Kenya arrests two Singaporeans in airport ivory bust

NAIROBI, December 11, 2010 (AFP) - Kenyan police arrested two Bangkok-bound Singaporeans who were checking in 92 kilos of illegal raw ivory at Nairobi airport, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said Saturday.

The cargo, packed in four suitcases, was ready to board a midnight Kenya Airways flight to Bangkok, Thailand and detected by KWS Canine Unit rangers with their sniffer dogs, a statement said.

Kenya, which has successfully repopulated several herds of elephants in recent years, is a major source of smuggled ivory and has seen a rise in poaching lately.

Thailand is a known transit point for the ivory, most of which is then sent to China, where it is used in medicines and ornaments.

A US diplomatic cable published by the WikiLeaks website said the KWS had noticed a "marked increase in poaching wherever Chinese labour camps are located".

Chinese companies are in charge of several major infrastructure projects across the country.

Talks with China must grow US exports: lawmakers

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - US lawmakers with broad powers over trade urged top officials in a letter Friday to ensure that upcoming economic talks with China increase markets for US goods and safeguard US intellectual property.

More than 30 members of the House Ways and Means Committee signed the appeal to US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk ahead of a US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meeting on December 15.

"For too long, China's commitments have failed to lead to commercially meaningful market access for US companies," said the group, led by Democratic Representative Sander Levin, the panel's chairman, and its top Republican, Representative Dave Camp.

"In particular, we urge you to secure robust commitments from China that will protect the range of US industries, such as software, entertainment, and technology, harmed by the continued massive theft of their intellectual property and onerous and discriminatory market access restrictions in China."

The lawmakers cited figures showing that eight out of 10 computer programs used in China are used illegally, and that the commercial value of stolen personal computer software had doubled over four years to 7.6 billion dollars in 2009.

"The Chinese government's ongoing tolerance of software theft creates an unfair trade advantage that costs jobs in the United States," charged the members of the committee, which writes tax and trade legislation.

The lawmakers also criticized China's "indigenous innovation" policies that steer government contracts to home-grown companies, as well as Beijing's "restraints" on key exports like so-called "rare earth minerals."

"We urge the administration to measure progress on greater US market access into China and protection of US intellectual property rights by objective criteria," they wrote.

The lawmakers urged "commercially meaningful metrics" for progress, including increased US exports to China or a measurable decrease in intellectual piracy.

Launch of '.xxx' porn domain name delayed

BOGOTA, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - The global body responsible for regulating Internet domain names delayed Friday launching an ".xxx" domain for pornographic websites.

During their convention in the Colombian port city of Cartagena, leaders of the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) agreed to delay the decision to an unspecified date, the group's CEO and president said.

ICM Registry, a company sponsored by the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), owns the domain name and has been trying to get the green light from ICANN since 2004.

Should ICANN finalize a deal reached earlier this year to launch the domain name, ICM Registry would sell .xxx addresses for 60 dollars each to an estimated 500,000 adult entertainment providers starting next year.

"An exclusive domain for adult entertainment has the advantage of allowing for greater control over their content and, in addition, for each web page added to the domain we will donate 10 dollars to finance initiatives to protect children," ICM Registry chief Stuart Lawley told the conference on Thursday.

If approved, .xxx would join other so-called Top-Level Domains, or TLDs, including .com, .edu, .mil, .gov and a host of country code TLDs.

Global Internet pornography generates around 3,000 dollars a second and the keyword "sex" appears in a fourth of all online searches, according to the Spain-based Internet Commitment for Social Responsibility (ICSR) non-government group.

ICANN spokespeople insisted any delay in launching a .xxx domain name was not the result of pressure from US religious and conservative groups that have campaigned against the move, saying it trivializes pornography.

Loyal YouTube users get to upload longer videos

Loyal YouTube users get to upload longer videos

SAN FRANCISCO, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Filmmakers who have played by the rules on YouTube can now post works longer than 15 minutes at the world's leading video-sharing website.

Google-owned YouTube in July raised the video-length limit to 15 minutes for all users but has sent out word that filmmakers who haven't abused copyright and other rules will be exempted from that time cap.

"Our creativity isn't bound by a time limit, so why should our video uploads be?" Google product manager Joshua Siegel and company software engineer Doug Mayle asked rhetorically in a blog post Friday.

"As long as it's your original content, it's fair game regardless of length."

The move was made possible in part by better tools for identifying copyrighted material posted on YouTube without permission from content owners, according to Siegel and Mayle.

Major US movie and music studios are among the more than 1,000 "global partners" that use a Content ID system to manage their digitized material on YouTube.

Videomakers can click an "upload" icon on YouTube to learn whether their accounts qualify to post longer works.


Hong Kong shares end flat, Shanghai lifted by bargain-buying

HONG KONG, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Hong Kong shares ended flat Friday as caution prevailed ahead of a possible Chinese interest rate hike, while Shanghai made healthy gains as traders picked up bargains after earlier losses.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index edged down 8.89 points to 23,162.91. Turnover was 69.57 billion Hong Kong dollars (8.95 billion US).

