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.
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government began releasing political prisoners on Friday under a plan announced by the country's new de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar media reported that more than 60 students arrested a year ago during a protest over education reforms were released by a court in the central town of Tharrawaddy. The releases were part of a general amnesty that also covered other convicts ahead of Myanmar's traditional New Year festival, often the occasion for prisoner releases. Photos from the scene showed some of the released 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.
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.
TOKYO (AP) _ Next week, Secretary of State John Kerry will become the highest-ranking American government official to visit Hiroshima, where 140,000 Japanese died from the first of two atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. in the closing days of World War II more than 70 years ago. Kerry and other Group of Seven foreign ministers are scheduled to visit Hiroshima Peace Park on Monday and lay flowers to honor the dead. At least in Japan, the event will likely overshadow the rest of the foreign ministers' annual two-day meeting, where terrorism, maritime security and nuclear non-proliferation will be discussed.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities have released the pastor of the country's largest Protestant mega-church after he was detained for more than two months following protests against the government's removal of crosses from churches, a church worker said Friday. Despite gaining his freedom, Joseph Gu Yuese has been confined to his home since his March 31 release and barred from meeting or communicating with others without permission, according to a U.S.-based Christian group. Gu was formally arrested on Feb. 6 on embezzlement charges that supporters said were invented to punish him for public opposing a campaign by officials in the eastern province of Zhejiang to forcibly remove hundreds of rooftop crosses from churches.