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In brief

Saturday, October 05, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

Obama's Asia no-show is boost for China

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's decision to scrap his Asia trip is a setback for his much-advertised pledge to shift the focus of foreign policy to the Pacific and a boost for China's attempt to gain influence in the region.

By staying home because of the partial government shutdown, Obama hands new Chinese leader Xi Jinping a chance to fill the void at two Asian summits Obama had planned to attend. It's the third time since 2010 that Obama has cancelled an Asia trip, all because of domestic political crises.

Washington's budget crisis has reached the point where the White House felt compelled to skip Asia, giving Obama room to work with Congress on reopening the government. Had Obama left to attend the meetings, it would have given weight to critics who have said he's more willing to negotiate with foreign leaders than the speaker of the House.

Secretary of State John Kerry will represent him at the summits in Indonesia and Brunei.

Budget strains had already put a damper on the Pentagon's push to assert itself in the Pacific, and administration officials had begun casting the shift in policy more in terms of expanding diplomatic efforts, creating more trade and economic ties and just showing up in Asia more often.

Migrants' voices taken for seagulls

LAMPEDUSA, Italy (AP) -- The friends were heading out on a fishing trip, when one heard voices from the sea.

Don't be silly, Vito Fiorino told him -- it's only the seagulls' early morning song. Then, about 500 yards (meters) from shore, he saw heads bobbing in the water.

Dozens of Africans were floating, too weak to grab a life preserver and so slippery from gasoline that it was hard to pull them on board. Some grasped empty water bottles to stay afloat.

"It was a scene from a film, something you hope never to see in life," he told The Associated Press. "They were exhausted. When I threw the lifesaver, they had a hard time doing two strokes to reach it."

Fiorino says he and his friends were the first to reach the fiery wreck around 7 a.m. Thursday, sounding the alarm and saving 47 people before the Coast Guard and other vessels arrived to help, eventually rescuing a total of 155 people. The migrants told Fiorino they had been in the water for three hours.

Man sets himself on fire on National Mall

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A man set himself on fire on the National Mall in the nation's capital as passers-by rushed over to help douse the flames, officials and witnesses said Friday afternoon.

The reason for the self-immolation was not immediately clear and the man's identity was not disclosed. But it occurred in public view, on a central national gathering place, in a city still rattled by a mass shooting last month and a high-speed car chase outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday that ended with a woman being shot dead by police.

The man on the Mall suffered life-threatening injuries and was airlifted to the hospital, said District of Columbia fire department spokesman Tim Wilson.

He was standing by himself in the center portion of the Mall when he emptied the contents of a red gasoline can on himself and set himself on fire moments later, said Katy Scheflen, who witnessed it as she walked across the area. Police say they responded around 4:20 p.m. Friday.

Scheflen said passing joggers took off their shirts in an effort to help douse the flames, and the man was clearly alive as the fire spread. A police department spokesman said he was conscious and breathing at the scene. MedStar Washington Hospital Center tweeted that the man was taken there and he was in critical condition.

Vietnam Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap dies at 102

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant and ruthless commander who led the outgunned Vietnamese to victory first over the French and then the Americans, died Friday. The last of the country's old-guard revolutionaries was 102.

A national hero, Giap enjoyed a legacy second only to that of his mentor, founding president and independence leader Ho Chi Minh.

Giap died in a military hospital in the capital of Hanoi, where he had spent nearly four years because of illnesses, according to a government official and a person close to him. Both spoke on condition of anonymity before the death was announced in state-controlled media.

Known as the "Red Napoleon," Giap commanded guerrillas who wore sandals made of car tires and lugged artillery piece by piece over mountains to encircle and crush the French army at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The unlikely victory -- still studied at military schools -- led to Vietnam's independence and hastened the collapse of colonialism across Indochina and beyond.

Giap then defeated the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in April 1975, reuniting a country that had been split into communist and noncommunist states. He regularly accepted heavy combat losses to achieve his goals.

     

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