Swedish law punishing sex purchasers very effective: report

STOCKHOLM, July 2, 2010 (AFP) - A Swedish law punishing the purchase -- not sale -- of sex, has been so effective it has slashed street prostitution in half, but the Scandinavian country is still facing a growing problem of sex sold over the Internet, a report published Friday said.

"The evaluation shows that the ban on the purchase of sexual services has had the intended effect and is an important instrument in preventing and combating prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes," the report said.

The report, which was handed to Justice Minister Beatrice Ask Friday, maintained "that prostitution in Sweden, unlike in comparable countries, has not in any case increased since the introduction of the ban" on buying sexual services went into effect in 1999.

While the law punishing the client rather than the prostitute may not have caused a dramatic drop in prostitution as a whole, its true triumph, according to the report, is that "street prostitution in Sweden has been halved."

"This reduction may be considered to be a direct result of the criminalisation of sex purchases," it said.

The drop in street prostitution has been a little less dramatic in Stockholm than in all of Sweden, but the capital nonetheless saw its number of streetwalkers drop from 280 in 1998 to 180 in 2008, according to official statistics quoted in the report.

Before Sweden became the first country in the world to criminalise buying sex, the number of street prostitutes in its capital was on a par with the number in the capitals of neighbouring Norway and Denmark.

But while the number of streetwalkers was slashed in Stockholm during the decade ending 2008, they had multiplied in Copenhagen and Oslo in the same period, the report said.

Norway introduced similar legislation to Sweden's on January 1, 2009.

The Swedish law stipulates that "purchasing a sexual service on one single occasion is sufficient for criminal liability," whether with money or other means such as alcohol or drugs.

But while cracking down on sex purchasers on the street has paid off, the report acknowledges that prostitution in other more hidden and obscure areas is hard to assess and limit.

The Internet especially constitutes a new and dangerous arena, allowing sexual favours to be sold "in secret" and purchasers to remain "fairly invisible," it said.

"Prostitution where the initial contact is made over the Internet is an important and growing arena," according to the report.

It stressed however that "the scale of this form of prostitution is more extensive in our neighbouring countries."

"There is nothing to indicate that a greater increase in prostitution over the Internet has occurred in Sweden than in these comparable countries," it said, insisting that "this indicates that the ban has not led to street prostitution in Sweden shifting arenas to the Internet."

Critics of the law claim it is driving prostitution into a dangerous shadowland where the mostly women selling sex are at a greater risk, but Friday's report insisted that was not the case.

The ban "is an important instrument to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings and to protect those people who are, or who risk becoming, involved in prostitution," it said

The report called on lawmakers to go even further and to double the sentence for sex purchasers from the maximum six months prison term today.

"In our view, the current level of penalties for certain sexual purchase offences is not proportionate to the seriousness of the crime," it said.

Swedish public radio reported Friday that out of the 650 people who so far had been sentenced under the anti-prostitution law, none had been sent to prison.

Football: Brazilians fall to Oranje ambush

PORT ELIZABETH, July 2, 2010 (AFP) - Brazil's dreams of a sixth World Cup title were shattered as the Netherlands came from behind to claim a famous 2-1 win in an enthralling quarter-final here on Friday.

An own goal by Felipe Melo, who was later sent off, and a Wesley Sneijder header enabled the Dutch to overturn Robinho's early opener and completely turn around a match that, at half-time, the five-times champions appeared destined to win comfortably.

The defeat means Brazil's campaign has ended at the quarter-final stage for the second successive World Cup while the Netherlands can look forward to a semi-final against Ghana or Uruguay having avenged their 1994 and 1998 last-eight defeats by the Brazilians.

Brazil coach Dunga admitted he had been left shell-shocked by the way his side threw away a winning position.

"We are all extremely saddened, we did not expect this," he said. "We knew it would be a delicate, difficult game. In the first half we played better than in the second but we were were not able to maintain the same rhythm.

"We could not maintain the same level of concentration. Any World Cup match is 90 minutes and it is the small details that count."

For Sneijder, the man of the match, it was his third goal of the finals.

"This was my first header. I don't think it will happen again, but it was great. The ball slipped on my bald head and went into the net."

The Dutch cause had not been helped by losing centreback Joris Mathijsen to a knee injury minutes before kick-off.

The consequent disruption to their defence was quickly apparent, and Robinho had already had one effort chalked off because of a debatable offside call against Dani Alves by the time he gave the Selecao a 10th-minute lead.

Melo delivered a ball from deep inside his own half through the heart of the Dutch defence, Robinho's run went untracked by John Heitinga and the forward was able to place his shot beyond the left glove of Maarten Stekelenburg.

Juan might have made it two midway through the half. The Roma star got across his marker to meet an Alves cross at the near post but his shot was lifted high over the bar.

Heitinga, who had already been booked for an off-the-ball trip on Luis Fabiano, was fortunate not to be sent off for a foul on Kaka as the Brazilians started to dominate.

A Robinho dribble, a Fabiano flick and suddenly Kaka was curling a shot towards the top corner, forcing Stekelenburg into an acrobatic save.

Sneijder's comfortably-saved free-kick was the only Dutch strike on goal before the break and he and his team-mates had reason to be grateful to Stekelenburg once more seconds before the interval, when his fingertips diverted Maicon's drive into the side netting.

There seemed no way back for the Dutch at that stage. Yet within eight minutes of the restart they were level, thanks in no small part to a free-kick won by Arjen Robben's dive close to the right touchline.

The set-piece was taken short, enabling Sneijder to work the ball into space and deliver a left-footed inswinger into a congested goalmouth.

Cesar came off his line to try and punch the ball clear but collided with Melo and the ball skimmed off the midfielder's head and into the net.

Kaka had a chance to re-establish his side's advantage when Mathijsen's replacement, Andre Ooijer, sliced a clearance to him on the edge of the area.

But the playmaker's shot was placed narrowly wide and, three minutes later, Dirk Kuyt flicked on Robben's corner and Sneijder found space in the six-yard box to head the Dutch into the lead.

An afternoon that had started so positively for Brazil began to take on a nightmarish tinge when Melo was shown a straight red card for a stamp on Robben with 18 minutes left.

Cesar pulled off a fine stop to prevent Sneijder from claiming his second and only a last-ditch tackle ended Kuyt's surge through the Brazilian defence as the Dutch soaked up the late pressure and made their numerical advantage count on the counter attack.


IBM endorses Firefox as in-house Web browser

SAN FRANCISCO, July 1, 2010 (AFP) - Technology giant IBM wants its workers around the world to use free, open-source Mozilla Firefox as their window into the Internet.

"Any employee who is not now using Firefox will be strongly encouraged to use it as their default browser," IBM executive Bob Sutor said Thursday in a blog post at his sutor.com website.

"While other browsers have come and gone, Firefox is now the gold standard for what an open, secure, and standards-compliant browser should be."

Making Firefox the default browser means that workers' computers will automatically use that software to access the Internet unless commanded to do differently.

All new computers for IBM employees will have Firefox installed and the global company "will continue to strongly encourage our vendors who have browser-based software to fully support Firefox," according to Sutor.

New York State-based IBM, known by the nickname "Big Blue," has a corporate history dating back a century and now reportedly has nearly 400,000 workers.

"Today we already have thousands of employees using it on Linux, Mac, and Windows laptops and desktops, but we're going to be adding thousands more users to the rolls," Sutor said.

Sutor is the vice president of open source and Linux at IBM, which launched an Open Source Initiative in 1998. Open-source software is essentially treated as public property, with improvements made by any shared with all.

Firefox is the second most popular Web browser in an increasingly competitive market dominated by Internet Explorer software by Microsoft.

Google Chrome has been steadily gaining market share, last week replacing Apple Safari as the third most popular Web browser in the United States.

"We'll continue to see this or that browser be faster or introduce new features, but then another will come along and be better still, including Firefox," Sutor said.

"I think it was Firefox and its growth that reinvigorated the browser market as well as the web. That is, Firefox forced competitors to respond."

Malaysia suspends main opposition newspaper

KUALA LUMPUR, July 2, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia has suspended the publication of a main opposition newspaper, in a move political rivals criticised Friday as a crackdown on dissent.

Suara Keadilan, run by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Keadilan party, ran into trouble after the authorities said it violated publishing laws with a report this month which claimed a government agency is bankrupt.

The Home Ministry, which oversees Malaysia's newspapers, said it will not renew Suara Keadilan's permit -- which expired on Wednesday -- as it was not satisfied with the paper's explanation for the allegedly inaccurate report.

"A letter will be issued to inform the printer that it is not allowed to print until a decision is made on the renewal of its permit," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website late Thursday. The opposition vowed to defy the ban.

Malaysia's mainstream media is largely government-linked, and the opposition relies on its own press, as well as Internet news sites and blogs, to communicate with the public.

