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Briefly

- - Thursday, March 10, 2011

JAPAN

Foreign minister pledges to improve ties to China

TOKYO | Japan's new foreign minister pledged Thursday to reset strained relations with China and resolve diplomatic spats stemming from competing claims to islands in the East China Sea.

While he sought to strike a conciliatory note, Takeaki Matsumoto also renewed concerns about Beijing's expanding military and maritime activity in the region.

Mr. Matsumoto took office Wednesday after his former boss suddenly quit over a political donations sandal.

CHINA

24 dead as quake topples homes

BEIJING | An earthquake toppled more than 1,000 houses and apartment buildings in China's southwest near the border with Myanmar on Thursday, killing at least 24 people and injuring more than 200, officials and state media said.

Police, firefighters and soldiers rushed to the area to pull out people trapped in the rubble, including a man and girl stuck in the stairwell of a four-story building, according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that 24 people had been killed, including four students, citing the Yingjiang county government in Yunnan province. Another 207 people were injured, 33 of them in critical condition.

The website of the Chinese government earthquake monitoring station said the magnitude 5.8 quake was centered in Yingjiang and struck just before 1 p.m. at a depth of 6 miles. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at a magnitude of 5.4 and at a depth of 21 miles.

MACAU

Casino king Stanley Ho settles family feud

HONG KONG | Asian casino king Stanley Ho announced Thursday that he has dropped a lawsuit against some of his family members and settled an inheritance dispute over a stake in his Macau casino empire worth about $1.5 billion.

The high-stakes drama offered a glimpse into the private life of one of Hong Kong's wealthiest men and highlighted the ugly power struggle for control of Hong Kong-listed casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM).

A joint statement released by Mr. Ho and his family said the dispute had been "fully resolved" and an agreement reached.

MALAYSIA

Christians 'fed up' with Bible seizures

KUALA LUMPUR | The main Christian group in Muslim-majority Malaysia said Thursday it was "fed up" with the government's refusal to allow the distribution of tens of thousands of Bibles, saying this is an affront to religious freedoms.

The rare rebuke by the Christian Federation of Malaysia signals growing impatience among the religious minority in a years-old dispute over the government's ban on the use of the word "Allah" as a translation for God in Malay-language Bibles and religious texts.

The federation's chairman, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, said authorities are currently holding 30,000 Malay-language Bibles at a port on Borneo island.

This was one of the latest attempts by Christians to import such Bibles, mainly from Indonesia, but none has been successful since March 2009. There are no similar problems with English-language texts.

Christians were "greatly disillusioned, fed up and angered by the repeated detention of Bibles," the federation said in a statement. "It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic program against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible" in the Malay language.

PHILIPPINES

3 killed, 9 hurt in bomb blast

JOLO | Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants detonated a powerful bomb near a school on a southern Philippine island Thursday, killing at least three people and wounding nine others, officials said.

The homemade bomb went off shortly after a van of police special forces passed by, hitting instead pedestrians and motorists during rush hour on Jolo island in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu.

Police had increased security two days ago after receiving intelligence of a possible Abu Sayyaf attack, Jolo town Mayor Hussin Amin said.

The explosion killed three men and wounded at least nine others, including two who were undergoing surgery in a hospital. The blast dug a crater on the concrete road and damaged the metal roof of a nearby school, Mr. Amin said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports