Top Asian News 3:43 a.m. GMT

MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — The frantic effort to locate 12 boys and their soccer coach missing in a cave in Thailand for a week picked up pace as a break in the rain eased flooding in the system of caverns and more experts from around the world joined the anxious rescue mission. The search in the northern province of Chiang Rai has been going slowly, largely because flooding has blocked rescuers from going through chambers to get deeper into the cave. Pumping out water hasn't solved the problem, so the attention has focused on finding shafts on the mountainside that might serve as a back door to the blocked-off areas where the missing may be sheltering.

MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — It's a simple melody sung to the plucking of acoustic guitars by schoolchildren sitting around candles: "I beg the skies to show mercy and empathy/ My brothers are in Tham Luang Khun Nang Non/ Let them pass this danger, I beg." The song is dedicated to events unfolding in a flooded mountain cave in northern Thailand, where 12 boys aged 11-16 and their soccer coach disappeared a week ago. It was written and performed by students at Lek Nai Tung Kwang school across the country, in Buriram province. The music video has played on national newscasts during round-the-clock coverage of the search and rescue operation at the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in far northern Chiang Rai province.

HONG KONG (AP) — Police in Hong Kong have stopped about 20 pro-democracy protesters from getting near a ceremony marking the anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. The protesters carried a coffin and chanted slogans against one-party rule in China, demands for universal suffrage in Hong Kong and mainland China and freedom for Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. The ceremony held beside Victoria Harbour continued uninterrupted with Beijing-backed Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in attendance. At a reception later Sunday, she expressed confidence in Hong Kong's future without mentioning any politically sensitive topics.

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called for an early conclusion of a regional trade pact that ensures free and rules-based commerce in the face of an increasingly protectionist United states under President Donald Trump. Japan co-chairs the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, with Singapore, and seeks to take leadership in shaping the pact as an alternative to a Pacific Rim free-trade grouping that Trump abandoned early this year. In his opening remarks to a meeting of 16 Asian trade ministers, Abe said a pact among the countries that together make up half the global population has an enormous growth potential.

MAE SAI, Thailand (AP) — Caves may be magical places in the eyes of explorers, but as millions of Thais following the desperate search this week for a dozen schoolboys and their soccer coach trapped inside a massive flooded cavern have learned, they are also dangerous. "Dark, silent and often impenetrable, caves are deeply mysterious and, as such, they have always had a strong fascination in human societies," said Edoardo Siani, who teaches cultural anthropology at Kyoto University. "They can also be inaccessible and lethal." The teams who have been searching for the boys, including Thai navy SEAL divers struggling through muddy water in pitch-dark chambers, have come up against that inaccessibility.

NEW DELHI (AP) — Hundreds of people on Saturday blocked streets and shut down businesses in parts of central India to protest the rape of a 7-year-old girl. The protesters demanded the death penalty for two suspects arrested on suspicion of raping the girl and trying to slit her throat with a knife on Tuesday in Mandsaur, a town in Madhya Pradesh state. The town is 685 kilometers (425 miles) southwest of New Delhi. The girl was allegedly abducted while waiting to be picked up from school by her parents. She is in a stable condition in a hospital, police officer Manoj Kumar Singh said.

BEIJING (AP) — Eighteen people were killed and 14 others injured in a head-on collision between a passenger bus and a truck on a highway in central China, police said Saturday. The accident took place Friday evening in Hunan province south of Beijing. Video from the scene showed both heavily damaged vehicles along the rain-slicked highway. It appeared that one of the vehicles may have crossed a center divider. Speeding, dangerous passing, poorly maintained vehicles and fatigued drivers are most often the cause of serious traffic accidents in China. Friday's accident appeared to be one of the worst in recent months.

TOKYO (AP) — A rocket developed by a Japanese startup company burst into flames seconds after a failed liftoff Saturday in northern Japan. The MOMO-2 rocket, developed by Interstellar Technologies, was launched in Taiki town on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island. It was supposed to reach as high as 100 kilometers (62 miles) into space. Television footage showed that the 10-meter (33-foot) pencil rocket lifted only slightly from its launch pad before dropping to the ground, disappearing in a fireball. Footage on NHK public television showed a charred rocket lying on the ground. The incident caused no injuries. Interstellar Technologies president Takahiro Inagawa said he believes the rocket suffered a glitch in its main engine.

GAUHATI, India (AP) — Five Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed and another six injured as huge boulders rolled down on their bus following a mudslide triggered by monsoon rains in India's remote northeast, police said Saturday. The bus was carrying 20 soldiers on a narrow mountainous stretch to their nearby camp on Friday after a training exercise in Lower Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh state, said police officer S. Singpho. A helicopter evacuated the injured to a nearby hospital, he said. The region is nearly 600 kilometers (375 miles) north of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state. It's the second mudslide-related accident in the state within days.

TOKYO (AP) — A Hello Kitty-themed "shinkansen" bullet train has debuted in Japan. Adorned with the cartoon icon inside and out, it's a dream ride for fans of the internationally popular character. The special shinkansen had its inaugural round trip Saturday between Osaka and Fukuoka, connecting Japan's west and south. It will run through September. The stylish, eight-car train is painted pink and white, showcasing Hello Kitty images and trademark ribbons from flooring to seat covers and windows. In one car, a life-size Hello Kitty doll donning a train crew uniform and a hat — decorated with a pink bow, of course — greets passengers, offering a chance for selfies.