WASHINGTON

Obama on trip to expand U.S. sway in Southeast Asia

President Barack Obama is darting off to Southeast Asia to showcase a foreign policy achievement and reinforce the U.S. role as a counterweight to China.

Obama leaves Saturday for a four-day trip to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, his first trip abroad since June and his fourth to Asia, where he has been eager to expand the U.S. footprint.

Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, which was internationally shunned for decades and is now hailed for its steps toward democratization. Obama is also attending the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

SACRAMENTO, Calif.

Judge quashes request to derail bullet-train project

California’s $69 billion bullet train will continue zooming toward a ground-breaking next year after a judge on Friday denied a last-ditch request from Central Valley opponents to halt all work on the state’s high-speed rail project.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Tim Frawley said at the end of a closely watched, three-hour hearing that the 520-mile rail line was so unprecedented in size that he alone could not stop it now.

“This keeps us on track,” Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said inside the courthouse after the hearing. “It’s not a surprise but obviously you don’t know until you get the ruling.”

The long-shot request was filed by farmers who did not want the first 29-mile stretch of the high-speed railway to come through their Central California properties.

LONDON

Leaders discussing ways to support Syrian opposition

European nations are discussing whether to overturn an arms embargo on Syria and seeking to press Arab countries and the United States for a new impetus to end the deadly 20-month conflict, Britain’s foreign policy chief said Friday.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague met in London with Mouaz al-Khatib, head of the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Officials from the U.S., France, Germany, Qatar, Turkey and other nations also were attending meetings in London with the new opposition group.

“We cannot stand still, we cannot just say we will leave things as they are in Syria, because it is a gravely deteriorating situation,” Hague said.

DECLO, Idaho

Teacher’s way of punishing slow readers draws criticism

A fourth-grade teacher in southern Idaho is being criticized after having her students use permanent markers to draw on the faces of classmates who failed to meet reading goals.

Some parents and administrators say the punishments given to nine students in Summer Larsen’s class were inappropriate and left the children feeling shamed.

Cindy Hurst said recently her 10-year-old son came home from school with his entire face scribbled on with green, red and purple markers.

“He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face,” said Hurst. “He knows he’s a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it.”

Larsen, who has taught at the school for six years, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

– From news service reports