Top Asian News at 9:30 a.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.

SUVA, Fiji (AP) — Forty-four Fijian soldiers working as U.N. peacekeepers remained captive to a militant group in Syria Friday while 75 Philippine soldiers were in tense standoff with the rebels, according to the two Pacific nations. Both nations remained hopeful the impasse could be resolved without bloodshed.

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.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A massive audit of Afghanistan's disputed presidential election won't be done until around Sept. 10, the U.N. said Thursday, quashing hopes the new president would be determined before an upcoming NATO summit. The U.N. has been helping supervise an audit of eight million ballots to see who will succeed President Hamid Karzai, with the goal that the new president would be inaugurated by the end of August. But the audit has become increasingly contentious, which has slowed down the process.

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.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar beauty queen who was stripped of her title for allegedly being rude and dishonest has run off with the $100,000 jeweled crown, a South Korea-based pageant said Friday. Myanmar, which only recently emerged from a half-century military rule and self-imposed isolation, started sending contestants to international beauty pageants for the first time in decades in 2012.

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's vital signs remained weak in July as wages fell further and household spending dropped, signaling continued weakness in the world's third-largest economy. Data released Friday showed the inflation rate was unchanged from the previous month. The core price consumer index that excludes volatile fresh food prices rose 3.3 percent in July, the same as a month earlier. Much of the increase stems from a 2 percentage point increase in Japan's sales tax in April, which has since sapped much of the steam from the country's economic recovery.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Several communities were evacuated and some international flights were diverted Friday after a volcanic eruption on Papua New Guinea. Authorities in the South Pacific nation had evacuated communities close to Mount Tavurvur which erupted early Friday in Rabaul district on New Britain Island, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

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.

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.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The first Myanmar national to win an international pageant has been stripped of her title for being rude and dishonest, and has allegedly run off with the expensive crown and breast implants. Her picture was blacked out on the organization's website and replaced with the word "dethroned"

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Shortly after the missing Malaysian airliner disappeared from radar, airline officials on the ground tried repeatedly to call the crew of the Boeing 777 using a satellite phone that might have left clues to the jet's flight path. Now an analysis of those failed attempts to reach Flight 370 could alter the search for the plane.

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's prime minister has denied asking the country's military chief to mediate with opposition leaders and protesters who have camped outside parliament in Islamabad for two weeks, demanding his resignation over alleged voting fraud. Nawaz Sharif's remarks to the National Assembly on Friday indicate that the negotiations — with or without army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif's mediation — were unlikely to produce a breakthrough in the crisis.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — For more than 30 years, chef and restaurant owner Oh Keum-il built her expertise in cooking one traditional South Korean delicacy: dog meat. In her twenties, Oh traveled around South Korea to learn dog meat recipes from each region. During a period of South Korean reconciliation with North Korea early last decade, she went to Pyongyang as part of a business delegation and tasted a dozen different dog dishes, from dog stew to dog taffy, all served lavishly at the Koryo, one of the North's best hotels.

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