Michael Jackson memorabilia go on show in Japan

TOKYO, May 1, 2010 (AFP) - Michael Jackson fans flocked to the opening Saturday in Tokyo of an exhibition of memorabilia from the late King of Pop, including his famous crystal-studded gloves and favourite 1967 Rolls Royce.

Some ardent fans were overcome with emotion and fainted while viewing the Lifetime Collection of some 300 items belonging to singer on display in a hall at the foot of Tokyo Tower.

Exhibits included stage costumes and props such as the crystal-studded gloves worn by the superstar, who died last June aged 50.

"By seeing his memorabilia, I was refreshing my memories of Michael," Kimiko Sato, 49, said, sobbing. "I felt as if he was still alive here."

Yu Tei, a 21-year-old Chinese student studying in Tokyo, said: "It was so regretful that we lost him. I like all of his songs and his lifestyle. He was so cool."

The collection also included costumes and masks of ghosts prepared for his unrealised London performance scheduled for last year as well as plastic containers used for his lunch in his last days.

Among other items were an antique piano, a gate sign from his "Neverland" ranch, trophies and gold discs commemorating one million sales of his records such as "Rockin' Robin," "Got To Be There," "Maybe Tomorrow" and "I Want You Back."

A memorial event will be held at the hall on June 25 to mark the first anniversary of his death, the organisers said, adding that proceeds from the two-month exhibition would be in part given to Jackson's estate administrators and children.

China's online population passes 400 million: state media

BEIJING, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - The number of Internet users in China, already the largest in the world, has surpassed 400 million and accounts for almost a third of the country's population, state media reported Saturday.

The online population in the world's most populous nation has reached 404 million, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the State Council Information Office.

That compares with 384 million users at the end of 2009.

Users accessing the Internet with mobile phones was steady at 233 million while the number of people with broadband access reached 346 million, the report said.

China's spiralling online population has turned the Internet into a forum for citizens to express their opinions in a way rarely seen in a country where the traditional media is under strict government control.

The growing strength and influence of the web population has prompted concern in Beijing about the Internet's potential as a tool for generating social unrest, and authorities have stepped up surveillance in recent years.

The government blocks web content that it deems politically sensitive in a vast system dubbed the "Great Firewall of China".

Malaysia's Petronas, Brunei in talks to develop oil blocks

KUALA LUMPUR, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia's national oil firm Petronas said Saturday it is in talks with Brunei to jointly develop two oil areas off Borneo after the neighbours settled a border dispute.

The two sides have been locked in a row over the potentially oil-and-gas rich blocks since 2003, which had held up exploration.

Petronas said the two countries agreed in March last year that the disputed areas "are no longer part of Malaysia" but allowed the state-owned firm to enter into new production sharing contracts in a bid to end the spat.

"Petronas was invited by Brunei to enter an agreement to develop Blocks CA1 and CA2 on a commercial arrangement basis," the company said in a statement.

"Petronas has set up a team that has begun negotiations with Brunei to work out the terms for this commercial arrangement. Both parties are committed to arriving at a mutually beneficial arrangement as soon as possible," it added.

Brunei, a tiny monarchy surrounded by Malaysia's eastern states of Sarawak and Sabah, awarded exploration rights in one offshore block to French oil firm Total and another to the Royal Dutch Shell Group.

But Malaysia's state-owned Petronas awarded identical acreage to US firm Murphy Oil and its own subsidiary, Petronas Carigali.

Petronas' statement comes after ex-Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad this week said the deal with Brunei cost Malaysia at least 100 billion dollars in oil revenues from estimated reserves of almost a billion barrels of oil.

His successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was premier when the deal with Brunei was inked reportedly clarified later that Malaysia would be allowed to participate in developing the two blocks on a commercial basis for 40 years.

Taiwan workers protest against planned China deal

TAIPEI, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - Thousands of Taiwanese people took to the streets of the capital on Saturday for a labour day protest against a planned trade pact with China that they say will threaten the island's workforce.

Trade unions and workers' groups from across the island marched through the streets of Taipei, shouting slogans and waving placards against the government's plan to sign the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).

"We oppose ECFA and other free trade deals because they are intended for the benefits of large corporations rather than grassroots workers," said Huang Yu-te, a lead organiser of the protest.

"We urge the government not to overlook ECFA's impact on the job market and to better protect labour rights when negotiating with China," he said.

Organisers claimed a turnout of about 10,000 while police estimate was not immediately available.

"I think ECFA will only hurt Taiwan by opening up to even more Chinese products. The government should not sign it," said protester Wu Yen-sheng, who works for a chemical factory.

Taiwan's Beijing-friendly administration hopes to sign the agreement as early as June, saying it will boost economic growth and employment through greater trade.

But opponents say stronger competition from China will cost jobs and the accord will make the island more dependent on the mainland.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, by force if it must.

Thailand could deteriorate into 'undeclared civil war': ICG

BANGKOK, May 1, 2010 (AFP) - Thailand's prolonged and increasingly deadly stand off between the government and "Red Shirt" protesters could deteriorate into an "undeclared civil war", a leading think-tank has warned.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) said the country must consider mediation help from other nations to defuse the political crisis and avoid a slide into further violence.

"The Thai political system has broken down and seems incapable of pulling the country back from the brink of widespread conflict," the ICG report, which was released late Friday, said.

"The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the government and Red Shirt protesters is worsening and could deteriorate into an undeclared civil war," it added.

The ICG recommended forming a neutral negotiation committee with the help of international figures such as East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel laureate who recently visited Thailand.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday said security forces and rival protest groups must end violent attacks.

Some 70 bomb and grenade attacks have been carried out by unknown parties in Bangkok since anti-government "Red Shirt" protesters began street protests in mid-March, according to the statement by the rights group.

"Thailand is spiralling further into political violence as protesters, counter-protesters, and security forces respond tit for tat against attacks and provocations," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"All sides need to rein in their supporters, order the attacks to stop, and negotiate a political solution before the situation escalates," he added in the statement.

Thailand is reeling from the worst political violence in almost two decades in its capital, where 27 people have died and almost 1,000 have been injured in a series of bloody April confrontations.

The most recent deadly clashes occurred on Bangkok's streets Wednesday, when a confrontation between demonstrators and troops left one soldier dead and 18 people injured.

HRW called on the government to hold an independent investigation into recent incidents and prosecute all perpetrators of political violence as defiant Reds occupy key Bangkok areas in a bid to force snap elections.

The six-week demonstrations are the latest chapter in years of turmoil pitting the ruling elite against the mainly poor and rural Reds, who say the government illegitimately came to power in 2008.

Many of the Reds come from Thailand's rural poor and urban working classes and seek the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

The country is largely split between the Reds and the pro-government "Yellow Shirts", who staged their own street protests that heralded the 2006 coup.

The Reds have been on alert for a crackdown since April 10, when a failed attempt by the army to clear Bangkok's historic area turned into bloody street battles.

Jackie Chan tops Forbes China Celebrity List

BEIJING, May 1 -- Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan ranks number one in the recently released Forbes China Celebrity List of 2010. Taiwanese musician Jay Chou and Hong Kong singer and actor Andy Lau are in hot pursuit.

Chan, who held a concert in Beijing's Bird Nest in May 2009, became the first artist to perform in the National Stadium. Jay Chou didn't receive good reviews for his movies, but he got more attention for his work in the Hollywood film The Green Hornet with American actress Cameron Diaz. Meanwhile, Lau has starred in three movies, but his secret marriage to Carol Zhu that was exposed grabbed headlines.

Basketball forward Yao Ming continues to lead the list of celebrities from the Chinese mainland and actress Zhang Ziyi ranks fourth with 25 cover stories. Skit and sitcom actor Zhao Benshan is in the fifth place.

Writer Guo Jingming who edits Top Novel magazine is in 58th spot, while writer, blogger and racecar driver Han Han is 74th.

According to Forbes Chinese edition, the two standards for ranking celebrities are personal income and media exposure rate which is judged from 28 popular newspapers, 18 nationwide TV programs and cover stories in 29 magazines.

(Source: Global Times)

Wal-mart looks for talent on campuses

Wal-mart China on Thursday officially launched its 2010-2011 "Management Trainee Program" targeting campus students. The retailer plans to recruit more than 2,000 talents from university campuses to join its management team in the next five years.
Wal-mart said this year it will hold recruitment fairs in more than 30 universities around China, offering over 300 job and internship opportunities.

Tsinghua University, the venue of Thursday's launching ceremony, was also the first stop of this recruitment program. Wal-mart CEO Ed Chan and Yang Bin, party secretary of Tsinghua's School of Economics and Management, attended the ceremony.

