China postpones Japan talks in protest at boat incident

BEIJING, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - Beijing on Friday postponed planned talks with Tokyo in protest at the seizure of a Chinese trawler which collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels, as the row over the incident showed no signs of abating.

The events on Tuesday in the East China Sea, which took place near an island chain claimed by both nations, have soured ties between the Asian giants, with Beijing warning of a "serious impact" on relations if the situation is not resolved.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing had decided to postpone a second round of talks with Japan on the East China Sea, scheduled for mid-September, as part of its response to the dispute, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The move came after China summoned the Japanese ambassador on Friday for a third time, with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi reiterating Beijing's demand that the captain and crew of the fishing boat be released "unconditionally", the ministry said in a statement.

Yang "emphasised that the Chinese government's determination to safeguard the sovereignty of the Diaoyu islands and the nation's people is firm and steadfast", his ministry said.

Announcing the postponement of talks, Jiang said China expressed "strong discontent and grave protest" at the treatment of the trawler captain.

"The Japanese side has ignored China's repeated solemn representations and firm opposition, and obstinately decided to put the Chinese captain under the so-called judiciary procedures," Jiang said, quoted by Xinhua.

"Japan's acts have violated the law of nations and basic international common sense, and are ridiculous, illegal and invalid.

"Japan will reap as it has sown, if it continues to act recklessly," Jiang warned.

The uninhabited islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- lie between Japan's Okinawa island and Taiwan. They are claimed by Tokyo, Beijing and Taipei and are frequently the focus of regional tensions.

On Thursday, Jiang said a Chinese "law enforcement" ship had been sent to the area to "protect the safety" of the fishermen working there.

The boat's captain, 41-year-old Zhan Qixiong, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of obstructing officers on duty -- a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment. The crew is in detention.

Tokyo suspects the captain deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels in a confrontation near the disputed island chain which began on Tuesday morning, and ended after four Japanese patrol boats pursued the Chinese trawler.

A Japanese court on Friday gave its approval for prosecutors to keep the Chinese captain in detention for up to 10 more days, until September 20, Japan's Sankei Shimbun daily reported.

Under Japanese law, suspects can be held without charge for an initial three days, and this can be prolonged twice for 10 days each with court approval, meaning a suspect can be held for 23 days before they are indicted or freed.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada expressed his displeasure at the way the Chinese press has reported the incident.

"In China, it has been reported that the Chinese fishing boat was hit by Japan's patrol ships, which contradicts the facts. It's extremely regrettable," he told reporters as quoted by Jiji Press.

"I hope that this incident won't escalate further. I would like to ask China to handle this calmly and carefully," he said.

More time spent on Facebook than Google: comScore

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - US Web surfers spent more time on Facebook than on Google sites in August, the first time the social network has surpassed the Internet titan, online tracking firm comScore said Friday.

Americans spent a total of 413 million minutes on the Internet during the month and about 10 percent, or 41.1 million minutes, were spent on Facebook, comScore said.

A total of 39.7 million minutes were spent on Google sites, which include the Google search page, YouTube, Google News, Gmail and others. Yahoo! sites were next with 37.7 million minutes.

In July, US Web surfers spent 40.5 million minutes on Google sites, 39.9 million minutes on Facebook and 38.7 million minutes on Yahoo! properties, comScore said.

A year ago, in August 2009, US Web surfers spent 34.0 million minutes on Google sites, 16.8 million minutes on Facebook and 41.7 million minutes on Yahoo! sites.

Facebook announced in July that the number of members of the social network had topped the 500 million mark.

The privately held Palo Alto, California, company does not publish its financial results but research firm eMarketer said last month that Facebook should rake in over one billion dollars in advertising revenue this year.

The Mountain View, California-based Google reported second-quarter net profit of 1.84 billion dollars on revenue of 6.82 billion dollars.

Android to challenge Nokia's Symbian by 2014: Gartner

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - Google's open-source Android will become the number two mobile operating system this year, leapfrogging BlackBerry and challenging market leader Nokia's Symbian by 2014, a research firm said Friday.

The technology firm Gartner said Symbian and Android will account for 59.8 percent of mobile operating system (OS) sales by 2014.

"Symbian will remain at the top of Gartner's worldwide OS ranking due to Nokia's volume and the push into more mass market price points," Gartner said.

"However, by the end of the forecast period, the number one spot will be contested with Android, which will be at a very similar share level," it said.

According to Gartner, Symbian will hold a 40.1 percent OS market share at the end of 2010 followed by Android with 17.7 percent, Research in Motion's BlackBerry with 17.5 percent, Apple with 15.4 percent for the iOS used by the iPhone and Windows Mobile from Microsoft with 4.7 percent.

By 2014, Symbian's share will fall to 30.2 percent while Android's will rise to 29.6 percent followed by Apple with 14.9 percent, Blackberry with 11.7 percent and Windows with 3.9 percent, Gartner forecast.

Symbian last year had a 46.9 percent share of the OS market followed by Blackberry with 19.9 percent, Apple with 14.4 percent, Windows with 8.7 percent and Android with 3.9 percent, Gartner said.

Gartner said it expected handset manufacturers such as Samsung to launch a number of budget devices in the second half of the year using Android and for other players such as Sony Ericsson, LG and Motorola to follow suit.

"This trend should help Android become the top OS in North America by the end of 2010," Gartner said.
Nokia on Friday named Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft executive, to head the Finnish telecom giant as it battles slumping profits and an eroding market share in the smartphone segment.


Koran burning 'will ignite' Muslim world: Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Friday warned that a threatened burning of the Koran in Florida would enrage Muslims around the world and have "very costly" consequences.

Pastor Terry Jones, leader of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, had said the event planned for the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks would be cancelled, but then renewed his threats to set fire to Islam's holy book.

"I hope the pastor will have a change of heart because by that single act of abhorrence that he is going to do, it will ignite the feelings of Muslims throughout the world, the consequences of which I fear would be very, very costly," Najib told reporters.

"(The ceremony) is only going to make the relationship between the Muslim and non-Muslim world descend into a very dangerous chapter in a relationship which should be getting better as we go forward," he said.

"It's deplorable, it's an act of total defiance, an act of an uncivilised (person) and it should be condemned by any rational thinking person. It is going to have very serious consequences."
The prime minister called on US President Barack Obama to intervene.

"I hope and pray that President Obama and the US government will be able to do something to prevent this from happening," he said.

But US authorities have said there is little they can do to stop the event happening, as it is protected by the US constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech.

Most Malaysians are Malay Muslims, but the country also has substantial ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities.

China facing huge unemployment pressures

BEIJING, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - With more than one billion workers in China, the world's most populous nation is facing a huge unemployment problem as only 780 million labourers are employed, the government said Friday.

The numbers included in China's "white paper" on the nation's human resources, released on Friday, suggest that around 22 percent of China's labour force is without jobs.

"China is facing huge employment pressures at present and for the foreseeable future," Yi Chengji, spokesman for the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, told reporters at the launch of the white paper.

"As China's urbanisation quickens, employment pressures from the many surplus rural labourers are getting bigger and bigger," Yi said.

"Currently there are about 100 million surplus rural workers that need to be transferred (to urban jobs)."

The country's employment situation has long been vague as the government only routinely publishes unemployment statistics on urban workers, excluding rural areas.

According to the paper, there were 9.21 million registered urban jobless in China at the end of 2009, resulting in just a 4.3 percent urban unemployment rate.

China is undergoing an unprecedented urbanisation process as hundreds of millions of people have headed to fast-growing urban areas since the nation's economy embarked on a fast-paced growth track more than 30 years ago.

The country's urban population will rise to over 700 million people by 2015, outstripping the rural population for the first time, state media said in July, citing Li Bin, head of the nation's population planning agency.