China was due to issue its November inflation figure on Saturday, which was widely expected to exceed October's 4.4 percent rise, with market-watchers predicting a rate hike to cool the world's second biggest economy.

The likelihood of another rise -- following the first in three years in October -- increased Friday after data showed exports and imports rose faster than expected to record highs in November.

"There is speculation of a rate hike by Beijing, but I believe the news has been largely priced in," said Derek Mok, a fund manager at Guotai Junan.

"The recent consolidation is mainly due to profit-taking activities by some investors ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays after a stronger performance by the bourse over the past few months."

The index has risen 9.4 percent over the past three months.

Rate hike concerns hurt property developer China Overseas Land, which fell 1.2 percent to 15.02 Hong Kong dollars and China Resources Land, which fell 0.7 percent to 13.76.

In China the Shanghai Composite Index, which covers both A and B shares, was up 30.09 points at 2,841.04 on turnover of 98.2 billion yuan (14.7 billion dollars).

The market reversed earlier losses, but gains were limited due to the expectations of imminent policy tightening measures.

"If there is really a rate hike, it may be even positive for certain sectors, such as insurance companies and banks," Chen Zhihua, an analyst at Changjiang Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.

China Life gained 1.9 percent to 23.34 yuan while Ping An Insurance jumped 2.92 percent to 60.90 yuan.

Resources firms surged on Friday's trade data.

China Nonferrous Metal Industry's Foreign Engineering and Construction rose by the 10 percent daily trading limit to 29.11 yuan and Western Mining rose 6.1 percent to 18.82 yuan.

Sony and Sharp launch e-readers, tablets in Japan

TOKYO, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Sony and Sharp upped the rivalry stakes in the heated e-reader and tablet market with the head-to-head launch on Friday of their latest devices in Japan, along with tens of thousands of e-book titles.

Sony, battling Amazon and Apple in the electronic book reader race, on Friday launched its Reader range in Japan along with a dedicated virtual library, after launching in 13 other countries including the US.

The move marked a return to Japan for the electronic giant's e-reader business since it left in 2007 after seeing low demand at a time when Japanese consumers were focused on mobile phone books.

Sharp meanwhile launched its multifunctional Galapagos tablet computer in a bid to rival Apple's iPad. The device allows users to read e-books, as well as major newspapers and popular magazines, delivered at designated times.

The name is a pun on the term "Galapagos Syndrome" -- in reference to the isolated islands that helped Charles Darwin form his theory of evolution -- and its association with Japan's tendency to be less influenced by global trends.

Earlier Japanese mobile phones made by the likes of Sharp or Fujitsu were years ahead of their time in terms of offering Internet access, and provided  cameras and mobile payment options before others as well as live television.

But smartphones such as Samsung's Galaxy S and Apple's iPhone are providing stronger competition with third generation handsets sold in Europe or the United States now working in Japan.

Sharp's new brand represents a shift for the company from conventional one-off sales of stand-alone products to devices that will continue to "evolve" through software updates, it says.

Sharp will offer about 24,000 e-book titles for the Galapagos, while Sony has around 20,000 titles for the Reader.

While Sharp is taking orders for the Galapagos only via mail or the Internet, Sony is selling its Reader at retail shops.

Sharp will initially deliver only electronic books, magazines and newspapers for the Galapagos and start online music, video and game services next spring.

Sony said it is also considering distributing newspapers, comics and magazines. But it has made no decision on when they would be launched.

The success of Apple's iPad has sent electronics makers scrambling to gain a slice of the growing tablet computer and e-reader market.

The Galapagos, equipped with wireless telecom functions, comes in two models -- a 10.8-inch screen priced at 54,800 yen (655 dollars) and a 5.5-inch screen for 39,800 yen.

Unlike the colour Galapagos or iPad, the Sony Reader uses black-and-white e-ink technology.

Sony has cut the size and weight of its e-readers while expanding the use of touch technology to all models -- allowing users to turn pages with a swipe of the finger like the iPad.

The Reader Pocket Edition and Reader Touch Edition will initially be available in about 300 Japanese stores, selling for 20,000 yen and 25,000 yen.

The group hopes to sell 300,000 e-readers in Japan in the first year and expects a 50 percent market share by 2012, the company said.

It also recently created a joint venture with Japan's second-largest telecom operator KDDI, the Asahi newspaper group and printing technology firm Toppan to offer services for a variety of devices.

At least 100 protest outside China UN office

BEIJING, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - At least 100 people protested outside the United Nations office in Beijing Friday, Human Rights Day, UN employees said, as the Nobel committee prepared to honour peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in Oslo.

"We saw a large group of people in front of the compound and it was larger than in previous years on Human Rights Day," one official, who refused to be named, told AFP.

The official could not give details as to how big the crowd was or what they were protesting about.
But another employee who asked not to be identified told AFP between 100 and 200 people had demonstrated.

More than a dozen security vehicles were stationed outside the complex in the city centre and police were asking passers-by for proof of identity, an AFP correspondent said.

