World news briefs: 3/22/14

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Nations join search for jet

SYDNEY -- China, Japan and Britain will join the search for signs of the missing Malaysia Airlines airliner far off Australia's west coast, where Australian aircraft used human spotters Friday to scan a remote expanse of ocean for floating debris that might be wreckage from the airliner. They found none.

The expansion of the multinational operation in the southern Indian Ocean illustrated how the bleak search for the missing jet has partly dampened regional tensions. China and Japan are locked in a dispute over islands in the East China Sea, but their forces will work in coordination with a sophisticated U.S. Navy surveillance plane and Australian military P-3 Orion planes and vessels.

Two days of searching the ocean 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, the capital of Western Australia, have brought no sightings of possible debris from the plane.

Cmdr. William J. Marks, the spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, said in an email that a Navy P-8A Poseidon search plane was set to spend three hours over the search area Friday, as it had Thursday.

Michelle's soft diplomacy

BEIJING -- On the heels of a meeting here with China's president and his wife, Michelle Obama today will discuss the importance of the free exchange of ideas on the Internet, gently rebuking China by comparing its practices to those in the United States.

The U.S. first lady also will broach the issue of censorship from a personal vantage point -- discussing the criticism that surfaces about herself and her husband as part of the robust public dialogue in the United States, aides said.

The planned remarks at Peking University illustrate Ms. Obama's decidedly soft-diplomacy approach during her weeklong trip to China, sending gentle messages on a few thorny issues while avoiding any hint of lecturing.

Thailand election nullified

BANGKOK -- Thailand's constitutional court Friday nullified the Feb. 2 election won by supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra amid an opposition boycott, prolonging the country's 4-month-old political crisis and threatening a deeper toll on its tourism-dependent economy.

The high court in a 6-3 ruling ordered that a new election be set but gave no time frame, leaving the country in the same political gridlock that has resulted from an opposition insisting on political overhauls before the next election and the governing party wanting a new parliamentary mandate first.

Taiwan protest continues

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A student occupation of Taiwan's legislative chamber continued into its third day Friday as a deadline passed for President Ma Ying-jeou to discuss a bill monitoring agreements with China.

Students stormed Taiwan's Legislative Yuan late Tuesday to protest moves by the ruling Kuomintang to circumvent a detailed review of a trade deal with China. The opposition party said the trade deal could surrender control of half of Taiwan's banking industry to China.

Friars 'begging' online

Franciscan friars in Rome's Ripa monastery need $125,000 to restore the cell where their namesake saint once slept when visiting medieval popes and have turned to online crowdfunding to raise the sum.

"For us, crowdfunding is a form of modern begging," Friar Stefano Tamburo, head of the monastery, said Friday.

Begging is a core Franciscan tradition.

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