However all newspapers need an official permit to print, which must be renewed annually. The licensing system allows the government to close media outlets at will and often encourages publishers to toe the line.

"I am shocked. This is utter rubbish and certainly it is not an isolated incident. The government is trying to crack down on dissent. This is an interference on press freedom," Lee Boon Chye, vice president of the Keadilan party, told AFP, also citing the government's recent decisions to ban several political cartoons and TV shows.

"With or without permit, we are going to publish our paper," Lee added.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Malaysia 131 out of 175 on its worldwide press freedom index last year, and says the mainstream media is "often compelled to ignore or to play down the many events organised by the opposition".

The opposition scored unprecedented gains in elections in 2008, which saw it claim five states and a third of parliamentary seats. The next election is not officially due until 2013 but pundits say it could be held next year.

Hit Malaysian TV talent show stars Muslim scholars

KUALA LUMPUR, July  2, 2010 (AFP) - Like the stars of smash-hit television talent shows around the world, the eight young men in sharp black suits and matching skullcaps draw adoring fans and dreams of marriage.

But instead of singing or dancing, they hit the prime-time stage to recite verses from Islam's Holy book, the Koran, wash corpses for Muslim burial and try to woo young Malaysians away from illicit sex and drugs.

The prize for the winner of the Malaysian show "Young Imam" is not the chance of global fame and fortune but a trip to Mecca to perform the haj, a scholarship to the al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia and a job at a mosque.

All the contestants, however, win the attention of young women and prospective mothers-in-law.

"For Muslims, the young imams are ideal sons-in-law because they are professionals and have good knowledge of Islam," said Izelan Basar, channel manager with cable network Astro Oasis which is broadcasting the programme.

Following the formula made popular through shows such as "American Idol" in the US and "The X Factor" in Britain, a contestant is knocked off the show each week -- two of the original 10 have already gone.

The contest also provides the same emotion when a contestant is booted off, with hugs and tears from the survivors.

The 10-week series has sparked wide public reaction and has taken social networking giant Facebook by storm as fans post comments in support of the contestants and the programme.

"Wow, it was great to see "Young Imam" participants being regarded as stars. Fans were taking photos of them. Mothers were not shy to offer their daughters," said a posting last week.

Imams play a broad role in Muslim society, leading prayers at the mosque and counselling troubled individuals. The contestants include a cleric, a businessman, a student, a farmer and a banker.

The show is a "landmark programme with a refreshing approach to Islam", said media commentator Azman Ujang.

"An imam is usually linked with someone old. But here we have young personalities. It gives a vibrant look to Islam at a time when the community is facing so many social ills," he said.

The programme comes against a backround of concern among Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities over rising "Islamisation" of the country and fear that tolerance towards Christians, Hindus and others is diminishing.

A simmering row over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims saw attacks on 11 churches and the dumping of the severed heads of pigs at two mosques in January.

In February, three women were caned for having sex out of wedlock, the first such punishment under Islamic law in Malaysia.

A total of 1,134 candidates applied to join the show but only 10 were picked, based on their personality and Islamic knowledge. Each week they face written and practical tests on the religion.

The young imams have bathed and buried an unclaimed body, followed religious enforcement officials to nab Muslims who indulge in illicit sex, and counselled illegal motocycle racers.

The sole judge who wields the weekly axe is a former grand imam of the national mosque, Hasan Mahmood, who said the young imams have a duty to safeguard Islam and teach Muslims to live harmoniously with other faiths.

"They are going to become good role models. We will use them to fight social and moral decadence affecting Muslims, like free sex and drugs," he said.

"What is the use of us achieving rapid economic growth and having dazzling skyscrapers when the society is sick?"

For the duration of the show, the contestants, who are aged between 18 and 27, are quarantined at a mosque dormitory and banned from using phones, the Internet and television so they focus on their religion.

Ahmad Hazran, 26, a banker who quit his job to participate in the show, said he was thrilled to learn to handle dead bodies and engage with the young and  illegal motorcycle racers.

"I prefer to work with the young people. We cannot use force to change wrongdoers. We have to mix with them and guide them to the right path," he said.

Khairul Azhar, a 20 year old graduate student said he was excited that women had expressed a desire to marry the contestants.

"Yes I have heard about it. I think I can be a good husband and a responsible father," he said.

"I oppose violence. Terrorism is not a character of Islam. I want to help create a peaceful Malaysia," he said.

CEO plays cool as Google search function blocked in China

LONDON, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Google CEO Eric Schmidt downplayed fears over the Internet giant's position in China on Thursday, amid a row over censorship and the blocking of a search feature there.

"I want to be clear. The Chinese government has the arbitrary ruling to shut Google down... So far they have not done so," Schmidt told a conference in London.

Earlier Thursday, Google said it had yet to receive a response from the government in China -- the world's largest Internet market -- on its application to renew its Internet Content Provider licence that expired Wednesday.

Schmidt said in London that Google representatives had spoken with Chinese authorities on Thursday, even though he himself had not taken part in the discussions.

In China, the Xinhua news agency quoted an unnamed official in charge of Internet administration as saying the licence renewal application had been submitted late and government agencies were "using the time to go through procedures".

"A quick reply is expected soon," the official said.

The firm that administers Google.cn pledged in the application letter to "abide by the Chinese law" and "provide no law-breaking contents," the official added, according to Xinhua.

Meanwhile, the spat between Google and the Chinese government spilled over into the diplomatic arena, with Washington and Beijing waging a months-long war of words on the issues of Internet freedom and troubles faced by foreign firms in China.

State media on Thursday accused Google of being "two-faced" in its handling of the censorship issue.

"Google is trying to score political points in the West while benefiting from China's economy," said an article published in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece.

Google has said that search queries produced by its Google Suggest function appeared to be blocked for mainland users in China, but that normal searches that do not use query suggestions were unaffected.

Google Suggest provides a user with suggested words as they type a query into the Google search box.

40,000 cameras to keep watch on China's Urumqi: report

BEIJING, July  2, 2010 (AFP) - Police have installed 40,000 security cameras throughout the capital of China's Xinjiang region, state media said on Friday, as the city braces for the first anniversary of deadly ethnic violence.

The cameras have been installed in Urumqi in more than 3,000 public buses, 200 bus stations, along more than 4,000 roads, 270 schools and more than 100 large supermarkets or malls, the Xinjiang Economic Daily said.

The cameras, which are monitored around the clock from a police command centre, were installed to "ensure security in key public places, allow people of all ethnicities to enjoy quality public services, and create a peaceful capital," the report said.

Monday marks the first anniversary of bloody violence that erupted between the region's Muslim ethnic Uighurs and members of China's majority Han ethnicity.

The government says nearly 200 people were killed and about 1,700 injured in the unrest, China's worst ethnic violence in decades, with Han making up most of the victims.

Xinjiang, a vast, arid but resource-rich region that borders Central Asia, has more than eight million Uighurs, and many are unhappy with what they say has been decades of repressive communist rule by Beijing.

Many also complain about an influx of Han that they say leaves them economically and culturally marginalised in their homeland.

Authorities have ramped up security in Xinjiang this year, while also promising to boost development to ease Uighur anger.

Urumqi police last month said they had launched a security clampdown to run until July 20 that would include increased police patrols and inspections of vehicles.

Google buying travel software firm for 700 million dollars

WASHINGTON, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Internet titan Google plunged into the online travel market on Thursday, buying ITA Software, a flight information software company, for 700 million dollars in cash.

Google's purchase of the Massachusetts-based ITA raises prospects of a battle over the lucrative sector between the Web search giant and Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, Microsoft's Bing Travel and other sites.

Google said its acquisition of ITA, which was founded in 1996 by a team of computer scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "will create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online."

"The acquisition will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares," the Mountain View, California-based company said in a statement.

"Airline travel and search are a terrific opportunity for more innovation, more investment and more interesting products," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said in a conference call. "There's clearly more room for competition and innovation here."

Google stressed that it "won't be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers."

"Our goal is to build a tool that drives more traffic to airline and online travel agency sites where customers can purchase tickets," the company said.

ITA, a 500-person firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specializes in organizing airline data, including flight times, availability and prices.

Its QPX flight data organization tool uses algorithms to combine flight information from airlines, including pricing and availability, to create a searchable database.

QPX software is used by online travel agencies and airlines including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways and others.

Bing, Kayak, Orbitz and TripAdvisor are among ITA's present customers and Google said it looked forward to working with them and will "honor all existing agreements."

Google vice president Marissa Mayer said nearly half of all airline tickets are now sold online and Google said requests for travel-related information are among the highest-volume queries received at the search engine.

"But for many people, finding the right flight at the best price is a frustrating experience," Mayer said.

"Pricing and availability change constantly, and even a simple two-city itinerary involves literally thousands of different options."

She expressed confidence that ITA's and Google's partnership would "create great user innovations" to make searches easier for customers.

