Fwd: Malaysia Airlines shares lose 10% over missing jet

KUALA LUMPUR, March 10, 2014 (AFP) - Malaysia Airlines shares lost 10 percent on Monday, the first trading day since the company was rocked by the weekend disappearance of a passenger jet with 239 people aboard.

The shares were trading at 0.225 ringgit, or 10 percent lower, mid-morning on the Malaysian stock exchange.

Flight MH370 went missing over waters between Malaysia and Vietnam en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early Saturday. No confirmed evidence of the plane's fate has yet been found.

Still no confirmed plane debris found: Malaysian official

KUALA LUMPUR, March 10, 2014 (AFP) - An international search and rescue effort still had not found any confirmed debris from a Malaysia Airlines jet more than two days after it mysteriously went missing, an official said Monday.

"Unfortunately, ladies and gentleman, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft itself, said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, head of Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation.

In the absence of any firm clues as to what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370, Azharuddin had few answers in a press conference for any of the burning questions surrounding what befell the plane.

It vanished early Saturday with 239 people aboard. No distress signal was ever sent, authorities said.

"We understand that you want answers from us. We are as eager as you are," he said.

Vietnamese authorities had said earlier that two floating objects were seen from the air late on Sunday some 80 kilometres (50 miles) off Tho Chu island.

But Azharuddin said Vietnamese officials had not yet confirmed to Malaysia whether any reported signings were indeed debris from the plane.

"There are various objects that we have seen, but none of them at this moment (have been confirmed to be) from this aircraft," he said.

Azharuddin also confirmed reports that five passengers who had purchased tickets and checked baggage did not make the flight.

He said Malaysia Airlines had removed those passengers' baggage once it learned they did not board the plane, in accordance with standard procedure.
"But we have to remove the baggage that they checked in... we have done so on this aircraft," he said.

He also said authorities were still waiting for an analysis of oil samples taken from a slick in the sea to determine whether it was from the plane. Another official had said results could come Monday afternoon.

"We are looking at every angle. We are looking at every aspect of what could have happened," he said.

"Again, we have to get concrete evidence... we have to find the aircraft."

'Social news' no panacea for ailing media: study

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2014 (AFP) - News organizations get the most engaged readers by working on their own to build brand loyalty, not through referrals from social media or search engines, a study showed Monday.

The Pew Research Center found that "direct visitors" who use the news outlet's specific address or have it bookmarked stay about three times as long as those who come from a search engine or Facebook.

"Facebook and search are critical for bringing added views to individual stories, but, the data suggest it is hard to build relationships with those users," said Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research.

"For news outlets operating under the traditional model and hoping to build a loyal, paying audience, it is critical for users to think of that outlet as the first place they should turn."

The study underscores the challenges of news organizations trying to make a transition from print to digital -- and keep revenues flowing.

It also suggests limits to the idea of "social news" helping traditional media organizations.

The study, in collaboration with the Knight Foundation, found a higher level of engagement from direct visitors across the full mix of sites studied.

Even sites such as Buzzfeed and NPR, which have an unusually high level of Facebook traffic, saw greater engagement from those who sought them out directly, the researchers said.

The study found it is difficult for news outlets to convert a "social" referral to a permanent direct visitor.

Of the sites examined, the percentage of direct visitors who also came to the site via Facebook was extremely small, ranging from 0.9 to 2.3 percent, with the exception of Buzzfeed at 11.3 percent.

Similarly, the percentage of direct visitors who came to a site through a search engine ranged from 1.3 percent to 4.1 percent, with one notable exception -- examiner.com at 8.6 percent.

The researchers studied traffic using comScore data from April to June 2013 at 26 major news sites including CNN, BBC, The New York Times, Huffington Post and others.

Most people accessed the news on their computers using three methods -- direct access, search or social media. But a small percentage came from other sources including email, message boards and other websites.

For mobile news, Pew found the browser was used more than a dedicated mobile app, although it noted that only half of the news sites studied had such an app.


Austrian, Italian on Malaysia plane list safe and sound

ROME, March  8, 2014 (AFP) - An Austrian and an Italian thought to have been on a missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft on Saturday both had had their passports stolen and are safe, officials and family members said.

Italian Luigi Maraldi, 37, was on the passenger list, but he had had his passport stolen and phoned home from Thailand to let his family know he was safe -- and before his father had seen the news.

"I turned on (rolling television news channel) RAI News24 and I saw what had happened. Thankfully, everything is okay. Luigi is on holiday, he's coming home in three weeks," his father told news agency Ansa.

Malaysia Airlines also contacted the Austrian foreign ministry, saying that the name of an Austrian was on the passenger list of the plane, a spokesman for the ministry said.

"We contacted the person to whom the passport belonged. This person is in Austria and safe and sound. His passport was stolen in 2012 on a trip to Thailand," Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told AFP.

Contact with Flight MH370 with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was lost somewhere between Malaysia's east coast and southern Vietnam. No trace had been found as of late Saturday.


Malaysian couple to hang for starving Indonesian maid: reports

KUALA LUMPUR, March  7, 2014 (AFP) - A Malaysian couple have been sentenced to hang for murdering their Indonesian maid by starving her to death, according to reports Friday that said she weighed just 26 kilos (57 pounds) when she died.

In the latest case of abuse against the legion of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, the High Court ruled on Thursday that 26-year-old Isti Komariyah died of deliberate starvation in June 2011.

Judge Noor Azian Shaari said Fong Kong Meng, 58 and his wife Teoh Ching Yen, 56, consistently withheld food from the young woman during the three years she worked for them.

"She was 26 and weighed barely 26kg when she was taken to the University Malaya Medical Centre with bruises and scratch marks on her back, arms and forehead," The Star newspaper reported.

Isti was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. She had weighed 46 kilos (101 pounds) when she first started working for the couple.

The court and the couple's lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.

Malaysia relies on an estimated two million Indonesians who toil in plantation, construction, factory and domestic work -- both legally and illegally.

Allegations of abuse against foreign labourers have included overwork, beatings, sexual abuse and torture.

A Cambodian maid was starved to death in 2012 by her employers, earning them 24 years in jail. Cambodia had stopped sending maids a year earlier over other abuses.

But poor Indonesian women have continued to arrive.

Malaysia has taken some steps towards improving the welfare of domestic workers, including requiring at least one day off per week and nearly doubling minimum monthly salaries to 700 ringgit ($210).

But activists say it is difficult to enforce these requirements.

The Indonesian embassy estimates 400,000 women work in Malaysia as maids -- about half illegally. Indonesian workers account for roughly half of all foreign labourers.

The two Muslim neighbours' closer scrutiny of the issue has slowed processing of legal domestic workers, causing a shortage that has fuelled the efforts of traffickers bringing in illegals, activists say.

China muddling through on Ukraine - and world affairs: analysts

BEIJING, March  7, 2014 (AFP) - As world leaders scramble to shape events in Ukraine, China has stood by unable even to articulate its stance, exposing its muddled approach to foreign affairs despite its fast-growing global interests and stature, analysts say.

Beijing can partly blame the lag on its rapid ascent into the top tier of international heavyweights. But it faces huge pressure to catch up fast, both from other governments and its own increasingly far-flung nationals and companies.

"Welcome to the real world," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"China by now has global interests but is not a global strategist or global player...(it) is not the one that initiates and tries to drive the outcome," he said.

Although China aspires to greater global standing, it pursues narrow goals overseas as long as its core concerns are not involved, letting its ally and fellow UN Security Council member Russia take the lead on crises such as the conflict in Syria while it zeroes in on business deals in Africa and elsewhere.

Its foreign ministry tends towards non-specific bromides, urging "calm" here, "restraint" there and a "political solution" elsewhere.

"But they have interests now that force them to get beyond those broad statements," said Lieberthal. "They have to make commitments, they have provide security, they have to do contingency planning."

- Ukraine 'very inconvenient' for Beijing -

On Ukraine, where Moscow has deployed troops in Crimea while the West backs an opposition that is now in government, Beijing has found itself struggling to take a stand, stymied by competing interests.

For years it has sought to solidify ties with Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, which was once a brother Communist state until a bitter split, followed by rapprochement.

President Xi Jinping made it his first destination after taking office last year and again last month, attending the Sochi Winter Olympics while Western leaders stayed away.

But Beijing also vehemently urges "non-interference" in other countries' domestic affairs, in part to facilitate trade with unsavoury regimes -- but especially to discourage foreign support for popular uprisings.

It regularly brandishes the concept to ward off criticism from Western powers of its policies in its Tibet and Xinjiang regions, where ethnic minorities complain of repression, feeding political dissent.

"China has long maintained a principle of non-interference in internal affairs and respects Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," the foreign ministry said on its website this week.

"There are reasons that the Ukrainian situation is what it is today," it added, in what Niu Jun, a professor of international affairs at Peking University, interpreted as a reference to Russia's long-standing links with Crimea.

The events in Ukraine were "very inconvenient" for Beijing, he said. "That's why they came out with a statement nobody can understand."

