ASIA:

UN-EAST ASIA

UNITED NATIONS — The tensions gripping East Asia flared Wednesday at a U.N. Security Council debate on war and peace. Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "closed the door to dialogue with China" with his recent visit to a shrine where convicted World War II criminals are buried. The envoys of North and South Korea also lambasted the visit. Japan rebuked its neighbors for raising their grievances in an open forum with envoys of more than 50 countries present. The bitter exchanges played out over hours as each of the four countries took the floor twice to have their say. It was a vivid example of the theme of the Security Council debate: How to build lasting peace. SENT: 400 words.

LUNAR NEW YEAR

BEIJING — Chinese communities around the world are gearing up for the Lunar New Year holiday that begins at midnight Thursday. Mainland China will virtually shut down for the next seven days, and many residents of the polluted capital, Beijing, already have departed for holiday destinations. A continuing campaign against waste and corruption foreshadows more modest celebrations this year, while a crackdown on air pollution seems to be reining in the usual orgy of fireworks. SENT: 130 words. UPCOMING: 700 words by 0800GMT.

THAILAND-HUMBLED GOVERNMENT

BANGKOK — It was an extraordinarily humbling moment for a democratically elected administration that rode to power in a landslide vote just two and a half years ago: Government officials, locked out of their offices by protesters, begging permission to get back inside. Whether they could get back to work or not would be decided by the protest leader who controls this part of Bangkok, a monk who sat waiting for them at the head of a long table. Three months into Thailand's biggest crisis in years, the scene underscores just how weak the country's elected government has become. By Todd Pitman. UPCOMING: 1,000 words by 1000GMT, photos.

UNITED STATES-JAPAN-CHINA

WASHINGTON — Japan's ambassador has called for improved relations with China as the top U.S. intelligence official warned that territorial disputes and nationalist fervor are increasing the risk of conflict in East Asia. By Matthew Pennington. Sent 350 words.

UNITED STATES-NKOREA.

WASHINGTON — North Korea has followed through on its threat to advance its nuclear weapons program, the top U.S. intelligence official says, while a research institute points to signs the communist country is preparing to launch bigger rockets. By Matthew Pennington. Sent 600 words.

CHINA-ECONOMIC OBSTACLES

BEIJING — Zhao Guoping, a Beijing shopkeeper, has a stake in Chinese leaders' plans to create a consumer society to replace a worn-out economic model based on trade and investment. But his experience highlights the challenge that ambitious effort faces. Squeezed by higher costs and weak sales to budget-minded shoppers, Zhao said his income has fallen by half to 50,000 yuan ($6,000) a year. "Prices are rocketing up. People's incomes can hardly catch up," said Zhao, 38. "Daily necessities, yes, I still have to buy them. But anything I don't necessarily need, then no." The reluctance of Zhao and his customers to open their wallets wider is one of a thicket of obstacles facing communist leaders as they try to rebalance China's economy away from reliance on investment that is losing its ability to boost growth. By Joe McDonald. UPCOMING: 900 words by 0800 GMT.

PHILIPPINES-MUSLIM REBELS

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine troops have killed at least 40 Islamic fighters and captured a rebel stronghold with a bomb-making facility in a three-day offensive against insurgents opposed to a new peace deal. President Benigno Aquino III said the military launched the assault to protect villages after Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement fighters staged attacks in southern Maguindanao province. SENT: 470 words.

INDIA-ATTACK

GAUHATI, India — Police say at least 10 people were shot to death when a mob attacked a village over a land dispute in a densely-forested area in India's remote northeast. SENT: 110 words.

WORLD MARKETS

TOKYO — Asian shares tumble as weak data from China and Japan added to worries over the impact of ongoing reductions in U.S. stimulus. Japan's Nikkei 225 index was down 3.2 percent at 14,887.96 after the government reported retail sales fell 1.1 percent in December from the month before. The release of a survey confirming that China's manufacturing contracted in January added to the gloom. SENT: 360 words.

CHINA-MANUFACTURING

HONG KONG — Chinese manufacturing shrank this month for the first time in half a year, a survey of factory purchasing managers confirms. The HSBC survey backs up a preliminary version earlier this month that unsettled global investors by raising fears the world's No. 2 economy is slowing. SENT: 400 words.

JAPAN-NINTENDO

TOKYO — Nintendo's president vowed to stick to the company's old ways, refused to resign or cut product prices despite its dismal earnings, but says the Kyoto-based video game maker plans to enter the health care industry. SENT: 270 words, photo.

PHILIPPINES-ECONOMY

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine economy expands 7.2 percent in 2013 despite the havoc wrought in the last months of the year by a super typhoon, an earthquake and a weekslong gun battle that shut down a major port city. Even then, the Philippines was the second best performing economy in Asia after China in the fourth quarter. SENT: 450 words.

US & INTERNATIONAL

FEDERAL RESERVE

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is pushing ahead with a plan to stanch its financial pump-priming because of a strengthening U.S. economy. It's doing so even though the prospect of reduced Fed stimulus and higher U.S. interest rates has rattled global markets. By Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger. SENT: 710 words, photo.