Google CEO Schmidt noted that previous Google deals have come under close scrutiny from US anti-trust regulators but said "we're pretty comfortable."

"We expect this will go through the regulators," he said, adding that Google believed the deal was "basically pro-competitive and basically pro-consumer."

The acquisition of ITA is Google's largest purchase since it bought mobile advertising network AdMob for 750 million dollars. That deal received the green light from US regulators last month.

Google shares were trading 0.09 percent higher at 439.89 dollars in after-hours electronic trading after losing 1.23 percent during the day.

Taiwan president says China has political aims with pact

TAIPEI, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said Thursday that China had been moved by politics to sign a sweeping trade pact with the island, but he nevertheless defended the agreement.

Ma said Beijing, which considers Taiwan part of its territory, was hoping to use the deal to further its aim of pulling the island closer into its orbit.

"There is no denying that Beijing has political motives to do this," he said at a press conference to discuss the deal, which was signed Tuesday in China. He did not elaborate.

The anti-China opposition Democratic Progressive Party has accused Ma of trading in Taiwan's sovereignty to China in order to seal the agreement, known as the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.

But Ma insisted that the perceived political element had been toned down by Taiwanese negotiators, saying: "There is no political wording in the text of the agreement."

Ma said that the pact, pending parliament's final approval, will have profound impact on Taiwan, China and the region.

"The agreement will be critical as it will help consolidate peace and prosperity for Taiwan," he said. "What's more, it may spark structural changes economically for the entire Asia Pacific region"

Ma said he would press for free trade agreements with other countries in the region, now the agreement with China had been reached.

The new pact was seen as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation between the former arch foes, 60 years after a civil war that drove them apart.

The signing of the agreement, by far the most sweeping ever between the two sides, marks the culmination of a Beijing-friendly policy introduced by Ma after he assumed power in 2008.

Sex.com domain name on sale

BERLIN - THE world's 'most valuable' Internet domain name, sex.com, went up for grabs on Thursday having fetched US$12 million (S$16.77 million) in 2006, a German firm handling the sale said on Thursday.

'It happens very rarely that an Internet address of this calibre goes on sale,' Cologne-based Sedo said. '(The) sale of sex.com offers the new owner a unique opportunity to became market leader.'

Sedo, which said it is the world's biggest trading platform for domain names, is selling sex.com on behalf of US firm Escom after creditors filed for insolvency protection, a joint statement said.

Other domain names have also changed hands for huge sums in the past, with vodka.com selling for US$3 million, kredit.de for 892,500 euros (S$1.53 million) and poker.org for US$1 million, Sedo said.

'Owners of domains like this have a clear competitive advantage. Visitors land automatically on the websites of the owners just by entering what they are looking for. The listing in search machines is also improved,' it added. -- AFP

Romanian diplomat to be tried over Singapore road death

BUCHAREST, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - A Romanian diplomat will be tried in his native country over a hit-and-run crash in Singapore in December that killed a Malaysian national, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Silviu Ionescu, a former charge d'affaires in Singapore, has been indicted for homicide, causing physical injuries and false statements, a press release from the general prosecutor's office said.

The date of his trial has not been set yet and he will remain in custody until then, the statement said. He was arrested by Romanian authorities in May.

Ionescu is alleged to have hit three pedestrians in two incidents in December while driving a car belonging to the Romanian mission.

One of the victims, a 30-year-old Malaysian national, suffered brain damage and died on Christmas Day, while the two others, aged 24 and 18, suffered injuries.

The diplomat, who flew back to Romania days after the accident, "did not stop to let pedestrians cross like they were allowed to do by a green light", prosecutors said.

"He left the scene of the first crash and drove on to the following crossroad where he again did not stop by a pedestrian crossing and caused another accident", they added.

Ionescu has publicly denied he was the driver, claiming the car was stolen.
According to prosecutors, the claim "does not conform to reality."

Singapore's foreign ministry has repeatedly called on the Romanian government to "ensure that justice is served and seen to be served" in Ionescu's case.

Strike shuts down Japanese electronics factory in China

BEIJING, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Production at a Japanese-owned electronics factory in northern China was suspended for the third day on Thursday as 3,000 workers went on strike over pay and benefits, the company said.

The dispute is the latest in a spate of labour unrest to hit foreign-run companies in China, which has highlighted growing discontent among millions of workers over low salaries and poor conditions.

The strike at the Tianjin Mitsumi Electric Co Ltd factory in the city of Tianjin began late Tuesday and workers were still refusing to resume their duties on Thursday, the Tokyo-based company said.

"All the (production) lines are currently stopped," the company said in a statement.

"Regarding the requests for pay increase and other conditions, we are continuing negotiations."

Most of the 3,000 workers at the factory, which makes electronic components and computer parts, had stopped work, the official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday, citing several employees.

A worker surnamed Wang complained his monthly salary of 1,500 yuan (220 dollars) was too low considering he worked six days a week, two hours of overtime every day and received no benefits.

"I have been working here for almost two years," Wang told Xinhua. "I can only get a monthly salary. There is no insurance whatsoever."

Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda also have been forced to halt production at assembly plants several times in recent weeks after strikes at auto parts suppliers.

Taiwan high-tech giant Foxconn offered its employees in southern China wage hikes after a spate of worker suicides, and is now planning to shift some of its production to other parts of the country to counter rising costs.

China says welcomes visit by US defence secretary

BEIJING, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - China's military said Thursday it would welcome a future visit by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, state media reported, one month after a planned trip was called off.

"We still welcome him to visit China at a time which is workable for both sides," Xinhua news agency quoted General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), as saying.

The apparent olive branch comes after Beijing called off a visit by Gates in early June amid military tensions between the two sides, with Gates saying the cancellation showed the PLA was reluctant to engage on defence issues.

The brief Xinhua report gave no other information.

China has denounced US arms sales to Taiwan unveiled in January, and the cancellation of Gates' trip appeared to fit a pattern of stepping back from exchanges with the American military to convey displeasure.

After his visit was cancelled, Gates suggested there was a rift between Chinese civilian and military leaders on the issue.

The US defence secretary said it was his "opinion that the PLA is significantly less interested in developing this relationship than the political leadership of the country".

Gates had planned to visit Beijing as part of an Asian tour.

China in January suspended all military exchanges in protest over the US arms sales to Taiwan, but some officials from the two sides have since met.

Last month, Gates said Beijing's stance "makes little sense", noting that such sales had been going for decades.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after Communist forces defeated the Nationalists in a civil war and took the mainland. Self-ruled Taiwan has since relied heavily on US military hardware to defend the island.

Gates said Washington would not alter its policy and argued that US weapons sales to Taiwan helped maintain regional peace given China's growing military buildup.

Another source of military tension between China and the United States has been the South China Sea, with Washington calling for unfettered access to the resource-rich area.

Beijing, which claims the sea as its own territorial waters, has increasingly asserted its sovereignty there.

Gates has said closer ties between the two nation's militaries are vital to avoid misunderstandings.

China orders online sellers to register personal details

BEIJING, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Online sellers in China will have to provide their real names and addresses or pay hefty fines under new rules introduced Thursday, in Beijing's latest move to tighten control of the web.

Individuals wanting to sell products or services on the Internet now have to submit their personal details to online retail websites such as Taobao or eBay, according to the rules issued by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

The government has the right to fine individuals up to 10,000 yuan (1,470 dollars) if they fail to provide their personal information to the website operators, the government department said.

Retail websites could also face fines of up to 30,000 yuan if they neglect to register the details of sellers or refuse to hand over such information to authorities investigating illegal business activities.

Internet shopping is seeing huge growth in China thanks to expanding use of the web and of bank and credit cards, as well as rising confidence in the safety of online payments.

China has the world's largest population of Internet users, estimated at 404 million people, according to official figures.

China operates a vast system of web censorship, sometimes referred to as the "Great Firewall," that blocks access to or censors content deemed unacceptable, ranging from pornography to political dissent.

In a move seen as a further tightening measure, state media reported in May that authorities would introduce a system requiring web users to provide their real names before posting comments online.

The issue has sparked fierce debate since it was first raised several years ago, due to concerns at the impact on freedom of speech and privacy.

Tens of thousands to march for democracy in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people were expected to hit Hong Kong's sweltering streets Thursday for a pro-democracy rally on the 13th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China.

Organisers were expecting around 50,000 protesters to turn out for the July 1 march, down from 70,000 last year, underscoring fears that a deep split in the city's opposition camp has deterred potential supporters.

The march has become an annual opportunity for campaigners to show the strength of opposition to Beijing and the local authorities.

But last week's passage of a package of political reforms that promise an incremental boost to democracy -- but not one person, one vote -- has divided the opposition camp.

Some politicians warned that this year's protest could be chaotic -- with campaigners directing their anger not only at the government, but also the Democratic Party, which recently changed course and voted in favour of the Beijing-backed reform package.