When pressed to clarify whether Beijing supported Moscow's actions or considered them a form of interference, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang refused to elaborate.

On its website, the ministry said China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi told US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Thursday that a resolution must "take full care of the legitimate rights of the Ukrainian people" -- without specifying what they were.

- 'An ordinary country and a superpower' -

Yet Beijing's global ambitions are undeniable. Xi's slogan since taking office -- the "Chinese Dream" -- evokes the widely held idea that, as a centuries-old civilisation that once led the world in achievements, the Middle Kingdom is poised to reclaim the centre stage it deserves.

Its presence is expanding from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America, even in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, to acquire the energy and resources needed to feed the world's largest population and second-biggest economy.

That brings added pressure to protect China's supply lanes, companies and workers popping up worldwide.

Two-way trade with Ukraine, not a major partner, reached $11 billion last year, according to customs figures.

Beijing is starting to recognise the benefits of getting involved, said Jia Qingguo, a professor of international studies at Peking University, citing a debate over whether it might have prevented the bloody 2011 Western-backed uprising in oil supplier Libya by seeking to persuade late dictator Moamer Khadafi to compromise.

But it needed to build up its foreign policy know-how, he added, and was still figuring out its approach to the world as it adjusts from being a poor to a powerful nation.

"China does not have a broader strategy. Its foreign policy behaviour is often ambiguous and sometimes incoherent," he said.

"China is both a developing country and a developed country, a weak country and a strong country, a poor country and a rich country, an ordinary country and a superpower.

"As a result its interests are also in contradiction."


Commentary: Huawei-Perfect World partnership blazes new trail for Chinese brands going global

BARCELONA, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) – Chinese telecom giant Huawei and online game developer Perfect World agreed here Thursday to launch a joint expedition into the world of online games.

After nearly 30 years of development, Huawei has become the world's second largest supplier of telecom equipment and third largest manufacturer of smart phones, operating in 140 countries and regions and serving about one third of the global population.

Founded in 2004, Perfect World is a leading Chinese online game developer and operator, and has been China's biggest exporter of online games for seven years, with some of its products developing a fan base in more than 100 countries and regions.

Thus it is safe to assume that the alliance will allow the pair of hardware and software titans to combine their respective strengths to tap into the increasingly lucrative global online gaming market.

Yet the formation of the dream team has significance far beyond the gaming industry. It is a landmark venture that serves as a good example for Chinese brands seeking to take up a bigger share in global markets.

According to their agreement, Perfect World will design customized games that can give full play to the performance of Huawei consoles, thus enhancing players' gaming experience.

Such mutual reinforcement is inspiring and illuminating. China, long reputed as the factory of the world, has been under a paradigm-shifting transformation from “Made in China” to “Created in China,” and plenty of Chinese products are already advantageous not only in price but also in design and quality. But individually they face high marketing cost and white-hot competition.

By joining forces with complementary partners, Chinese firms can boost each other's competitiveness and improve their chances both to consolidate their already established presence and to expand their reach into new markets. Such success will also help promote the reputation and popularity of Chinese products in general.

In addition, the Huawei-Perfect World partnership also provides a promising approach to the popularization of Chinese culture. Besides the Confucius Institute program, much else can be done.

For example, Perfect World integrates Chinese cultural elements, like historical stories and martial-arts novels, into innovative and popular online games, thus quietly acquainting game players with China's time-honored arts and traditions. There is something worth learning from.

Chinese online gaming, telecom giants join hands to explore global market

BARCELONA, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) – Chinese online game developer Perfect World and telecom giant Huawei signed here Thursday a strategic cooperation agreement aimed at pooling their resources to explore the global gaming market.

Inked at the ongoing 2014 World Mobile Congress, the deal marked the first time for the leading Chinese software and hardware producers to team up for international expansion.

Noting that both companies boast independent intellectual property rights, core technologies and a vast global user base, Perfect World CEO Xiao Hong said the cooperation will make full use of their respective advantages and lower the cost of their overseas undertakings.

According to the agreement, Perfect World will design customized games that can give full play to the performance of gaming devices produced by Huawei, which has recently rolled out the first Chinese-made home game console, TRON.

Also speaking at the signing ceremony, Huawei Senior Vice President Yu Chengdong said the two companies aim to create a gaming experience that is tailored more closely to the needs of individual players and to build up a globally competitive home gaming ecosystem.

Thanks to the Chinese government's strong support for the indigenous entertainment industry, the home game console market enjoys huge potential for further growth, he added.

Meanwhile, Xiao stressed that the joint endeavor also highlights a new trend in the going-global of Chinese enterprises, and will help raise the “gold content” of the “Made in China” label and boost the competitiveness of Chinese companies in global markets.

“Our collaboration in shaping the global landscape of next-generation online entertainment will create a new milestone in the globalization of Chinese brands," he commented.

Huawei is the world's second largest supplier of telecom equipment and third largest manufacturer of smart phones, with its products and services covering more than 140 countries and regions. The TRON console, debuted last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, has drawn worldwide attention.

Perfect World has been China's biggest exporter of online games for seven years, and its products, flush with Chinese cultural elements, have attracted players in more than 100 countries and regions.


Talk of Weibo listing as China's Sina posts profit jump

SHANGHAI, February 25, 2014 (AFP) - Chinese Internet giant Sina said its fourth-quarter net profit surged from a year ago, amid media reports it plans an overseas listing of its popular microblog service, Weibo.

Sina is planning to spin off its Weibo platform -- China's equivalent to Twitter -- in a US listing to raise $500 million as early as the second quarter of this year, Dow Jones Newswires reported Tuesday, quoting people familiar with the matter.

Nasdaq-listed Sina's net income reached $44.5 million for the three months ended in December, up from just $2.4 million a year earlier, on the back of strong advertising sales from the microblogging service, according to a company statement.

"The strong performance of Weibo's advertising and value-added services in the fourth quarter allowed us to end 2013 with strong top line and bottom line growth," Sina chief executive and chairman Charles Chao said in the statement.
Sina's net income for all of 2013 hit $45.1 million, up from $31.7 million in 2012.

Weibo alone achieved its first ever operating profit in the fourth quarter of more than $3.0 million, Chao told a conference call on Monday.

Advertising revenue from Weibo surged 163 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier to $56 million, the company statement said.

Launched in August 2009, Weibo is a social media tool featuring microblogging and networking features with tens of millions of users.

The company said it would dedicate more efforts to the development of Weibo to capitalise on the platform in the long term.

"As we enter 2014, we will continue to focus on growing Weibo's user-base and user engagement through product innovation, as well as seizing opportunities to enable us for long-term growth," Chao said in the statement.


US-led Pacific trade pact under discussion in Singapore

SINGAPORE, February 22, 2014 (AFP) - Asia Pacific trade ministers began a fresh round of talks in Singapore Saturday for a huge US-led Pacific free trade area, hoping to conclude a deal this year after missing a deadline in 2013.

The four-day meeting of ministers from 12 countries covered by the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) comes after their chief negotiators completed five days of talks also held in the city-state.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said ahead of the meeting that negotiators were "very close" to completing a pact this year, but some ministers involved in negotiating the agreement think it could take longer.

Trade ministers from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam reconvened in Singapore after ending talks in December with several issues still unresolved.

The 12 countries, which make up 40 percent of the global economy, have been divided on a number of issues, including opening up Japan's auto and farm markets as well as limiting the role of state-owned enterprises in the economy.

Non-government groups like the humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) are also opposing what they say are attempts by pharmaceutical firms to restrict access to cheap generic drugs through intellectual property rights provisions in the TPP.

"We are making good progress," Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb told reporters as the talks began at a hotel in Singapore.

When asked if a deal can be reached by the end of this year he said: "Yes, most certainly."

Negotiators missed a US-proposed deadline to strike a deal by the end of last year.

Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed, speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, would not give a timeline on when the talks would be concluded.

Malaysia's trade ministry said only eight of the 29 chapters in the proposed agreement have been finalised and they are not the most controversial or significant sections.

US President Barack Obama's administration has put a high priority on the TPP, seeing it as tying the US more firmly to the dynamic Asia Pacific region at a time that China's clout is rising.

But some countries say crucial to the TPP talks succeeding is the US Congress granting Obama the "fast track" authority to negotiate major trade deals that the US legislature could approve or reject with no amendments allowed before they vote.

However the granting of such powers, under the Trade Promotion Authority, faces tough opposition from House Democrats who feel they are too far-reaching.

Singapore's Lee, in an interview with Chinese media group Caixin, said the powers would ensure that US lawmakers would not be able to vote down items in the TPP that they were not in favour of as the pact is a negotiated package.

Mohamed said: "In my view, some countries are looking at this and it will certainly affect negotiations. It will become a bit more difficult."

Google buys firm to stem online fraud

NEW YORK, February 21, 2014 (AFP) - Google said Friday it was buying the British-based startup spider.io for its technology to weed out fraud in online advertising.

"Advertising helps fund the digital world we love today... but this vibrant ecosystem only flourishes if marketers can buy media online with the confidence that their ads are reaching real people, that results they see are based on actual interest," said Neal Mohan at Google's DoubleClick unit which develops targeted ads.