This year's program is meant to attract more high-level talent as a new subprogram is introduced for the first time. The subprogram will select three talented MBA student candidates and offer them internships in Wal-mart's American headquarters, preparing them to become future senior

CEO Ed Chan said that Wal-mart is attaching great importance to develop local talent, as 99 percent of Wal-mart China's management force is indigenously Chinese. He also added that women account for 40 percent of the company's management.
Clara Wong, vice president of Wal-mart China for HR and administration said universities are an important channel for Wal-mart China to absorb talent. She also said she believes the retailer's campus recruitment can help to relieve university students' pressure to find jobs after graduating.

Wal-mart China introduced its management trainee program in 1998, and thus far has recruited 1,605 trainees from nearly 270 universities and colleges. It has been awarded the "best employer for university students" six years in a row by ChinaHR.com, a leading human resource recruitment service provider in China.

China Daily

Job vacancies rise in China's 100 cities in Q1

BEIJING: The employment market in 100 Chinese cities continued to improve in the first quarter, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said Friday.

Employers filled 5.52 million job vacancies via the public employment service agency during the January-March period, up 7 percent from the previous quarter, ministry statistics showed.

Compared with the same period last year, job vacancies in the first three months rose 18 percent, the ministry said.

Job-hunters entering the job markets in the cities totaled 5.3 million in the first quarter, less than the 5.52 million vacancies.

The manufacturing industry accounted for the most job vacancies in the first quarter, with demand manufacturing workers accounting for one third of the 5.52 million job vacancies.
Vacancies in wholesale and retail trade, hotels and catering, household services, leasing and commercial services, together with the construction industry jobs, took up 47.9 percent of total labor demand in the first quarter, the ministry said.

In its job data released earlier this month, the ministry said the urban unemployment rate in the first quarter fell 0.1 percentage point to 4.2 percent from the 2009 full-year figure, with 9.19 million people registered as unemployed.


China sets up task force after wave of school attacks: media

BEIJING, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - China has set up a special task force focused on beefing up school security, state media said Saturday, after three violent campus attacks against young children in as many days this week.

Education vice minister Hao Ping said emergency management was a "heavy task", as police patrols near school grounds were bolstered to protect the country's 270 million students, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Hao said 22 university and government experts would investigate "public incidents" in the education system and explore new ways to ensure "scientific emergency management" in the nation's schools.

His remarks came after a farmer attacked children with a hammer at a primary school in eastern China on Friday before setting himself on fire -- the latest in a wave of assaults that has left eight children dead and 50 people injured.

The farmer's rampage in Shandong province left five children and a teacher hurt but in stable condition, Xinhua said.

On Thursday, a jobless man apparently angry over a series of personal and professional setbacks slashed 29 children and three adults with a knife used to slaughter pigs in an attack at a kindergarten in the eastern city of Taixing.

Video footage posted online after the attack shows people said to be parents of the students marching on a street in protest and demanding to see their injured children.

The footage could not be independently verified by AFP and a spokesman for the Taixing government declined to comment on the apparent demonstration on Saturday.

On Wednesday, a 33-year-old teacher on sick leave due to mental problems injured 15 students and a teacher in a knife attack at a primary school in southern China's Guangdong province.

The assailants in both the Taixing and Guangdong attacks were arrested and all victims were said to be out of life-threatening condition.

Also on Wednesday, authorities in Fujian province in the southeast executed a former doctor for stabbing to death eight children and injuring five others on March 23 in a fit of rage after he split with his girlfriend.

The attacks underscore how China -- which has enjoyed lower violent crime rates than the West -- faces a growing public safety threat from disgruntled individuals amid rising mental illness rates and looser social controls.

The education ministry on Friday issued an "urgent" notice calling on schools to strengthen security, tighten restrictions on campus visitors and devise emergency plans.

"We must establish a safety first, prevention first concept," the ministry said in the notice, posted on its website.

Education minister Yuan Guiren said students should be given a "basic knowledge of self-defence", and security cameras installed at school entrances and other "important areas" to prevent further attacks, the Beijing News said.

US likely to disclose size of nuclear stockpile: report

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2010 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama will likely reveal the size of the US nuclear stockpile at a major UN nuclear disarmament summit next week in New York, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper said various factions in the Obama administration had debated for months whether to declassify the numbers.

But now the administration is seeking a dramatic announcement that will further enhance its nuclear credentials as it tries to bolster the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the paper noted.

The summit on NPT opens Monday at UN headquarters in New York.

According to The Post, the numbers could be released when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the NPT Review Conference.

Arms-control groups estimate the US nuclear arsenal contains 9,000 weapons, roughly 5,000 of them active and the rest in line for disassembly.

China manufacturing activity continues to expand in April

BEIJING, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - China's manufacturing activity accelerated in April, a government survey showed Saturday, as domestic and overseas demand for Chinese-made goods remained robust.

The purchasing managers index rose to 55.7 last month, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing said, marking the 14th straight month of expansion as the world's third-largest economy powered out of the financial crisis.

The April figure compares with 55.1 in March.

A reading above 50 means the sector is expanding, while a reading below 50 indicates an overall decline.

The federation warned of increasing inflationary expectations after input prices continued to rise in April, indicating mounting cost pressures on manufacturers.

The sub-index for input prices rose to 72.6 in April from 65.1 in March, with five of the 20 industries surveyed by the federation above 80, the federation said.

"The pressure on production costs is expected to increase significantly. We need to pay close attention to the difficulties that companies are facing," government analyst Zhang Liqun said in a commentary released with the data.

China's red-hot economy grew by a blistering 11.9 percent in the first quarter of 2010, fuelling fears the booming economy was at risk of overheating.

The federation also cautioned that the uncertain global economic outlook and growing frictions between China and its trade partners could restrict the recovery in Chinese exports this year.

Vietnam detains senior monk, banned Buddhists say

HANOI, May 1, 2010 (AFP) - A senior Vietnamese Buddhist monk, previously detained in an alleged plot to finance disorder against the communist regime, is in custody again, the spokesman for his banned church said late Friday.

Thich Khong Tanh, of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), was taken away by a group of uniformed police and men in plain clothes Friday evening, shortly after he left his pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, said the Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau.

Monks from the pagoda rushed out in an unsuccessful attempt to intervene, the group said in a statement.

"The monk's current whereabouts are unknown," it said, adding that police did not tell Khong Tanh why they stopped him.

An officer at the Ho Chi Minh City security police, contacted by AFP, said he did not know about the case.

Khong Tanh was detained briefly in August 2007 as he distributed money to farmers outside the government complaints office in Hanoi, state media and Buddhist activists said at the time.

He was carrying almost 19,000 dollars in cash, which his supporters called humanitarian aid for dispossessed farmers. State media said it was payment intended to incite disorder.

The Unified Buddhist Church has been banned since the early 1980s when it refused to join the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Church.

Indonesian marchers demand better social security

JAKARTA, May 1, 2010 (AFP) - Thousands of Indonesians took to the streets of Jakarta on Saturday amid a heavy police presence as they demanded better social security for workers.

Protestors gathered in the capital's main roundabout before marching to the State Palace, shouting "Today we unite" and "Stop oppression now".

"The social security system in Indonesia is still weak," Indonesian Workers Association head Saepul Tavip told AFP.

"The system here only covers about 25 percent of the (workers). The social security has to cover all workers and even small people," he said.

Some 15,000 security personnel had been deployed, the police said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to visit a factory on the outskirts of the capital and have lunch with the workers, reports said.

Taiwan rights groups lash out at executions - Reax

TAIPEI, May  1, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwanese human rights groups on Saturday accused the government of "recklessly" carrying out four executions in one night despite their calls to abolish the death penalty.

The Justice Ministry confirmed late Friday that four prisoners had been executed in the first death sentences to be carried out since late 2005.

"We are shocked and angered ... the justice ministry sped up the executions in a reckless process despite concerns over capital punishment," said a statement issued by the Judicial Reform Foundation and three rights groups.

The groups urged the ministry to stop carrying out any more executions as they are appealing to the Constitutional Court on the behalf of the remaining 40 death row inmates.
The executions happened at a sensitive time, less than two months after the island's justice minister stepped down, having caused a political storm by saying she would not allow any convict to be put to death during her term.

The ministry defended the move, saying the four men were convicted of grave offences and that "there is no reason for retrial or appeal".

One of the four was found guilty of strangling to death an elementary school student after obtaining a ransom for her, while another shot dead three men, according to the ministry.
Taiwan reserves the death penalty for serious crimes including aggravated murder, kidnapping and robbery, but the political elite is divided about whether to maintain it.

Meanwhile, opinion polls suggest widespread backing on the island for it with no significant erosion of support over the years.

Maltese president in Shanghai hospital

VALLETTA, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - Maltese President George Abela, on a state visit to China, was rushed to a hospital Friday after slipping at his Shanghai hotel and fracturing his lumbar vertebrae.

He was diagnosed as suffering from an incomplete fracture of his second lumbar transverse process, combined with bruising in his left chest and the soft tissue of his waist but his injuries were thought to be minor.