WINTER WEATHER-ATLANTA

ATLANTA — Rescuers rush to bring blankets, food, gas and a ride home to thousands of Atlanta schoolchildren and motorists stranded all night in classrooms and freezing cars after a snowstorm of less than 3 inches paralyzed the South's flagship city. As National Guardsmen and state troopers fan out, Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal find themselves on the defensive, acknowledging that the storm preparations and the response could have been better. But state officials also blame forecasts that said conditions wouldn't be so bad. By David Crary and Ray Henry. SENT: 1,000 words, photos, audio, video.

NY GOVERNOR-TRUMP

NEW YORK — Donald Trump, the nation's most shameless political flirt, is at it again. This time, the billionaire real estate mogul, reality TV star and perennial self-promoter is toying with the idea of challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying the state's high taxes and tight gun-control laws make the Democratic incumbent vulnerable. SENT: 850 words, photo.

SYRIA-PEACE TALKS-SIDELINES

GENEVA — A pro-government Syrian journalist interrupts a TV report screaming, "Liars! You support terrorists!" An opposition delegate responds to hostile questions from a Syrian reporter by asking, "Is there security around here to take her away?" Bitterness and rancor stirred by Syria's civil war are on full display this week inside and outside the room where rival Syrian delegations seek a way to end the country's devastating civil war. By Zeina Karam. SENT: 950 words, photos.

UKRAINE PROTESTS

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine's parliament passes a measure offering amnesty to those arrested in two months of protests, but only if demonstrators vacate most of the buildings they occupy. The move is quickly greeted with contempt by the opposition. By Yuras Karmanau and Jim Heintz. SENT: 650 words, photos, video.

PUTIN'S CHALLENGE

MOSCOW — For President Vladimir Putin, the Winter Olympics he brought to Sochi have always been about far more than sports. The benefits he sees from holding the games range from improving Russia's international standing and instilling a sense of national pride to turning around the country's demographic decline. And of course Putin wants to be seen, at home and abroad, as the man who made this all possible. By Lynn Berry. SENT: 970 words, photos.

ITALY-KNOX TRIAL

FLORENCE, Italy — Few international criminal cases have stirred national passions as strongly as that of American student Amanda Knox, waiting half a world away for her third Italian court verdict in the 2007 slaying of her British roommate, 21-year-old Meredith Kercher. Whatever is decided this week, the protracted legal battle that has grabbed global headlines and polarized trial-watchers in three nations probably won't end in Florence. SENT: 1,050 words, photos.

CARIBBEAN-CRUISE SHIP OUTBREAK

BAYONNE, New Jersey — Passengers aboard a cruise ship on which hundreds fell ill recall days of misery holed up in their rooms or the infirmary as the Explorer of the Seas returns to its home port after a Caribbean trip cut short by a suspected outbreak of norovirus. By Samantha Henry. SENT: 890 words, photos.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Those efforts to fight obesity in schools? Think younger. A new study finds that much of a child's "weight fate" is set by age 5, and that nearly half of kids who became obese by the eighth grade were already overweight when they started kindergarten. By Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione. SENT: 600 words, photos.

WEALTH GAP-HEALTH OVERHAUL

WASHINGTON — Maybe the health care law was about wealth transfer, after all. If the gap between have and have-nots is the defining issue of President Obama's second term, his overhaul was the first-term counterpart. Now it turns out the two are linked: new research shows the health care law will significantly boost the fortunes of people at the bottom fifth of the income ladder. By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar. SENT: 680 words, photo.

HOLDER-DEATH PENALTY

WASHINGTON — As attorney general, Eric Holder has approved pursuing the death penalty in at least 34 criminal cases, upholding a long-ago pledge to Congress that he would vigorously enforce federal law even though he's not a proponent of capital punishment. In the next day or two, Holder will make the most high-profile death penalty decision of his career in law enforcement: whether to seek capital punishment in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the defendant in the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured 260. By Pete Yost. SENT: 920 words, photos.

MEXICO-MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

MEXICO CITY — The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993, and experts warn that the insects' annual migration from the United States and Canada is in danger of disappearing. Their report blames the displacement of the milkweed the species feeds on by genetically modified crops in the U.S., as well as the dramatic reduction of the butterflies' habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging. By Mark Stevenson. SENT: 1,000 words, photos, graphic.

ALSO GETTING ATTENTION:

— VATICAN-POPE-BIRDS — After a dove release went terribly awry over the weekend, Pope Francis gladly blessed and held a green parrot during a general audience. SENT: 130 words, photos.

— NORWAY-NOBEL PEACE PRIZE — Two Norwegian lawmakers say they have jointly nominated former NSA contractor Edward Snowden for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. SENT: 260 words, photo.

— SAN FRANCISCO AIRLINER CRASH-VICTIM — San Francisco says Asiana crash victim was already deceased when run over by fire truck. SENT: 140 words.

— SNAKE STENCH — Neighbors complain about a stench coming from a home in Southern California, and police find at least 200 snakes in the house. The owner is arrested on animal cruelty charges. SENT: 650 words, photos, video.

— INNER NEANDERTHAL — The genes that dictate most people's skin and hair are much more Neanderthal than not, according to two new studies that look at the DNA fossils in the modern human genome. SENT: 760 words, photos.

— DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES-LAWSUIT — Judge reinstates lawsuit by Nicollette Sheridan over her firing from 'Desperate Housewives.' SENT: 140 words, photo.

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