With the new acquisition, Mohan said, "our immediate priority is to include their fraud detection technology in our video and display ads products, where they will complement our existing efforts."

He added that "by including spider.io's fraud-fighting expertise in our products, we can scale our efforts to weed out bad actors and improve the entire digital ecosystem."

The move helps Google combat the practice of click fraud, where criminals use automatic programs to boost the number of clicks on an online ad to boost revenues.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.


Singapore says 'too early' to relax property cooling measures

SINGAPORE, February 21, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore said Friday that measures it had implemented to cool down the property market have succeeded but it was "too early" to relax them.

The remarks by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in parliament came amid concerns by analysts about property prices soaring to unsustainable levels in emerging markets, including those in Asia.

"Our cooling measures have been aimed at moderating the market so as to prevent property prices from getting too far out of line with incomes," Shanmugaratman said as he unveiled the 2014 national budget.

"We are not engineering a hard landing, but neither are we able to eliminate cycles in the property market, with upswing in prices in some years followed by corrections," he said.

"Given the run-up in prices in the last four years, it is too early to start relaxing our measures. The government will continue to monitor the property market and adjust the measures when necessary."

Singapore last year imposed additional measures in a bid to dampen down the red-hot property market, including raising stamp duties, which made it costlier for foreigners to buy property.

The government also sharply increased minimum cash downpayments for individuals applying for loans for second or subsequent homes.

These were in addition to earlier measures to tame the property market, including a move by the central bank in 2012 to impose a maximum tenure of 35 years for new housing loans.

Analysts have raised the red flag about soaring property prices in several Asian economies and have urged regional policymakers to take steps to prevent risky asset bubbles.

Low interest rates have fuelled a property boom in emerging markets which may have led consumers to overborrow.

There are fears that a rise in interest rates expected to accompany a winding down of the economic stimulus package in the United States would lead to borrowers unable to repay their loans.

This could deflate property prices and destabilise the banking system.

Song Seng Wun, regional economist at Malaysian bank CIMB, agreed with the government's move to maintain the property cooling measures.

"Prices are just starting to stabilise. If the government is to relax (the measures) too soon before interest rates start to climb, you could potentially create a risky property bubble," he told AFP.

Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said Singapore made the decision to keep the measures because of "apprehension mounting among global investors about speculative property bubbles building in some international property markets, including certain Asian cities".

Singapore boosts sin taxes, help for elderly

SINGAPORE, February 21, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore on Friday announced steep increases in alcohol, gambling and tobacco taxes as it pledged billions of dollars in healthcare subsidy for its growing ranks of elderly citizens.

Liquor taxes will be raised by 25 percent with immediate effect while duties on tobacco products will jump by 10 percent, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told parliament as he announced the government's 2014 budget.

Betting duties from the state-linked betting firm Singapore Pools will rise to 30 percent from 25 percent of gross bets from July.

Tharman said the measures were in line with "our social objective of avoiding excessive consumption or indulgence in these areas".

The additional duties will raise government revenue by Sg$255 million ($201 million) a year, Tharman said.

Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at the Singapore Management University, said raising revenue through "sin" taxes will be seen by Singaporeans as a better alternative compared to similar increases in personal or corporate tax rates.

"I think it will be welcomed. Raising sin taxes is one of the few ways you can raise revenue to increase social spending without incurring too much of a political cost," Tan told AFP.

In his budget speech, Tharman also unveiled a Sg$9.0 billion package to provide life-long healthcare subsidies for elderly citizens.

Under the plan, about 450,000 elderly citizens who are part of what the government terms the "pioneer generation" -- those who are aged 65 and above this year -- will benefit from a host of medical benefits including for outpatient specialist care and medical insurance.

Affluent Singapore has one of the world's most rapidly ageing population due to falling birth rates and longer lifespans.

Officials say 20 percent of Singaporeans will be 65 or older by 2030.

"These special benefits that we are providing the pioneer generation will not be differentiated by income because our objective is to honour the contributions of this whole generation," Tharman said.

The government expects a Sg$1.2 billion overall budget deficit for 2014, or about 0.3 percent of its gross domestic product, he said.

Total government expenditure is expected to rise to Sg$56.66 billion from Sg$52.34 billion, according to budget documents released after the speech.

"This is a mid-term budget, with the government still holding back its firepower as it looks ahead to the polls in a year or two," said Tan.

General elections are due in mid-2016.

"The healthcare package for the elderly is the right thing to do. But the older generation are also seen as an important vote bank for the People's Action Party," he said.

"If the government does reap a political pay-off from the policy, no one is going to begrudge them for that."

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) which has been in power for more than half a century, has faced an increasingly vocal electorate frustrated with a surging foreign population and the rising cost of living.

It suffered its worst ever performance in the last general election in 2011, and subsequently also lost two by-elections.

In his speech, Tharman also unveiled a host of measures to help small and medium-sized businesses to improve productivity and reduce its heavy reliance on foreign labour.

The large presence of foreign workers and professionals in Singapore has been a hot-button issue in past elections, with Singaporeans complaining about overcrowding and increasing competition for jobs.

Microsoft needs to get back to innovation roots: CEO

NEW YORK, February 20, 2014 (AFP) - Microsoft's new chief executive Satya Nadella says the tech giant needs to start thinking like a startup again if it wants to move ahead in the new technology landscape.

"Culturally, I think we have operated as if we had the formula figured out, and it was all about optimizing, in its various constituent parts, the formula," Nadella said in an interview with The New York Times published Thursday.

"We've had great successes, but our future is not about our past success. It's going to be about whether we will invent things that are really going to drive our future."

Nadella, who was named earlier this month to succeed Steve Ballmer at the helm of the tech titan, said Microsoft needs to move faster in innovation.

"Everything now is going to have to be much more compressed in terms of both cycle times and response times," he said.

"You have to be able to sense those early indicators of success, and the leadership has to really lean in and not let things die on the vine," he added.

Nadella's appointment coincides with Microsoft founder Bill Gates stepping back in as a "technology advisor," giving up his title of chairman.

The Indian-born CEO said Gates's role will not really be new.

"The outside world looks at it and says, 'Whoa, this is some new thing.' But we've worked closely for about nine years now," he said.

"So I'm very comfortable with this, and I asked for a real allocation of his time. He is in fact making some pretty hard trade-offs. And one of the fantastic things that only Bill can do inside this campus is to get everybody energized to bring their 'A' game. It's just a gift."

WhatsApp founders swap struggle for billionaire status

SAN FRANCISCO, February 20, 2014 (AFP) - Jan Koum, an immigrant from Ukraine, was so poor as a teenager that he used saved his old Soviet notebooks for school and queued with his mom for food stamps.

Brian Acton lost a small fortune in the dot-com bust and was rejected for jobs at Twitter and Facebook.

Now, the friends behind the hot mobile messaging startup WhatsApp are the newest tech industry billionaires.

Facebook this week bought WhatsApp in a stock-and-cash deal worth up to $19 billion and gave Koum a seat on the social network's board of directors.

Koum signed the Facebook takeover contract at the unused building where he and his mother once queued for food stamps in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View, where WhatsApp is located, according to Forbes Magazine.

Koum, who turns 38 on Sunday, has described growing up as a rebellious Jewish child near Kiev and having little when he immigrated to California at with his mother the age of 16 just after the Soviet Union's breakup.

His father did not make it to the United States, where the family sought to escape anti-Semitism and oppressive tactics of secret police.

- Soviet childhood -

"Jan's childhood made him appreciate communication that was not bugged or taped," Sequoia Capital partner Jim Goetz said in an online post.

"When he arrived in the US as a 16-year-old immigrant living on food stamps, he had the extra incentive of wanting to stay in touch with his family in Russia and the Ukraine."

Koum's mother brought with her a cache of pens and Soviet-issued notebooks to save money on school supplies, according to Forbes magazine.

A self-described trouble-maker at school, Koum had a job sweeping the floors in a grocery store. After his mother was diagnosed with cancer, they got by on disability payments, Forbes reported.

Koum learned computer networking from manuals bought from, and eventually returned to, a used book store, according to the account.

He enrolled in a state university in Silicon Valley and was working on the side with a computer security firm when he met Acton while on assignment at Yahoo in 1997.

Acton was employee number 44 at the Sunnyvale, California-based Internet firm and shared a "no-nonsense" attitude with Koum. Within a year, Koum was working as an engineer at Yahoo and the pair were on their way to being  close friends.

Koum eventually chose Yahoo over college. When Koum's mother died of cancer in 2000, his mentor Acton stepped in with support.

Acton, meanwhile, reportedly lost millions investing during the famous dot-com boom that ended with an infamous dot-com bust.

Acton and Koum left Yahoo in 2007 and took a year off, exploring South America and playing the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, according to Forbes.

They both applied for jobs at Facebook after coming home. Both were rejected. In a Twitter post from 2009, Acton said that an effort to win a job at one-to-many messaging service Twitter was rebuffed.