Raymond Wong, of the radical League of Social Democrats, said they would not encourage supporters to clash with the Democratic Party, but added "we can't guarantee anything".

"I expect the July 1 march will be very chaotic. The Communist Party will be very happy."

On Thursday, radical opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung -- known for wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and throwing bananas at government officials during meetings -- led a 10-person march to a flag-raising ceremony attended by Chief Executive Donald Tsang, but their passage was blocked by about 60 police.

The larger demonstration was expected to get under way at 3:00 pm (0700 GMT).

Previously, the opposition were united in their goal to fight for universal suffrage for the city of seven million people in 2012 -- and nothing less.

The US consulate in Hong Kong late Wednesday issued a statement saying it welcomed what it called a "significant step forward" in Hong Kong's march toward full democracy.

"The United States... welcomes last week's passage by Hong Kong's Legislative Council of the constitutional reform package," it said. "We view this as a significant step forward in Hong Kong's democratic development."

Last week, the Democratic Party's lawmakers were mobbed by a large crowd of activists, who accused them of betraying Hong Kong people by kowtowing to Beijing.

To minimise disruption to Thursday's rally, organisers said they would place members of the party at the end of the march.

Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party, said he was prepared for a bad reception.

"There may be people who point fingers at us," he said.

"But I don't think it will turn into personal conflicts or physical confrontation... I am very confident it will be a peaceful and orderly demonstration."

A record 500,000 people took part in the 2003 march, galvanised by an economic downturn and hostility towards the unpopular then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, and his proposed national security bill.

The unexpected show of people power saw the security legislation shelved and was a key factor in Tung's resignation the following year.

China's Xinhua launches English news channel

BEIJING, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - China's official Xinhua news agency on Thursday launched a 24-hour global English television news service aimed in part at counterbalancing foreign views of the country.

The CNC World news channel marks the latest effort by China's communist government to expand the reach of its propaganda outlets worldwide even as the foreign news media industry faces hard times.

CNC, which stands for China Xinhua News Network Corporation, will broadcast the news channel to "the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America and Africa by satellite, cable, cellphone and the Internet," the news agency said.

It said CNC World would "offer a better view of China to its international audiences."

"CNC will present an international vision with a China perspective. It will broadcast news reports in a timely way and objectively and be a new source of information for global audiences," Xinhua President Li Congjun was quoted as saying.

The news channel will draw on Xinhua's presence "in more than 130 nations and regions" and makes it the first international news agency to run a television news network, it said.

The network has been operating in Chinese since earlier this year.

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 previous reports.

Xinhua alone is "striving to build a modern, comprehensive news media group, comprising wire services, newspapers, websites, economic information services, databases and search engines, cellphone and mobile network services, and television," it said.

China tightly controls its media outlets, either directly or through self-censorship by organisations fearing shutdowns if they feature content that runs counter to the official government line.


Vietnam steps up China-style Internet control - Feature

HANOI, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Blogger Nguyen Hue Chi is locked in an electronic game of cat and mouse with a mystery cyberattacker -- widely believed to be the government.

Chi and his colleagues have set up a series of websites and blogs questioning government policy in the past year, only to see them attacked and blocked.

Observers blame the communist state, which they say has adopted a more aggressive stance towards politically sensitive Internet sites.

"It seems that the government is definitely starting to follow the China model," said a foreign diplomat who asked for anonymity.

"The simple fact is, where they used to just try to block access, now they try to take down the websites."

According to the diplomat's count, about 24 websites have been disrupted this year.
Bauxite Vietnam, which Chi administers, was one of them.

The website last year initiated a petition against government plans for bauxite mining in the country's Central Highlands, helping to fuel a rare public outcry from a broad spectrum of society.

The project, now underway, is controversial partly because at least one Chinese company has been granted a major contract.

"It's clear that they have followed the Chinese model of controlling the Internet," said Chi, which has also criticised the government over a sea dispute with China.

Beijing operates a vast system of Web censorship, sometimes referred to as the "Great Firewall of China".

Chi said two blogs and a website established in April last year were all blocked by year's end, "despite great resistance", and three new sites became overloaded from "hundreds of thousands" of attacks.

Bauxite Vietnam is still accessible, however, through two blogs. And Chi vowed to defend his websites "until the end."

In March, US-based Internet giant Google said hackers had specifically "tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam".

Those responsible might have had "some allegiance" to the Vietnamese government, said California-based Internet security firm McAfee.

The incidents recalled cyberattacks in China that Google in January said had been a bid to hack into the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Google stopped censoring its search engine results in China, as is required by the government for it to operate.

Google also issued a warning on Vietnam in June, saying it was troubled by new regulations that may allow the government to block access to websites and track the activities of Internet users.

But Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that soaring rates of Internet use have brought "challenges" such as violent content and pornography, particularly at public Internet businesses.

"This decision is aimed at guaranteeing safety and healthy usage for Internet users at public Internet access points in Hanoi," said ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga.

She said concerns over free expression are groundless.

Vietnam's Internet growth is among the world's fastest, and users number almost 24 million or about 28 percent of the population, Nga added.

Observers said Vietnam stepped up its campaign when it allegedly began blocking Facebook, the world's most popular social networking site, in November. Users are still unable to log in through the site's homepage, but many have found other ways to access the site.

Access to the BBC's Vietnamese language website has also been hit.

These restrictions, and on news media, led Western donors in December to say Vietnam's actions threatened its rapid economic progress.

A second diplomat, who also asked for anonymity, said that despite its efforts, the government will face difficulties controlling the Internet.

"You can close down Facebook and you can close down YouTube but there will always be ways for people who really want to, to get around it," said the diplomat.

Blogging has fast risen in popularity since it entered Vietnam in 2005. The government began to clamp down last year even though only a small percentage of commentators are focused on politically sensitive issues, said one blogger.

"I think last year was a big milestone," the blogger, who requested anonymity, said.

Vietnamese security agencies have "exponentially" raised their Internet monitoring ability "because that's the space the dissidents have moved into," said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam specialist with the University of New South Wales.

"They're acquiring and absorbing into their capabilities very modern stuff," partly with help from fellow-communist China which faces similar threats from cyber dissidents, he said.

The sensitivity of Internet conversation has been heightened by next year's Communist Party Congress, a five-yearly event that determines high-ranking leadership posts, Thayer added.

Key documents will be released for public comment before the Congress, and the Party wants to prevent that discussion "from being hijacked" by dissidents, he said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Vietnam in May of a sophisticated and sustained attack against online dissent.

It said at least seven independent bloggers had been detained over the previous two months.

Service: World News (ASI)

  (slug) China

Google News revamped to get more personal

SAN FRANCISCO, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Google on Wednesday overhauled its news website to tailor pages to individual interests of readers.

"We're revamping the Google News homepage with several changes designed to make the news that you see more relevant to you," software engineer Kevin Stolt said in a blog post.

"We're also trying to better highlight interesting stories you didn't know existed and to make it easier for you to share stories through social networks."

The "heart" of the page was "News for you," a stream of headlines customized based on interests that users specify when they personalize the service, according to Stolt.

"You can help us get it right by using the 'Edit personalization' box to specify how much you're interested in Business, Health, Entertainment, Sports or any subject you want to add."

People can also specify which news sources they like to see more or less often.
Google News also features a section showcasing major breaking stories and another spotlighting feature stories attracting lasting interest.

The website redesign included making it easy to share stories with friends using social networking services Facebook and Twitter along with Google Buzz and Google Reader, according to Stolt.

Google billed the changes as the biggest overhaul of Google News since the service launched in 2002.

Google's search engine still partially blocked in China

BEIJING, July  1, 2010 (AFP) - Google's web search engine in China remained partially blocked Thursday, as the deadline for renewal of its licence to operate in the world's largest online market passed with no word from Beijing.

Google said the US web giant had yet to receive a response from the Chinese government on its application to renew its Internet Content Provider licence, which expired on Wednesday.

"We are waiting to hear from the government," Jessica Powell, Google's Tokyo-based spokeswoman, told AFP.

The Xinhua news agency quoted an unnamed official in charge of Internet administration as saying the licence renewal application had been submitted late and government agencies were "using the time to go through procedures".

"A quick reply is expected soon," the official said.

The firm that administers Google.cn pledged in the application letter to "abide by the Chinese law" and "provide no law-breaking contents," the official added, according to Xinhua.

Google said Tuesday it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an unfiltered site in Hong Kong, a process it began in March in response to state censorship and cyberattacks it claims came from China.

The change in tack in China -- which has more than 400 million Internet users -- was aimed at addressing government complaints about the censorship issue.

Google said Wednesday that search queries produced by its Google Suggest function appeared to be blocked for mainland users in China.

"Normal searches that do not use query suggestions are unaffected," Google said in a statement.

Google Suggest provides a user with suggested words as they type a query into the Google search box. Typing in the letters "ob," for example, may prompt a suggestion for "Obama."

