Xinhua Asia-Pacific news summary at 1600 GMT, March 18

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TOKYO -- Egg prices are soaring in Japan as the current avian flu season sees a record 16 million birds marked for culling, local media reported on Saturday.

The current bird flu outbreak has spread at an unprecedented pace since the season began in October last year, with at least 80 cases at poultry firms in 26 of the country's 47 prefectures, Kyodo News reported.

As of March 2, the wholesale price of medium-size eggs was 335 yen (2.5 U.S. dollars) per kilogram in Tokyo, the highest ever since 1993 when data first became available, the report said citing data from local egg seller JA. Z-Tamago. (Japan-Egg Prices)

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TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has vowed to increase childcare leave benefits in a bid to reverse the country's plummeting birthrate.

Kishida on Friday told a press conference that the next six to seven years will be Japan's last chance to reverse its declining birth trend, noting that his administration will carry out unprecedented measures as a top priority to turn the situation around. (Japan-Birthrate-Childcare Leave)

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PUL-E-ALAM, Afghanistan -- Two children were killed and two others injured as a mortar mine left over from past wars went off in Afghanistan's eastern Logar province, the state-run Bakhtar news agency reported on Saturday.

A group of children found a toy-like device in the Altamor area of Pul-e-Alam city, the capital of Logar province, on Friday evening and began playing with it when the device suddenly exploded, killing the two children on the spot and injuring two more, the news agency reported.

A similar blast injured four children in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province last week. (Afghanistan-Blast-Deaths)

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NEW DELHI -- India's foreign exchange reserves declined by 2.39 billion U.S. dollars to 560 billion dollars as of the week ended March 10, showed latest data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

The data released on Friday shows India's foreign currency assets also decreased by 2.2 billion dollars to 494.86 billion dollars.

The country's gold reserves and SDR holdings also reduced on March 10, with both reserves falling by 110 million dollars and 53 million dollars, respectively. (India-Forex Reserve)

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PHNOM PENH -- Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn will pay an official visit to Vietnam on March 20-22 to expand across-the-board mutually beneficial cooperation, said a foreign ministry statement on Saturday.

He will meet his Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son on ways to further deepen the existing relationship and cooperation in fields ranging from politics, security, economy, trade and investment to agriculture, tourism, connectivity, health, culture and education, the statement said. (Cambodia-Vietnam-FM Visit)

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SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia -- A Chinese-invested tire factory in Cambodia's Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone launched its operation on Saturday after more than one year of construction.

The 300-million-U.S.-dollar General Tire Technology (Cambodia) factory, located in Cambodia's coastal province of Preah Sihanouk, is a subsidiary of Chinese tire maker Jiangsu General Science Technology. It is capable of manufacturing 5 million semi-steel radial tires and 900,000 all-steel radial tires per year, said Gu Cui, chairman of Jiangsu General Science Technology. (Cambodia-China-Tire Factory) Enditem

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