Koum was living off dwindling savings when the iPhone and Apple's online App Store prompted a certainty that an exciting new frontier was opening.

He tapped into the local Russian immigrant community to pursue his idea of a smartphone messaging service synched to people's contact lists.

Koum enlisted Acton, who was jobless and devoting energy to a less promising startup.

Koum and Acton in 2009 founded WhatsApp, which took its name from a play on the phrase "What's Up?"

- No Ads -

They devoted themselves to a credo of "No Ads. No Games. No Gimmicks."

A note stating just that and signed by Acton remains taped to Koum's desk, according to venture capital firm Sequoia, which invested in the startup early.

The "contrarian approach" of gathering no information about users for targeting ads was shaped by Koum's aversion to tactics of secret police in communist countries, Goetz said in an online note.

The formula led to stunning growth to more than 450 million users, with 50 billion messages handled daily

The founders jokingly described themselves at the website as "two guys who spent a combined 20 years doing geeky stuff at Yahoo!"

Koum describes himself in his Twitter account profile with a Kanye West quote, "We on a galaxy the haters cannot visit."

Koum has nearly 12,000 followers at Twitter but follows only "Jesus Christ, Silicon Valley," an account devoted to Internet industry humor.

In a conference call discussing the acquisition, Facebook chief and founder Mark Zuckerberg described Koum as being a "valuable thought partner" for several years.

WhatsApp is a platform for sending images, video, audio, or text messages for free over the Internet using data connections of smartphones.

Facebook mega-deal for WhatsApp 'a brilliant move'

WASHINGTON, February 20, 2014 (AFP) - Facebook's $19-billion deal for the red-hot mobile messaging service WhatsApp is a savvy strategic move by the world's biggest social network, even if the price tag is staggeringly high, analysts say.

The agreement unveiled Wednesday -- seen as the largest for a venture-backed tech startup -- gives Facebook entry into emerging markets and importantly keeps the free-messaging app out of the hands of rivals such as Google.

"Although the deal appears to be pricey... we think that it has compelling strategic logic," Shebly Seyrafi at FBN Securities said in a research note Thursday.

While Facebook is paying a high price by any measure, Seyrafi said "we see other benefits to the deal," pointing out WhatsApp's big user base in countries such as Brazil, South Africa and China.

"We think that in addition to the revenue obtainable from WhatsApp itself, Facebook will benefit from better integration... that will make Facebook more engaging while driving further growth internationally and in mobile," the analyst said.

Facebook shares shook off early declines and rose 2.3 percent to close at $69.63, despite the fact that the company is diluting its value with the massive cash-and-stock acquisition.

The purchase includes $12 billion in Facebook shares and $4 billion cash. It calls for an additional $3 billion in restricted stock units to be granted to WhatsApp founders and employees that will vest over four years.

Analyst Stephen Ju at Credit Suisse said the move appears to make sense from a long-term viewpoint.

"Looking past the sticker shock of $19 billion... we view this as an offensive move to gain additional share of the consumer's time spent -- which should engender additional opportunities for monetization," he said.

- Key in emerging economies -

Trip Chowdhry at Global Equities Research called the move a "very smart and an essential acquisition for Facebook," because WhatsApp works on less expensive "feature phones" still predominant in emerging economies such as India.

"Most of the developing world still is on the feature phone, as the majority cannot afford a smartphone," Chowdhry said.

"WhatsApp is the only application that runs equally well on feature phones and on smartphones."

Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler said Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp "solidifies its position as the top company in mobile globally" excluding China, where Facebook is banned.

Sandler said that even though Facebook is not planning to deliver ads on WhatsApp for now, this may change over time.

"We believe that as users become accustomed to native mobile advertising and as the quality of the various monetization strategies improve, we expect opportunities to emerge," he said in a note to clients.

Victor Anthony at Topeka Capital Markets said the deal will help diversify Facebook with a broader set of mobile services.

"As was the case with PayPal, YouTube and Instagram, hindsight will be the best judge of how valuable this acquisition will be," Anthony said in a research note.

"The valuation appears reasonable on a per user basis. From what we see, the acquisition makes strategic sense and the combined company will likely accelerate user growth of both platforms, similar to what we see with Instagram."

- Staving off Google threat -

Jack Kent at IHS Technology said the move helps Facebook "neutralize a competitive threat."

"To understand Facebook's rationale, the focus must be on the cost of Facebook not buying WhatsApp rather than the price Facebook paid for WhatsApp," Kent said.
"Facebook could not risk WhatsApp's 450 million monthly and 315 million daily active users falling into the hands of a competitor such as Google."

Fellow IHS analyst Eleni Marouli said the deal allows Facebook to get better data on users worldwide, which has value in itself.

"WhatsApp's strong presence in key emerging markets such as Brazil and India will provide Facebook with insights in countries that are still largely under-monetized," Marouli said.

"Building good mobile data on consumers in these markets is essential as they are not only mobile-first in their use of the Internet, but often mobile-only."

Youssef Squali at Cantor Fitzgerald pointed out that Facebook may be able to use WhatsApp to create a new kind of telecom service which has not existed so far.

"While WhatsApp is currently a cross-platform mobile messaging service, it is likely to morph into a gateway for global calling and video solutions over time, dramatically expanding its revenue potential," the analyst said.


Singapore Q4 growth revised to growth from contraction

SINGAPORE, February 20, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore's economy expanded 6.1 percent on-quarter in October-December owing to a surge in manufacturing, the government said Thursday, revising its previous estimation of a contraction and lifting overall growth in 2013 to 4.1 percent.

The city-state had last month estimated a 2.7 percent contraction in the fourth quarter based on preliminary data from October and November, but a ramp up in production and exports in December prompted the upward revision.

The Manufacturing sector, a major pillar of Singapore's trade-reliant economy, surged 10.4 percent on-quarter, led by electronics and transport engineering.
The sector improved 7.0 percent year-on-year.

The services sector also boosted growth, expanding 6.1 percent in October-December from the previous quarter, stronger than the 0.2 percent growth in the third quarter.

Robust fourth quarter performance boosted annual GDP growth in 2013 to 4.1 percent, better than the government's earlier revised forecast for 3.5-4.0 percent expansion.

The ministry maintained its forecast for the economy to expand 2.0-4.0 percent this year against the backdrop of a sustained but slow recovery in the US and the eurozone, and a projected moderation in China's growth.

Google out to spread its super-fast Internet service

SAN FRANCISCO, February 19, 2014 (AFP) - Google on Wednesday ramped up its drive to build a super-fast US Internet network in a budding challenge to the grip a handful of titans have on service.

Lessons learned and confidence gained from Google Fiber projects in Texas, Utah, and the Kansas City region prompted the Silicon Valley technology giant to invite 34 more cities to explore the potential to build the ultra-fast networks.

"People are hungrier than ever for faster Internet, and as a result, cities across America are making speed a priority," Google Access Services vice president Milo Medin said in a blog post.

"We've long believed that the Internet's next chapter will be built on gigabit speeds, so it's fantastic to see this momentum."

Google cited letters from city leaders across the country who were adamant that high-speed internet is essential for innovation, education, and economic growth.

Medin was quick to point out that Google Fiber projects might not work out in every city invited to sign up.

"But, cities who go through this process with us will be more prepared for us or any provider who wants to build a fiber network," he said.

"We hope this news inspires more communities across America to take steps to get to a gig."

- Comcast mega-deal -

The news from Google come a week after Comcast unveiled plans to swallow rival Time Warner Cable in a mega-deal that triggered debate on the creation of a cable-Internet behemoth.

News of the $45.2 billion deal uniting the largest two US cable firms raised regulatory concerns about the reach of Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal's film and television assets and is one of the largest providers of cable Internet.

"While no single series of deployments can solve the major broadband competition problem that we face in the US -- particularly in light of the announced intended consolidation of the two largest cable broadband providers -- this is a positive step for a handful of communities across the country," said Sarah Morris at the New America Foundation.

Google has been gradually moving to provide Internet service on which its money-making online products depend.

Along with Google Fiber projects in Austin, Provo, and Kansas City, the California company last year announced a deal to provide free high-speed wireless Internet service at all Starbucks cafes in the United States.

Google boasts that its Starbucks Wi-Fi is as much as 10 times faster than what was available before, when it was handled by telecom titan AT&T, and that its Fiber speeds blaze up to 100 times faster than what people use currently.

Google has established a pattern of providing a low-speed version of Google Fiber free to residents, who pay one-time installation fees, and then offering options such as high-speed Internet and online television for monthly subscription rates.

China manufacturing index hits seven-month low: HSBC

BEIJING, February 20, 2014 (AFP) - A key index of Chinese manufacturing contracted further in February to hit its lowest level in seven months, HSBC said Thursday, in a sign of diminishing strength in the world's second-largest economy.

The British banking giant's preliminary reading for its purchasing managers' index (PMI) for China, which tracks manufacturing activity in factories and workshops, fell to 48.3 this month.

That marked a further tumble from the final reading of 49.5 in January, when the figure showed contraction for the first time in six months.