The Department of Information said in a statement that Abela, who is 62, was immediately admitted to Ruijin Hospital.

The president was due to attend Friday's official opening of the Shanghai Expo but had to cancel his appointments.

He was also scheduled to meet his counterpart, Hu Jintao.

Abela was hospitalised in December because of a drop in his blood pressure as he attended the funeral of a close friend. He was in hospital for a few days.

A lawyer by training, Abela took office in the tiny Mediterranean country, the European Union's smallest member state, in April last year.

Indonesia seeks fugitive treasure hunter

JAKARTA, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - Indonesian police said Friday they had barred undersea treasure hunter Michael Hatcher from leaving the country and declared him a fugitive.

Hatcher, who was reportedly born in Britain but grew up in Australia, is being hunted for trying to smuggle thousands of pieces of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) porcelain out of the country in two ships that were intercepted in September, police said.

"We have banned him from travelling overseas since yesterday because he stole those treasures. The police are still trying to ascertain his whereabouts," national chief detective Ito Sumardi said.

Officials said Thursday that they had "strong indications" that Hatcher had been conducting illegal salvage work on a wreck in the Java Strait north of Jakarta.

Some 2,360 pieces of porcelain were seized on the ships that were intercepted in waters off West Java in September.

Hatcher could be jailed for five years and fined 50 million rupiah (5,500 dollars) if found guilty.
The treasure hunter has excavated shipwrecks in Indonesia since the mid-1980s, when officials said he made 17 million dollars from auctioning gold ingots and Chinese porcelain salvaged from a wreck found off the Riau islands.

They said he had already begun to market items from his latest wreck.

The hunt for Hatcher comes as the government prepares to conduct an auction for some 270,000 pieces of ancient treasure ranging from Tunisia and Egypt to India and China that was found on a wreck in the Java Strait in 2003.

The artefacts will be sold on Wednesday as a single lot with a starting bid of 80 million dollars.

The proceeds will be split evenly between the government and the salvagers, including Belgian treasure hunter Luc Heymans' Cosmix Underwater Research Ltd.

Airbus defers again A380 delivery to Malaysia Airlines

KUALA LUMPUR, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia Airlines said Friday the aircraft maker Airbus had pushed back the delivery of its first A380 superjumbos for the second time.

The carrier had placed an order for six of the double-decker planes which were initially to be delivered from January 2007 but that was put back to late 2011.

Now it has been told it will have to wait even longer for the order.

"We have recently been informed that there will be a delay in the delivery of the A380s," the national carrier managing director and chief executive Azmil Zahruddin said in a statement.

"The first A380 is now expected to be delivered in the first half of 2012," he added. Airbus has previously said the Malaysian carrier will be compensated for the delay.

A Singapore-based Airbus spokesman confirmed the delivery will be delayed "for a few months". "Right now we are finalising the details of the new delivery schedule," he told AFP.

The spokesman declined to give reasons for the delay and whether it will affect the deliveries of the subsequent A380s by 2012.

Malaysian Airlines announced in December last year that it will buy up to 25 A330-300s wide-body aircraft worth five billion dollars in a bid to serve its growing markets. The aircraft have been slated for delivery from 2011 to 2016.

Malaysia Airlines returned to the black in the fourth quarter of 2009, with net profits of 610 million ringgit (179 million dollars) due to lower operation and fuel costs, as well as a rebound in its cargo business.

Google, Germany bury hatchet over 'Street View'

BERLIN, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - Germany said Friday that Google had agreed to address thorny privacy concerns before launching its Street View navigation service in the country, ending a row between the firm and Berlin.

Google "has agreed to start its new 'Street View' service only when all the objections raised by citizens have been fully taken into account," said Consumer Protection Minister Ilse Aigner in a statement after talks.

Street View, already available for cities in the United States, Japan, Australia and some parts of Europe, allows users to view on the Web panoramic still photos at street level taken using specially equipped vehicles.

The groundbreaking technology, launched in the United States in 2007, has given rise to privacy concerns in Germany, which is especially sensitive to the issue due to abuses by the Nazis and communists in the past.

Officials were concerned that thieves could use pictures of private houses to gain illegal access and that photos of people were being published without their consent.

But before the service can go live in Germany, the firm has promised to black out properties if individuals raise concerns and also to make faces unrecognisable.

"What is private must remain private," said the minister.

A Google spokesman told AFP that the firm still intended to launch Street View in Germany this year. "There will be no delay," he said.

German officials have also demanded that Google stop collecting information about private "WiFi" wireless Internet networks with its special cars.

Google responded that it was not the only firm to be doing this and that German companies were carrying out similar operations.

US calls level of China copyright theft 'unacceptable' - Lead

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - The US government said Friday that the level of theft of copyrights and patents in China "remains unacceptable" and kept Beijing on a "priority watch list" for intellectual property protection.

An annual report by the US Trade Representative's office (USTR) said that China's enforcement regime "remains largely ineffective and non-deterrent" and that US copyright industries ranging from movies to publishing to footwear "report severe losses due to piracy in China.

China will remain on the "priority watch list" in 2010 and will remain subject to monitoring by USTR.

The report said China's enforcement of intellectual property and implementation of a global agreement on the issue under the World Trade Organization "remain top priorities for the United States."

"The United States is heartened by many positive steps the Chinese government took in 2009 with respect to these issues," USTR said.

"However, the overall level of IPR (intellectual property rights) theft in China remains unacceptable."

The report said Washington is also "deeply troubled by the development of policies that may unfairly disadvantage US rights holders by promoting 'indigenous innovation.'"

Taiwan puts four to death in first executions since 2005 - Lead

TAIPEI, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan on Friday executed four prisoners in the first death sentences to be carried out since 2005, the justice ministry said.

The executions happened at a sensitive time, just weeks after the island's justice minister stepped down, having caused a political storm by saying she would not allow any convict to be put to death during her term.

"The four men were convicted of grave offences such as fatal kidnappings and murders and were sentenced to death by all levels of the courts," the ministry said in a statement. "The sentences were carried out according to the law."

One of the four was executed for kidnapping an elementary school student and strangling her after obtaining a ransom, the statement said.

Recently-appointed Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu approved the executions on Wednesday, state-run Central News Agency said, citing justice ministry officials.

The statement did not describe how the four were executed. Usually convicts in Taiwan are put to death with a bullet to the head.

Tseng became justice minister in March, and immediately ordered a review of the cases of all 44 prisoners on death row.

He replaced Wang Ching-feng, who had resigned after attracting criticism over her refusal to order the execution of any of the prisoners on death row.

Her decision triggered condemnation from lawmakers and activists in favour of the death penalty, as well as a statement from the cabinet that Taiwan was not about to abolish capital punishment.

Taiwan reserves the death penalty for serious crimes including aggravated murder, kidnapping and robbery, but the political elite is divided about whether to maintain it.

Meanwhile, opinion polls suggest widespread backing on the island for capital punishment with no significant erosion of support over the years.

About 74 percent of 792 Taiwanese interviewed by the Taipei-based United Daily News in March said they supported the position, against just 12 percent who opposed it.


China's Xinhua to unveil global television service

BEIJING, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - China's state-controlled Xinhua news agency said Friday it would launch a 24-hour global English television service this weekend to be broadcast by satellite and cable systems.

The service, due to begin on Saturday, will be produced by the China Network Corporation (CNC), an affiliate of Xinhua, and will make use of the agency's correspondents worldwide, it said.

"CNC will offer an alternative source of information for a global audience and aims to promote peace and development by interpreting the world in a global perspective," Xinhua president Li Congjun said.

The news channel is the latest effort by China's communist government to expand its media reach worldwide.

The government has earmarked 45 billion yuan (6.5 billion dollars) to fund the expansion of groups including Xinhua, state television station CCTV and China Radio International, according to Hong Kong media -- at a time when the industry is facing a major money crunch elsewhere.

Xinhua -- which is planning to add to its 117 bureaux around the world, which report in eight languages -- would like to join the tight circle of top international news agencies.

Beijing city limits home-buyers to one new apartment: media

BEIJING, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - The Chinese capital Beijing has issued rules limiting families to one new apartment purchase as authorities try to rein in rampant property speculation and soaring prices, state media said Friday.

"For the time being, one family can buy only one new home in the city," China News Service said, citing the municipal government.

Beijing authorities also ordered banks to refuse home loans to people who cannot prove they have paid taxes and made social security contributions in the city for at least one year, the report said.

Banks also have been told to block mortgage applications for people buying their third property, but it was not clear in the report whether this would affect only residents in the capital or others as well.

The rules marked the latest in a series of measures by Chinese authorities as they seek to reduce the risk of the red-hot property market overheating and derailing the world's third largest economy.

Prices in major cities rose 11.7 percent year-on-year last month, the fastest pace since a nationwide survey was widened to 70 cities in July 2005, official data show.

