: 1,100 words, photos, video.

SOMALIA-MEASLES OUTBREAK

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Hawa Nor carries her visibly weakened son into the hospital’s isolation ward. Like many sick children here, the 7-year-old is likely a victim of a Somali old wives’ tale: A child with measles should be kept inside, and away from the doctor, for a week. Somalia is suffering from a measles outbreak that the World Health Organization and UNICEF call “extremely alarming.” Malnutrition and lack of medical care make measles far worse, and sometimes deadly, for the children of Somalia. By Abdi Guled. SENT: 630 words, photos.

FRANCE-FAR RIGHT FEUD

PARIS — A Shakespearean tragedy is playing out in the House of Le Pen, the seat of France’s rising far right, with the wounded patriarch lashing out at his daughter and political heir in a feud over an anti-Semitic smear that goes to the heart of her efforts to revamp the image of the party he founded. “My daughter has put a knife in my back,” the 85-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen said after being banished from the party’s website. The charismatic Le Pen, convicted numerous times for racism and anti-Semitism, refuses to fade, threatening to upend his daughter’s efforts to make the National Front a potent political force. By Elaine Ganley. SENT: 850 words, photos.

FOOD COMPANIES-ENVIRONMENT

DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. companies relying on farmers for the raw materials in their products must take a more active role in ensuring the crops are grown in a way that minimizes damage to water, soil, and environment, a report says. By David Pitt. SENT: 400 words, photos.

BERGDAHL-CONGRESS

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel aggressively defends the secret prisoner exchange of five Taliban detainees for a U.S. soldier, telling Congress that the risks were too great and the situation too uncertain for the administration to tell lawmakers about the plan. By Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper. SENT: 600 words, photos.

WORLD CUP:

WCUP-STADIUM’S BIG TEST

SAO PAULO — The biggest question for Thursday’s opening match of the World Cup isn’t whether host Brazil can beat Croatia but how the unfinished and troublesome Itaquerao stadium will fare in its first ever encounter with a full-capacity crowd. Will the 61,600 spectators be safe? Will everything work? Not even World Cup organizers can be completely sure of the answers to those essential questions. Because of chronic delays, worker deaths and other assorted problems during its construction, the all-new arena was never tested at close to full capacity. Heads of state, VIPs and other lucky ticket holders will, like it or not, become guinea pigs when they make up the first crowd to fill the stadium and put full strain on all of its facilities, safety equipment, staff and contingency plans. “If that was me who had to run that event, I’d be extremely nervous,” said John Beattie, president of the European Stadium and Safety Management Association, an industry grouping of sports-venue executives. By John Leicester. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.

WCUP-PITCH PROBLEMS

MANAUS, Brazil — Concern over the patchy grass and mud has triggered emergency measures to fix the playing surface in the Amazon venue of Manaus just a few days before England and Italy meet in a key World Cup group match. By Themba Hadebe and Jorge Sainz. SENT: 430 words, photos.

WCUP-TRANSLATING VOLUNTEERS

RIO DE JANEIRO — With some 600,000 foreigners expected to descend on Portuguese-speaking Brazil, where competent English- and Spanish-speakers are rare and those fluent in other languages largely absent, communication during the World Cup could be a problem. That’s where the Before Babel Brigade, the Korean group behind a new free translation hotline, comes in. The group has set up a local Rio phone number to connect bewildered travelers to volunteers who speak seven languages to act as translators. By Jenny Barchfield. SENT: 500 words.

— THAILAND-WORLD CUP HAPPINESS — Thailand’s military junta, which promised to ‘return happiness to the people’ after last month’s coup, asks regulatory officials to find a way to allow the country’s soccer fans to watch the World Cup for free. SENT: 310 words, photos.

— WCUP-BRAZIL-SUBWAY STRIKE — Unionized subway workers will take a new vote on whether to restart their strike. It’s worrying authorities who are counting on the subway system to get the vast majority of fans to the World Cup stadium that will host the opening match Thursday. SENT: 530 words.

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

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