The index is a closely-watched gauge of the health of the Asian economic powerhouse. A reading above 50 indicates growth, while anything below signals contraction.

Qu Hongbin, HSBC economist in Hong Kong, blamed February's worsening contraction on decreasing new orders and production at Chinese factories, and called on the government to adjust its policy to support growth.

"The building-up of disinflationary pressures implies that the underlying momentum for manufacturing growth could be weakening," he said in a statement accompanying the data.

"We believe Beijing policy makers should and can fine-tune policy to keep growth at a steady pace in the coming year."

WhatsApp: a booming smartphone message service

SAN FRANCISCO, February 19, 2014 (AFP) - In just five years, WhatsApp grew into a smartphone messaging service used by nearly a half-billion people.

The Silicon Valley-based startup founded by former Yahoo employees Brian Acton and Jan Koum in 2009 took its name from a play on the phrase "What's Up," according to its website.

The stated mission was to build a better alternative to traditional SMS messaging in a world where smartphones were clearly becoming ubiquitous.

The founders jokingly described themselves at the website as "two guys who spent combined 20 years doing geeky stuff at Yahoo! Inc."

WhatsApp Messenger is a platform for sending images, video, audio, or text messages for free over the Internet using data connections of smartphones.

The application is free, but after using it for a year, there is an annual subscription fee of 99 cents.

"We feel that this model will allow us to become the communications service of the 21st century, and provide you the best way to stay in touch with your friends and family with no ads getting in the way," the startup said in a blog post discussing pricing.

WhatsApp is reported to have more than 450 million users and said to handle more than 10 billion messages daily.

Singapore, Dhaka are best and worst Asian cities

PARIS, February 19, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore on Wednesday topped an international survey of the best cities in Asia for expatriates while the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka was named the worst.

Japan took all the other spots in the Asian top five, with Tokyo in second place followed by Kobe, Yokohama and Osaka, according to the annual ranking by the Mercer consulting group.

Worldwide, Vienna, Zurich and Auckland were named as the best places to live, followed by Munich and Vancouver. Paris was ranked 27th.

The city offering the worst quality of life was Baghdad followed by Bangui in the Central African Republic and the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.

Singapore and Dhaka were ranked in 25th and 208th positions respectively with Baghdad in 223rd position.

Political instability, crime and pollution levels were among the factors taken into account by Mercer which carries out research into 460 cities worldwide for its Worldwide Quality of Living Survey. Many of the cities are ranked jointly.

"In an increasingly globalised economy, cities beyond the traditional business and financial centres are improving quality of life in order to attract foreign firms," said Emmanuel Rivere of Mercer France.


Singapore teacher jailed for "love bites" on boy

SINGAPORE, February 19, 2014 (AFP) - A Singapore court Wednesday jailed a 42-year-old female teacher for six months for committing indecent acts on a 13-year-old boy studying in the same school, including giving him "love bites".

The woman, a teacher for 11 years and a mother of four, had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual exploitation of a child or young person under Singapore's Children and Young Persons Act.

According to court documents, the woman, who cannot be named as it could lead to the identification of the victim, kissed the boy on his lips and given him love bites on his shoulder and neck on two separate occasions in 2012.

She became acquainted with the boy, a football team-mate of her son, and started to chat with him on Facebook, subsequently committing the incriminating acts when they went on outings to public parks.

The boy's mother filed a police report after discovering a love bite on his neck.
"This case involved the sexual grooming and exploitation of a young victim 13 years of age, by a school teacher," district judge Ng Peng Hong said in a written judgement.

"In my view, implanting of love bites and kissing with her tongue into the victim's mouth in a public park by the teacher were indecent, sexual and not appropriate," he said.

The judge said he was imposing a stiff sentence due to the "significant age gap" between the woman and the boy.

"The accused as a teacher and educator should not have defiled and corrupted the young victim," he said.

The judge said he did not place much weight on the defence argument that the woman was suffering from depression.

The woman could have been jailed for up to five years, fined Sg$10,000 ($7,932) or both, for each of the two charges she faced.


Chinese bloggers press Kerry on Internet freedom

BEIJING, February 15, 2014 (AFP) - Chinese bloggers urged US Secretary of State John Kerry to push for greater freedom online in China during a rare meeting in Beijing Saturday, asking for help to "tear down the great Internet firewall".

The US embassy-organised discussion was an opportunity for the top diplomat to hear directly from China's bloggers amid reports that Beijing is stepping up efforts to clamp down on political dissent.

Chinese microblogs similar to Twitter have become key drivers of public opinion in recent years, with bloggers calling attention to issues such as official corruption and pollution that challenge the ruling Communist Party.

But the rising popularity of sites such as Sina Weibo has triggered a sweeping government-backed crackdown on online dissent in the past year, with several prominent commentators silenced and others arrested.

The meeting with four leading bloggers came a day after Kerry used talks with President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to call for Communist Party authorities to improve their human rights record.

In the roundtable Saturday, Kerry told bloggers that he had raised the issues of press and Internet freedom in his discussions with Chinese leaders.

"Obviously, we think that Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the Internet," he said.

- 'Tear down the firewall' -

In the 40-minute meeting, Zhang Jialong, who frequently comments on China's social conditions to his 110,000 microblog followers, urged the United States to support "Chinese who aspire for freedom" and help "tear down the great Internet firewall".

The finance reporter, who was detained for three days in 2011 for his postings on artist Ai Weiwei, also accused US companies of helping China block access to some Internet sites such as Twitter.

Kerry said he had no knowledge of such a practice but promised to investigate.

Wang Keqin, an investigative reporter who was fired from his job at the Economic Observer last year for his reports on flash floods that hit Beijing in 2012, told Kerry that Internet freedom "was going backward, there is less of it".

Kerry told reporters Friday that he had a "frank discussion" about human rights issues in his meeting with Chinese leaders, including the free flow of information online.

"I emphasised that respect for human rights and for the exchange of information in a free manner contributes to the strength of a society in a country," he said after the meetings in Beijing.

China's ruling party has long been engaged in a "cat and mouse" game with Internet users, tightening restrictions in periodic crackdowns before new forums emerge to challenge such restraints.

In August, Xi called on propaganda officials to "build a strong army... to seize the ground of new media", while China's press regulator has ordered journalists to undergo Marxist training classes, state media reported.

- Jail for online 'slander' -

China's Supreme Court in September said Internet users could face three years in jail if "slanderous" information spread online was viewed more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times.

The rising influence of microblogs has been accompanied by the emergence of celebrity users with verified accounts, known as "Big Vs".

Last year Chinese-American investor Charles Xue, who had more than 12 million followers on his microblog which was heavily critical of the government, was arrested on charges of soliciting prostitutes.

State media insisted at the time that his arrest had no connection with his online presence, but government-run broadcaster CCTV showed him in prison clothes while under detention, confessing that he had used microblogging to "gratify my vanity".

Microsoft's Bing search engine came under scrutiny this week following reports that Chinese-language searches for topics deemed politically sensitive by Beijing return a drastically different set of results than English-language searches -- both inside and outside of China.

Bing has denied censoring its Chinese-language search results outside China.
Kerry also visited a joint venture between Indiana-based Cummins and China's Foton company in Beijing producing low emissions diesel engines, before heading to Jakarta on the next leg of his Asia trip.


Singapore Airlines third-quarter net profit down 65 percent

SINGAPORE, February  6, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore Airlines (SIA) said Thursday its third-quarter net profit fell 65 percent from the previous year, weighed down by a huge legal settlement in the US and losses from associated companies.

The flag carrier said in a statement that net profit in the three months ended December was Sg$50.1 million ($39.41 million), down from Sg$142.5 million in the same quarter the year before.

Revenue was flat at Sg$3.88 billion as weaker yields offset higher passenger carriage.

Net profit was dragged down by a Sg$78 million dollar settlement in a class action suit filed in the US against its freight arm SIA Cargo.

SIA Cargo in December agreed to the settlement with plaintiffs without admitting to any wrongdoing or liability.

The class action was taken against the Singaporean carrier as well as other airlines in 2006 following investigations into price-fixing in air cargo services in the US.

SIA said it also lost Sg$46 million due to the diminished value of its assets and its share of losses in associated companies, mainly budget carrier Tiger Airways in which it owns 40 percent.

Without the one-off losses, SIA said net profit would have risen by 23.1 percent.
Tiger Airways posted a net loss of Sg$118.5 million in the third quarter ended December, reversing from a Sg$2.0 million net profit a year earlier.

"The outlook for the air transportation industry continues to be challenging with airlines offering aggressive fares amidst increasing capacity and fuel prices remaining high by historical standards," SIA said.

Fuel costs accounted for over 36 percent of revenues during the quarter.
SIA said advance passsenger bookings for its fiscal fourth quarter to March "are slightly lagging the planned capacity increase" because the Easter holiday this year falls in April.

"Efforts to stimulate demand to boost loads will continue to place pressure on yields," said SIA, which is seen as a bellwether for the industry.