At the Beijing Real Estate Expo earlier this month, the average price of a new apartment in the Chinese capital was 21,164 yuan (3,100 dollars) per square metre, double that of last year, state media said.

That means a 90-square-metre (970 square feet) apartment in Beijing would cost 1.9 million yuan, compared with the average per capita income of 17,175 yuan in 2009.

Beijing's government pledged to step up efforts to reclaim land left idle by property developers to combat land hoarding and make the space available for "ordinary housing".

Authorities also will investigate property developments charging excessively high prices.
In the past two weeks, China has tightened restrictions nationwide on advance sales of new property developments, introduced new curbs on loans for third home purchases and raised minimum down-payments for second homes.

Banking regulators have also told lenders to conduct quarterly stress tests on mortgages as the government seeks to clamp down on bad loans.

This week, state media said China was likely to introduce a property tax on residential housing in the first half of the year on a trial basis in Beijing, Shanghai, southwestern Chongqing and the southern city of Shenzhen.

The moves highlight growing concern in China about a possible rise in bad debts tripping up the rapid growth of the economy, as happened in the United States.

But analysts have warned the rules contained apparent loopholes that could be exploited by speculators.

China lacks a nationwide database on property sales, which means banks have no way of checking if mortgage applicants already own apartments in other cities.

And higher down-payments will have little impact on speculators who mostly pay the full value of properties in cash.

Singapore 'beast' gets jail and caning for raping daughter

SINGAPORE, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - A Singapore man described by prosecutors as a "menacing beast" has been sentenced to 36 years' jail for raping his own daughter and fathering her child, local media reported Friday.

The 43-year-old labourer, whose name cannot be revealed to protect his daughter's identity, will also receive 24 strokes of the cane, the maximum allowed under the law, the Straits Times reported.

Justice Woo Bih Li called the man an "incorrigible monster" at his sentencing on Thursday and imposed one of the harshest punishments ever meted out to a sexual offender in the city-state.

The court was told that the defendant had already been jailed and caned for molesting his daughter when she was six but soon after his release in 2002, he began sexually abusing his daughter again while his wife was at work.

The girl finally filed a police report when she got pregnant at the age of 16 in 2009, and her baby was given up for adoption.

Singapore imposes caning for serious crimes like rape.

Foreign allies reluctant to meddle in Thai crisis

BANGKOK, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - The international community is urging a peaceful resolution to Thailand's protracted political crisis but is unlikely to intervene in the affairs of the key Western ally, experts say.

Following a series of violent confrontations in the heart of Bangkok and weeks of mass anti-government protests that have hit many businesses, including foreign hotels, diplomats say privately they are very worried.

But foreign governments seem unlikely to put strong pressure on either the protesters -- who want greater social equality -- or the authorities, who are insisting that they will not be bullied into calling snap elections.

"There's no real pressure being applied. People are just listening to both sides but trying to keep neutral ground," said one European diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Governments across the world have issued calls for "restraint" and for a negotiated solution following the worst political violence in almost two decades, which has left 27 people dead and hundreds injured this month.

"To date the level of bloodshed has not been such that a decisive intervention from the outside is going to happen," said Michael Montesano, a Singapore-based Thailand expert.

The United States, a longstanding and staunch ally of Thailand, is among the countries that have condemned the violence.

The US embassy has also "intensively engaged in discussions" both with the Thai government and the "Red Shirts", a US State Department spokesman told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

"And our message remains ... to peacefully resolve the situation," he said, without disclosing whether those talks were ongoing.

Washington is thought unlikely to move beyond the usual expressions of concern and calls for restraint in a country that is often seen as a pillar of stability in the region despite its frequent political upheaval.

"The US policy is to hope that this doesn't become terribly violent and to try to push Thailand towards a more normal stable procedural democracy. Nothing they have said strikes me as particularly meaningful or Thailand-specific," said Montesano, of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

But one Western diplomat believes that the Thai government, led by British-born, Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, is particularly sensitive to the US comments, even if they have been relatively restrained.

"These statements were read and heard. A certain coldness on the US side was noted," he said.

This message is also likely to make Thailand's military wary of staging another coup, he said. Tense diplomatic relations followed the last coup in 2006 that deposed the Red Shirts' political icon, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Governments refused to maintain their diplomatic links with the junta that stayed in power for a year, while some US military assistance was suspended.

The Red Shirts have sought in vain to increase international pressure on their government by delivering letters to the UN and US, British and European Union embassies seeking support.

But few expect to see UN peacekeepers or EU observers on the streets of Bangkok any time soon.

"There is no need for international intervention at this point in time," Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya told a news conference Thursday during a visit to Jakarta.

A group of lesser-known diplomats irked the Thai government by visiting the Red Shirts' protest compound last week -- a move that was criticised by Kasit.

The Reds accuse the current government of being elitist and undemocratic, because it came to power on the back of a parliamentary vote that followed a controversial court decision ousting Thaksin's allies from power.

But diplomats note Abhisit's ascent to power was within the constitution.

And with close diplomatic and economic ties at stake in a region home to military-ruled Myanmar as well as communist Vietnam and Laos, Thailand's allies seem unlikely to do anything to upset the current administration.

"World governments still consider Thailand a relative beacon of democracy in the region, so if we let them down what hope is there for all the other Asian allies," said the European diplomat.

Man sets self on fire in latest China school attack: report

BEIJING, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - A man attacked children at an eastern China school with a hammer before setting himself on fire, in the latest in a series of apparent copy-cat attacks, state media said Friday.

The attack in Shandong province left five pre-school children injured but all were in a stable condition in hospital, Xinhua news agency said.

The man then poured petrol over himself and ignited it while holding two children in his arms.
Teachers pulled the children to safety and the man died at the scene, the report said.

The incident follows three knife attacks at schools by mentally disturbed adults, which killed eight children and left nearly 50 injured.

Singapore Unemployment down with job market adding 34,000 more workers

Singapore: Employment continued to grow strongly in the first quarter of 2010, amid the robust economic recovery.

Total employment is estimated to have grown by 34,000 in the first quarter, following the third quarter increase on the back of two quarters of decline in the first half of 2009.

With the strong job gains, the seasonally adjusted overall unemployment rate dipped to 2.2% in March 2010 from a revised 2.3% in December 2009.

Similarly, among the resident labour force, the unemployment rate dipped to 3.2% from a revised 3.3% in December 2009.

The bulk of the latest employment gains came from the service sector, with 31,200 more workers added in the first quarter of 2010, compared to 31,500 in the previous quarter.

Manufacturing saw a second consecutive increase adding 3,400 workers after shedding workers over four consecutive quarters, while construction registered a small decline of 800 workers after 20 successive quarters of employment gains since 2005.

Preliminary estimates from the Manpower Ministry also showed that 1,600 workers were retrenched and 500 contracts were terminated prematurely, resulting in a total of 2,100 workers made redundant in the first quarter of 2010.

This was comparable to the 2,220 workers made redundant in the previous quarter and way lower than the record 12,760 workers affected in the first quarter of 2009.

While redundancies in manufacturing and construction edged up, the number of workers laid off in services was down.

China telecoms equipment makers say sales blocked in India

BEIJING, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - A trade industry group in China said Friday India has been blocking purchases of telecommunications equipment from Chinese companies for several months.

The China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products said it has received complaints from domestic telecoms equipment makers and has contacted relevant government agencies over the issue.

A spokeswoman for the industry group would not identify the companies and products affected, saying the matter was "too complicated".

The commerce ministry declined to comment when contacted by AFP.

India's decision to block the purchases of telecoms products from China was based on national security grounds, the Financial Times reported Friday.

"Proposals for procurement of equipment from Chinese original equipment manufacturing vendors have not been recommended due to security concerns," India's Department of Telecommunications said this week, in correspondence to the prime minister's office seen by the newspaper.

"Therefore, the proposals from the service providers for purchase of Chinese equipment are turned down."

The practice has sparked complaints from Beijing and is causing havoc for mobile operators in India, which need huge amounts of equipment to support an industry that is adding 20 million new users a month, the report said.

India's mobile market has become an important source of revenue for Chinese companies, accounting for about 11 percent of 2008 turnover at Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies, it said.

But China's ballooning trade surplus with India -- about 16 billion dollars last year -- has fuelled tensions between the two sides, with Indian firms complaining the market is being flooded with cheaper Chinese-made products, the report said.

Samsung Electronics sees six-fold surge in profit

SEOUL, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - South Korea's Samsung Electronics said Friday first-quarter net profit surged more than six-fold from a year earlier to 3.99 trillion won (3.6 billion dollars) amid stronger demand and higher memory chip prices.

Samsung, the world's largest maker of computer memory chips and flat screen televisions, also reported a record operating profit of 4.41 trillion won as global demand for consumer electronics perks up after the financial crisis.