China, which has the world's largest population of more than 1.3 billion people, saw its total labour pool increase by 112 million people over the past decade to more than one billion people, according to the white paper.

China reports fresh cholera outbreak

BEIJING, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - Nearly 20 middle school students have been diagnosed with cholera in eastern China, the government has said, in the second outbreak of the potentially fatal disease in the nation in a month.

A total of 19 cases have been detected at a school in Huaian city in Jiangsu province, prompting health authorities to issue a warning for the region and urge increased disease monitoring, the Jiangsu government said Thursday.

The students began falling ill on September 2, displaying common symptoms including fever, abdominal pain and serious diarrhoea and vomiting, it said in a statement.

The city is on the border with Anhui province, where authorities covered up a cholera outbreak for 12 days last month out of fears that publicising it would shock the local population, state media said earlier this week.

The Anhui health department acknowledged Tuesday that at least 38 people in the province had been sickened with cholera since August 16, with all patients already out of hospital and no new cases discovered this month.

Cholera can be fatal if not treated quickly and normally breaks out in impoverished regions with poor sanitation. Reports of cholera in China have become increasingly rare in recent years.

It was not immediately clear if the strain of cholera found in Anhui was the same as the one detected in Huaian.

No fatalities have been reported in either outbreak.

Four dead in attack on China old people's home: state media

BEIJING, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - Four people died and two others were injured in an attack at an old people's home in northeastern China on Friday which left the building on fire, a city official said.

The attack took place in the city of Yichun in Heilongjiang province, and the motive was not immediately clear, said a city district official who asked not to be named.

"The attacker ran away afterwards. The place was set on fire," she said, adding she was not sure if the blaze had been put out.

Police are investigating the incident, she said.

The incident was the latest in a series of recent killing sprees in China that some experts have linked to stress or mental illnesses as society becomes more fast-paced and socialist support systems wither.

Several people have attacked children and teachers at schools in particularly gruesome crimes that have shocked the nation.

At least six major attacks at schools have taken place since March, killing 21 people -- including 18 children -- and injuring more than 80.

In August, a Chinese court sentenced to death a man who murdered his girlfriend and four other people in a drunken fit of rage on New Year's Eve last year, state media reported.

China's property prices continue to slow in August

BEIJING, September 10, 2010 (AFP) - Growth in China's property prices slowed for the fourth straight month in August, government data showed Friday, suggesting efforts to curb speculative investment in the real estate sector were working.

Housing prices in 70 major cities rose 9.3 percent on year in August, the National Bureau of Statistics said, down from 10.3 percent in July.

The figure marked the fourth month in a row that year-on-year growth has slowed and came after Beijing issued a range of measures to prevent the real estate sector overheating and causing a bubble that could derail the economy.

Prices rose 12.8 percent in April, the biggest on-year rise for a single month since July 2005, when the survey was widened to 70 cities from 35.


Gay Singaporean charged over sex act in public toilet

SINGAPORE, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - A Singaporean gay man was charged Thursday with having oral sex in a public toilet, in breach of the city-state's ban on sexual acts between men.

Tan Eng Hong, 47, is alleged to have committed the offence in March inside the toilet cubicle of a popular shopping mall in the Singapore's business and shopping district.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Singapore, but sex between men is criminalised under the penal code, despite amendments in 2007 which legalised oral and anal sex for heterosexual couples.

The code encompasses "any act of gross indecency" and carries a sentence of up to two years in jail, according to the attorney general's website.

Recent data on the number of people convicted under the code was not immediately available, but figures given by Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng in a parliamentary reply in 2007 showed 185 people were convicted between 1997-2006.

Tan was released on a bail of 8,000 Singapore dollars (5,960 US dollars) after his case was adjourned to September 27.

700 Taiwan aborigines trapped after landslides

TAIPEI, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - About 700 aborigines were trapped in a remote Taiwan village after heavy rains brought by tropical storm Meranti triggered landslides, as weathermen issued a warning against the storm.

Meranti dumped over 350 millimetres (14 inches) of rain over the past 24 hours in Chinfeng, Taima and Tajen township in southeast Taiwan's Taitung county, an area still reeling from last year's devastating Typhoon Morakot.

"Since Wednesday, rain has kept falling in the area," Hsu Yu-chang, an official at the Taitung county government, told AFP.

The downpour caused landslides, cutting off a key road and isolating 700 villagers mostly belonging to an aboriginal tribe, Hsu said, adding they did not face any immediate risks.

The county government has evacuated more than 500 villagers from the area and ordered some schools and offices in the county to be closed, rescuers said.

The moves came after the Central Weather Bureau issued a warning against the storm, urging residents to take precautions as the weather system could bring severe downpours as well as flooding and landslides.

The warning was especially directed at residents of Penghu, an island group in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, and Kinmen, another archipelago near southeast China's Fujian province.
The two island groups sit on the storm's forecast route, the bureau said.

At 08:00 GMT, Meranti was about 130 kilometres (85.8 miles) south-southwest of Penghu, it said.

It was moving north-northwest at speed of 17 kilometres an hour and may make landfall in Fujian Friday, according to the bureau.

"Although the storm is not expected to move straight towards Taiwan, it may bring strong winds and heavy rains, and residents must not let down their guard," an official at the bureau said. "Heavy rains could spark flash floods and landslides."

Typhoon Morakot dumped a record 3,000 millimetres (120 inches) of rain on Taiwan last year, causing huge mudslides and killing more than 700 people.

China says Japan handling of fishing boat incident 'absurd'

BEIJING, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - China on Thursday called the seizure by Japan of a Chinese trawler that collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels and the arrest of its captain "absurd", warning it could adversely affect ties.

The foreign ministry in Beijing said a "law enforcement ship" had been deployed to the area of the East China Sea where the collisions took place, near an island chain claimed by both nations, to protect Chinese fishermen.

The uninhabited islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- lie between Japan's Okinawa island and Taiwan. They are claimed by Tokyo, Beijing and Taipei and are frequently the focus of regional tensions.

"The Japanese side applying domestic law to the Chinese fishing boat operating in this area is absurd, illegal and invalid, and China will never accept it," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"If improperly handled, (the incident) could have a serious impact on the larger interests of China-Japan relations," she said.

Jiang called for the unconditional release of the crew and the boat, "so as to avoid a further escalation of the issue" and said a "law enforcement" ship had been sent to the area to "protect the safety" of the fishermen in the area.

China has twice summoned Japan's ambassador to demand the release of the boat's captain, who was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of obstructing officers on duty, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment.

The Japan Coast Guard, which arrested 41-year-old captain Zhan Qixiong and took him to the southern Japanese island of Ishigaki, transferred him Thursday to prosecutors who were questioning him before deciding whether to indict him.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman also said "investigators today started inspecting the trawler and will soon start questioning the 14 fishermen on the boat," which is docked off Ishigaki island in Okinawa prefecture.

Tokyo suspects the captain deliberately rammed the two Japanese vessels in a tense confrontation near the disputed island chain.

The incident started Tuesday morning when Japan's 1,300-ton patrol ship Yonakuni ordered the fishing trawler to cease operations near the rocky uninhabited islands.

In the ensuing confrontation, the Chinese boat's bow hit the Yonakuni's stern before it sailed off. About 40 minutes later it collided with another Japanese patrol boat, the Mizuki. No one was injured in the collisions.

Four Japanese patrol ships pursued the Chinese vessel, and Japan Coast Guard personnel later boarded it to question the captain over the incident and on suspicion of violating Japan's fisheries law.

The incident came as the number of Chinese vessels fishing near the disputed islands has risen since last month, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

The daily said some 160 Chinese vessels were fishing near the islands on Tuesday and 30 of them were inside what Japan says are its territorial waters.

