TOKYO — As negotiators struggle, President Barack Obama is rejecting suggestions that an Asia-Pacific trade deal is in danger and says the U.S. and Japan must take bold steps to overcome differences that are threatening completion of the cornerstone of his strategic rebalance to the region. Illustrating those difficulties, the top Japanese negotiator says talks had come to a stop only to have a U.S. official later say that discussions would continue. By Darlene Superville. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.
— OBAMA-ASIA NOTEBOOK — Obama kicks around with robot, meets with kidnap victims' relatives. By Darlene Superville and Mari Yamaguchi. SENT: 600 words, photos.
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan security guard opens fire on a group of foreign doctors at a Kabul hospital, killing three American physicians and wounding a U.S. nurse, officials say. The shooting at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul is the latest in a string of deadly attacks on foreign civilians in the Afghan capital this year. By Amir Shah and Kay Johnson. SENT: 570 words, photos.
SAVAR, Bangladesh — One year after the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in a pile of concrete slabs and twisted metal, Bangladeshi seamstress Shefali says she would rather starve to death than return to factory work. Like many survivors of the worst disaster the garment industry has ever seen, she suffers from depression and has flashbacks of the catastrophe that killed more than 1,100 people. Despite efforts by Western brands to improve safety at the Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes, Shefali fears nothing good will trickle down to the poorest of the poor. By Julhas Alam. SENT: 1,000 words, photos.
JINDO, South Korea — Angry relatives of some of the more than 130 people still missing from the sinking of the ferry Sewol surround the fisheries minister and the coast guard chief, preventing them from leaving the area where families have been waiting for word of their loved ones for more than a week. It is the latest expression of fury and desperation in a disaster filled with signs that the government did too little to protect passengers. An opposition politician says he has a document showing that the ferry was carrying far more cargo than it should have been. By Gillian Wong and Youkyung Lee. SENT: 860 words, photos, video.
SEOUL, South Korea — Jokes and concerts are out. So are school field trips and boisterous cheering at baseball games. As South Korea mourns one of its worst-ever disasters, a ferry sinking on April 16 that likely killed more than 300 people, most of them high school students, anything deemed frivolous or fun is frowned upon, and the backlash for breaking this collective somber mood can be harsh. By Jung-Yoon Choi. SENT: 770 words, photos.
QINGDAO, China — China's navy commissioned 17 new warships last year, the most of any nation. In a little more than a decade, it's expected to have three aircraft carriers, giving it more clout than ever in a region of contested seas and festering territorial disputes. Those numbers testify to huge increases in defense spending that have endowed China with the largest military budget behind the United States and fueled an increasingly large and sophisticated defense industry. While Beijing still lags far behind the U.S. in both funding and technology, its spending boom is attracting new scrutiny at a time of severe cuts in U.S. defense budgets that have some questioning Washington's commitments to its Asian allies, including some who have lingering disputes with China. By Christopher Bodeen. SENT: 870 words, photos.
BEIJING — For decades, members of the Chinese public with grievances against local governments have been traveling to Beijing in the time-honored tradition of appealing to the country's highest authorities. The practice will be banned after May 1 in most cases. By Didi Tang. SENT: 680 words.
BEIJING — A Chinese court releases a seized Japanese freight ship after owner Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. agreed to pay about $39 million to resolve a dispute dating back more than seven decades. SENT: 300 words.
SRINAGAR, India — Hundreds of Kashmiri protesters hurl rocks at polling stations in the disputed Himalayan territory and shout "Down with India!" on a major day of voting in the country's general election. Indian forces use tear gas and wooden batons to disperse the protesters, but there is no disruption in the voting, a police officer says. By Aijaz Hussain. SENT: 370 words, photos.
KARACHI, Pakistan — A bombing in southern Pakistan kills a police officer known for his anti-militant campaigns and three other people while army officials say the Pakistani air force carried out airstrikes against insurgents in a northwestern tribal region, killing 16 militants. By Adil Jawad. SENT: 460 words, photos.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australian officials say that after examining detailed photographs of unidentified material that washed ashore in the southwestern part of the country they are satisfied it is not a clue in the search for the missing Malaysian plane. By Rod McGuirk. SENT: 680 words, photo.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Firefly Airlines says one of its domestic flights was forced to turn back shortly after takeoff early Thursday due to landing gear problem. None of the 68 people on board were hurt. Firefly says the plane, a codeshare flight with its parent Malaysia Airlines, was unable to retract its landing gear shortly after leaving the Penang international airport. SENT: 130 words.
KATMANDU, Nepal —Nepal's attempts to salvage the Mount Everest climbing season fall flat as major expedition companies cancel their climbs and many Sherpas quit the mountain after an avalanche killed 16 of their fellow guides last week. By Binaj Gurubacharya. UPCOMING: 800 words by 1300 GMT, photos.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — A prestigious international school says it is cooperating with police in their investigation of alleged abuse of a 6-year-old student and was devastated upon learning of allegations against an American teacher who worked there a decade ago. SENT: 230 words.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Pirates pilfer diesel fuel from a Thai tanker off Malaysia's east coast, making two attacks in a week and raising concerns of a rising threat to shipping, a maritime watchdog says. SENT: 310 words.
