The AKB48 phenomenon is continuing to expand throughout Asia. It was announced at a meeting for about 2,000 fans in Shanghai over the weekend that the city will be the base for the third international franchise and the sixth in all. A handful of AKB48 members, including Kojima Haruna (24) and Abe Maria (16), were at the event to perform but knew nothing of the surprise announcement. Auditions for the new group, to be named SNH48, will be held in China in the autumn and the group is scheduled to be launched on December 8, the same date as the debut performance by the original group. Similar groups have been created in Jakarta in Indonesia (JKT48) and the Taiwanese capital of Taipei (TPE48), the latter being scheduled to start in the summer. AKB48 performed their first full concert in Shanghai last September and opened an official merchandise store in November. Popular member Itano Tomomi (20, photo left) and others performed a “mini live” show there in February.