The newspaper quoted a local Japanese fisherman as saying: "The Chinese may be coming down south to seek richer fishing grounds."

Jiang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, reiterated Beijing's "indisputable sovereignty" over the islands.

"The will and the resolve of the Chinese government to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity is firm and resolute," she said.

China grants web mapping licences to 31 firms

BEIJING, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - China has granted licences to 31 companies to provide web mapping services in the world's biggest online market, an official said Thursday, but many foreign firms including Google have yet to apply.

Companies that have won approval include Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia, Chinese search engine Baidu and online portals Sina and Sohu, an official with the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) who asked not to be named told AFP.

Nokia is the only foreign firm that has so far applied for the licence, the bureau's deputy head Song Chaozhi told the official China Daily newspaper.

Without state approval, US Internet titans Google -- which squared up to Beijing this year over state censorship and cyberattacks -- and Microsoft could lose their spot in the online mapping market in China.

Both Google and Microsoft currently offer mapping services in China, which could be shut down without a licence.

"Although Google has made some initial contact with us, it has not officially submitted an application," Song told the China Daily, adding Google would send a senior executive to China this week to discuss the issue.

Google spokeswoman in China Marsha Wang was not immediately available to comment when contacted by AFP on Thursday.

Under new rules introduced in June, all firms providing Internet map and location services in China are required to apply for approval from the SBSM, state media said last month.

Foreign firms wanting to provide those services in China are required to set up joint ventures or partnerships with local firms.

The Legal Daily quoted Song on Thursday as saying that the SBSM was considering setting a deadline for applications for the licence, and firms that failed to apply by then would face a shutdown of their services.

China in July renewed Google's Internet Content Provider licence, after the US web giant threatened to completely shut down its operations in the Asian country over what it said were China-based cyberattacks.

The renewal came after the California-based firm set up a new landing page at google.cn with links to its uncensored Hong Kong search engine, ending an automatic redirect that had apparently irritated authorities.

Google, Baidu and Chinese company DDMap currently account for more than half of the online mapping market in China, previous media reports said.

China had 420 million Internet users as of the end of June, according to official data.

Chinese UN diplomat unleashes drunken rant: report

BEIJING, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - The most senior Chinese diplomat at the United Nations delivered a drunken rant last week against his boss, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Americans at a retreat in Austria, a report said Thursday.

Sha Zukang, the UN undersecretary general for economic and social affairs, did not pull punches in a toast at a dinner in Alpbach, Foreign Policy magazine reported on its website, citing a senior UN official who attended the event.

"I know you never liked me, Mr secretary general -- well, I never liked you either," the official quoted Sha as saying in a toast to Ban.

The 62-year-old Sha made the remarks after consuming "a few drinks", according to the report in the respected Washington-based magazine, which described his intervention as an "intoxicated rant".

He said Ban had been "trying to get rid" of him and could fire him "anytime".

"I didn't want to come to New York. It was the last thing I wanted to do," the career Chinese diplomat said, before tempering his speech with some positive words about the UN chief and his persistence.

"I've come to love the UN and I'm coming to admire some things about you," Sha reportedly said.
He also singled out a US colleague for criticism, saying: "I really don't like Americans."

Sha, who took up his UN post in July 2007, apologised the following day for his outburst and then maintained a low profile at the retreat, the report said.

"Sha Zukang was deeply apologetic when he met the secretary general in person early the following morning at his own request," acting deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq told Foreign Policy.

Sha is known for his no-holds-barred style. China's former UN ambassador Wang Guangya described him as the "John Bolton of the Chinese foreign ministry" -- a reference to Washington's fiery former UN envoy.

The incident could be an embarrassing one for China, which lobbied hard for Sha's appointment to his post and played a key role in promoting the South Korean Ban's campaign to become secretary general.

Ban has come under fire for his low-key leadership style. The former chief of the UN's internal oversight office, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, said in a memo leaked to the press in July that Ban had led the world body into "decay".

Malaysian Muslims detained over early Eid celebration

KUALA LUMPUR, September  9, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysian religious officials said Thursday they had detained and fined nine members of an Islamic sect for celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday two days early.

The Eid festival, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, has been declared on Friday for most parts of the world including Malaysia, but members of Jamiah Al-Zikri Awwalun were caught already celebrating on Wednesday.

The group in the northern state of Perlis is one of several fringe Islamic sects under close watch by Malaysian religious authorities, which crack down hard on so-called deviant groups that deviate from orthodox teachings.

"The group's celebration of Eid is clearly different from how Muslims celebrate Eid in Malaysia and they violated state Sharia law in doing this," Abdul Malik Hussin, head of the Perlis Islamic religious department, told AFP.

He said that religious authorities released the group members after they paid a fine.

In Malaysia the holy day is determined by local lunar observation and proclaimed by a representative of the country's nine state monarchs, who are viewed as the defenders of the faith.

Google searches Web as fast as you can type

SAN FRANCISCO, September  8, 2010 (AFP) - Google on Wednesday began scouring the Internet in real time, delivering results as fast a a person can type.

After two days of teasingly tinkering with the log "doodle" atop its search home page and ended the mystery by showing off Google Instant -- a speedier route to Web results at a press event in the San Francisco Museum of Art.

As searchers type in a query, the Google search box displays a list of suggested terms and displays the actual results for the top suggestion.

"Google Instant actually gets queries and gives you search results as you type and streams those results to your computer," said Google vice president of search products and user experience Marissa Mayer.

"We are actually predicting what query you are likely to do and giving you results for that. There is actually a psychic element to it."


Chinese city gets tough on smoking for Asian Games

BEIJING, September  8, 2010 (AFP) - The Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou has set the "toughest" anti-smoking rules in the tobacco-addicted nation as the city spruces up for the Asian Games in November, state media reported on Wednesday.

Smokers in the city will incur fines of up to 50 yuan (seven dollars) for lighting up in public places such as offices, elevators and karaoke parlours under the rules which came into effect on September 1, Xinhua news agency said.

Xinhua called it "the nation's toughest smoking ban."

But the fine is roughly equivalent to the cost of four to five packs of mid-priced cigarettes in China, the report said -- a relative slap on the wrist for residents of one of China's richest cities.

China has an estimated 300 million smokers, who freely light up in restaurants, buses, and other public spaces. An offer of a cigarette has become an almost ceremonial gesture when Chinese meet new people.

China is the world's biggest consumer of tobacco, and up to a million people in the country die every year from lung cancer or cardiovascular diseases directly linked to smoking.

Authorities have launched various anti-smoking campaigns over the years amid growing fears of a looming health timebomb.

The government has pledged to ban smoking in all indoor public places by next year, but activists and experts have raised doubts that the rules can be implemented in a country where enforcement of many laws is weak.

Xinhua quoted Jiang Huan, deputy head of the National Tobacco Control Office, as saying a nationwide ban would deal a heavy economic blow as nearly a tenth of tax revenue in the country comes from tobacco sales.

Under the new Guangzhou rules, smoking is now strictly banned in "public locations including offices, conference rooms, halls and elevators."

Smoking will be allowed in places such as airports, shopping centres and restaurants with more than 75 seats, but only in designated areas, Xinhua said.

Proprietors of locations where the ban is broken face fines of 3,000-5,000 yuan.

The two-week Asian Games kick off on November 12.

China demands Japan free skipper in tense maritime row

TOKYO, September  8, 2010 (AFP) - Beijing Wednesday demanded that Tokyo free the captain of a Chinese fishing trawler who was arrested after his vessel collided with two Japan Coast Guard vessels in disputed waters a day earlier.

In a worsening diplomatic row between the Asian giants, China summoned Japan's ambassador for a second time since the incident near a disputed island chain in the East China Sea, the Xinhua state news agency said.

