As a hostage crisis unfolded in the Middle East last week, Japanese rallied outside the prime minister's residence in Tokyo to chant and hold up placards calling for the release of Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist who was captured by the Islamic State group and threatened with death unless Tokyo met its changing demands.

There was also sadness in the Philippines, where families mourned the deaths of 44 elite police commandos killed in anti-terrorist operation against Muslim rebels in the southern part of the country.

Flying to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, U.S. President Barack Obama watched the Republic Day parade marking the anniversary of India's democratic constitution coming into force.

Bangladesh, meanwhile, has been wracked by violence and its transportation system largely shut down since early January due to a strike called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is demanding the government resign and the country hold new elections.

Beijing has become a front runner to host the 2022 Winter Olympics after several European cities dropped out. The bid comes as more Chinese are skiing, playing hockey and embracing winter sports. The city, however, doesn't get a great deal of natural snow so would have to rely on artificial snow-making machines.