A web page maintained by Google on the accessibility to its services in mainland China, google.com/prc/report.html, listed its web search service as "partially blocked" as of Wednesday.

The service had been listed as "fully or mostly accessible" for previous days this week.

AFP attempts to conduct searches on Google Suggest in mainland China on Thursday did not prompt any suggestions. The same type of searches on Chinese search engine Baidu were unaffected.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the change in accessibility was linked to Google's ongoing dispute with the Chinese authorities over censorship.

Google said Tuesday all mainland users would now be directed to a new landing page on google.cn, which links to the uncensored Hong Kong site.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed," Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said on the company's official blog.

"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like google.cn -- so Google would effectively go dark in China," he said.

Drummond said Google re-submitted its business licence application based on what it called a "new approach."

"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self-censor and, we believe, with local law," Drummond said.

The spat between Google and the Chinese government spilled over into the diplomatic arena, with Washington and Beijing waging a months-long war of words on the issues of Internet freedom and troubles faced by foreign firms in China.

Sony warns its VAIO laptops may overheat, cause burns

TOKYO, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Japan's Sony on Wednesday issued a warning to customers worldwide that a system glitch affecting more than half a million of its VAIO laptop computers may cause overheating and possible burns.

The electronics giant said a heat-monitoring chip in some of its VAIO F and C series models that were launched in January this year could be defective, leading to possible overheating, a company statement said.

Although the defect has not been known to cause personal injuries, the firm said it received a total of 39 complaints from overseas customers saying that the shape of their computers became distorted from overheating.

The glitch affects a total of 535,000 laptops worldwide, of which nearly half is in the United States and the remainder in Japan, Europe and China.

In Washington, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall of the 233,000 computers in the United States.

Sony said it is offering consumers a software application download with which to correct the malfunction.

Imported brides popular as money mixes Asian marriages

HONG KONG, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Asian men from rich countries such as Japan and South Korea are increasingly seeking brides from poorer ones like Vietnam and the Philippines -- as economically liberated local women get picky.

Marriages between Japanese men and foreign women shot up 73 percent between 1995 and 2006, to 35,993, according to the latest government survey. Most of the women were Filipinas, followed by Chinese.

"Asian brides -- notably Chinese and Filipina -- remain popular in the countryside, where it's quite hard to find young women," said Toshio Esaka, president of dating agency Royal in Osaka, western Japan.

"But nowadays, it's getting harder even downtown as a lot of young Japanese women are economically independent and prefer to remain single," Esaka said.

In South Korea, more than 35 percent of fishermen and farmers who married in the 12 months to May 2009 took foreign brides, mainly from China and Vietnam, government statistics show.

Both examples point to the role of cash and lifestyle in Cupid's quiver -- it is mainly the less marketable men in the richer countries who look abroad for a wife when they can't find one at home.

The story is repeated in Singapore -- Southeast Asia's wealthiest society -- Hong Kong and Taiwan, and often involves marriage brokers.

An online matchmaking site in Singapore, where lower-income men often fear rejection by better-educated local women, offers low-cost tours to Vietnam on which men can meet "medically examined and certified virgins".

On the other side of the transaction, the women are usually so impoverished that even poorer men from rich countries offer hope of a better life.

"Due to poverty in their families and because they want to help improve the situation, Cambodian women decide to marry foreigners," said Ya Navuth, director of a Cambodian group which fights human trafficking.

"Some women meet good spouses, but some have been cheated and sold from one 'owner' to another," he said.

This sense of ownership often leads to abuse of foreign brides, rights activists say.

"Many of the cases we are dealing with involve Asian women being abused by their husbands," says Fermi Wong, founder of Hong Kong Unison, which helps ethnic minorities in the city.

"They feel helpless because many of them do not have any relatives in Hong Kong and speak little English or Chinese."

Mainland China, Vietnam and the Philippines provide most of the foreign brides for Hong Kong men.

The potential for exploitation of helpless girls from impoverished families has led some countries -- both importers and exporters of brides -- to put restrictions in place:

-- Mail-order brides from the Philippines were once a common phenomenon but tales of the women being abused by their foreign husbands abroad prompted the government to outlaw the practice.

Despite this, various "marriage broker" agencies get around the law by bringing in foreign men to select their prospective brides before flying off with them.

While it was once mainly Western men who sought Filipina brides, in recent years Japanese and South Korean men have also turned to the archipelago in search of partners.

-- Indonesia is considering a proposal that a 55,000-dollar "security guarantee" should be lodged by foreign men who marry Indonesian women.

If the couple divorce, the wife will be entitled to take the money. If they stick together for at least 10 years, they can claim it as "shared property".

But couples would be able to get around the requirement by marrying abroad.

-- Cambodia in March suspended marriages between South Koreans and its citizens for several weeks and introduced new requirements for the process over concerns about human trafficking.

-- Among "importing" countries, South Korea itself launched a crackdown two years ago on matchmaking agencies which use racial stereotypes or distorted information to help Koreans find foreign brides.

Activists say that because of false advertising some women end up with spouses who have few assets or who are ill, alcoholic or of difficult character.

-- Taiwan also took action, banning commercial international match-making services last year after a series of high-profile criminal cases, including one in which a man was jailed for enslaving and torturing his Vietnamese wife.

More than 434,000 Taiwanese are married to foreigners, usually from China and Southeast Asia, according to the immigration bureau.

While China is mainly an exporter of brides, import demand is expected to soar because of the one-child policy which has contributed to sex-specific abortions and a shortage of girls.

A study by the government-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences this year concluded that more than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without women to marry by 2020.

Already, young female refugees from North Korea are increasingly becoming a commodity in China, where they are sold to farmers for up to 1,500 dollars a head, according to a Seoul campaigner.

The human trafficking is not new but has become more prevalent as prices soar amid a shortage of Chinese women in the countryside, said Reverend Chun Ki-Won, head of the Durihana Association, which offers aid to refugees.

Facebook, Twitter powerful business tools: research group

SINGAPORE, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Social media such as Facecbook and Twitter or blogging sites have become powerful tools that influence what people buy, online researcher Nielsen said Wednesday, urging business to embrace the trend.

Nearly three in four people worldwide who use the Internet have visited a social networking or blog, spending an average of almost six hours a month on them, The Nielsen Company said in a report.

Of the seven biggest brands online globally, three are social media networking sites -- Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube -- it said in its latest report on social media trends in the Asia Pacific region.

"Social media is having a larger and larger influence on purchasing decisions," said Charles Buchwalter, chairman and chief executive of Nielsen Online Japan.

"Everyone understands that social media is hot, it's growing quickly and in very unpredictable ways everywhere in the world," he told reporters in an online media briefing.

According to Nielsen's findings, online product reviews are the third most trusted source of information when consumers decide whether to purchase a product, coming after recommendations from friends and family.

From China and India to Australia, online reviews are a major influence in buying electronics items, cosmetics, cars and food, among other things, it said.

An average 32 percent access social media sites from their workplaces and 31 percent access them from the confines of their bedrooms.

"The findings we've uncovered in this social media report highlight, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that social media is here to stay and needs to be taken seriously by the broader business community," said Megan Clarken, managing director of Nielsen's online business in the Asia Pacific.

Clarken added that "businesses can no longer afford to simply observe the social media phenomenon, they need to embrace it."

Buchwalter said Facebook "is much more than a poster child for social media" as businesses increasingly use it. "Social media is for real. There's no turning back."

Beijing pet spas turn pooches into pandas

BEIJING, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - With pet ownership on the rise in an increasingly affluent China, savvy entrepreneurs are opening animal spas offering dogs a full makeover -- even transformation into a panda.

Sun Ruowen opened her pet salon in central Beijing in May. Already, dozens of customers wanting to pamper their pets -- mainly dogs -- have bought pre-paid service cards which can cost more than 1,000 dollars.

"People are spending more money these days, and more and more people have dogs, so I decided to open a top-end pet store which offers luxury services such as spa and massage," Sun told AFP.

At her shop, dogs can have their coats dyed into novelty designs, transforming the pooches into China's beloved pandas -- a service that can cost up to 300 dollars.

Dog-owners can also have their beloved pets made up to look like one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, from the 1980s cartoon, complete with dark green shells.

Some pets are treated to pedicures, while others are brought in for more traditional baths and cuts. A vast array of products are on offer -- everything from pet snacks and shampoos to frilly outfits and doggy sandals.

"Our motto is 'If you can dream it up, we can do it.' There is no styling we haven't been able to achieve," Sun boasts.

Liu Zhong, 63, has spent 1,000 yuan (150 dollars) on pre-paid treatments for Naonao and says he plans to bring his 10-year-old Pekinese into Sun's salon every two weeks.

"He is the real boss -- the number one in my family," said Liu, as Naonao was given a good scrubbing.

"Eating, drinking, playing -- he is the centre of everything, and our lives revolve around him."

Google says Web search engine 'partially blocked' in China

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Google's Web search service in China has been "partially blocked" as of Wednesday, the Internet giant said.