China "demanded that the Japanese side immediately release the ship and crew members on board and guarantee their safety", assistant foreign minister Hu Zhengyue told Japan's ambassador Uichiro Niwa, according to Xinhua.

Beijing also sent embassy officials to Japan's southern Ishigaki island where officials started questioning the Chinese skipper, and where his fishing vessel with its 14 crew was expected to arrive later in the day.

Japan, which suspects the captain hit its patrol ships deliberately in Tuesday's confrontation, is holding the captain on suspicion of obstructing officers on duty, which carries a maximum three years' jail.

The captain responded to interrogation obediently, Kyodo News agency reported, quoting Japan Coast Guard officials.

The high-seas incident started Tuesday morning when the Japanese 1,349-ton patrol boat the Yonakuni ordered the Chinese trawler to cease operations in the disputed waters.

In the ensuing confrontation, the Chinese boat's bow hit the Yonakuni's stern before it sailed off. About 40 minutes later it collided with another Japanese patrol boat, the Mizuki, the Coast Guard said.

Four Japanese patrol ships then pursued the Chinese vessel, and Coast Guard personnel later boarded it to question the captain and crew over the incident and on suspicion of violating Japan's fisheries law.

The incident happened near a disputed string of five small islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan, Diaoyu in China, and Diaoyutai in Taiwan -- which lies between Japan's far-southern Okinawa island and Taiwan.
Controlled by Tokyo, but also long claimed by Beijing and Taipei, the uninhabited islands lie in an area believed to hold seabed oil deposits and have often sparked regional tensions.

Japanese senior foreign ministry official Akitaka Saiki on Tuesday informed China's ambassador Cheng Yonghua that "Tokyo will enforce its domestic laws" and pursue a criminal case against the captain.

China expressed its "great concern" and made a "solemn representations" to Japan, which it reiterated on Wednesday, according to Xinhua.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Beijing had stressed that the islands have been part of Chinese territory since ancient times and urged Japan to stop its "so-called law enforcement activities".

On Wednesday morning, Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, told a news conference: "Our country is going to strictly deal with the case based on our law."

But he also said that "it is necessary to deal with the case calmly, not to heat things up in Japan. We have to conduct diplomatic dialogue firmly. Japan's stance is that a territorial problem does not exist."
China's state-controlled Global Times said in a commentary: "If it were Chinese naval boats smashing into Japanese fishing boats in some disputed area, how would the Japanese public react?"
The English-language newspaper warned of the risk of the row escalating, saying that "Japan's irresponsible moves may eventually set fire to the Sino-Japanese relationship, or even force a military showdown."

China's Hu extols warming US ties

BEIJING, September  8, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday extolled what he called "fresh progress" in Sino-US relations as he met for talks with a White House delegation.

"China looks positively on the fresh progress made in China-US relations, and we are willing to work together with the United States in promoting the advance of healthy and stable China-US relations," Hu said.

His comments came in a meeting with visiting US Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon and National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers.

The two US officials are in China for a four-day visit and have met various top officials, with both sides lauding the state of bilateral ties following tensions earlier this year but giving no details on the content of the talks.

Hu joined the chorus of praise, saying the two sides had jointly responded to the global financial crisis, and stayed in close touch "over some international hotspot issues."

"In trade and economics, energy, environmental protection, culture and people-to-people exchanges, our cooperation has constantly expanded and deepened," Hu told the White House envoys before they began closed-door talks.

The world's top two economies are trying to put months of tension -- over everything from trade to Taiwan to Tibet -- behind them, and prepare for a visit to the United States by Hu.

Relations soured this year over an array of issues including US arms sales to Taiwan and a meeting in February between President Barack Obama and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The two sides have also been involved in various trade disputes, including over China's currency policies.

Foreign critics claim China undervalues its yuan currency, giving Chinese exporters an unfair trade advantage.
But the tensions have eased considerably in recent months following several high-level meetings between the two sides, including between Hu and Obama, who has invited the Chinese leader to visit Washington at an unspecified time.

China stresses importance of good ties with United States

BEIJING, September  7, 2010 (AFP) - China on Tuesday again emphasised the need for good relations with the United States during a visit by two top White House envoys, but warned Washington not to apply further pressure over the yuan.

The comments from Beijing came as the world's top two economies try to put months of tensions -- over everything from trade to Taiwan to Tibet -- behind them, and prepare for a visit to Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

During talks with visiting US Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon and National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the two countries should not treat each other as "rivals".

Instead, Wen said, China and the United States should work together to tackle the global financial crisis and promote a stable world economic recovery, according to state-run television.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Tuesday that "sound China-US relations are beneficial to both countries and the world at large," adding that maintaining those ties required "unremitting efforts from both sides".

She said Chinese officials meeting the American envoys hoped to "exchange views... on the present and future of China-US relations to foster mutual trust, enhance mutual understanding and expand cooperation".

But she cautioned that China firmly opposes "politicising trade and economic issues" and warned the country could not press ahead with reforming its yuan exchange rate mechanism under "external pressure".

"The direction of... the reform of the RMB exchange rate formation mechanism will remain unchanged," Jiang told reporters.

China pledged in June to let the yuan trade more freely against the dollar, following intense international pressure on Beijing for a stronger currency.

Since then the yuan has strengthened less than one percent against the greenback, aggravating critics who claim the currency is undervalued by as much as 40 percent and gives Chinese exporters an unfair trade advantage.

During talks with Donilon and Summers on Tuesday, State Councillor Dai Bingguo echoed the message delivered by the foreign ministry, saying: "Quiet and in-depth dialogue is better than loud haranguing."

"In no other relationship between countries is it more important to enhance dialogue, strengthen mutual confidence and expand and develop co-operation than it is between China and the United States," Dai said.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington spiked this year over an array of issues including US arms sales to Taiwan, a meeting in February between President Barack Obama and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and trade disputes.

However, tensions have eased considerably in recent months following several high-level meetings of the two sides, including between Hu and Obama, who has invited the Chinese leader to visit Washington at an unspecified time.

Chinese woman sues cinema over excessive advertisements

BEIJING, September  7, 2010 (AFP) - A Chinese woman is suing a cinema and the distributors of domestic box-office hit "Aftershock" for wasting her time by showing 20 minutes of commercials before the movie, state media said Tuesday.

Chen Xiaomei claims the Polybona International Cinema in the northern city of Xian and film distributors Huayi Brothers Media Corporation should have told her how long the pre-movie advertisements lasted, Xinhua news agency said.

Chen, who is a lawyer, has accused Polybona and Huayi Brothers of wasting her time and violating her freedom of choice.

The case has been accepted by the People's Court in Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, Xinhua said, citing a statement from the court.

The report did not say when the case would be heard.

Chen is demanding the companies refund her 35-yuan ticket (5.20 dollars), pay her 35 yuan in compensation and one yuan for emotional damages and write her an apology, the report said.

She has also advised the cinema to publish the advertisement times on its website, in the lobby or on its customer hotline and asked Huayi Brothers to cut the length of commercials to less than five minutes.

"Aftershock", which is about an earthquake that devastated a Chinese city in 1976, has become the highest-grossing domestic film, raking in 650 million yuan, Xinhua said.

The movie directed by Feng Xiaogang tells the story of a mother's emotional reunion with her daughter, three decades after a massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the northern city of Tangshan, killing more than 240,000 people.

Taiwan tycoon cleared in Sogo deal

TAIPEI, September  7, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan's High Court on Tuesday upheld an earlier ruling to acquit a tycoon who had been accused of buying one of the island's biggest department store chains illegally.

The court said it found Douglas Hsu had committed no crime when his company Far Eastern Group -- a cluster of hotels, construction, textiles and retailing businesses -- bought Pacific Sogo in 2004.