Twitter's wings clipped by weak user growth

NEW YORK, February  6, 2014 (AFP) - Twitter shares went into a nosedive Thursday after the company's first earnings report shook up investors expecting strong growth at the messaging platform.

The shares were down 19 percent at $53.41 in early trading a day after the company reported a $511 million quarterly loss and only sluggish growth in the number of users.

Stifel analyst Jordan Rohan downgraded Twitter, noting that "user growth metrics faltered" and adding that "the company did a poor job explaining how and why the lower user growth was a temporary phenomenon."

A similar warning came from Cantor Fitzgerald, where analyst Youssef Squali and colleagues said in a research note that "Twitter has all-of-a-sudden become a show-me story in the same way Facebook was challenged to prove its mobile credentials over a year ago."

"We now know how Facebook turned out, but we won't know how Twitter will fair for at least several quarters," Squali said.

The first earnings report since Twitter's vaunted public offering in November offered a cold dose of reality for the company.

The results showed revenues in the quarter that ended December 31 doubled from a year ago to a better-than-expected $242.6 million.

But the number of worldwide users was up just nine million from the figure of 232 million when Twitter went public in November, suggesting only modest growth at a time when investors were looking for a surge.

Twitter said the loss for the year widened to $645 million from $79 million in 2012, even as revenues more than doubled to $664 million for the full year.

Trip Chowdhry at Global Equities Research said the revenue figures were better than expected but that Twitter needs to address issues of credibility, including spam and duplicate user profiles.

"Twitter management should be focused on fixing the authenticity and credibility of the Twitter platform, just like Google and Facebook have done," Chowdhry said in a note to clients.

Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler meanwhile kept a "buy rating" and said Twitter's results showed it was making progress in monetizing its platform.

Sandler said he remains among those "who believe that Twitter is one of the best positioned companies in mobile, and on its way to one billion users."

CEO offers assurances

Twitter chief executive Costolo spent much of an earnings call Wednesday assuring analysts that Twitter is working on features and improvements intended to ramp up the number of users, along with how much they engage with the global one-to-many messaging platform.

"It will be a combination of changes introduced over the course of the year that will change the slope of the growth curve," Costolo said.

"We want to reach every person on the planet." Twitter will be particularly focused on making it easy for anyone to grasp the service within moments of a first visit and on improving the experience on smartphones and tablets, according to the chief executive.

Twitter, which has its roots in 140-character text messages, also planned to get more visually engaging with pictures and video.

The service's format of sharing in real-time with short text messages doesn't lend itself easily to traditional ad formats, so the company needs to get creative with marketing messages, according to Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle at Enderle Group


Singapore voices concern over naming of Indonesian navy ship

SINGAPORE, February  6, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore has voiced concerns over Indonesia's reported plans to name a naval ship after marines who were executed for bombing an office complex in the city-state during a period of tense relations in the 1960s.

Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement issued late Wednesday that Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa over the issue.

It said that Shanmugam, who visited Jakarta this week, registered "Singapore's concerns over the naming of the navy ship and the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims" of the bomb attack for which the two Indonesian marines were executed.

"The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing, which killed three people and injured 33 others," the statement said.

Indonesian daily newspaper Kompas Tuesday reported that the country's navy was planning to name a recently refitted frigate "KRI Usman Harun", after Osman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, who were executed in Singapore for their role in bombing a downtown office complex in March 1965.

The attack was part of an effort by then Indonesian president Sukarno to stage an armed confrontation against the newly formed federation of Malaysia, which included Singapore.

Sukarno had whipped Indonesia into a fervour in the campaign of "konfrontasi" to display its objection over the inclusion of the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak in the newly formed federation.

The two marines were members of Indonesia's special Operations Corps Command, now the Marine Corps, who had been ordered to infiltrate Singapore.

Singapore acrimoniously split from Malaysia to become an independent country on August 9, 1965, and Indonesia's armed campaign dissipated a year later following the ousting of Sukarno.

"Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then-PM Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines," the Singapore foreign ministry statement said.

Indonesia is Singapore's third largest trading partner, with total bilateral trade reaching Sg$79.4 billion ($62.6 billion) in 2012.

Relations between the two countries hit a low point in the late 1990s after the fall of former dictator Suharto, and his successor B.J. Habibie famously referred to the tiny city-state as a "little red dot" on the map.

Ties have improved considerably in recent years under the stewardship of current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyuno.


Twitter faces critical earnings test

NEW YORK, February  5, 2014 (AFP) - Twitter releases its first earnings report since a wildly successful stock offering on Wednesday, in what is being seen as a critical test for the popular messaging platform.

Shares in Twitter have soared from the offering price last November of $26, and analysts say that to sustain that momentum Twitter must prove it can grow and move toward profitability.

Twitter shares rose 1.6 percent to $66.32, their highest level since December.
Because Twitter has never delivered a profit, analyzing its value is a tricky task.

Wall Street expects Twitter to report continuing losses in the fourth quarter. But analysts will be scrutinizing the results for gains in advertising revenues, Twitter's user base and other metrics that measure "engagement," or how people use the platform.

Mark Mahaney at RBC Capital Markets remains upbeat with an "outperform" rating on Twitter.

"We remain positive on Twitter's ability to become one of the Web's leading utilities (alongside Google, Amazon, Facebook)," he wrote in a note to clients.

"Twitter has displayed very robust growth in key metrics, and we have confidence that this momentum can continue as the company develops its advertising platform... we remain enthusiastic about the company's long-term opportunity."

Twitter has fast become engrained in popular culture but must still convince investors of its business model, having lost more than $440 million since 2010.

With 232 million users and growing, Twitter is expected to be able to reach profitability over time by delivering ads in the form of promoted tweets, and from its data analytics. The research firm eMarketer estimates Twitter will bring in nearly $1 billion in 2014 in ad revenues.

But analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald recommend "sell" for Twitter saying its valuation is "excessive," seeing "more downside than upside short-term."

The Cantor Fitzgerald analysts said even with strong advertising and other gains, Twitter could face pressure because more shares will come on the market after the "lock-up" expiration that prevented insider sales so far.

Arvind Bhatia at Sterne Agree says in a note to clients that Twitter is likely to show gains in users, revenue and engagement but that he remains "neutral" on the stock.

"We continue to like the Twitter platform and believe in the company's long-term prospects," he said. "However, we remain neutral given the stock's significant premium to its high-growth peers."

Morgan Stanley's Scott Devitt, who rates Twitter as "underperform," said investors should carefully listen to management's plans.

"We look for management commentary to focus on providing insight related to Twitter's user growth and engagement, while discussing new product developments that could drive future revenue initiatives, especially in targeting offline TV ad dollars," he said.

A more mainstream Twitter?

Devitt said Twitter must address issues of advertising, especially on mobile, and that he wants to know "How does Twitter plan to accelerate user growth and make Twitter more mainstream?"

Paul Ausick at 24/7 Wall Street said Twitter may be riding the coattails of Facebook, which posted strong results last week and buoyed the social media sector.

"Without Facebook's big earnings report last week, it is probably fair to say that Twitter stock would be trading at about seven percent below where it is trading today," Ausick said in a blog post.

"Should Twitter fail to meet estimates on Wednesday, company management could have a lot of explaining to do."


Gates steps down as Microsoft chairman, new CEO named

WASHINGTON, February  4, 2014 (AFP) - Microsoft said Tuesday founder Bill Gates would step down as chairman and assume a new role as "founder and technology advisory" as insider Satya Nadella was named chief executive.

Gates "will devote more time to the company" in his new role as the tech giant moves to transform itself amid a changing landscape in the world of computing, the company said.

Singapore's founding PM Lee Kuan Yew in hospital

SINGAPORE, February  4, 2014 (AFP) - Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew is recovering in hospital after suffering from an infection, the government said on Tuesday.

Lee, 90, was admitted to Singapore General Hospital on Sunday after suffering from a fever and bad cough caused by an infection, his press secretary Yeong Yoon Ying said in a statement.

"He is currently on antibiotics and recovering. He has been advised by his doctors to avoid public appearances," she said.

She added that Lee, who remains a member of parliament after stepping down from an advisory role in the cabinet in 2011, would not attend a Lunar New Year dinner in his constituency of Tanjong Pagar on Tuesday evening due to his illness.

"He would like to wish all Tanjong Pagar residents as well as Singaporeans a Happy Chinese New Year," she said.

Lee has maintained the tradition of attending the annual dinner with constituents in the port district for decades, but missed it for the first time last year due to health reasons.

Lee, the father of current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, is widely credited with transforming Singapore from an economic backwater to one of Asia's wealthiest economies.

He served as prime minister from 1959, when Singapore gained self-rule from colonial ruler Britain, until he stepped down in 1990 in favour of his deputy Goh Chok Tong, who in turn handed power to Lee Hsien Loong in 2004.

The People's Action Party co-founded by the elder Lee has been returned to power in every election since 1959 and currently holds 80 of the 87 seats in parliament.

In a book published last year, the Asian statesman said he feels weaker by the day and wants a quick death.

The longtime fitness buff has visibly slowed since his wife of 63 years Kwa Geok Choo died in 2010.

