Top Asian News 2:47 a.m. GMT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Saturday it has successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic rocket engine that will give it the ability to stage nuclear strikes on the United States. The engine's ground test, if true, would be a big step forward for the North's nuclear weapons program, which saw its fourth atomic test earlier this year. But the North may still need a good deal of work before it can hit the U.S. mainland with nuclear missiles. South Korean officials say North Korea doesn't yet have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile, let alone the ability to arm it with a nuclear warhead.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — More than 60 students in Myanmar have been released as part of a plan by the country's new de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to free all political prisoners. The release Friday in the central town of Tharrawaddy was covered by a general amnesty ahead of Myanmar's traditional New Year festival, often the occasion for prisoner releases. Photos from the scene showed some of the freed prisoners being presented with bouquets and garlands by well-wishers. Rights groups estimated that 100 political detainees remained in prison when a military-backed government was succeeded by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party late last month.

BEIJING (AP) — The United Nations has commended China's "continued strong leadership" for backing a landmark international agreement to curb climate change. Led this year by China, the Group of 20 rich and developing nations issued a statement earlier this week following a meeting in Guangzhou to back the Paris climate accord and pledge domestic measures to bring it to force as soon as possible. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "encouraged by the strong political momentum" behind the Paris Agreement, which will be signed at a ceremony at U.N. headquarters on April 22. Full cooperation from the G20 members, in particular the United States and China — the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter — are viewed as crucial for the agreement to be effective.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thirteen North Koreans working at the same restaurant in a foreign country have defected to South Korea, Seoul officials said Friday. People working in North Korean-operated restaurants overseas have previously defected, but this is the first time multiple workers have escaped from the same restaurant, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee told reporters in Seoul. North Korean defections are a bitter point of contention between the rival Koreas. Pyongyang usually accuses Seoul of enticing North Korean citizens to defect, something Seoul denies. Overseas North Korean workers are usually thought to be chosen largely because of their loyalty.

The recent defections of 13 employees of an overseas North Korean-operated restaurant are the first by multiple workers at one restaurant, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry. A look at North Korea's foreign restaurants: — THE PROCEEDS: North Korea runs about 130 restaurants overseas that generate more than $100 million in vital foreign currency annually, according to South Korean intelligence estimates. Most are in China, but others are in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Their income comes in part from the menu featuring $20 sushi platters, $10 dog meat stews and steaks priced by weight. But the workers also aggressively push domestic products like Daedongjiang beer ($6 a bottle), Daedongjiang cigarettes ($5 a pack), and collectible stamp books ($100 each).

WASHINGTON (AP) — The proposed placement of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea is "going to happen" despite Chinese opposition, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday. Washington and Seoul began talks last month on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system to combat the threat of North Korean missiles, following a recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch by Pyongyang. Carter was speaking on U.S. defense policy toward the Asia-Pacific ahead of a trip to India and the Philippines. He was asked if the THAAD deployment was going to happen. "It's going to happen," Carter told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

CATO, Philippines (AP) — As Asian countries jostle for territory in the South China Sea, one Filipino fisherman is taking a stand. He has faced down Chinese coast guard rifles, and even engaged in a stone-throwing duel with the Chinese last month that shattered two windows on his outrigger. "They'll say, 'Out, out of Scarborough,'" Renato Etac says, referring to Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcropping claimed by both the Philippines and China. He yells back, "Where is the document that shows Scarborough is Chinese property?" At one level, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are a battle of wills between American and Chinese battleships and planes.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — When the spokesman for an Afghan government ministry was asked why he wasn't answering his phone, he said he was on strike as he hadn't been paid for nine months. One official responsible for monitoring corruption resigned after a year, saying he was being ordered to bend the rules for the associates of senior politicians. Some officials have resorted to social media to embarrass the government of President Ashraf Ghani. The former head of Afghanistan's spy agency, Rahmatullah Nabil, announced his resignation via a Facebook post in December. Weeks earlier, an official in Helmand warned on the social networking site that Taliban militants were poised to overrun part of the province.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Abu Sayyaf militants freed a former Italian missionary on Friday after six months of captivity in a southern Philippine jungle, military officials said. Philippine troops and police found Rolando del Torchio on a ferry boat at Jolo port in Sulu province and took him to a military clinic for examination because of his poor health, a military report said. It was not immediately clear how he got to the boat, which was bound for Zamboanga city, where he could have taken a ride back to his home in Dipolog city. In Rome, the Italian foreign ministry thanked the Philippine government for its "excellent cooperation and commitment, which allowed the release" of del Torchio, but did not elaborate.

NEW DELHI (AP) — When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in India on what's being called their most ambitious tour to date, they'll encounter starry-eyed giddiness along with a hint of nostalgia harkening to a 1992 visit by Princess Diana. Prince William's mother created a firestorm of attention when she posed alone in front of the Taj Mahal, the marble mausoleum known as a monument to love because it was built by a Mughal emperor to entomb his beloved wife. Newspaper headlines crowed suggestions that Diana was delivering a hidden message about the end of her marriage to Prince Charles.

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