"The case is a pure business investment but it is politicised and turned into a criminal matter so the saviour of Sogo became the victim," the group said in a statement.

"We hope Taiwan will set up a commercial court soon to ensure order and justice in the market," it said.

Local media had claimed Hsu used gift vouchers to secure the backing of Wu Shu-chen, wife of then president Chen Shui-bian, in the controversial buyout.

The allegations prompted Chen to go on television in 2006 to claim that his wife had done nothing wrong and pledge to quit if she were found guilty of any offence in the case.

Tuesday's decision came after Hsu was acquitted in 2008 but prosecutors appealed.

Chen left office in 2008, and he and his wife were convicted the following year of embezzling state funds, laundering money, and accepting bribes, giving both of them a sentence of life in prison.

The High Court in June reduced the couple's sentences to 20 years after concluding that less money was embezzled than previously assumed. They are currently appealing the second, lesser sentence.


India says China seeking 'foothold' in S.Asia

NEW DELHI, September  7, 2010 (AFP) - China is seeking to expand its influence in South Asia and gain a "foothold" in the region, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in remarks published Tuesday.

"China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality," Singh was quoted as saying by The Times of India on Tuesday. "We have to be aware of this."

Following recent meetings with the Chinese leadership, he said there was a desire in Beijing to sort out differences between the two emerging powers, whose relations are wracked by tension and mistrust.

"This leadership will change in two years. There is a new assertiveness among the Chinese. It is difficult to tell which way it will go. So it's important to be prepared," he added.

India is watchful of China's growing presence in the region, including its major investments in ports being built in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

New Delhi was put on guard about China's growing naval power at the end of last month when two Chinese ships docked in neighbouring Myanmar to take part in a series of military exercises.

Border disputes in northeastern and northwestern India, a short war in 1962 and the presence in India of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, all contribute to an atmosphere of suspicion between the Asian giants

China is also a close ally of Pakistan -- India's regional foe -- supplying investment, industry know-how and weapons, including missile technology, according to New Delhi.

Google replaces logo with dancing doodle

WASHINGTON, September  7, 2010 (AFP) - Google replaced the celebrated logo on its home page on Tuesday with a mysterious collection of colorful dancing balls.

Pointing a mouse at the blue, green, red and yellow balls makes them change shape and fly around the screen. The balls then regroup to form the Google logo, or "doodle" as it is known at the California company.

Google did not provide any explanation for the new doodle and the Internet was rife with speculation about what it might mean.

Some Web commentators noted that Tuesday is Google's 12th birthday while others said the doodle may have to do with a press conference about search being held at Google headquarters on Wednesday.

The Mountain View, California, company frequently changes the colorful logo on its famously sparse home page to mark anniversaries or significant events or pay tribute to artists, scientists, statesmen and others.

Google, for example, recently marked the 30th birthday of Pac-Man by featuring the classic arcade videogame in a playable doodle.

High-seas collisions trigger Japan-China diplomatic spat

TOKYO, September  7, 2010 (AFP) - A tense maritime incident Tuesday in which two Japanese patrol vessels and a Chinese fishing boat collided near a disputed island chain triggered a diplomatic spat between the Asian giants.

China expressed its "great concern" over the series of two collisions in the East China Sea, while Japan summoned a Chinese diplomat to protest the incident, in which no-one was reported injured and neither vessel sank.

The uninhabited islands -- known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China -- lie between Japan's Okinawa island and Taiwan. They are claimed by Tokyo, Beijing and Taipei and are frequently the focus of regional tensions.

Japan's Ichiro Ozawa, who is vying to oust Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a party leadership race this month to lead the nation, said Sunday that Tokyo must strongly fend off Beijing's claim to the disputed islets.

The incident Tuesday morning started when Japan's 1,349-ton patrol boat the Yonakuni ordered the Chinese trawler to cease fishing in the disputed waters, Kyodo News agency reported, citing the Japanese Coast Guard.

The Chinese boat's bow then hit the Yonakuni's stern and also collided with another Japanese patrol boat, the Mizuki, some 40 minutes later, Kyodo reported citing the coastguard.

Three Japanese patrol boats then chased the Chinese vessel, and 22 Japanese personnel boarded the ship to question the Chinese crew on suspicion of violating the fisheries law, Kyodo reported.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu later told a regular news briefing that "China expresses great concern over this incident".

Beijing had made "solemn representations" to Tokyo stressing that the islands have been part of Chinese territory since ancient times, she said.

China has urged Japan to stop the "so-called law enforcement activities in the adjacent borders" and not do anything that might "jeopardise the safety of Chinese fishing boats and Chinese people".

"We will keep a close eye on developments and reserve the right to make a further response," Jiang added.

Japan's foreign ministry said it had "summoned a minister-counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo and lodged a protest over the incident".

"We stated that the incident resulted from illegal fishing on China's part," the ministry said. "We asked the Chinese government help prevent a recurrence of the incident and give thorough instructions to Chinese fishing boats."

China needs 'carrier-killer' missile: press

BEIJING, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - China needs a "carrier-killer" missile deterrent as a counter-balance to US naval supremacy in the Pacific, the state-controlled press said Monday.

"China undoubtedly needs to build a highly credible anti-carrier capability," the Global Times said in an editorial.

"Not only does China need an anti-ship ballistic missile, but also other carrier-killing measures," added the paper, which is published by the People's Daily, print mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.

"Since US aircraft carrier battle groups in the Pacific constitute deterrence against China's strategic interests, China has to possess the capacity to counterbalance," it said.

US military analysts have warned China is developing a new version of its Dongfeng 21 missile that could pierce the defences of even the most sturdy US naval vessels and has a range of 20,000 kilometres (12,400 miles) -- far beyond Chinese waters.

Washington has expressed rising concern over China's military intentions following a string of double-digit increases in Chinese military spending and a rapid modernisation of its armed forces.

China has bristled at the idea of a US aircraft carrier group patrolling waters near its coast and has voiced opposition to the US dispatching such vessels during ongoing joint military exercises with South Korea.

The US Defence Department last month said China had continued building up its military strength in the Taiwan Strait despite better ties with the China-friendly government in Taipei, which took power in 2008.
The Pentagon said Beijing was ramping up investment in a range of areas including nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare.

Many analysts say China's military build-up is aimed primarily at winning a possible war with the United States over Taiwan. Beijing claims the self-ruled island as its own territory.

China has rejected the concerns, saying its military upgrading was aimed merely at self-defence and that the country's armed forces posed no threat to any other countries.

US, China hail warmer relationship

BEIJING, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese and US officials congratulated each other Monday on a warming of ties between the two powers, after relations were strained earlier this year.

Vice Premier Wang Qishan said he was looking forward to discussing China-US ties in trade, investment and finance in talks with US Deputy National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon and US National Economic Council Chairman Larry Summers.

Summers said US President Barack Obama had emphasised "the importance he attaches to a very strong relationship between the United States and China, and to President Hu's upcoming visit to the United States".

"I think we all benefit from candid conversation that enables us both to understand each other's thinking," Summers said, before the two sides began closed-door talks.

Wang's comments came after Li Yuanchao, a top official with the ruling Communist Party, said China-US relations were back on track after being waylaid by difficulties earlier this year.

"Although there were some disturbances in China-US relations... relations have gotten back on a sound track," Li told the visiting Americans.

Neither side has offered detailed information on the purpose of the four-day visit or what was to be discussed.

However officials from the two sides have met recently about the possibility of resuming six-nation negotiations on ridding North Korea of its nuclear programmes.

Tensions spiked this year over issues including a US arms sale to Taiwan, a meeting in February between President Barack Obama and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and trade disputes.