Revenue increased 21 percent year-on-year to 34.64 trillion won, the firm said in a statement. The figures include results from overseas subsidiaries.

The company, which is also the world's second largest mobile phone maker after Finland's Nokia, said it expects earnings in the second quarter to be even better based on strong demand for chips and liquid crystal displays.

Vice president Robert Yi also cited increased sales of products such as mobile phones and televisions.

"We will continue to widen the gap with competitors in the memory business, improve profitability in the LCD business, and strengthen our competitiveness and market dominance in the handset and TV businesses," Yi said.

The Q1 operating profit beat the previous high of 4.22 trillion won in the third quarter of 2009.

The results were slightly better than the earnings guidance the firm released earlier this month, which forecast first-quarter revenues of about 34 trillion won and an operating profit of 4.3 trillion.

Samsung for the first time used international financial reporting standards to tally its figures.

In January-March 2009 the firm had reported net profit of 582 billion won and operating profit of 593 billion.

The company's memory chip business achieved a dramatic turnaround in the first quarter of this year, recording an operating profit of 1.96 trillion won compared to a loss of 710 billion won a year earlier.

Samsung said DRAM (dynamic random access memory) prices rose due to supply constraints amid strong demand.

The NAND flash memory market was steady due to strong demand for smartphones and mobile application products.

It said demand for both types of chip was expected to rise in the second quarter thanks to steady growth in shipments of personal computers and increased demand for mobile products including tablet PCs.

"We will raise Samsung's second-quarter operating profit forecast as prices of memory chips are likely to rise further," Jin Sung-Hye, an analyst at Shinhan Investment Corp., told Yonhap news agency before the earnings report.

Samsung, which has overtaken Japan's Sony in global clout, employs about 188,000 people in 185 offices across 65 countries.

Facts about Shanghai's World Expo

SHANGHAI, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - China's business and financial centre, Shanghai, is hosting the World Expo. The city will stage a massive opening ceremony on Friday before turnstiles open to visitors on May 1.

The following is a fact file on the event, also known as the World's Fair:

WHAT IS IT?: Organisers call it the Olympics of science, technology and ideas. The main attractions are country pavilions where governments promote their values, culture and achievements.

THEME: Each Expo chooses a universal theme relevant to the future of humanity. Shanghai will look at urbanisation with the theme "Better City, Better Life".

DURATION: Six months, May 1 to October 31.


VISITORS: Up to 100 million are expected.

CHINESE VISITORS: 95 percent of visitors are expected to be Chinese.

BUDGET: Shanghai has spent 400 billion yuan (58.6 billion dollars) in direct and indirect investments preparing for the Expo, according to state media -- more than was spent on the Beijing Olympics. But the Shanghai government only confirms its budget for the site is 28.6 billion yuan.

TICKETS: 160 yuan (23.50 dollars)

STATE VISITS: 20 world leaders are in Shanghai for the opening ceremony, but about 100 are expected to visit throughout Expo.

SITE: 5.3 square kilometres (two square miles), more than twice the size of Monaco.

FREQUENCY: Expos have two categories: Large-scale "Universal Expositions", like the one in Shanghai, are held every five years, but smaller "International Expositions" can take place in between.

Google's loss is really Baidu's gain

BEIJING: Chinese search engine Baidu Inc on Thursday said it benefited from Google's partial exit from the country and anticipates more customer gains in the next few quarters.

Analysts, however, said that Google's bleeding might slow in the second quarter, as mainland users' continued access to the Google Hong Kong site may ease advertisers' concerns.

Robin Lee, chief executive of Baidu, said the company benefited from Google's decision to move its search engine to Hong Kong last month. "We have seen more confidence and higher customer loyalty since the end of last quarter," Lee said during a conference call on Thursday.
Baidu also benefited from the overall market growth and the deployment of its new online advertising platform "Phoenix Nest".

The company said on Wednesday that its profit more than doubled in the first three months of this year. Net income for the period rose to 480.5 million yuan ($70.4 million) from 181.1 million yuan a year back.

Incidentally this is the first earnings report from Baidu after its closest rival Google said in March that it was moving its search engine on the mainland to Hong Kong.

The US search company's decision led to most of its advertisers reducing spending by about 30 percent.

"The fall of Google's market share in the first quarter reflects the advertiser's concerns on the future of Google's Hong Kong site and its soured relationship with the Chinese government," said Edward Yu, president of Analysys International.

"Since the site is still accessible to users in the mainland, we expect Google's market share to recover in the second quarter," he said.

According to Analysys International, Google's market share in China fell to 30.9 percent in the first quarter from 35.6 percent three months earlier. Baidu's market share rose to 64 percent from 58.4 percent, the Beijing-based research firm said.

The search engine market share is based on revenue, rather than user numbers.

Access to Google's new site in Hong Kong has been normal for most mainland users. Google's other services, such as maps, video and music search are also functioning normally.

By Wang Xing (China Daily)

S.Korea's Lee to meet China's Hu, warship on agenda

SEOUL, April 30, 2010 (AFP) - South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak left Friday for talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao which are expected to address the sinking of a warship on the tense border with North Korea.

"As China is also curious about the issue, it is expected to be raised naturally" when Lee meets Hu in Shanghai later Friday, said presidential spokesman Park Sun-Kyoo.

A mysterious explosion ripped the 1,200-tonne South Korean corvette apart on March 26 near the disputed border in the Yellow Sea with the loss of 46 lives.

South Korea has not openly blamed the communist North for the disaster but suspicions of its involvement are growing.

A joint funeral for the 46 dead was held Thursday, at which the navy chief vowed retaliation against whoever was to blame.

Seoul's defence minister has said a heavy torpedo was among the likeliest causes of the underwater explosion. South Korea is mounting a multinational probe into the cause.
Officials have said a military response has not been ruled out if the North is found responsible, but have indicated the case would likely be taken to the United Nations Security Council.

In that case, China's role as a veto-wielding permanent Council member would be crucial in securing any binding resolution against the North.

China is North Korea's sole major ally and the key provider of food and energy to the impoverished state.

On a bilateral level, the two leaders are expected to discuss a possible free trade agreement. Lee last week told his cabinet to look into a possible trade pact with China, his country's largest trading partner.

Lee is visiting Shanghai for the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Expo and will attend a welcoming dinner to which North Korea's number two leader Kim Yong-Nam has also been invited.

Lee will return to Seoul on Saturday after his fifth visit to China since taking office in February 2008.

Shanghai ready to welcome world to Expo

SHANGHAI, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - Shanghai is set to open the World Expo Friday by setting the skies along its riverfront ablaze with fireworks, welcoming the huge showcase of culture and technology with a bang.

Still basking in the glow of its successful hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China is treating the Expo as an equally important display of its ability to organise an event on a massive scale.

From the United States to North Korea, a total of 189 countries will have exhibitions at the six-month event that is expected to attract up to 100 million visitors -- the vast majority of them Chinese.

To show China's most cosmopolitan city knows how to throw a party, organisers have hired the team behind the opening and closing ceremonies for the Vancouver Winter Olympics to stage Friday night's Expo bash.

The ceremony will feature non-stop fireworks and a chain of searchlights along a 3.5-kilometre (two-mile) stretch of Shanghai's riverfront, producers David Atkins Enterprises said in a statement.

"We look forward to stunning the world," said Ignatius Jones, the ceremony's artistic director.
A host of world leaders will attend the opening ceremony including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.

Once Expo's gates open to visitors on Saturday, participating countries will vie to outdo each other in presenting the best they have to offer the world -- with a particular eye on China's market of 1.3 billion people.

Denmark has made a splash by bringing its "Little Mermaid" statue out of Copenhagen for the first time, France has impressionist paintings and Rodin sculptures, while Italy is showing works by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

India is bringing a cast of Bollywood stars, Canada's pavilion will bear the imaginative touches of Cirque du Soleil and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli is due to perform.

But for many, the spotlight will be on the cutting-edge architecture of the national pavilions at the 5.3-square-kilometre site.

Highlights include China's red inverted pyramid, Britain's stunning dandelion-like "Seed Cathedral", Spain's "Big Basket" made of 8,500 wicker panels, and Switzerland's three-story-high "meadow" -- complete with chairlift.

US congratulates China on lifting HIV visitors ban

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated China on Thursday for lifting travel restrictions for foreigners with HIV and AIDS.

"I am encouraged by the growing international consensus against discriminatory HIV-based travel restrictions, and I congratulate China on being a part of this progress," the top US diplomat said in a statement.

Clinton noted that the United States lifted its own restrictions on foreign travellers with HIV and AIDS, which had been in place since 1987, in January.

"China's step, like our earlier action, is supported by current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and risk. And it will help reduce the stigma and discrimination around HIV/AIDS that fuel the global pandemic and too often prevent people from accessing much-needed services," Clinton said.