Wednesday was the deadline for the Chinese authorities to approve the renewal of Google's business license in China.

A page maintained by Google on the status of various Google services in China, google.com/prc/report.html, listed its Web search service on Wednesday as "partially blocked."

The service had previously been listed as "fully or mostly accessible."


Taiwan now targets Asian countries over FTAs: report - Lead

TAIPEI, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan is now looking to forge several free trade agreements in Asia after signing a sweeping and historic pact with China, a report said on Wednesday.

Taipei and Beijing put pen to paper on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing Tuesday, in the boldest step yet towards reconciliation between the former rivals.

Bolstered by the move, Taiwan is now setting its sights on Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand -- the island's major trading partners in South East Asia, the Economic Daily News said.

"The government hopes to sign at least the first free trade agreement with these countries before the end of 2012," it quoted an unnamed source as saying, adding that it was also eyeing deals with Japan and the Philippines.

President Ma Ying-jeou would lead a group set up to look into such pacts, it said.
Taiwan already has free trade deals with Panama, Guatemala and Nicaragua and has been pushing to forge tie-ups with other major trading partners as it tries to avoid being marginalised by the growing number of regional economic blocs.

But talks have become bogged down, largely due to pressure from Beijing, which still considers the island part of its territory, even though it has governed itself since the end of a civil war in 1949.

Taiwan has said it hopes Beijing will not interfere with its plans to seal agreements with other countries after the signing of the ECFA.

China's Vice Commerce Minister Jiang Zengwei said in Chongqing Tuesday that Beijing would "make reasonable arrangements" as to Taiwan's bid for more FTAs as long as the "one China" principle was respected.

China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, its largest investment destination, and now also home to a growing number of Taiwanese.

It is estimated that about one million people from the island live in China, especially in the Shanghai area.

They, and thousands of short-term travellers, now have access to 370 direct flights a week, whereas only a few years back all air travel had to come via Hong Kong.

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

China pact a hard sell in Taiwan: analysts - Analysis

CHONGQING, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - After reaching a sweeping trade agreement, Taiwan and China face the challenge of persuading the island's 23 million people that Beijing has no ulterior political motives, analysts said.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed Tuesday in China is ostensibly about commerce but many on Taiwan -- which has ruled itself for six decades -- fear it could undermine their hard-won de facto independence.

"It's very difficult for the public not to harbour political concerns over ECFA," said Tung Chen-yuan, a Taipei-based author of several books on Taiwan's economic ties with China.

"Who would be naive enough to believe that Beijing has no political motivation behind the move? What would make it sign an agreement benefiting Taipei at time when Taiwan already enjoys a huge trade surplus each year?"

Taiwan's trade surplus with China, according to the island's own statistics, was 37.6 billion dollars in 2009, and ECFA is not likely to narrow it.

The agreement will lead to lower tariffs for more than 500 categories of Taiwanese products sold in China, but for only half as many Chinese-made goods sold in Taiwan.

Even a Chinese negotiator has called the deal skewed in Taiwan's favour, and many on the island view the agreement as a bid to lock it into China's political orbit.

Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party warned Tuesday that ECFA would relegate Taiwan to the status of a local government such as semi-autonomous Hong Kong and Macau in any talks with Beijing.

Those anxieties were reflected in Taiwanese newspaper commentary Wednesday.
"China is most happy from the signing as its goal of annexing Taiwan is moving smoothly ahead," the Liberty Times said.

The Apple Daily said: "ECFA is a vitamin for Taiwan but we can't take vitamins instead of regular meals. Taiwan has to rely on its own efforts to compete."

The Economic Daily News, however, said the trade pact was a "critical first step for Taiwan's participation in regional economic integration", as the rest of Asia draws ever-closer to China.

China often buys political gains with economic concessions, but may have misunderstood the mood in Taiwan, said Zhang Baohui, an expert on China-Taiwan ties at Hong Kong's Lingnan University.

"They underestimate the identity issue. In the past 10 years, the people on the island have shifted towards a Taiwan identity. Fewer and fewer think of themselves as Chinese. No economic benefit will reverse that trend," he said.

Voters in the small, vibrant democracy could voice their anger over pressure from Beijing in presidential elections in 2012, analysts argued.

China should therefore mute talk about political ties, said Liou To-hai, a political scientist at Taipei's National Chengchi University.

"What China should avoid doing is press Taiwan to talk about political or security matters for two or three years or at least not before Taiwan's next presidential election," he said.

For Taiwan's China-friendly government under President Ma Ying-jeou, ECFA is a potential victory but only if the promised gains -- including hundreds of thousands of new jobs -- materialise, analysts said.

Ma's administration also could ease fears by encouraging more open discussion of the pact, a debate hampered so far by the absence of concrete details.

"Since so many people are still worried about the ECFA, and no consensus has been reached on it, a referendum would be the socially least expensive way to arrive at a consensus from within," said Tung, the Taipei-based writer.

But no matter what Beijing and Taipei may say, China is so huge and so close that it is hard for Taiwan not to feel intimidated.

"Because of the overwhelming difference in size, there is a concern that integration of the economies could make them lose economic autonomy and in the long run also political autonomy," said Zhang of Lingnan University.

Robots vie for World Cup glory in Singapore - Feature

SINGAPORE, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - As World Cup action heated up in South Africa, Pele was making his own piece of football history in Singapore.

Slicing the ball past the goalkeeper in the dying seconds of the match, Pele scored the match-winning goal in the finals of RoboCup 2010, an annual international robotics tournament.

The legendary Brazilian soccer maestro was represented by a humanoid-shaped silver  Robo-Pele, the National University of Singapore (NUS) entry into the compeition where automatons instead of human players vie for footballing glory.

Organised by the Swiss-based robotics initiative RoboCup Federation, a non-profit group, the June 19-25 tournament was held in Singapore for the first time since its inception in 1997. Istanbul will host the event next year.

Organisers hope the yearly tournament will advance artificial intelligence and robotics research.

"Soccer is the best game to really show the mental, physical and many, many skills. Its not just mental skills, there's physical, mental, teamwork," said Zhou Changjiu, chairman of RoboCup's Singapore chapter.

Aside from the technical aspects, football was also picked by the RoboCup Federation due to its universal popularity, which could help raise awareness and interest in robotics, he added.

"From the way we promote science and technology, soccer is very attractive. It's very attractive everywhere, everyone wants to watch soccer right? I think that's the best way to reach out."

The Singapore tournament featured everything from pint-sized androids to 1.3 metre tall robots pitting their skills on the pitch.

More than 500 teams, including those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, from 43 countries had their mechanical constructs duke it out in various, size-differentiated leagues.

"Our team is called RO-PE," said NUS mechanical engineering lecturer Chew Chee-Meng, who is the champion team's mentor.

"There are two meanings for this team name. One is Robot for Personal Entertainment, and the other meaning is Robot-Pele. So you know who we are trying to model after right?" he said with a grin.

Robo-Pele certainly lived up to the football legend, sweeping past robots fielded by Holland's Eindhoven University of Technology as well as US-based Virginia Tech in the group stages before edging Singapore Polytechnic in the finals.

"Forget South Africa, the other World Cup is happening in Singapore," said Robocup's organisers, as audiences gaped at matches featuring the latest in cutting edge technology rather than the likes of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentinian star Lionel Messi.

However, certain aspects of the game had to be tweaked to accomodate the technological limitations and high cost of developing the robots.

Although the primary objective is still to score more goals than the opposition, teams field two to five robots a side, matches last no longer than 40 minutes and the largest pitch measures just 18 metres by 12 metres (59.4 feet by 39.6 feet).

But placing a robot onto the pitch was no child's play, said Carlos Antonio Acosta Calderon, team mentor of Singapore Polytechnic's team Robo-Erectus Senior, which lost to Team RO-PE in the final match.

"Robotics is a multidisciplinary area... you need different people from different backgrounds with different expertise," he said, adding that mechanical, electronic and computer engineers were involved in creating his team's two robots.

Team RO-PE's Chew also said that Pele's mechanical namesake cost more than 100,000 Singapore dollars (72,000 US) to create, and team members had to programme algorithms for simple tasks such as walking and looking around before it could play in what Pele once described as the 'beautiful game'.

Despite the financial costs and exhaustive effort required in building and programming a robot, Zhou says the future looks bright.

"I can see in 20 years, every home should have a robot, just like what we have now for PCs (personal computers)," he said.

Zhou is even more bullish on the prospects of robotic soccer teams.

"Our dream is by 2050, to have a team of robots to compete with the World Cup champions," he said.

Google awaits China decision on business licence

BEIJING, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Google faced a nervous wait Wednesday to see if a last-ditch attempt to renew its Chinese business licence would pay off as the Internet giant vies to circumvent official censorship.

The US search leader said Tuesday it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an unfiltered site in Hong Kong, a process it began in March in response to state censorship and cyberattacks it claims came from China.

