Top Asian News 8:47 p.m. GMT

Top Asian News 8:47 p.m. GMT

BEIJING (AP) — China's campaign of island building in the South China Sea might shortly quadruple the number of airstrips available to the People's Liberation Army in the highly contested & strategically vital region. That could be offensive news for other regional contenders, especially the U.S., the Philippines & Vietnam. The island construction work that is creating vast amounts of new acreage by piling sand on top of coral reefs is now moving into the construction stage, with buildings, harbors and, most importantly, runways appearing in recent months. China now operates one airfield at Woody Island in the Paracel island chain, & satellite photos show what appears to be work on two, possibly three, additional airstrips on newly built islands in the Spratly archipelago to the east.

NEW DELHI (AP) — The top security officials from India & Pakistan held talks in Thailand's capital on Sunday, signaling a resumption of the rival countries' on-again, off-again peace dialogue. The South Asian neighbors' national security advisers discussed issues including peace & security, terrorism, the disputed region of Kashmir & ways to maintain peace along the countries' shared border, according to a joint statement issued in New Delhi & Islamabad. The meeting, which moreover included the nations' foreign secretaries, marks a thaw in the recent frostiness that had crept into bilateral relations. Talks between the two national security advisers were called off in August after the sides disagreed on the agenda for discussions.

SURAT, India (AP) — With the brides dressed in traditional red & gold embroidered saris & the grooms wearing long tunics & turbans, 151 young couples tied the knot at a mass wedding in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Sunday. The nuptials were hosted by Mahesh Savani, an Indian diamond trader who has been paying for the weddings of fatherless women in the city of Surat for several years. "Only someone who has lost her father can understand how much a girl needs her dad on her wedding day," said Vimla Koringa, 27, as she waited for her wedding ceremony to begin.

p>JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A commuter train slammed into a passenger minibus Sunday at a railroad crossing in Indonesia's capital, killing at least 18 people & seriously injuring six others. The bus driver allegedly ignored the warning signals when he crossed the rail tracks & was rammed by the train in western Jakarta, said Wirdhanto, the police chief in the neighborhood of Tambora. Like many Indonesians, Wirdhanto uses only one name. All of those who were killed were traveling in the minibus. No one aboard the train was injured. The shattered bus was seen lying on the tracks after it was dragged by the train up to a nearby platform, approximately 300 meters (yards) from the collision site.

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian authorities were investigating possible negligence after 18 hospital patients died when rainwaters from massive floods in southern Tamil Nadu state knocked out generators & switched off ventilators. The patients were in the intensive care unit at MIOT International hospital in the state capital of Chennai when floodwaters seeped into the room with the generators, cutting off power to the building & the ventilators earlier this week, state Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan said Saturday. The worst flooding in a century in Tamil Nadu has left more than 280 people dead since November. In the latest deluge this week, authorities turned off power in some areas to prevent electrocutions that were blamed for several deaths.

BANGKOK (AP) — The people of Thailand on Saturday marked the 88th birthday of their king, the world's longest-reigning monarch, yet with their once-vigorous leader in a hospital & unseen in public for three months, the celebrations were the most subdued in memory. King Bhumibol Adulyadej looked frail on his last appearance before the general public on Sept. 1, when he was taken on a brief tour of the Bangkok hospital where he has spent most of the last six years. His most recent ailment was a lung infection that required him to be fed intravenously & use a machine to aid his breathing.

SAN BERNARDINO, California (AP) — Investigators are looking into whether Tashfeen Malik radicalized her American-born husband & was the driving force in the San Bernardino shooting plot, two officials said Sunday. That possibility emerged last week when it was disclosed that the Pakistani-born Malik had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a Facebook post at approximately the same time she & husband Syed Farook launched the attack Wednesday that left 14 people dead at a holiday luncheon. Meanwhile, memorials for the victims received underway Sunday, & President Barack Obama prepared to deliver a prime-time address to the nation on security & terrorism.

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Shiva Parwar has been camping on the pavement for five days, waiting in line for cooking gas. There are 521 gas cylinders ahead of his, & not even the dealer knows when more fuel will arrive, thanks to a two-month-long border blockade that shows no sign of ending. "I sent my wife & child back to our village home because we don't have the gas to cook," said Parwar, whose roadside candy stall is shuttered while he waits. "I have been eating in restaurants with borrowed money yet that too has run out. I have no option yet to wait in line."

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor has released a rare audio recording in which he denies claims by an Afghan official that he was wounded in a shootout during a meeting with other commanders in Pakistan last week. In a 17-minute audio recording sent to media by the Taliban late Saturday, Mansoor dismissed what he called "baseless claims" that were "part of the agenda of the enemy." The Taliban had earlier sent The Associated Press a two-minute version of the recording. The voice resembled that in previous recordings issued by Mansoor, who succeeded longtime Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar after his death was announced last summer.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thousands of South Koreans, many wearing masks, marched in Seoul on Saturday against conservative President Park Geun-hye, who had compared masked protesters to terrorists after clashes with police broke out at a rally last month. The march Saturday was organized by labor, farmer & civic groups to protest what they say are setbacks in labor conditions & personal & political freedoms under Park's government. About 14,000 people turned out for the demonstration, police said. Police had initially placed a ban on the march for public safety reasons. But after reviewing a complaint submitted by organizers, a court threw out the ban on Thursday, saying it was an infringement on the protesters' rights to assemble.

Source: “Associated Press”