China announced Tuesday it would lift the restrictions ahead of the opening Saturday of the Shanghai World Expo, which is expecting up to 100 million visitors during its six-month run.

Google wins Rosetta Stone trademark case

SAN FRANCISCO, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - Google said Thursday that a US judge ruled that the Internet giant's AdWords advertising program did not infringe on the trademark of language software producer Rosetta Stone.

"We're pleased that the judge has ruled in Google's favor, consistent with a growing line of decisions in the Internet space," Google senior litigation counsel Adam Barea said in an email statement.

"Users searching on Google benefit from being able to choose from a variety of competing advertisers, and we've found no evidence that legitimate use of trademarks as keyword triggers or in the text of advertisements confuses consumers."

Rosetta Stone had charged that Google was wrongly allowing its name and other trademarks to serve as keywords that other businesses can use to target paid advertisements to people on the Internet.

Google policy is to allow trademarks to be used to target AdWords advertising.

"We allow trademarks to be used as keyword triggers in AdWords because users searching on Google benefit from being able to choose from a variety of competing advertisers," said Google spokesman Andrew Pederson.

"Just as it's reasonable to expect a range of brands on any shelf in a grocery store, providing users on Google with more than one option when they search for a brand name or other trademark helps them to find the best product at the lowest price."

Rosetta argued that Google's policy results in consumers being deceived or confused, and let rival businesses profit from Rosetta trademarks.

Taiwan holds biggest military drill in over a year

TAIPEI, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - More than 6,500 Taiwanese soldiers, including elite special forces, took part Thursday in the island's biggest military manoeuvre in over a year, simulating a D-Day type Chinese attack on the island.

About 4,900 troops, assisted by F-16 fighter jets and Super Cobra attack helicopters, deployed near Chialutang, a coastal village in southern Taiwan, as they defended the beaches against a mock invasion.

"If war were to break out, the Chialutang beaches would be a likely landing site for Chinese forces," an army lieutenant colonel told AFP after the one-day exercise, identifying himself only by his surname Tai.

Several kilometres (miles) inland, 1,200 infantrymen simulated defence against an enemy force dropped by air in support of the beach invasion.

Meanwhile, in Huko township in the north of the island, 400 soldiers took part in a drill testing the army's ability to speedily airlift special forces over long distances, the military said.
The island last held similar military manoeuvres in December 2008, but only computerised war games were held last year.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.

But Beijing has not ruled out the use of force against the island, which it regards as part of its territory, even though it has been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Indonesia investigates undersea treasure hunter

JAKARTA, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - Indonesia is investigating treasure hunter Michael Hatcher for allegedly plundering an undersea trove and trying to smuggle porcelain, an official said Thursday.

Fisheries ministry official Adji Sularso said the probe came after authorities seized 2,360 items dating from the Chinese Ming dynasty.

"There are strong indications that Michael Hatcher has been involved in an illegal shipwreck salvage in Blanakan waters," he told reporters.

The porcelain was loaded in two ships that were intercepted in waters off West Java in September, he added.

Hatcher, who was reportedly born in Britain but grew up as an orphan in Australia, has excavated shipwrecks in Indonesia since the mid-1980s.

"If he's proven guilty, he could be jailed for five years and fined 50 million rupiah (5,500 dollars)," Sularso said.

Indonesian officials said Hatcher made 17 million dollars from auctioning gold ingots and 160,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain salvaged from wreck found in the Riau islands in the mid-1980s.

They said he had already started to market items recovered from his latest wreck.
Another salvage team headed by Belgian undersea fossicker Luc Heymans is offering 270,000 pieces of 1,000-year-old treasure found off Java in 2003 at an auction in Jakarta next week.

The haul of porcelain, jewels, crystals and ornaments originating from north Africa to China has a minimum bid price of 80 million dollars, with the proceeds to be split evenly between the private salvagers and the Indonesian government.


China will undertake greater global role: Wen - 2ndlead

BEIJING, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - China pledged to take a greater role in global issues Thursday as it vowed to work with the European Union on nuclear non-proliferation, energy security and climate change.

In wide-ranging talks between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the two sides also agreed to to fight protectionism and tear down trade barriers.

"China will undertake greater international responsibilities," Wen said in a joint media appearance with Barroso after their talks.

"This is not only to meet international expectations but also serves China's interests."
During the talks, both leaders vowed to reduce trade barriers and ensure level playing fields for enterprises both in Europe and China, Wen said.

"The European community and China's strategic partnership is even more relevant in an increasingly globalised world," Barroso said.

"Whether it is in leading a global economic recovery, resisting protectionist pressures, defending against the threat of climate change or addressing nuclear proliferation and other security questions, China and the European Union need to work together," he said.

On the Iranian nuclear issue -- a key concern of the EU and United States -- Wen did not say whether Beijing would support new sanctions on Tehran.

He said only that China was committed to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime and upholding peace in the Middle East.

"China will remain in touch with the relevant parties and will play a positive and constructive role for the early and proper settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue," Wen said.

The United States, Europe and others fear Tehran seeks to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists its atomic programme is purely for civilian energy use.

Western nations are calling for a fresh round of UN sanctions but Beijing -- a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council -- has so far resisted such a move.

"China and the European Union have far more consensus than differences," Wen said.

"We both stand for world multi-polarity and diversity (and) we both believe that major decisions in world affairs should be taken in an open, democratic and transparent manner."

The two sides also agreed to set up a climate change hotline between top environmental officials of the EU and China to help both sides coordinate their positions in global greenhouse gas negotiations, Barroso said.

Barroso and his delegation will leave Beijing on Friday to attend the opening of the World Expo in Shanghai.

China tightens state secrets law

BEIJING, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - China tightened a controversial state secrets law on Thursday so that Internet and mobile phone operators now have to to inform on their customers.
The law, which has in the past been used to jail high-profile dissidents, was passed by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, China's top law-making body.
"Operators and service providers must cooperate with demands made by police, state security and prosecution agencies in pursuing criminals, and cooperate with investigations," committee member Sun Zhenping said in comments on the body's website.
"Operators and service providers that discover some people have used the Internet to publish information that relates to leaking state secrets must immediately report it to relevant authorities," he told reporters.
Sun added that under the amended law, they were also required to "delete the information according to the demands of relevant authorities".
The law came to global prominence when Australian executive Stern Hu of mining giant Rio Tinto was charged with violating the state secrets law after he was detained in July last year. But the charges were later watered down.
Human rights groups and legal activists have criticised "state secret" as an overly vague term, saying it is abused by the government to jail dissidents or prevent sensitive information being disclosed.
Analysts said the requirement for Internet and mobile phone operators to report information on state secrets would not change the current situation, as authorities were asking firms for this type of information already.
"The only thing it does is it gives another explicit, legal tool for the authorities to snoop," Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of Danwei.org, a website focused on China's media industry that is itself blocked in China, told AFP.
He added that it also gave them the right "to demand that anyone in the business of information not only self-censors but proactively informs on their users if they think something is going on".
According to a law expert interviewed earlier in the week by the official China Daily, however, the amendment was necessary in the digital age.
"Without cooperation from network carriers and service providers, authorities alone could not collect evidence or sort out the cases," Ma Huaide, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, was quoted as saying.

India, South Korea top sources of spam in Asia

SINGAPORE, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - India and South Korea were the top Asian sources of global junk mail in the first quarter of the year, while China has pulled itself out of the "dirty dozen" list, a study revealed Thursday.

The United States remained the number one source of junk, or spam, emails accounting for 13.1 percent of the total sent during the three-month period, the survey by computer security firm Sophos said.

India was number two in the global rankings, accounting for 7.3 percent of junk messages.
Brazil was third with 6.8 percent, followed by South Korea (4.48 percent), Vietnam (3.4 percent) and Germany (3.2 percent).

Rounding up the so-called "dirty dozen" list globally were Britain (3.1 percent), Russia (3.1 percent), Italy (3.1 percent), France (3.0 percent), Romania (2.5 percent) and Poland (2.4 percent).

China came in 15th, with just 1.9 percent of the world's spam, according to Sophos.
"All eyes aren't so much on which countries are on the list, but the one which isn't," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

"China has earned itself a bad reputation in many countries' eyes for being the launchpad of targeted attacks against foreign companies and government networks," he said.

"But at least in the last 12 months they can demonstrate that the proportion of spam relayed by their computers has steadily reduced."

The US, South Korea, Brazil and India together account for over 30 percent of all the spam emails relayed by hacked computers worldwide, added Cluley.

Despite China's improved rankings, Asia accounted for 33.7 percent of spam sent in the first quarter, larger than Europe's 31.2 percent, North America's 16.9 percent and 14.7 percent for Latin America.

Spam accounts for 97 percent of all messages received by business email servers, many of them selling counterfeit or illicit goods, Sophos said.

Virtually all spam comes from malware-infected computers and cause a huge strain on company resources and leads to lost productivity, it added.

