BEIJING -- The presidents of China and Taiwan will meet this weekend for the first time since civil war divided their lands 66 years ago, a highly symbolic move that reflects quickly improving relations between the formerly bitter Cold War foes. The meeting Saturday in Singapore between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Taiwanese counterpart, Ma Ying-jeou, could be China's last chance to press its case for closer economic and political ties before Taiwan elections in January that may put the brakes on Ma's pro-China initiatives. By Christopher Bodeen and Ralph Jennings. SENT: 800 words, photos.
BEIJING -- Taiwan is an economically dynamic, self-ruling democracy of 23.5 million people, but it has struggled for decades with diplomatic isolation and a conflicted identity that makes it not quite a sovereign nation. UPCOMING by 0830GMT.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Divisions within Asia over China's claims in the disputed South China Sea spilled over to a meeting of U.S. and Asian defense ministers, where China insisted the group make no public mention of the waterway in a joint declaration intended as a public display of unity. By Robert Burns and Eileen Ng. SENT: 600 words.
LONDON -- North Korea says the United States needs to end its "nuclear blackmail" and respond to Pyongyang's recent diplomatic overture to formally end the decades-old Korean conflict. Fighting ended in 1953 without a peace treaty, leaving North and South Korea still technically still at war. SENT: 440 words.
MANILA, Philippines -- Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen are demanding more than $60 million for two Canadians and a Norwegian they are holding in the jungles of the southern Philippines in the largest ransom the Muslim militants have sought for their hostages in years. By Jim Gomez. SENT: 460 words.
BALI, Indonesia -- Thousands of tourists are stranded on two Indonesian islands after ash from the Mount Rinjani volcano forced the closure of two airports and blanketed villages and farmlands. Mount Rinjani on Lombok Island blasted ash and debris 3,500 meters (11,480 feet) into the air. SENT: 260 words.
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A strong earthquake struck off eastern Indonesia, causing people to flee their homes in panic, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, and authorities said there was no threat of a tsunami. SENT: 220 words.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Cambodian police have arrested three men suspected of beating up two opposition lawmakers during an assault outside of the National Assembly last week. SENT: 330 words.
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan's rituals range from the bizarre to the brutal. The Central Asian nation has more marble buildings than anywhere and recently erected a seven-story, golden statue of its president on horseback, while human rights groups say it employs electric shocks, rape and forced intake of psychotropic drugs as torture techniques. Yet for all the mockery and criticism, Turkmenistan also is rich in gas reserves and relatively stable. And positioned just north of Afghanistan and Iran, it has made itself a valuable partner for the United States in a dangerous part of the world. By Bradley Klapper.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- As a recent high school graduate from a middle-class Kabul family, Mohammed Fahim Aazar has the means to go to college and pursue a profession in Afghanistan, but instead he's acquired a $5,600 visa and a plane ticket to Turkey, where he will embark on the migrant trail to Europe. The 19-year-old said he has had enough of his country's never-ending wars and dismal job prospects. "Every day there is another suicide attack, and when a person leaves his house he cannot be sure he will make it back alive." By Lynne O'Donnell. SENT.
TOKYO -- Shares of Japan Post jumped nearly 17 percent Wednesday in the first day of trading after the company and its banking and insurance units raised a combined 1.44 trillion yen ($11.9 billion) in the world's biggest initial public offering this year. The long awaited sale of shares in the state-owned company is the biggest since Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holdings raised $25 billion in its IPO in September 2014. By Elaine Kurtenbach. SENT.
SEOUL, South Korea -- Hyundai Motor Co. said it has launched a premium car brand named after its Genesis sedan to boost earnings and its share of the fast-growing global market for luxury vehicles. By Youkyung Lee. SENT: 250 words.
HONG KONG -- Britain has agreed to return 28.7 million pounds ($44.3 million) to Macau that was confiscated from a government official convicted in the Chinese enclave's biggest corruption case. SENT: 220 words.
HOW TO REACH US: 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 email@example.com. The Asia Photo Desk can be reached at (81-3) 6215-8941. Between 1600 GMT and 0000 GMT, please refer queries to the North America Desk in New York at (1) 212-621-1650.
Expanded AP content can be obtained from http://www.apexchange.com. For access to AP Exchange and other technical issues, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (1) 877-836-9477.