However the temperature has cooled considerably in recent months following several high-level meetings of the two sides, including between Obama and President Hu Jintao.

The two White House officials also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Rise of new influence groups in China: think tank

HELSINKI, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - Forces outside China's traditional power bases are increasingly shaping the country's foreign policy, pushing for more international participation, the SIPRI think tank said in a report Monday.

"These are still groups on the margins. But it is significant that the top leadership now has to take into account diverse views," the Swedish institute's China programme director Linda Jakobson told AFP in Helsinki, where the report was launched.

New pressure groups like state-owned and even some large privately-owned enterprises, local governments, expert advisors, as well as public input via media and online communities are all being heard to some extent in the inner sanctum of the Communist Party, the report said.

Jakobson noted that Chinese policy creation is still shrouded in secrecy, so it is extremely difficult to gauge how much pressure these new groups are able to put on the traditional power bulwarks of the Communist Party, the State Council and the People's Liberation Army.

Nonetheless, this development points to the fact that China's ruling party is no longer a monolithic entity, but one being pulled in different directions, the report said.

These rising pressure groups are able to make an impact not only through traditional channels such as personal networks, but increasingly by writing newspaper columns, blogs, making public speeches and even through television debates.

Jakobson said these channels are no longer entirely closed off to the public, and that China is transforming into a country where a degree of pluralism and public debate is possible.

"The government and the Party do their utmost to control public opinion, but because of these omni-directional forces at play, they don't want citizens to be dissatisfied with foreign policy especially in times of crisis," she said.

"If netizens think that Chinese leaders are bowing to pressure from Western leaders, it's not a large step to netizens questioning whether they are capable of leading," she added.

SIPRI's report said that these new interest groups are especially eager to see China more strongly defend its interests on the global stage, which would involve becoming more active internationally.

However, the report outlines a scenario where these new forces are engaged in a political tug-of-war with traditional political structures that aim to avoid an overreliance on world markets.

For example, the report said that China's ministry of state security fears an influx of Western values "will make it more difficult for the Communist Party to dominate public discourse on questions concerning human rights, transparency and accountability."

Jakobson said that Western countries should approach this schism by seeking to allay fears that a more open China will result in a more vulnerable Chinese state.

"We have to persistently engage them to dispel these suspicions, but at the same time we can't just give them carte blanche to stipulate the conditions for engagement," said Jakobson.

SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. SIPRI is named as one of the world's leading think tanks in Foreign Policy magazine's Think Tank Index.


Chinese scrap Philippine trips after hijacking: report

BEIJING, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - Travellers from Hong Kong and mainland China have cancelled more than 1,000 Philippine package tours after eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a bus hijacking in Manila, state media said Monday.

The Philippine tourism industry could suffer resulting losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next three months, the China Daily reported, citing Philippine Department of Tourism Under-Secretary Simeon P. Marfori.

It said Marfori was speaking at an international travel forum in southern China.

Hong Kong tourists accounted for one in ten of all inbound tourists to the Philippines while Chinese tourists represented the highest growth market of visitors to the country, Marfori said. The report provided no other figures.

On August 23, a disgruntled former policeman commandeered a bus carrying 25 Hong Kong tourists in a bid to win his job back.

Eight of the tourists died during a botched police rescue bid that also left the hostage-taker dead.
On the following day, China's National Tourism Administration urged its citizens travelling to the Philippines to exercise caution.

The administration did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on Monday.

A Shanghai-based customer service representative at China International Travel Service (CITS), who declined to be named, said the travel agency stopped offering group tours to the Philippines after the hijacking.

"People were scared. No one wants to go there. Service will resume only after the impact of the hostage incident subsides," she told AFP.

She added CITS would offer no package tours to the southeast Asian country during the National Day holiday in October, a peak season for Chinese tourism.

Probe launched after China pilots falsified records: govt

BEIJING, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - China said Monday it is investigating the qualifications of the nation's commercial pilots after revelations that more than 200 of them had falsified their resumes.

The probe comes after 42 people died on August 24 when a Brazilian-made regional jet flown by Henan Airlines crashed at a small airport in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province.

Fifty-four passengers and crew survived the crash, in which the plane missed the runway, sparking speculation that pilot error was to blame.

The investigation was launched by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the country's aviation regulator, the central government's news website said.

The resumes of more than 200 Chinese commercial pilots were found to have been falsified, the report said, with some of them embellishing their flight histories.

At least half of the pilots in question worked for Shenzhen Airlines, which owns Henan Airlines, the government report said.

Investigators were looking into the possibility of pilot error in the Henan Airlines crash, it added.
The crash was China's first major air disaster in nearly six years.

Authorities have already ordered safety checks of the country's fast-growing civil aviation fleet of 1,300 planes in the wake of the disaster.

Last week, the aviation administration said it was looking for crash clues related to the plane's manufacturer, operator, crew, maintenance record, and with air traffic management and the airport authorities.

Authorities in central Henan province have also ordered the airline to change its name to prevent the crash from tarnishing the province's image. The company had previously been known as Kunpeng Airlines.

The accident occurred after the plane missed the runway and crashed into a field next to the airport, cracking the cabin and triggering an explosion and subsequent fire, state media reported earlier, citing an initial probe.

China's 'miracle' Shenzhen marks 30th anniversary

BEIJING, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday hailed as "a miracle" the Shenzhen special economic zone that helped set off China's boom decades ago, as the nation celebrates the city's 30th anniversary.

"The Shenzhen special economic zone created a miracle in the world's history of industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation and has contributed significantly to China's opening up and reform," Hu said on a visit to the southern city.

"The central government will, as always, support the brave exploration of the special economic zone (SEZ) as well as its role of testing and carrying out reforms ahead of others," he said, according to state-run television.

Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, is a noted laboratory for reform. In 1980, it became the first area in China designated as an SEZ that could accept foreign investment under reforms pioneered by late leader Deng Xiaoping.

It offered lower taxes and less cumbersome bureaucratic procedures in order to attract overseas investors and was held up as a model for China's manufacturing-based economic growth.

Several other special economic zones followed later.

China to have 200 million vehicles by 2020: state media

SHANGHAI, September  6, 2010 (AFP) - The number of vehicles on China's roads will more than double to at least 200 million by 2020, a top official was quoted Monday as saying, further straining the nation's environment and energy supply.

China must make it a top priority to develop fuel-efficient and alternative energy cars, the China Securities Journal said, citing Wang Fuchang, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

China's auto sales hit 13.64 million units last year, overtaking the United States as the world's top car market, while sales this year are forecast to hit 15 million units.

As of the end of 2009, there were 76.2 million vehicles in the country, according to government figures.

China's auto sales have slowed in recent months, partially due to seasonal factors, but August saw a surprising 55.7 percent year on year jump, boosted by Beijing's new subsidies for energy-saving vehicles.

The surging car use has brought mounting concerns over pollution, soaring energy demand, and traffic gridlock.

A top official with the country's environment minister, Liu Ziquan, was quoted Monday as saying vehicle exhausts had overtaken other major sources as the top cause of air pollution in cities.

Road congestion has also worsened, highlighted by a recurring traffic jam dozens of kilometres (miles) long on a major highway leading into Beijing from the northwest.

Internet an equalizer for people with disabilities

SAN FRANCISCO, September  5, 2010 (AFP) - Sally Harrison is developmentally disabled, but on Facebook the 35-year-old woman is just like anyone else.

Victor Tsaran scours the Web at lightning speeds and loves his touch-screen iPhone in seeming contradiction to the fact that he is blind.

Internet gadgets and software are creating a virtual world of equality and opportunity for a large segment of the population once marginalized due to physical or mental impairments.

"It is not about being able to do everything; it is about being able to do what you possibly can given your condition and the technology available," said Tsaran, a project manager at Yahoo! 'accessibility lab.'