Global stocks sell-off accelerates

LONDON, February  4, 2014 (AFP) - The fierce fall in global stocks showed no sign of abating on Tuesday, with Europe slipping after falls on Wall Street and in Asia, as weak US data compounded worries about emerging markets.

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index fell 0.39 percent to 6,440.85 points in late morning deals, hit also by downbeat results from energy firms BP and BG Group.

Frankfurt's DAX 30 shed 0.81 percent to 9,112.25 points and in Paris the CAC 40 index lost 0.16 percent to 4,100.87 compared with Monday's close.

The euro meanwhile drifted lower against the dollar.

"The market feels like it's been hit by a freight train and traders are asking what exactly is going on," said analyst Chris Weston at trading firm IG.

"What started out as a profit-taking exercise has steamrolled into something far more substantial."

Asian markets slumped on Tuesday -- led by a four-percent fall in Tokyo -- following a huge sell-off on Wall Street as disappointing Chinese and US manufacturing data rocked sentiment.

"It is definitely a risk-off attitude that dominates the markets right now sparked by the macro data that indicates that the two biggest economies in the world are losing momentum," added Varengold Bank analyst Anita Paluch.

"Reduced appetite for risk means equities are not in demand as investors avoid them and position themselves on the sidelines for the time being. Not much of a dip buying either in the sight; volatility is on the rise."

Traders were also spooked by a warning from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who warned that the US borrowing limit will be reached on Friday, renewing fears of a Washington stand-off and possible default.

Japanese stocks noses dived 4.18 percent, with the headline index shedding 14 percent in a month after a huge rally last year, as the market enters what many analysts have called a correction phase.

Tokyo's Nikkei-225 index dived 610.66 points to 14,008.47, the worst one-day drop since June.

Elsewhere, Seoul sank 1.73 percent and Hong Kong plunged 2.89 percent, with Chinese tech giant Lenovo diving 16.40 percent on fears it may have bitten off more than it can chew with the recent purchase of struggling Motorola from Google for $2.91 billion.

Wall Street hit

Shanghai and Taipei were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Tuesday's markets falls came after a surprisingly weak US manufacturing report sparked heavy round of selling on Wall Street owing to concerns about the strength of the world's number one economy.

New York's Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 2.08 percent, the S&P 500 fell 2.28 percent and the Nasdaq shed 2.61 percent.

Wall Street took a hammering after the Institute for Supply Management said its purchasing managers index (PMI) of manufacturing activity fell to 51.3 in January from 56.5 in December. A figure above growth indicates growth and anything below points to contraction.

Over the weekend, meanwhile, China released official figures showing its PMI fell to 50.5 in January from 51 in December and HSBC last week said its PMI for the country came in at a six-month low of 49.5.

Emerging markets have also been shaken by the prospect of capital flight as the US central bank pulls back on its stimulus programme, which has been widely credited with fuelling an equities rally last year.

Credit Agricole analyst Mitul Kotecha said "suffice to say investors should steer clear of risk assets (such as equities) over the short term as the turmoil does not look like it will be over anytime soon".

"A combination of tapering, a confluence of country specific emerging market country concerns and weaker growth in China provide the backdrop for a volatile few weeks if not longer, ahead," he said in a note.

In foreign exchange deals on Tuesday, the European single currency eased to $1.3509 from $1.3529 late in New York on Monday.

Gold slipped to $1,255.30 an ounce from $1,262 an ounce on Monday on the London Bullion Market.

Last week's decision by the US Federal Reserve to cut its bond-buying policy by $10 billion to $65 billion a month has heightened investor fears about emerging markets.

'Dislikes' fail to keep people off Facebook: survey

WASHINGTON, February  3, 2014 (AFP) - There's a lot that users dislike about Facebook, but that hasn't kept people off the world's biggest social network.

A survey released Monday found more than half of Americans who use Facebook are turned off by the notion that people are sharing too much information about themselves. Some 36 percent said they "strongly dislike" this and another 25 percent said they "dislike" the idea.

A similar percentage said they didn't like the fact that they showed up in pictures without giving permission. And among users with children, nearly three in four objected to the posting of pictures of their kids without permission, said the Pew Research Center survey.

Yet the survey -- released as Facebook celebrates its 10th anniversary -- suggests no slowing momentum for the network, which has more than 1.2 billion users worldwide.

Users said they appreciate photos and videos from friends -- 47 percent of respondents said that is a major reason they use the site. And 46 percent said a key reason for using Facebook is the ability to share with many people at once.

Half of all the Facebook users surveyed said they had more than 200 friends. Among those in the 18-29 age bracket, one in four had 500 friends or more.

Pew provided further analysis for a survey released last year which showed 71 percent of Americans who use the Internet were on Facebook, making it the dominant social networking platform.

The research center said that among the non-Facebook users, 52 percent had someone in their household who used it. That included 66 percent of parents with a child living at home who do not use Facebook themselves, but had someone in their home with a Facebook account.

The research is based on a survey of 1,801 adults conducted from August 7 to September 16. For results based on the 960 Facebook users, the margin of error is estimated at 3.5 percentage points.


Lenovo signals 'global ambitions' with Motorola deal

BEIJING, February  2, 2014 (AFP) - In 1984, with only $25,000 in Chinese government funding and a dusty 20-square-metre bungalow as their headquarters, a small group of scientists in Beijing founded a firm called New Technology Developer Inc.

Thirty years later, the tech company -- which went on to become Legend and later, Lenovo -- is the world's biggest personal computer maker, and has just completed two major deals with IBM and Google that analysts say will help it to diversify away from the sagging PC market and boost its expansion overseas.

Lenovo's $2.3 billion purchase of IBM's low-end server business and its $2.91 billion acquisition of Motorola from Google are evidence of the Chinese tech giant's "global ambitions", said Jean-Francois Dufour at DCA Chine-Analyse.

"Just as iPhones and iPads have overtaken Macs in commercial importance for Apple, smartphones and tablets are expected to replace PCs in part for Lenovo," said Dufour, who called the firm "the pioneer of Chinese companies' global offensive".

The back-to-back deals are all the more significant because of their timing, coming just as US President Barack Obama noted in his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday that "for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world's number one place to invest; America is".

With Chinese investment in the US doubling to $14 billion in 2013, a larger and larger share of that capital is coming from America's rival across the Pacific -- a fact unmentioned by Obama in his speech.

From its humble beginnings, Lenovo has charted an impressive course in the personal computer market. Under its earlier name, Legend, it secured the biggest share in China's domestic market in 1996 and in the Asia-Pacific region three years later.

Its 2003 decision to change the name of its PC brand from Legend to Lenovo in a bid to boost its sales abroad marked the beginning of its ascent to global preeminence.

That move was followed by a successful 2004 bid to serve as the exclusive computing technology provider for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Games, making it the first Chinese firm to become a major Olympic sponsor.

But it was Lenovo's 2005 acquisition of IBM's PC division for $1.75 billion that cemented its rise, setting it on track to unseat Hewlett-Packard as the world's top PC vendor last year.

Lenovo now has PC products in more than 160 countries and has worked to build its global brand by recruiting celebrities such as basketball star Kobe Bryant and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher, who the company named a "product engineer" for its new Yoga Tablet device.

With its Motorola purchase, Lenovo hopes to replicate its PC market success in the smartphone universe. The deal "will immediately make Lenovo a strong global competitor in smartphones", Lenovo chairman and chief executive officer Yang Yuanqing said.

As it did after the 2005 IBM deal, however, it faces tough odds.

Lenovo is the number-two smartphone maker in China with a 12.5 percent market share in the third quarter of 2013, behind South Korea-based Samsung's 18.4 percent.

But globally, Lenovo ranked fifth in the same quarter, with only 4.5 percent market share. Its acquisition of Motorola is likely to bump it up to the No. 3 spot, Yang said, but it will remain well behind leaders Samsung and US tech giant Apple, with 31.3 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively.

Varun Goel, head of portfolio management services at Karvy Stock Broking, noted that while Lenovo has succeeded in the world of PCs, the smartphone market is "a very different ball game, with entrenched players like Apple and Samsung leading the fray".

"While Lenovo has expertise in hardware, today's smartphone industry is driven by smarter softwares," Goel told AFP.

"In the smartphone markets, Google's Android platform has been gaining strength. There is very little differentiation that Motorola's Android-powered phones currently have over Samsung, which uses the same platform."

"We are not sure if this acquisition will add long term value to Lenovo's shareholders," he added.

China's official Xinhua news agency had a more optimistic outlook. In a commentary published Thursday, it greeted Lenovo's Motorola purchase and said by expanding their global reach, Chinese companies seek to "bring about a win-win outcome".

"The amicable combination should ... be greeted by blessing rather than doubt by the world," it said, noting that Lenovo has pledged not to lay off any Motorola employees following the deal.

Facebook battles to stay young and cool

SAN FRANCISCO, February  2, 2014 (AFP) - Sixteen-year-old Owen Fairchild doesn't hang out at Facebook as much as he did when he was just a kid.

