Top Asian News at 11:30 p.m. GMT

Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's simmering summer of discontent gets even hotter Sunday when Beijing is expected to recommend restricting the first direct elections for the Chinese-controlled financial hub's leader, stepping up chances of a showdown with democracy groups. The former British colony, which was handed back to China in 1997, has been the scene of escalating tension for the past year after activists threatened a mass sit-in paralyzing the financial district if Beijing rules out genuine democratic reforms.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia Airlines will cut 6,000 workers as part of a $1.9 billion overhaul announced Friday to revive its damaged brand after being hit by double passenger jet disasters. The staff reduction represents about 30 percent of its current workforce of 20,000. A search for a new CEO is underway but there is no move to change the airline's name, which some branding experts had said was necessary for a successful makeover.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The plight of dozens of U.N. peacekeepers in Syria remained "very, very fluid" Friday, the secretary-general's spokesman said, as talks aimed at their release stretched into a second day. Some radio contact has been made with the 72 peacekeepers from the Philippines who have been restricted to their positions, Stephane Dujarric told reporters. Another 44 peacekeepers from Fiji remain detained.

HONOLULU (AP) — China should act like a regional leader and help resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea without coercion instead of raising tensions, the head of American forces in Asia and the Pacific said Thursday. Adm. Samuel Locklear said China should reverse recent actions that assert its claim to virtually the entire strategically important region, calling them provocative and disruptive. He urged Beijing to refer its claims instead to international legal forums.

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Defense Ministry on Friday requested money for F-35 stealth fighter jets as part of its biggest-ever budget to bolster its ability to defend remote southern islands, including ones also claimed by an increasingly assertive China. Plans to buy P-1 surveillance aircraft and "Global Hawk" drones, as well as an Aegis radar-equipped destroyer, are also part of the 5 trillion yen ($48 billion) budget for the year beginning in April 2015, a 3.5 percent increase from the current year.

TOKYO (AP) — Japan and India both have much to gain from a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and more than a dozen Indian steel, energy and IT tycoons that begins Saturday in the ancient capital of Kyoto. The two countries have complementary economies, given Japan's wealth and technological prowess and India's natural resources and drive to modernize its economy.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The hidden gunman, dressed in long green coveralls and a SWAT-team-style vest and helmet, looks ominous as he takes aim and fires off a short burst. But this isn't a Taliban attack in the heart of Afghanistan's capital — it's just a friendly game of paintball.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Friday it won't send cheerleaders to the upcoming Asian Games in rival South Korea, blaming what it called Seoul's hostility for reversing a decision to dispatch the women dubbed by South Korean media as a "squad of beauties." Many South Koreans were infatuated in past years with the cheer squads of mostly young North Korean women that came south, often lavishing more attention on them than on the North's athletes. Before her marriage, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's wife was on a 2005 squad. Analysts say the North's decision suggests that the country may not continue an earlier push to improve ties with South Korea.

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Former NFL player Bob "The Beast" Sapp and a group of brawny pro wrestlers led by a Japanese politician took their oddball attempt at sports diplomacy to the streets of Pyongyang on Friday, staging a tug-of-war and arm wrestling competition with local children before a large and somewhat bewildered crowd of spectators. Sapp, who briefly played lineman for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears before hitting it big in the ring in Japan, is in North Korea with about 20 other pro wrestlers for an exhibition this weekend. The show will be the first sports event featuring celebrity foreigners since former NBA star Dennis Rodman played a basketball game for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's birthday in January.

In this photo by Koji Sasahara, people walk across the scramble crossing outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo on Friday afternoon. The Shibuya district is popular with young people and tourists and is known for entertainment and nightlife as well as high-tech ventures.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's first international beauty queen has absconded with her $100,000 crown after being stripped of her title for being rude and dishonest, organizers said Friday. May Myat Noe's photograph was blacked out on the Miss Asia Pacific World website, the word "dethroned" stamped alongside her name.

BEIJING (AP) — China showed off the growing sophistication of its defense industries Friday by featuring its newest attack helicopters and main battle tanks at a multinational live-firing military exercise in the country's north. State media said the new hardware performed to expectations in the "Peace Mission-2014" drill featuring more than 7,000 personnel from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

BEIJING (AP) — A Taiwanese actor arrested on drug charges along with the son of Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan was released Friday after two weeks in detention, amid a broad anti-drug crackdown in China's capital that has ensnared several celebrities. Kai Ko emerged from a Beijing detention center before dawn and into a scrum of reporters from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Followed to his hotel by the press pack, a visibly agitated Ko challenged one reporter to a fight before retreating inside an elevator.

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (AP) — A rising number of people are traipsing through U.S. national forests, state parks, and even private property to hunt ginseng, threatening the survival of a plant in high demand in Asia. Authorities are trying to crackdown, sentencing one poacher to more than five months in prison this week.

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