For Harrison, Facebook was part of transition that took her from highly-supervised confines of a group home to getting a job and moving into her own apartment.

"She started to blossom after that," said Lisa Giraldi, executive director of Pacific Diversified Services (PDS), an organization devoted to 'true community inclusion for adults with developmental disabilities.'

"For Sally, it has been fantastic."

Facebook privacy controls were set tightly and Harrison's family signed on as "friends" and watch over her at the online social networking service.

Harrison told AFP on Friday that she has 83 Facebook friends and tries to check her online profile daily.

"It has helped me a lot," said Harrison, who grappled with low self esteem when she was first taken on as a client by PDS.

"It is important to me because I get to connect with friends I haven't seen in a long time."

PDS believes in people with disabilities living as independently as possible in communities, and Internet services such as Facebook, email, and online chat help clients stay connected.

"They communicate with each other on Facebook, which is really neat," Giraldi said. "Then, they can make friends with other people's friends the way the rest of us do... it's a social equalizer in a way."

Facebook pictures, comments and other posts capturing people with disabilities out enjoying their lives can help dispel stereotypes.

"Social networks shield you from the initial first impression people get of a person with a disability," Tsaran said.

"With social networking, you can create a shield around you so people don't judge you first by your disability. That is a big one for me."

Teaching clients basic computer skills such as downloading digital pictures or buying songs for iPods at Apple's online store iTunes has become standard at PDS.

"It really adds to their sense of acceptance in the community," Giraldi said.

"It makes them feel a level of independence that really makes them feel good. Twitter will probably be the next thing."

Tsaran's team at Yahoo! is devoted to getting engineers and designers to remove barriers that people with disabilities might face when visiting any of the California Internet firm's websites.

Yahoo! has a second accessibility lab in India.

Approximately 60 million people in the United States have disabilities and their combined annual income tops a trillion dollars, making them valuable customers.

The number of people living with disabilities worldwide is 650 million, according to statistics released recently by the White House.

Technology on display in the lab included Web pages with coding in pictures so descriptions of what might be seen on monitors was spoken aloud by "screen reader" programs used by the blind.

Software let people with varying degrees of paralysis control computers with a tap of a finger, a puff of air, the turn of a head or the clench of a jaw.

Apple has made a priority of building "universal access" into its devices, according to Brightman, who worked for 14 years at the California firm that makes iPods, iPads, iPhones and Macintosh computers.

"The iPhone is the most popular smartphone among the blind population, because accessibility was part of Apple's view and was built in," special communities senior policy director Alan Brightman said.

"To this day, I watch Victor use an iPhone and think it is amazing."

Accessibility features are also designed into Windows software at the heart of the majority of the
world's computers.

Third-party software makers are also gearing technology for the disabled.

For example, AssistiveWare on Thursday released a Proloquo2go update that lets people with trouble speaking use iPad tablet computers to act as their voices by touching symbols on the screens.

People with disabilities are also benefiting from slick new gadget features such as software that converts spoken words into written text in smartphones running on Google-backed Android software.

"We are really about independence and choices and participation," Brightman said of efforts at the lab and elsewhere in the technology community.

"You ought to be able to do anything anyone else can do; you just have to do it your way."

In China, even 'low-cost' housing hard for some to afford - Focus

SHANGHAI, September  5, 2010 (AFP) - After months of anxious waiting, Wang Jinxia finally obtained a coveted spot in Shanghai's trial affordable-housing programme, but now the former factory worker is scrambling to pay for it.

The 53-year-old divorcee, who took early retirement years ago, is desperate to move after living eight years in a 60-square-metre (650-square-foot) Shanghai apartment with her octogenarian parents and two other relatives.

"I've been stressed out recently. I have many new grey hairs. I will have to pour all of my 70,000 yuan (10,300 dollars) savings into this," Wang said outside a makeshift centre for mortgage applications at a local school.

She is among the first batch of about 1,940 families selected to buy low-cost housing that is selling for about a third of market prices, as part of a new affordable housing campaign in the city of more than 20 million.

However, Wang and others are finding even "affordable" housing out of reach due to limited financing options for low-income buyers -- a hurdle for government efforts to quell public concern over skyrocketing prices.

China's public housing programmes have been neglected for years as local governments sought to cash in on spiralling property prices with more upmarket developments.

But a growing outcry over the past year has put affordable housing back on Beijing's agenda.

The stakes in China's housing programme are high not only for low-income people such as Wang, who have been left behind by China's explosive growth, but for the economy itself.

It grew 10.3 percent in the second quarter of this year -- slowing from a blistering 11.9 percent in the first quarter -- as Beijing took steps to cool soaring property prices.

"The social housing programme is on track and will constitute an important cushion for any potential slowdown in private, market-based residential property construction," Morgan Stanley economist Qing Wang wrote in a note.

Beijing's ambitious target to build 5.8 million affordable housing units this year is aimed at preventing a hard landing for property investment growth and propping up demand for basic materials such as cement and steel, Wang said.

If it succeeds, the programme could boost China's economic growth by up to a percentage point or more, according to Bai Hongwei, a property analyst at China International Capital Corp.
Only limited and fuzzy official data have been available, however, and the push has been blemished by reports of insufficient land and high-income earners exploiting loopholes to take social housing spots.
Analysts estimate only 40 percent of the housing local governments pledged to build last year materialised, as they continued selling land to developers at market rates, and that amount might rise to 50 percent this year, at best.

In May, Beijing told local officials that affordable housing would be part of their performance appraisals.

To qualify for Shanghai's trial project, the family's average annual income per capita must be less than 27,600 yuan, while each member's share of floor space in their current residence must be under 15 square metres.

Some participants have likened the process to winning a lottery. To discourage fraud and corruption, the names and addresses of those selected are published online.

Yet once chosen, participants must still find a way to pay for the home.

"No bank wants to do this. It's not a profitable business," said a mortgage officer at the makeshift mortgage outlet set up by state-controlled China Construction Bank, who gave only his surname, Tang.
"We are here because the government instructed us," he said, punching a calculator to work out monthly repayments, the biggest concern for low-income families.

For Wang, a mortgage for the newly built 70-square-metre home on the outskirts of the city to which she has won rights would cost 2,200 yuan a month.

That's 43 percent of her and her parents' combined pension, payable over 16 years, the longest period the bank offers.

"For me, a mortgage is out of the question. I just can't afford the interest payments," she said.

Despite winning a place, the keys are still out of reach for the retired factory worker. She persuaded the developer to give her three months to come up with cash to buy the apartment as she asks friends to lend her money.

But success is still far from certain, she said.

Japan PM contender brushes aside China's claim to islets

TOKYO, September  5, 2010 (AFP) - Ichiro Ozawa, one of two men vying for the role of Japanese prime minister in a party leadership race, said Sunday Tokyo must bluntly fend off Beijing's claim to disputed islets in the East China Sea.

Ozawa is facing off against incumbent Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a September 14 election for leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). If Ozawa wins, he will become the nation's prime minister.

During a television debate with Kan, Ozawa said the islets of Senkaku, known as Diaoyu in China, "have never been recognised as Chinese territory in history."

"We have to get this straight," Ozawa told the debate, aired by public broadcaster NHK. "There are various concerns over China, but it is important to speak to each other plainly."

The uninhabited islets lie between Japan and Taiwan, which both claim them, as does China. The long-standing territorial spat has cast a shadow over ties between the two Asian powers.

Ozawa also said Japan should take "decisive measures" against any military threat from China, while calling on Beijing to take political responsibility as a major power in the international community.

In April, Japan voiced concerns about a flotilla of Chinese ships, including two submarines, which conducted drills in the East China Sea near Okinawa and then sailed on to the Pacific Ocean.

