Top Asian News 3:56 a.m. GMT

BEIJING (AP) — Authorities in northern China's coal country have demolished a well-known Christian mega-church, underscoring long-standing tensions between religious groups and the officially atheistic Communist Party. Witnesses and overseas activists say paramilitary People's Armed Police forces used excavators and dynamite on Tuesday to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province. ChinaAid, a U.S.-based Christian advocacy group, said local authorities planted explosives in an underground worship hall to demolish the building, which was built with nearly $3 million in contributions from local worshippers in one of China's poorest regions. The church, with a congregation of more than 50,000, has long clashed with the government.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin says North Korea's Kim Jong Un has shown himself to be a mature leader who is interested in calming down the tensions over its nuclear and long-range missile programs. Meeting with top Russian media figures on Thursday, Putin said Kim "is an absolutely competent and already mature politician" who has "solved his strategic task — he has a nuclear warhead and a global-range missile." Now, in Putin's view, Kim is "cleaning up the situation, smoothing it, calming it." Kim and President Donald Trump have engaged in an increasingly sharp war of words as North Korea's weapons programs advance, each of them belittling the other.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has found good material to attack U.S. President Donald Trump: Michael Wolff's bombshell new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House." The book paints Trump as a leader who doesn't understand the weight of his office and whose competence is questioned by aides. Trump and other White House aides have blasted it as inaccurate trash. But it was the top-selling book in the U.S. last week, and its numbers are likely to grow far higher. On Thursday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, run by its ruling Workers' Party, carried an article about the book's subject matter, how Trump reacted and why it is selling so well.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Several earthquakes caused some panic in Myanmar's largest city early Friday, but no serious injuries or major damage has yet been reported. Residents said their six-story building shook three times, with the strongest quake lasting at least a minute. "We were sleeping, but as the building was shaking pretty strong, we all woke up in a panic," Yangon resident Swe Swe Myint said. The U.S. Geological Survey said the first quake just before 1 a.m. was magnitude-6.0 and had a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). The epicenter was about 27 kilometers (17 miles) southwest of Phyu township, about 172 kilometers (107 miles) north of Yangon.

TOKYO (AP) — About 430 people were stuck on a train overnight in Japan because of heavy snow that blanketed much of the country's Japan Sea coast, a railway official said Friday. The train started moving again shortly before 10:30 a.m., about 15 hours after it had been forced to stop the previous evening, said Shinichi Seki, a spokesman for the Niigata branch of JR East railway company. The four-car train departed Niigata city in heavy snow Thursday at 4:25 p.m., more than an hour behind schedule, Seki said. As the snow accumulated, the train's wheels couldn't turn anymore, and it stopped between stations about 7 p.m.

BEIJING (AP) — China's plan for a modern Silk Road of railways, ports and other facilities linking Asia with Europe hit a $14 billion pothole in Pakistan. Pakistan's relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their "Iron Brother." Despite that, plans for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were thrown into turmoil in November when the chairman of Pakistan's water authority said Beijing wanted an ownership stake in the hydropower project. He rejected that as against Pakistani interests. China issued a denial but the official withdrew the dam from among dozens of projects being jointly developed by the two countries. From Pakistan to Tanzania to Hungary, projects under President Xi Jinping's signature "Belt and Road Initiative" are being canceled, renegotiated or delayed due to disputes about costs or complaints host countries get too little out of projects built by Chinese companies and financed by loans from Beijing that must be repaid.

NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian airline has fired two pilots reportedly involved in a midair cockpit fight on New Year's Day, when the pilot allegedly slapped his co-pilot during a London to Mumbai flight. After an investigation, Jet Airways "has terminated services of both the cockpit crew with immediate effect," the airline said in a statement Tuesday. The company has released no further details. Indian media reports have said that the male pilot and the female co-pilot argued in the cockpit. After being slapped, the co-pilot reportedly emerged crying from the cockpit and for a time refused to return. Airline officials did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump suggested in an interview Thursday that he has developed a positive relationship with the North Korean leader, but declined to say whether they have spoken. No sitting U.S. president is known to have spoken with a North Korean leader. The two nations have remained in a state of war and without diplomatic relations since the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty. "I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un," Trump told The Wall Street Journal. "I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised." Asked if he had spoken with Kim, Trump was evasive: "I'm not saying I have or haven't.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The president of the U.N. Security Council said Thursday that members are considering a visit to Afghanistan to show solidarity with the Afghan people, meet government officials and see firsthand the situation in the war-torn country. Kazakhstan Ambassador Kairat Umarov, who holds the council's rotating presidency this month, said the body hasn't been to Afghanistan for seven years and a trip would give members the opportunity to get an understanding of the country's needs and prospects. He told reporters he hopes to lead a council mission but wouldn't discuss the timing. U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's briefed council members Tuesday on Afghanistan and Umarov called it "a very good and timely event." Russia's U.N.

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police said they have arrested a 74-year-old fugitive Japanese gang member who was recognized when photos of his full-body tattoos were circulated online. A police statement said Shigeharu Shirai was arrested Wednesday in a province north of Bangkok where he has been hiding for over 10 years to evade murder charges in Japan in connection with the death of a rival gang member. His arrest apparently came after photos of him sitting around a checkers table were posted on Facebook in August last year by a Thai who was impressed by the man's tattoos. The post was shared over 10,000 times and some users identified the former gang member.

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