It is not that he and his friends are abandoning the social network. They are spreading their love to rival networks like Twitter, Pinterest, SnapChat, Instagram and blogging platform Tumblr.

"I've moved on," the teenager said. "I go to Tumblr a lot more; there is a lot of funny stuff. SnapChat is super-fun because you can send really unattractive pictures of yourself and they will delete after a few seconds."

Contrary to what grownups might think, teens sometimes prefer to catch up on life face-to-face in the real world, he added.

"I think Facebook is still very popular even though some people might be losing interest," said the 11th-grade student at Alameda Community Learning Center, a charter school in Alameda across the bay from San Francisco.

"There is no talk among my friends saying Facebook is for old people."

Facebook, born on a college campus a decade ago, has grown to 1.23 billion active users worldwide.

But as it prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Facebook is now facing challenges in keeping its original base of young users as new social networks vie to be the coolest on the Internet.

A social networking trend set in motion by Facebook has been accelerated by soaring popularity of smartphones that let people share images, videos, thoughts or observations at any moment.

Hot young services such as Pinterest, Twitter and SnapChat have sparked concerns that Facebook is losing teens and may follow predecessor MySpace into social networking obscurity.

Facebook's demographics appear to be shifting as adults, even seniors, use the network to catch up with long-lost friends and stay connected to family and colleagues.

Princeton University student Susannah Sharpless said she and friends have stopped letting Facebook consume their lives.

"Everyone in my friend group went through this stage where we hated Facebook and deleted it," Sharpless told AFP.

"I was one of the first people to get it back. Slowly, everyone did."

Breaking from Facebook served as a detox period during which she and friends got a better handle on what was a daily habit, the college junior said.

"I realized how to live without the mindless Facebook stalking that I used to do," Sharpless said.

"I check my Twitter feed all the time; there is nothing that I definitely need to know on Facebook."

She also finds more interesting fare on Instagram, which Facebook bought about two years ago in a billion-dollar deal.
"Facebook isn't done," Sharpless said. "I think it is just changing in the way people use it."

Social media network analytics company Socialbakers on Thursday posted findings indicating that "the sky is not falling" when it comes to Facebook's appeal to the younger set.

Interactions at Facebook by people ages 13 to 24 grew about 29 percent last year, according to Socialbakers.

"Teens are definitely not leaving en masse as some reports would have you believe," Socialbakers data specialist Ben Harper said in a blog post.

During an earnings call this week, top Facebook executives sidestepped a question about whether the social network was losing teens.

"We are working on great products that all our users, including teens, will take seriously," said Facebook chief financial officer David Ebersman.

Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott dismissed Facebook gloom-and-doom talk as "silly." He argued that, unlike the defunct MySpace, Facebook innovates relentlessly and copies winning features from competitors.

For example, Facebook has woven Twitter-style real-time status updates into the service and introduced a new mobile app aimed at becoming a social newspaper of sorts.

Young people might change how they use Facebook, but they aren't leaving, according to the Forrester analyst.

"It is not a zero-sum game," Elliott said. "You don't stop using one network because you start using another."

Forrester is preparing to release results of a youth survey that the analyst said contradict the "breathless proclamations of doom" about Facebook.

"When you strip away the hyperbole and just look at the numbers, Facebook is absolutely crushing all the other social networks in terms of young users who go there," Elliott said.

Independent Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle countered that some studies in recent months indicate young people are departing Facebook in a shift that should worry the social network.

"The youth is your seed corn to make sure your service grows; they drive something like this," Enderle said. "The trendy kids at school need to be at Facebook."

Ads out to know us in mobile Internet Age

SAN FRANCISCO, February  2, 2014 (AFP) - Ads are evolving from blaring TV spots to nudges from smartphones that know where we are, what we like and what we might be in the mood for.

The transformation promises to pick up speed thanks to Internet-linked eyewear or watches and technology that lets gadgets whisper in ears like personal assistants eager to please.

Internet search colossus Google and leading social network Facebook this week reported earnings that soared on the wings of revenue from ads delivered on smartphones or tablets.

The bounce was particularly telling at Facebook, shares of which were hammered after they hit the market in 2012 on fears the Silicon Valley company would not be able to make money from surging ranks of members connecting via mobile devices.

As Internet Age lifestyles shift to being online while on the move, the pressure is on Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others to creatively cash in on people with much less screen space and time than they had on desktop machines.

"Advertising today is in the interest of the seller trying to get me to buy," Forrester analyst Frank Gillett told AFP.

"I am imagining a world where the software can know me as a person and offer things that feel like advice and help rather than aggravation and clutter."

For example, an app could glean musical taste from a smartphone song library and then let alert a person that a band they like is coming to town.

The software could then link to an online ticket vendor. Using location sensing technology, smartphones could even tip users off to shows in places they are visiting.

Similar scenarios can play out with restaurants, films, sports and more, according to analysts.

Tie in calendar information and a smartphone could not only remind someone of an anniversary but find suitable nearby restaurants and make dinner reservations.

Digital wallets in smartphones make online buys simple and can store digital copies of tickets, coupons or loyalty cards.

"These devices are so capable, especially with ads and marketing, that instead of forcing their way into a conversation they are being pulled into it," said Gartner analyst Michael McGuire.

Many marketers found out the hard way that they couldn't simply take tactics used on desktop computers, such as data-rich streamed video ads, and aim them at mobile devices where time, screen space and data allowances are precious, according to McGuire.

In what could be a threat to Google's core revenue source, search ads, smartphone use typically centers on "apps" instead of Web-based queries.
Google, Facebook and rivals are countering with free mobile apps.

Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said that the company's strategy includes spinning features of the social network into dedicated mobile applications for sharing things like video, games or music.

Facebook said that it was looking to artificial intelligence technology to enable its platform to understand the meaning of pictures, posts and more so it can better predict what people will find interesting.

Wearable computers such as Google Glass eyewear and activity tracking bands such as Jawbone's UP should bolster the transformation of ads into insightful suggestions, according to analysts.

Scenarios envisioned included a band logging workout activity and then signaling Glass to whisper in an ear that it seems time for new gym shoes and there is a local shop with a deal to offer.

In a "multi-screen" world pictured by analysts, arrays of gadgets used through each day share when they know about users and better predict desires.

"It is really about living with the user -- supporting users across all the day whether on a TV, mobile phone, desktop, wearable (computers)," Google chief business officer Nikesh Arora said during an earnings call this week.
"That is really the aim we are shooting for."

People will have to grapple with privacy concerns that come with applications and devices sharing what they learn about lives and habits.

"You don't want to cut yourself off from opportunity, nor do you want to jump in without looking," McGuire said of the potential benefits and risks of the trend.
"Privacy is a spectrum, and we will to find a balance."

Facts and figures about Facebook

SAN FRANCISCO, February  2, 2014 (AFP) - Facts and figures about Facebook, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in February:

- Facebook had 1.23 billion monthly active users at the end of 2013, based on company data, or roughly one-sixth of the world's population. Some 945 million of the users were accessing Facebook on mobile devices.

- The biggest market for Facebook is the United States, with 146.8 million users in late 2013, according to the research firm eMarketer. Next was India (84.9 million), Brazil (61.2 million) and Indonesia (60.5 million). Other estimates show the number of US users is higher, possibly 180 million. Facebook does not release detailed user statistics but said 81 percent of its daily active users are outside the US and Canada.

- In 2013, Facebook was used by 46.6 percent of the population in North America, 35.7 percent in Western Europe, 29.9 percent in Latin America, 24.9 percent in Central and Eastern Europe, 11 percent in the Middle East and Africa and 7.1 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, according to eMarketer.

- Facebook reported its profit for the full year 2013 jumped to $1.5 billion from just $53 million in 2012, and revenues increased to $7.87 billion from $5.1 billion. Most of the revenue is from online advertising.

- Over one million active marketers were on Facebook as of December, and the network had 25 million small business pages in November, according to company figures.

- Facebook accounted for a 5.7 percent share of all global digital ad revenues last year and 18.44 percent of worldwide mobile ad spending, according to eMarketer.

- The age range of Facebook users is seen as a key topic. The consultancy iStrategyLabs reports Facebook has lost three million teens in the United States since 2011, while the number of over-55 users rose 80 percent. Some other research challenges the idea that Facebook is losing teens.

- A Pew Research Center report showed Facebook used by 71 percent of online adults, or 57 percent of all American adults, in 2013. Pew found 84 percent of online Americans in the 18-29 age bracket use Facebook, as do 45 percent of those over 65.

- Facebook billionaires include co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin and its first president, Sean Parker. Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has also become a billionaire with the rise in Facebook's stock.

- Chris Hughes, one of Facebook's four co-founders, served as director of online organizing for Barack Obama's successful 2008 presidential campaign and later bought The New Republic magazine.

- "The Social Network," the 2010 film about the origins of Facebook, won four Golden Globes -- including for best picture and best director -- and three Oscars, for best adapted screenplay, original score and film editing.

- Facebook had 6,337 employees as of December. Some studies suggest that Facebook-related firms and apps have created many more jobs and economic value.