Top Asian News at 2:30 p.m. GMT

Associated Press

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — The investigation into South Korea's ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead. Police said a high school vice principal who had been rescued from the ferry was found hanging Friday from a pine tree on Jindo, an island near the sunken ship where survivors have been housed. He was the leader of a group of 323 students traveling on the ship on a school excursion, and said in a suicide note that he felt guilty for being alive while more than 200 of his students were missing.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Following is the transcript released by the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries of the conversation between Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center (VTS) on Jeju Island and The Sewol, the ferry that sank on Wednesday. The original transcript is in Korean and the translation was done by The Associated Press. It starts off form the first distress call made by the ferry: Radio conversation on VHF (very high frequency) Channel 12

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving four missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. Several more were injured. The Sherpa guides had gone early in the morning to fix ropes for other climbers when the avalanche hit them at about 6:30 a.m., Nepal Tourism Ministry official Krishna Lamsal said from the base camp where he is monitoring rescue efforts.

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Six weeks into the extensive search for the lost Malaysia Airlines plane without so much as a piece of debris yet found, several Chinese relatives met Friday to pray for spouses who never came home, while begging for answers that could end their misery of not knowing. Candles burned on a table in the shape of a heart with the letters MH370 in the middle while about three dozen relatives held a prayer service at a hotel ballroom in Beijing where they have been meeting since the Boeing 777 mysteriously vanished. A banner behind them read in Chinese: "Husband, wife, come home soon."

TOKYO (AP) — Japan will target fewer whales when its Pacific hunt begins next week and will observe them in the Antarctic next season with the aim of resuming full-fledged commercial whaling, the fisheries minister said Friday. The announcement underscored that Japan hasn't abandoned its plans to continue whaling in both oceans for research purposes, an allowed exception to a global ban on commercial whaling. Last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to suspend its Antarctic program because it was virtually commercial, not scientific as Japan had contended.

BEIJING (AP) — Faced with growing public anger about a poisonous environment, China's government released a yearslong study that shows nearly one-fifth of the country's farmland is contaminated with toxic metals, a stunning indictment of unfettered industrialization under the Communist Party's authoritarian rule. The report, previously deemed so sensitive it was classified as a state secret, names the heavy metals cadmium, nickel and arsenic as the top contaminants.

SAN PEDRO CUTUD, Philippines (AP) — Devotees in northern Philippine villages had themselves nailed to wooded crosses to re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as thousands of local and foreign spectators watched the bloody annual rites to mark Good Friday in Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation. Church leaders and health officials have spoken against the practice, which mixes Roman Catholic devotion with folk belief, but the annual rites continue to draw participants and huge crowds, particularly in northern Pampanga province.

KUPANG, Indonesia (AP) — A boat loaded with people in a Good Friday procession capsized in high waves off eastern Indonesia, leaving dozens of people missing and at least seven dead, police said. Rescuers and fishermen saved 30 injured people who were rushed to a hospital, local police spokesman Lt. Col. Okto Riwu said. The fishing boat was designed to hold only 30 people but had more than 70 aboard.

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Chinese man who was being repatriated from Vietnam along with 15 other migrants seized a gun from a border guard on Friday, triggering a gunfight and standoff in which five Chinese and two Vietnamese guards died, Vietnam's government said. Vietnamese authorities detained the 16 Chinese — 10 men, four women and two children — after they entered the country illegally in Quang Ninh province, the regional government said in a statement.

HAT YAI, Thailand (AP) — A suspected insurgent and his 6-year-old son were shot dead in Thailand's violence-plagued south, police said Friday. The man and his son were attacked at a rubber plantation in Bannang Sata distict in Yala province on Thursday, police Col. Chartchai Chanasit said.

ANSAN, South Korea (AP) — The most poignant reminders of what's been lost here are the most ordinary. Desks in the classrooms of Danwon High School in Ansan, where dozens of students were missing and feared dead Thursday after a ferry disaster, are cluttered with textbooks, gym clothes, empty water bottles — small bits of ordinary school life now infused with heartbreak.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is sending condolences to victims of a South Korean ferry disaster and says he will pay tribute during a visit to the country next week. Obama said at a White House news conference Thursday that the United States has an "unwavering commitment" to its ally South Korea in good times and bad. He says he will underscore that when he is in the country for a previously planned trip.

SYDNEY (AP) — Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate, have enjoyed a sheep-shearing demonstration and greeted crowds of flower-bearing fans at an agricultural fair in Sydney. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent Friday morning at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, an annual fair that brings country life to the city with animals, rides and wood-chopping competitions.

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — Coast guard officials say divers have begun pumping air into a submerged South Korean ship 48 hours after it listed and sank. But it wasn't immediately clear if the air was for survivors or for a salvage operation. Strong currents and bad weather have so far prevented divers from searching for more than 270 people missing since the ferry listed and sank on Wednesday. Officials said Friday in a statement that divers were still trying to enter the ship.

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