Surgeon plans more live-donor liver transplants in Asia

SINGAPORE, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - From ailing Middle East royalty
arriving in private jets to desperate charity cases, Dr Tan Kai Chah
has seen them all in his liver disease centre in Singapore.

But the Malaysian doctor, one of Asia's top liver surgeons, has a more
lofty mission: make transplants and treatment more accessible to
patients now that the organs can be sourced from living donors, not
just cadavers.

Liver disease is common in Asia due to poor hygiene practices and
dietary habits and many patients end up dying because of sky-high
medical costs, inadequate facilities and a small donor pool, experts

In Southeast Asia, about six to eight percent of the population suffer
from hepatitis B, said Tan, lead surgeon and executive chairman of the
Asian Centre for Liver Diseases and Transplantation.

"In some parts of Asia such as China's Pearl River Delta (and) north
Vietnam... it can affect up to about 12 percent of the population,"
Tan, 57, said in an interview with AFP.

Hepatitis C is "very common" in South Korea, Japan, Mongolia and
Russia where it affects about three to four percent of the population.

"There are many people suffering from hepatitis infection. Many of
them go on to develop liver cirrhosis, which is hardening of the
liver, going into liver failure and a substantial number of them
develop liver cancer," said Tan.

Despite its prevalence, liver disease treatment is a neglected field,
Tan said, noting that while heart centres can be found in several big
Asian cities, specialised liver facilities are rare.

"Why? Because heart and brain disease is a rich man's disease," said
the British-trained surgeon, who has performed 500 to 600 liver
transplants so far.

"Who's got the liver disease? It's the poor, so it's very, very much neglected."

Before medical science made it possible for a portion of the liver to
be taken from a living donor, patients had to wait in a queue for
someone else to die before they could undergo a transplant.

China's clampdown on the extraction of organs from executed prisoners
ahead of its hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics cut off a major
source for cadaveric transplants, Tan said.

Moreover, superstition and opposition from relatives prevent many
individuals from pledging to donate their organs when they die.

But living donors are growing in number due to reduced risks, and
rejection in liver cases is the lowest among all major organ
transplants, Tan said.

Unlike other organs of the body, the liver can regenerate itself so
only a part of it needs to be taken from a healthy donor and
transplanted into a patient.

For transplants involving a living donor, many Asian countries like
Singapore allow only blood relatives and those who are legally
related, such as by marriage or adoption, to donate, the surgeon said.

With fewer people going to China for their transplants, liver
operations in the Singapore centre have increased "substantially" over
the past two years, he said.

Surgeons at the facility, Asia's first private centre dedicated to the
treatment of liver disease, perform 35-40 transplants a year.

About 95 percent of the patients come from outside the city-state,
among them super-rich Middle East clients who find it harder to get
visas to the US and Europe after the September 11, 2001 terror
attacks, Tan said.

"We have poor patients who come to us from Indonesia, from Vietnam,
from Sri Lanka," said Tan.

"We also have very, very rich patients who fly in in their private
jets for their liver transplant and who wouldn't bat an eyelid if they
spend half a million to one million Singapore dollars (357,000-714,000

A typical liver transplant in Singapore can cost between 250,000 and
300,000 dollars but can reach as high as one million dollars if the
hospital stay and other expenses are included.

Tan said treatment has to be made more accessible and affordable in
Asia by spreading the expertise.

"If you look at all the regional capital cities, like Manila, Cebu,
Jakarta, Surabaya and Kuala Lumpur, you've got heart centres, brain
centres but you don't have liver centres, so we feel that there is a
niche for us to fill," he said.

Initially, he expects to open satellite liver clinics in Vietnam's Ho
Chi Minh City and Seremban in Malaysia in July or August.

Negotiations for similar facilities in Manila and Malaysia's Penang as
well as for a liver centre in China are also underway.

The clinics will be doing consultations at first, with the more
serious cases referred to Singapore.

But eventually the clinics should progress to handling transplants
with the support of local hospitals, and then ultimately on their own,
Tan said.

The Singapore centre will provide expertise on starting and managing a
liver ward, and help train local doctors and nurses.

To finance the centre's expansion plans, Tan had the company listed on
the Australian Stock Exchange in September 2009.

Tan earned his spurs in Britain, where he performed liver transplants
from living donors as a consultant at King's College Hospital in

Tan, who returned to Asia in the mid-1990s and now races horses as a
hobby, said the main challenge is raising public awareness that
end-stage liver patients can still cling to some hope.

"As long as the cancer has not spread out (to the other organs), you
can look at liver transplant because the success rate is very good."

Taiwan unveils plan for cutting-edge Internet technology

TAIPEI, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan unveiled a plan Thursday to invest 24 billion Taiwan dollars (750 million US) in the development of cutting-edge Internet computing technology, saying it would create 50,000 new jobs.

The economic ministry said it hopes the five-year spending plan will encourage the private sector to follow suit and help create a "cloud computing" industry worth about one trillion Taiwan dollars.

Cloud computing lets firms essentially rent text, spreadsheet, calendar or other programmes as needed and avoid the cost of buying, installing, updating and maintaining software on workplace machines.

The ministry aims to develop data storage centres, cloud application software programmes and other services to promote the industry, it said in a statement.

The ministry last year signed an agreement with Microsoft to jointly establish a research centre on the island to tap into the new market.

Revenue from cloud computing will top 14 billion US dollars annually by the end of 2013, according to a forecast by industry tracker Gartner.

Singapore defends race policies after UN envoy urges reform

SINGAPORE, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - Singapore has defended its race
policies after a UN envoy called for reforms including lifting
restrictions on the public discussion of sensitive issues like
ethnicity, language and religion.

The foreign ministry said in a statement issued Wednesday that
Singapore could not risk allowing such open discussions, stressing
that the government, not the United Nations, would bear the
consequences of ethnic strife.

Githu Muigai, the UN special rapporteur on racism, had proposed the
reforms on Wednesday, at the end of a week-long visit to the

Although Singapore had taken steps to foster racial harmony and
discourage intolerance, its efforts "may have created blind spots" he

Muigai, who will issue a report in June 2011 on Singapore, cited laws
prohibiting the promotion of hostility between members of different
ethnic groups, which he said limited public debate on race, language
and religion.

While the laws were understandable, it was "necessary in a free
society" that such restrictions "are not implemented at the detriment
of fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom
of assembly."

Muigai said Singaporeans should be allowed "to share their views on
matters of ethnicity, to identify potential issues of discomfort and
above all, work together to find solutions."

The foreign ministry said it "emphatically" disagreed with Muigai.

Race, religion and language can be discussed in Singapore but the
limits were set to strike a balance between free expression and the
preservation of racial and religious harmony, the ministry said.

"This balance is only for the Singapore government to determine
because only the Singapore government bears the responsibility should
things go wrong."

Singapore, a mainly ethnic Chinese nation of five million people with
large Malay and Indian minorities, was wracked by race riots in the

Race and religion are considered highly sensitive topics to this day
despite widespread prosperity, and housing policies are designed to
prevent ethnic enclaves from forming.

Muigai also urged Singapore to ratify several international treaties
that "enshrine the fundamental principles of equality and

The foreign ministry said it will accede to these conventions "if
there is substantive value in doing so and we are prepared to
implement all their provisions."

IMF warns Asian economies of overheating risks

SHANGHAI, April 29, 2010 (AFP) - The International Monetary Fund
warned Thursday that Asian economies were at risk of overheating as
strong capital inflows fan inflationary pressures and raise the risk
of damaging bubbles.

The IMF urged regional leaders to return to "more normal" monetary
policies after the global financial crisis, and increase the
flexibility of their exchange rates to counter speculative funds
flowing into their economies.

"For China, like in other economies in the region, the risk is to
ensure that the boom we see in asset flows does not, like in the past,
lead to a cycle of boom and bust," Anoop Singh, director of the IMF's
Asia-Pacific department, told a news conference.

In its latest report on the regional outlook, the IMF said brighter
economic growth prospects and widening interest rate differentials
with developed economies "are likely to attract more capital to the

"This could lead to overheating in some economies and increase their
vulnerability to credit and asset price booms with the risk of
subsequent abrupt reversals," the report said.

The IMF raised its growth forecasts for Asia to 7.1 percent for both
2010 and 2011, higher than its prediction last week when it estimated
regional economies would expand an average 6.9 percent this year and
7.0 percent next.

But the Fund warned export-driven Asia remained vulnerable to a
slower-than-expected recovery in the West, and urged governments to
reduce their reliance on overseas shipments and boost domestic

"It will be important to implement reforms that boost the productivity
and the competitiveness of the services sector," IMF senior economist
Olaf Unteroberdoerster told reporters.

The IMF said Asian policymakers need to safeguard against the build-up
of imbalances in asset and housing markets caused by "excess
liquidity", and one way to do this was to adopt more flexible exchange

"Letting the exchange rate appreciate can forestall short-term
inflows," the Fund said, without specifically referring to China.