The change in tack was aimed at addressing government complaints about the censorship issue and came just before its Internet Content Provider licence was up for renewal Wednesday.

Marsha Wang, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for Google, said the company was still waiting for a response from the central government on the licence issue.

"We will keep communicating with (the government) to see what information it will give us," she told AFP.

Google said all mainland users would now be directed to a new landing page on google.cn, which links to the Hong Kong site.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider licence will not be renewed," Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said on the blog.

"Without an ICP license, we can't operate a commercial website like google.cn -- so Google would effectively go dark in China," he said.

A prominent US-based human rights group urged governments and technology companies to support Google.

"Governments and the industry should send a very clear message to China that it must provide a business environment for foreign companies that doesn't force them to violate human rights," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

"Google is standing there alone," she said. Others "must step up to the plate and address this as a collective industry Internet challenge. They can't just say it's a Google problem."

Football: Japan media praise new Blue heroes

TOKYO, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - Japan woke up with a World Cup hangover Wednesday after the nation's history-making football team crashed out on penalties to Paraguay, but won the consolation of media acclaim.

"Surprised the world; endured a gruelling 120 minutes," the Asahi Shimbun headlined, praising a fighting Blue Samurai team who eventually lost 5-3 on penalties after 30 minutes of scoreless extra-time against Paraguay.

Substitute Oscar Cardozo scored the decisive spot-kick at the Loftus Versfeld stadium after Japan's Yuichi Komano had smashed his penalty against the crossbar.

The shoot-out was needed after 120 minutes of football ended 0-0, with both sides feeling the tension as they bid to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

But the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun declared that "bravery will be remembered", daring readers to dream "for four years' time" when the 2014 World Cup is staged in Brazil.

Television networks aired telephone interviews with Japanese players' proud mothers, emotional grandparents and former high-school coaches who watched the game in South Africa or at home in Japan.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan hailed the side's performance in reaching the World Cup's knockout stage for the first time on foreign soil.

"They showed the world the real strength of Japanese football by working as a team," Kan said in a statement. "I applaud them for their brave battles."

Japan made history in South Africa in claiming their first World Cup victories abroad against Group E rivals Cameroon and Denmark while losing to the Netherlands.

Having lost all three group games on their 1998 World Cup debut in France, Japan reached the last-16 when co-hosting the tournament with South Korea four years later.

This time around, the Blue Samurai's strong showing surprised many at home and defied the low expectations of fans more familiar with Japan's previously timid performances.

"Japan has finally begun its battle on the world stage," the Yomiuri said.

"This experience surely will become the flesh and blood of Japanese football. It was a precious 120 minutes," chimed the Asahi Shimbun.

The performance prompted a fickle public to heap praise on head coach Takeshi Okada, who has gone from much-maligned zero to hero over the course of four football matches.

Micro-blogging sites such as Twitter heaved with laudatory posts, and apologies for previous invective.

Okada guided Japan to a winless World Cup debut in 1998 in his first job as national coach. French disciplinarian Philippe Troussier coached them to the second round in 2002 on home soil.

Japan then made an early exit in Germany four years ago under Brazilian legend Zico when they were crushed by Brazil and Australia and drew with Croatia.

Thailand charges Australian, 90, with raping four sisters

BANGKOK, June 30, 2010 (AFP) - A 90-year-old Australian man has been charged with illegally detaining and raping four young sisters at his home in northern Thailand, police said Wednesday.

German-born Joseph Kraus Karl was arrested at his house in Chiang Mai province on Tuesday after police received a complaint from the children's father.

The Thai girls, aged seven, 11, 12 and 14, were allegedly abused repeatedly after being invited to visit Karl's property in 2008.

"Initially he denied all charges and will only testify in the court," said police Colonel Kritapol Yeesakorn.

Karl, who faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted, was born in Berlin.

He later obtained Australian citizenship but police said he has lived in Thailand for "many years" on a retiree visa.

Japan's Komatsu to hire Chinese managers

TOKYO, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - Japan's Komatsu, a mining and construction equipment manufacturer, said Tuesday it would replace all of its managers at its 16 subsidiaries in China with local hires by 2012.

The decision follows strikes at Toyota and Honda's Chinese assembly lines by workers disgruntled with their pay and working conditions, and inability to progress through Japanese-dominated company ranks.

Although non-Japanese already make up half of Komatsu's European and North American management staff, its biggest market China will be the first country where its top management will be entirely replaced by locals, a spokesman said.

The firm, which has a 20-percent share of China's hydraulic shovel market, also plans to set up an educational system to groom up-and-coming Chinese staff in its corporate culture, the spokesman added.

"Since most of our staff are local, it is important to have a set-up that gauges their opinions and enhances communication," he told AFP.

Labour issues in China have come to the forefront in recent weeks after strike action and a spate of suicides at Taiwanese technology supplier Foxconn, which counts Apple, Dell and Sony among its clients.

Football: Paraguay beat Japan on penalties to make last eight

PRETORIA, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - Paraguay beat Japan 5-3 on penalties on Tuesday to reach the World Cup quarter-finals and book a meeting with Spain or Portugal.

The last 16 tie had ended 0-0 after 90 minutes and extra-time.

Oscar Cardozo netted the winning kick after Yuichi Komano missed Japan's third kick to send the Paraguayans through to the last eight for the first time in their history.

Japan missed their chance of going beyond the last 16 for the first time.


Google switches tack in China before licence expires

BEIJING, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - Google said Tuesday it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong, a day before its government licence expires, following official complaints.

Earlier this year, the US web giant effectively shut down its search engine in mainland China -- the world's biggest Internet market -- over censorship and cyberattacks, and automatically re-routed users to the Hong Kong site.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider licence will not be renewed," Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said on the company's blog.

"Over the next few days we'll end the redirect entirely, taking all our Chinese users to our new landing page," he said, explaining that readers in China would be taken to a new page on Google.cn, which would link to the Hong Kong site.

Google's ICP licence comes up for renewal on Wednesday, and the Internet giant has re-submitted its application based on what it called a "new approach", Drummond added.

"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self-censor and, we believe, with local law."

In January, Google threatened to shut down its operations in mainland China altogether over what it said were China-based cyberattacks, and said it was no longer willing to bow to China's army of government censors.

Two months later, it started re-routing users of Google.cn to its Hong Kong site.
Beijing reacted furiously, denying any role in the cyberattacks which Google said had targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents and saying it was "totally wrong" to stop filtering its Chinese-language search engine.

Google has said it plans to maintain its sales, research and development teams in China, which has the world's largest online population at 404 million.

Foxconn to move China Apple production as costs rise: media

BEIJING, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan high-tech giant Foxconn plans to shift part of its production of Apple gadgets to other parts of the country as it faces rising labour costs, reports said Tuesday.

After a run of suicides and wage hikes, Foxconn will move some manufacturing from Shenzhen to northern Tianjin and central Henan province, the Financial Times said, citing unnamed executives.

The company -- which also makes products for Panasonic, Dell, Nokia and other top brands -- will boost its "investment and product portfolio" in Tianjin, the China Daily said.

The move away from its long-time manufacturing hub in Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, is aimed at containing rising costs, the Financial Times said.

Plans by Foxconn to pass on some higher labour costs were not greeted favourably by Apple, the paper added, citing executives involved in negotiations between the two firms.

No one at Foxconn, the world's biggest electronics contract manufacturer, was immediately available to comment on the reports.

A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman for Apple declined comment on the reports.

This month Foxconn announced salary increases of about 70 percent after 11 Chinese employees apparently committed suicide by jumping from buildings this year, including 10 in Shenzhen.

Labour rights activists have blamed the suicides on tough working conditions at Foxconn and comes amid increasing unrest at foreign-run factories in China as millions of workers express their discontent at low pay.

China defends N.Korea policy after Obama comments

BEIJING, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - China on Tuesday angrily defended its North Korea policy after US President Barack Obama accused Beijing of turning a blind eye to its ally's actions following the sinking of a South Korean warship.

"We don't favour either side and we decide our position on the merits of the issue. China's position and efforts on this issue brook no accusations," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said when asked about Obama's comments.

"We don't do anything to fan the flames."

At the Group of 20 summit in Canada at the weekend, Obama said China must not show "willful blindness" over Pyongyang's "belligerent behaviour", noting he had spoken bluntly to Chinese President Hu Jintao on the matter.

China, which frequently says that it seeks to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, has failed to join world criticism over the sinking of the Cheonan in March, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

The United States and Seoul have pushed for a UN censure of Pyongyang for the incident after an international panel blamed the attack on a North Korean torpedo, but the Security Council has yet to issue a formal condemnation.

China, a close ally of the impoverished North and a permanent Security Council member, has been reluctant to endorse a UN condemnation saying it was first assessing the evidence for itself.