Tokyo also lodged a protest with Beijing after Chinese naval helicopters flew close to Japanese naval destroyers in April also near Okinawa.

Bejing rebuffed the protests.

During the debate, Kan also said that while promoting its economic ties with China, Japan is ready to deliver a message of concern to China over its growing military build-up.

"We need to carefully watch China's growing military strength," Kan said. "If necessary, we have to let them know of our concerns."

Kan and Ozawa are locked in a neck-and-neck race in which DPJ representatives in national and local assemblies as well as party members will vote.

The Nikkei business daily said Ozawa was in front among party lawmakers, while the Sankei Shimbun said Kan maintained the lead overall, with around 15 percent of DPJ lawmakers yet to make up their minds.

China seeks culture agreement with Taiwan

TAIPEI, September  5, 2010 (AFP) - China's visiting culture minister said on Sunday the mainland was seeking a culture agreement with Taiwan, in a fresh sign of the warming ties between the two former rivals.

Cai Wu, the highest-ranking mainland official to visit the island in 12 years, said details of the plan have not been finalised but suggested building on a sweeping trade pact the two sides forged earlier this year.

"For instance, I'm wondering if it is possible to sign an agreement patterning after the ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement)... it is still under discussion," Cai said during a press conference while touring Taipei's National Palace Museum.

Cai will attend a seminar in Taipei Monday, according to its organisers, the Shen Chun-chih Culture Foundation, a non-profit Taipei-based body focused on cultural exchanges with the mainland.

The visit comes after Taiwan's parliament last month approved the trade pact with China -- by far the island's most wide-ranging accord yet with the mainland.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since a Chinese civil war ended in 1949. Beijing still considers the island as part of its territory and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary.

But ties have improved markedly after President Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party took office in Taiwan in 2008, pledging to boost trade and allow in more Chinese tourists.


Taiwan refutes communist claims over Sino-Japan war

TAIPEI, September  5, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan has rejected a claim by the Chinese communist party that it played the major role in defending China from Japan's invasion during the Second World War, it was reported Sunday.

Taipei says the Kuomintang was the ruling party of China during the eight-year Sino-Japan War, which ended in 1945, and led the fight against the Japanese.

The dispute over who defended the mainland was re-opened on Friday after the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese communist party, published an an editorial saying that the party had taken the lead during the war.

But the claim was swiftly rebutted by Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, who insisted that his Kuomintang party led China "to the final triumph over Japan".

"This is history that must not be distorted," Ma was quoted by presidential office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang as saying.

The spat highlights lingering political differences between Taipei and its former bitter rival Beijing, despite a softening of relations over the last two years, local media said.

Taiwan's defence ministry also issued a statement Saturday to counter the Chinese claims.
More than 3.2 million Kuomintang servicemen were either killed or wounded during around 1,000 battles with Japanese invaders, the ministry figures showed.

Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government fled the mainland in 1949 after its troops were defeated by the communist forces, led by Mao Zedong, at the end of the civil war.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have improved markedly since 2008 after Ma came to power, pledging to boost trade links and allow more Chinese tourists to visit the island.

But Beijing still considers Taiwan part of China's territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, although the island has ruled itself since 1949.

Facebook generation turns to politics in Singapore

SINGAPORE, September  5, 2010 (AFP) - It's tough being an opposition party member in Singapore, but history undergraduate Bernard Chen of the Workers' Party is unfazed as he meets voters, organises events and attends internal meetings.

The 24-year-old is part of a new generation of activists fighting the formidable People's Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore for 51 years and currently holds all but two of the 84 seats in parliament.

All political parties in Singapore are reporting increased youth involvement as the country prepares for its next general elections, which are only due by February 2012 but are widely expected to be held much earlier.

New voter-friendly measures announced by the government, such as caps on immigration following complaints from citizens about a spike in recent years, have further fuelled expectations of an early vote.

"The PAP started off as being a minority in government too, so it's all about participating in the process and hoping to win the support of the people," Chen told AFP.

One of his pet causes is lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 to enable more members of the Facebook and Twitter generation to take part in politics and -- in his thinking -- support the opposition.

Despite getting into occasional trouble with media censors and police, young Singaporeans have indeed become more critical of the PAP on social networking sites, blogs and websites like theonlinecitizen.com and temasekreview.com.

Opposition parties are also ramping up their web presence.

"This interest in opposition politics will in a way require the PAP to raise its game," said Eugene Tan, a law professor at the Singapore Management University specialising in local politics.

He said the ruling party had far more resources than its rivals but believed the PAP was taking notice of young people's involvement with other parties.

"I think overall a more competitive political scene should be beneficial to Singapore," he added.
The PAP was founded in 1954 by a 31-year-old English-educated lawyer named Lee Kuan Yew, who went on to become the country's first leader, serving from 1959 until 1990. His son Lee Hsien Loong has been prime minister since 2004.

Despite the PAP's record of rapid economic progress which has turned Singapore into one of the world's richest societies, critics of the PAP say the city-state has lagged behind when it comes to democratic freedoms.

Opposition parties are reporting a rise in youth membership, with the Reform Party founded by the late democracy icon J.B. Jeyaretnam claiming 40 percent of its members are now aged 30 years and below.

The Workers' Party Youth Wing membership has increased 50 percent from four years ago, and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has likewise reported a healthy increase in younger members.
All the parties refused to reveal exact membership numbers, but media reports say the PAP increased its youth membership by more than 1,000 last year alone.

Young opposition activists are championing causes ranging from implementing a minimum wage to protecting minority and disabled persons' rights.

Wong U-Wen, who is partially deaf, joined the youth branch of the Singapore Democratic Party last year as he wanted to bring the plight of handicapped Singaporeans to public attention.

"When I first came to SDP office, they were surprised to see that I am deaf. They are starting to open their eyes and learn more from me because they never had someone who is deaf or a person with disabilities," the unemployed 38-year-old said.

He cited employment discrimination and a general lack of deaf-friendly services such as captions on television and movie programmes as well as certified sign-language interpreters.

Jermyn Wee, 27, the webmaster of the Reform Party website, felt young members have a bigger voice in opposition parties.

"We have regular meetings with our secretary general, Kenneth Jeyaretnam, should he need to bring up a concern," the information and communication technology executive said.

Over one million join Apple's music social network Ping

WASHINGTON, September 4, 2010 (AFP) - More than one million users joined Apple's new music-focused social network Ping in the 48 hours following its launch, the company said.

Apple said one-third of the people who downloaded iTunes 10, the latest version of its online entertainment store, signed up for Ping, which was unveiled by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in San Francisco on Wednesday.

"As many more people download iTunes 10 in the coming weeks, we expect the Ping community to continue growing," Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of Internet services, said in a statement late Friday.

Ping, available as a free download at itunes.com, allows users to view photos and videos of their favorite musicians and receive information about concert dates.

Ping users can also connect with friends online to discuss albums and songs and make musical recommendations.

"It's sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes," Apple's Jobs said.

Southwest China landslide toll rises to 24

BEIJING, September  4, 2010 (AFP) - The death toll from rain-triggered landslides that hit a remote village in southwestern China rose to 24, with another 24 people still missing, state-run Xinhua news agency reported Saturday.

The landslides swept through the mountain village of Hedong near the city of Baoshan in Yunnan province late Wednesday after heavy rain, Xinhua said.

Up to 40,000 cubic metres of debris crashed onto the village, according to Xinhua.

Floods and related natural disasters triggered by torrential rain have affected 230 million people nationwide in China this year and led to the evacuation of more than 15 million people, the government has said.

It said 3,185 people have been killed across the country, and more than 1,000 were missing.
A devastating mudslide in the northwestern province of Gansu last month left at least 1,467 dead and 298 missing.