"Without more currency appreciation, the pressure to sterilise the
impact on money supply will continue."

But stronger currencies alone were not going to rebalance the
economies in China and other countries in the region, said Singh.

Governments needed to reduce household "precautionary savings" and
very high corporate savings in China and elsewhere.

"It's very important that this package of measures is not viewed as
based on one policy, which is the exchange rate," Singh said.

The IMF said last week a stronger yuan was "essential" for both the
Chinese and world economies, heaping more pressure on Beijing to
revalue the currency, which has been effectively pegged at 6.8 to the
dollar since mid-2008.

Critics say the policy has given Chinese manufacturers an unfair
advantage by making their exports cheaper.

China's property moves cool demand: analysts

BEIJING, April 28, 2010 (AFP) - China's moves to rein in soaring real estate prices appear to be cooling demand in the red-hot sector, reducing the risk of the market overheating and derailing the booming economy, analysts say.

In the past two weeks, the government has introduced a range of measures aimed at curbing rampant speculation and spiralling prices, but analysts warn the rules can be skirted easily by buyers looking to make a fast buck.

"The overall effect of these rules is to send a clear signal -- the State Council (cabinet) is serious about deflating the housing bubble," said Stephen Green, head of China research at Standard Chartered Bank.

"By pricking a land and property bubble in several major cities, the State Council has decided to endure some short-term pain for long-term gain."

Beijing has tightened restrictions on advance sales of new property developments, introduced new curbs on loans for third home purchases and raised minimum downpayments for second homes.

Banking regulators have also ordered lenders to conduct quarterly stress tests on mortgages as the government seeks to clamp down on bad loans.

This week, state media said China was likely to introduce a property tax on residential housing in the first half of the year on a trial basis in Beijing, Shanghai, the southwestern area of Chongqing and the southern city of Shenzhen.

The moves highlight the growing concern in China about the threat of rising bad debts from a US-style property bubble, which authorities fear could derail the rapid-fire growth of the world's third-largest economy.

"The government is sending out signals that it is not going to keep this party going and that has made people more cautious," said Patrick Chovanec, an economics professor at Tsinghua University.

Prices in major cities rose 11.7 percent year-on-year last month, the fastest pace since a nationwide survey was widened to 70 cities in July 2005, official data show.

At the Beijing Real Estate Expo earlier this month, the average price of a new apartment in the Chinese capital was 21,164 yuan (3,100 dollars) per square metre, double that of last year, state media said.

That means a 90-square-metre apartment in Beijing would cost 1.9 million yuan, compared with the average per capita income of 17,175 yuan in 2009.

The cooling measures appear to have spooked speculators and property developers, said Green, citing reports that demand for flats has fallen across the country while developers in Beijing have cut prices by five to 10 percent.

But he warned the rules contained apparent loopholes that could be exploited by speculators.

China lacks a nationwide database on property sales, which means banks have no way of checking if mortgage applicants already own apartments in other cities.

And higher downpayments will have little impact on speculators who mostly pay the full value of properties in cash.

"In other words, if you own five apartments around the country but bought them all for cash, the bank has no way of knowing this," said Green.

Analysts at Citigroup say they expect prices to start falling as early as May, as the measures dampen speculative demand and new property developments come onto the market later this year.

But they too are cautious, warning that the lack of investment options in China could result in a return to higher prices next year.

"Structural problems such as low to negative real interest rates, lack of channels to protect wealth and savings for households from inflation would again encourage speculation," they said in a research note.

Chovanec warned the measures aimed at curbing speculative activity could miss their target because about 50 percent of residential purchases were paid for in cash.

"Most of the people paying cash are buying their second, third, fourth or fifth unit to hold idle as a place to stash their cash," he said.

A holding tax on vacant properties and increased investment options for Chinese people would be more effective in curbing prices, Chovanec said.

Japan to stress aid commitment to Africa as China muscles in

Japan to stress aid commitment to Africa as China muscles in 

TOKYO, April 28, 2010 (AFP) - Japan will stress its commitment to African development at an aid meeting of about 50 countries in Tanzania from Sunday as China's influence on the continent grows rapidly, Japanese officials say.

But Tokyo can see it is already being outgunned in the scramble for influence in Africa by China's diplomatic muscle, investment funding and sheer numbers of people on the ground, Japan's diplomats said Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada was to leave Wednesday ahead of the two-day Arusha conference, the second follow-up event to the 2008 Tokyo International Conference on Africa Development (Ticad) after a 2009 Botswana conference.

Before the meeting, he will visit South Africa Thursday and Friday.

"Okada has decided to visit Africa primarily to tell African leaders that Japan's commitment remains very firm vis a vis Africa's development," said Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama in a media briefing.

On his first Africa visit since taking his post, Okada "will announce that Japan is on track to achieve its declared goal of doubling Japan's ODA (official development assistance) to Africa by 2012", said Kodama.

Japan two years ago pledged to raise aid to Africa to 1.8 billion dollars by 2012. It gave 1.75 billion dollars that year and 1.65 billion dollars last year, said Asako Okai, director of the ministry's Second Africa Division.

Resource-poor Japan, Asia's largest economy, and its rising rival China are in harsh competition for influence and resources, including minerals and energy, from Africa, where Beijing's presence has grown sharply.

"Out of the 53 countries on the continent, we have an embassy in 31 countries," said Okai. "China has 46 or 48 embassies."

The population giant is also ahead of Japan in terms of people on the ground, the Japanese diplomat said, with 800,000 to one million Chinese believed to be on the continent compared to no more than 7,000 Japanese.

Before visiting Tanzania, Okada will head to South Africa Thursday and Friday to mark the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties.


First Chinese fishermen in Taiwan after historical pact

TAIPEI, April 28, 2010 (AFP) - Forty-eight Chinese fishermen arrived in Taiwan Wednesday, the first group to start work under a new agreement signed against the backdrop of rapidly improving ties between Beijing and Taipei.

Taiwanese fishing boats have previously been able to hire Chinese crew, but the lack of a formal agreement left the field thinly regulated, with numerous disputes between employers and employees.

"From now on, the interest and rights of both the fishermen and the employers will be regulated and better protected," an official with the Fisheries Agency told AFP, asking not to be named.

Under the agreement forged in December, Chinese fishermen are guaranteed a minimum monthly salary of 15,000 Taiwan dollars (480 US) and are entitled to health insurance and insurance against accidents at work.

There will also be a mechanism to solve any disputes between them and their Taiwanese employers, and the fishermen will have a standard procedure for filing complaints.

The 48 fishermen -- largely from southeast China's Fujian province -- took a boat to Tanshui, a port near Taipei, and were the first group to arrive on the island since the agreement took effect in March.

In 1991 Taiwanese fisheries authorities began allowing local fishing boats to hire Chinese fishermen due to an accute manpower shortage.

The lack of any official agreement between the two sides led to a series of disagreements, some even escalating into open mutinies.

The number of Chinese fishermen on Taiwanese vessels has fallen to 12,000 from 30,000 at its height, and officials hope their numbers could rise again with the new agreement.

Ties between Taiwan and China have improved markedly since President Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008, pledging to boost trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.


Singapore to open second casino

SINGAPORE, April 27, 2010 (AFP) - Singapore throws open the doors of its second casino Tuesday as part of a 5.5 billion US dollar complex built by US gaming giant Las Vegas Sands.

Marina Bay Sands, located next to the financial district, will open at the locally auspicious time of 3:18 pm (0718 GMT). The number eight sounds like the word for prosperity in Chinese.

Singapore gave the green light for casino gambling in 2005, setting off a flurry of construction that went ahead despite the city-state slipping into recession in 2008 because of the global financial crisis.

Its first casino, the 4.4 billion US-dollar Resorts World Sentosa, opened for business on February 14.

Marina Bay Sands was originally set to open at the end of 2009 but faced repeated delays caused by a number of factors, including material and labour shortages and financial problems due to the latest global economic downturn.

Tuesday's opening includes the casino and 963 out of 2,560 hotel rooms, a portion of the shopping mall, some restaurants, an exhibition centre and the events plaza.

The remaining hotel rooms and suites, a skypark and more shops will open on June 23, while a museum, theatres and other stores will start operations later in the year, the management said.

Officials hope the casinos will help Singapore achieve a target of attracting 17 million visitors a year generating over 21 billion US dollars by 2015, boosting the services sector and reducing the role of manufacturing in the economy.

Marina Bay Sands is designed to cater to the corporate and convention crowd while Resorts World is aimed at families.

Built by Malaysia's Genting Group, the Resorts World complex includes Southeast Asia's only Universal Studios movie theme park, hotels, restaurants and convention facilities.

Las Vegas Sands also has major operations in the Asian gaming haven of Macau.