HONG KONG-MILKSHAKE MURDER
HONG KONG — Hong Kong's top court rejects a final bid for an appeal by an American convicted of drugging her wealthy banker husband and bashing him to death. A three-judge panel at the Court of Final Appeal dismisses Nancy Kissel's application. SENT: 160 words.
NKOREA'S POP QUEENS
PYONGYANG, North Korea — Step aside, Sea of Blood Opera. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's favorite guitar-slinging, miniskirt-sporting girl group, the Moranbong Band, is back. And these ladies know how to shimmy. After a six-month hiatus, the queens of North Korea's pop scene are once again playing to standing-room-only crowds and rave reviews in the state media. They're the darlings of primetime TV, such as it is. By Eric Talmadge. SENT: 1,150 words, photos.
BUSINESS AND FINANCE:
BEIJING — China's government says it will open 80 projects in eight state-run industries to private and foreign investors as part of efforts to make its slowing economy more efficient. By Joe McDonald. SENT: 600 words.
NEW ZEALAND-INTEREST RATES
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — With its economy continuing to improve, New Zealand raises its benchmark interest rate for the second time in six weeks, to 3 percent. By Nick Perry. SENT: 400 words.
TOKYO — Bankruptcy proceedings begin for the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange, a move that was widely expected after the Tokyo District Court decided earlier this month that the company would not be able to resurrect itself. An administrator will try to sell its assets, but many creditors, including those who had bitcoins with the exchange, might not get their money back. SENT: 200 words.
TOKYO — Japanese camera and office equipment maker Canon Inc. reports a hefty 16 percent gain in profit for the first fiscal quarter, largely on a favorable exchange rate, but such strong growth isn't expected to hold up. By Yuri Kageyama. SENT: 330 words.
U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL:
TOKYO — President Barack Obama warns Russia that the United States has another round of economic sanctions "teed up" — even as he acknowledges those penalties may do little to change Vladimir Putin's calculus in Ukraine. Obama's frank pessimism underscores the limits of Washington's ability to stop Russia in the short-term from stirring up instability in Ukraine and seeking to influence the former Soviet republic's May election. By White House Correspondent Julie Pace. SENT: 710 words, photos, video, audio.
LOS ANGELES — The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes, but enhance scrutiny of such deals so they don't harm competition or limit free speech. By Ryan Nakashima. SENT: 510 words.
WASHINGTON — The captors of an American soldier held for five years in Afghanistan have signaled a willingness to release him but are unsure who in the U.S. government has the authority to make a deal, according to two individuals involved in seeking his release. Critics blame disorganization and poor communication among the numerous federal agencies involved. By Deb Riechmann. SENT: 1,100 words, photos.
ROME — Inside a chapel on the edges of Rome, a nun uses a key to open a wooden wall panel, revealing a hidden niche. Behind glass and stitched loosely to supporting backing hangs a relic of holy suffering: the bullet-pocked, bloodstained undershirt that John Paul II was wearing when a gunman shot him in the stomach in St. Peter's Square. It's one of the most remarkable of the endlessly surfacing relics of John Paul, who will be declared a saint on April 27 in the very same square where a Turkish would-be assassin shot him on May 13, 1981. By Frances D'Emilio. SENT: 1,290 words, photos.
— VATICAN-RELICS IN HISTORY — Saint's chin, liquefying blood: Religious relics tempt and fascinate throughout the ages. SENT: 580 words, photo.
PETAH TIKVA, Israel— When the Israeli women's soccer team Hapoel Petah Tikva lost a number of its players to Israel's national team ahead of World Cup qualifiers, founder Rafi Subra made a decision that sets the team apart from many of its rivals — he recruited from the Arab villages of northern Israel. For Hapoel Petah Tikva, the addition of five Arab-Israeli women has made waves in the league, as Arab-Israelis often face discrimination in Israel on and off the field. SENT: 420 words, photos.
MESA, Ariz. — Michael Phelps is returning to swimming after a 20-month retirement, easing back into the sport he once dominated by racing one of his best events. The 18-time Olympic gold medalist will swim the 100-meter butterfly at the Arena Grand Prix on Thursday, his first competition since retiring after the 2012 London Games. By Beth Harris. SENT: 570 words, photos, video.
ALSO GETTING ATTENTION
— CAMILLA'S BROTHER — The brother of Prince Charles' wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, has died after falling outside a hotel bar in New York. SENT: 320 words, photos.
— PEOPLE-JODIE FOSTER — Jodie Foster weds artist girlfriend Alexandra Hedison in weekend ceremony. SENT: 240 words, photos.
— CUBA-OBIT-OLDEST BALLPLAYER — Cuban hurler Conrado 'Connie' Marrero, oldest living former MLB player, dies at age 102. SENT: 750 words, photos.
— TEEN STOWAWAY-HAWAII — Teen stowaway said to be homesick for Africa, didn't realize jet took him to Maui. SENT: 680 words, photos, video.
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 email@example.com.
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.