Qin said China has a more immediate interest in preventing an escalation of the issue than certain "far away" countries.

"China is a close neighbour of the Korean peninsula and over this issue our feelings must be completely different from those far away from the region. We have a more direct and more serious concern over this," he said.

He repeated China's position that all sides must work to ease tension in the region.
The spokesman refused to directly criticise North Korea when asked whether Pyongyang was escalating tensions by saying on Monday that it needed to bolster its nuclear weaponry.

But he said Beijing was against "any act that undermines the stability of the Korean peninsula."

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman had said the North needed "to bolster its nuclear deterrent in a newly developed way" to cope with persistent US hostility and military threats.

China's English-language Global Times on Tuesday called Obama's comments "irresponsible and flippant remarks about China's role in the region".

The newspaper, noting Beijing's role as host of the on-off six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, said it is "the leaders of countries such as the US that are turning a blind eye on purpose to China's efforts."

The paper is run by the Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily.

Apple's iPhone 4 on sale in China's grey market

BEIJING, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - The latest version of Apple's iPhone is on sale in Beijing's electronic stores and luxury hotels, months before the official launch of the trendy smartphone in China, state media said Tuesday.

Privately imported iPhone 4s are available in the capital for as much as 17,000 yuan (2,500 dollars), the China Daily said. That compares to a starting retail price in the United States of 199 dollars.

Vendors were confident customers would pay the hefty mark-up as the iPhone 4, which boasts high-definition video, video chat and sharper screen resolution, is not expected to be officially launched in China for at least another six months, the paper said.

"The iPhone 3G which I am using now can greatly satisfy my needs, but it is still good to have the latest one. It is fashion," Zhao Zhan, 24, told the English-language newspaper.

Fans mobbed stores last week when Apple launched the iPhone 4 in Europe, Japan and the United States. The California-based company says it sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in the three days after its launch Thursday.

China's grey market in Apple products has been developing for years to satisfy demand for the iPhone, which only officially went on sale in China in October -- more than two years after its US debut.

China Unicom, the only Chinese telecom operator that offers the iPhone in the world's largest cellphone market, has said it is in talks with Apple to sell the 4G handset and the iPad.

Sewage helps Singapore shake off water shackles - Feature

SINGAPORE, June 29, 2010 (AFP) - When Singapore said it would not renew a water-supply pact with Malaysia the news hardly caused a ripple in a nation where technology is now flowing through the taps.

In the past, the idea would have seemed dangerous in a resource-starved island that bought almost all its water from its bigger neighbour.

But with Singapore steadily approaching self-sufficiency and exporting technology to recycle sewage into drinking water, there is a growing sense of confidence that it is less vulnerable to Malaysian water pressure.

"This could mean that the Singapore public is no longer as exercised by water security," the pro-government Straits Times said in an editorial after the April announcement.

"Gradually shedding dependence on Malaysia is high on Singaporeans' wish list, if only to eliminate a source of neighbourly conflict."

Singapore has two accords to buy raw water from Malaysia, which evicted the island from a federation in 1965. The first will expire next year -- and will not be renewed -- and the second will lapse in 2061.

Singapore is confident that by then it will be able to supply all of its water needs if necessary -- a major boost to its strategic security.

"Because of our sustained efforts, we have come a long way in water self-sufficiency," said former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

Cutting dependence on Malaysian water would help ease tensions because "whenever there were serious bilateral disagreements, some Malaysian politicians would use water as leverage to pressure us to compromise in their favour," he said.

Technology has played a vital role in Singapore's dramatic success in turning a weakness into an opportunity to not only become self-sufficient in water but make billions exporting the technology as well.

The city-state is currently hosting the annual Singapore International Water Week, which gathers the world's top experts on the subject.

"Water, the foundation of life, is at the heart of a daily crisis faced by millions of the world's people," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

She told the conference about 1.1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean water and more than two billion lack basic access to sanitation.

In May, Singapore opened its biggest and most advanced plant that purifies used water until it is fit for humans to drink and for use in factories.

Water flushed from toilets and kitchen sinks is pushed through a series of membranes to remove impurities, producing an end product branded as NEWater that used to be ridiculed but is now widely accepted by the public.

The latest NEWater plant, built by state-linked SembCorp Industries and the fifth such facility in Singapore, can produce 228,000 cubic metres (50 million gallons) of ultra-clean water per day.

This is enough to fill 90 Olympic-size swimming pools, said the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the national water agency.

NEWater now accounts for 30 percent of the country's total water needs, and this is expected to rise to 50 percent by 2060, PUB said.

Desalinated water -- costlier to produce than reclaimed waste water -- now provides 10 percent of Singapore's needs, while local catchments and imported water from Malaysia account for the rest.

By 2060, desalinated water should account for up to 30 percent of water needs, PUB added.

SembCorp's facility is part of the sprawling Changi Water Reclamation Plant complex, capable of treating 800,000 cubic metres (176 million gallons) of used water before it is either flushed into the sea or further purified as NEWater.

A 48-kilometre (30-mile) underground tunnel that runs from Kranji in the city's northern suburbs feeds used water to the Changi reclamation plant on the eastern coast. The mega sewer is buried 20-50 metres underground.

Singapore has a separate system, including 7,000 kilometres (4,340 miles) of drainage, that directs rainwater into reservoirs.

At the Changi water reclamation complex a lift takes staff to a cavernous pump room deep below the surface, where powerful machines push the water to elaborate facilities on the ground level for treatment.

Yet there are no tell-tale signs, not even a faint smell, betraying the fact that the facility is a massive receptacle for dirty water flushed daily by the city's nearly five million residents.

"People are surprised that this is actually a water treatment facility. They don't really know what's underneath," Yong Wei Hin, an assistant director at the water reclamation plant, told AFP during a recent visit.

When Singapore hosted an Asia-Pacific leaders' summit in 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao specifically requested a tour of the facility, said Yong.

Unlike treatment plants in the 1980s which emitted a foul smell because tanks were not covered, all outlets at the facility are tightly sealed and odours from by-products are neutralised before being released into the air.

FIFA blanks technology calls after World Cup howlers

JOHANNESBURG, June 28, 2010 (AFP) - FIFA on Monday rebuffed calls to embrace more technology after clear-cut mistakes by referees helped push England out of the football World Cup and enabled Argentina to reach the quarter-finals.

"No comment on refereeing," said FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot to repeated questions from journalists on the calls in Sunday's knockout games.

"If there are some further announcements to be made in this area, they will be made and we will let you know. Next."

But the decisions dominated South African media Monday, as a main talking point on radio stations and banner headlines in newspapers.

"Fury after England is disallowed goal," read a headline in The Citizen.

"There is a cloud hanging over (the England-Germany) match," said the newspaper, one of several to run pictures of tearful English fans, the day after the Three Lions were sent packing by Germany in a 4-1 defeat.

Television replays showed a Frank Lampard shot that would have levelled the match at 2-2 just before half-time had landed a yard over the line after striking the under side of the bar.

Argentina's 3-1 win over Mexico was also marred by another error by the onfield officials, as Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez scored a first-half goal despite being clearly off-side when he headed in a Lionel Messi cross.

The controversies drew cries for refereeing changes from some prominent fans in the host country.

"I don't understand why they don't use technology in the richest sport in the world," wrote South African rugby player Victor Matfield on his Twitter web page.

Eric Tinkler, a former captain of national football side Bafana Bafana, argued against the introduction of technology, telling The Citizen that "football is a free-flowing game and I don't think it makes sense".

But he said world football governing body FIFA should use two additional referees to prevent mistakes, a system that has been tested in Europa League games.

As the English headed home, police said five employees at their hotel had been convicted of stealing money, jerseys and a FIFA gold medal from the team.

Police found the missing items in the homes of the employees, and said everything had been returned to the players, whom they declined to name.

South African fans have been busily lining up behind new favourites as the round-of-16 matches further narrow the field. The hosts failed to clear the first round.

Ghana, the tournament's last African side, have become just the third team from the continent to reach the quarter-finals. They play Uruguay on Friday and have inspired a sense of pan-African pride behind the Black Stars.

The Netherlands, another local favourite thanks to South Africa's Dutch colonial history, bested surprise survivors Slovakia 2-1 in Durban on Monday.

Monday's late match will see a South American side sent home from a tournament where the continent has excelled, as Chile seek to change their luck against five-time champions Brazil, whom they have beaten just seven times in 65 previous clashes.

Organisers have heaped praise on the tournament as the games have progressed without major incident, despite years of worries about South Africa's violent crime and poor public transport.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel laureate who helped lobby to bring the games here, said the World Cup had helped unite a country still often bedeviled by it segregationist past.

"It's done an incredible thing for us. It has told us, yes, we can do this. But more than this, we in South Africa yet again have been shown just how we are yes a rainbow people, but that we are there for one another," he said at the CNN Global Forum in Cape Town.

"It's been an incredibly exhilarating time," he said.