A ceremony in Liu's honour is due to take place later Friday in Oslo, but neither Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence, his wife -- under house arrest -- nor other members of his family will be able to collect his award.

Beijing has clamped down on dissidents, the Internet and the media ahead of the ceremony, with activists missing and strong security at his wife's flat.

Liu was jailed in December last year on subversion charges after he co-authored Charter 08, a petition calling for political reform in one-party China.

December 10 is international Human Rights Day, marking the adoption in 1948 by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Taiwan plans special property tax

TAIPEI, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwanese authorities said Friday they plan to levy a special property tax in a bid to curb rising real estate prices and narrow the widening income gap.

The finance ministry is proposing a minimum 10 percent special tax on non-residential properties that change owners frequently, aimed at countering speculative activities, said an official, without elaborating.

The proposal, which requires parliament's approval, is expected to take effect as early as March 2011, according to local media.

Taiwan's property prices have been on the rise on the back of the island's recovery from the global recession last year.

Meanwhile, the gap between the island's richest and poorest has continued to widen according to various government figures.

The ministry is also planning a "rich man's tax" on high-end products, services and trade to help reduce the gap between the island's haves and have-nots.

The most prosperous 20 percent in Taiwan reported average disposable incomes of 1.79 million Taiwan dollars (56,000 US) last year, or 6.34 times more than the income of the poorest 20 percent, according to government figures.

This was the highest since 2001, said the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, which attributed it to a global trend of growing inequality.

China's property prices climb higher in November

BEIJING, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Property prices in China's major cities recorded their third straight month-on-month rise in November, official data showed Friday, defying Beijing's efforts to cool the red-hot market.

Prices in 70 major cities were up 0.3 percent last month from October and were 7.7 percent higher than a year ago, the National Bureau of Statistics said on its website.

The rise comes after a 0.2 percent month-on-month increase in October and 0.5 percent on-month gain in September.

It was the seventh straight month for slower year-on-year growth since April, when prices soared 12.8 percent.

Prices have remained stubbornly high despite the government's adopting a range of measures such as hiking minimum down-payments on all property transactions to at least 30 percent in an effort to avoid a damaging bubble.

The third straight monthly increase in property prices is likely to fuel expectations that another interest rate hike is imminent amid growing official and consumer fears over rising inflation.

A Chinese government think tank has warned the real estate bubble is getting worse, with property prices in major cities overvalued by as much as 70 percent, state media reported Thursday.

The number of square metres sold in November soared 14.5 percent year-on-year to 101.13 million, while the value of transactions skyrocketed 18.6 percent on year to 528.6 billion yuan (79.4 billion dollars).

Based on these figures, the average cost per square metre was 5,227 yuan -- much higher than the average monthly income of Chinese city dwellers.

Analysts have blamed the government's massive stimulus measures taken since late 2008 to combat the financial crisis for injecting huge amounts of liquidity into the market and driving up property prices.

Key economic data to be released Saturday is expected to show inflation rose 4.7 percent on year in November, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires.

That would mark the fastest rise in prices in more than two years and would be well above the official full-year inflation target of three percent.

Shanghai halts sale of suspected 'dyed' oranges: report

SHANGHAI, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Shanghai authorities have ordered fruit vendors to stop selling oranges that have allegedly been dyed with a toxic wax, Chinese media said Friday, in the country's latest food safety scare.

The Shanghai government has ordered tests on the oranges after consumers complained their skin was turning red after coming in contact with oranges sold in local markets, the Oriental Morning Post reported.

"Tissues turn red when you wipe them and if you hold the oranges in your palm, it will turn red," a consumer surnamed Hu told the newspaper.

An unnamed seller at a wholesale agricultural products market told the newspaper that some oranges had been dyed with a toxic industrial wax so "they look fresher and sell at higher prices".

Shanghai authorities have ordered sellers to pull the oranges off their shelves and are conducting tests, the report said.

It was unclear whether the oranges were dyed by sellers in the city or producers in Jiangxi province in eastern China, the report said.

Industrial dyes can damage people's memory, immune systems and cause respiratory problems, the newspaper said.

The Chinese government has come under increasing pressure from its citizens as well as countries such as the United States and Japan to improve the standard of its food and medicines.

In a scandal in 2008, at least six children died and around 300,000 fell sick after consuming milk powder laced with the industrial chemical melamine, which was added to make products appear higher in protein.

Philippines arrests Singaporean on drug charges: police

MANILA, December 10, 2010 (AFP) - Philippine police arrested an alleged Singaporean drugs courier shortly after his arrival at Manila airport, a spokesman said Friday.

Soa Kiam Hwee, 36, was taken into custody after he arrived from Thailand Thursday with about four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a banned stimulant locally known as "shabu".

"The contraband was wrapped in (a) transparent plastic bag together with different currencies," national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Agrimero Cruz said in a statement.

"The passenger is an alleged illegal drugs courier and the recovered items were turned over by the customs police officers to drug enforcement agents for proper disposition."

Asian and US authorities have said the Philippines is a major trans-shipment hub for illegal drugs in the region, mostly by syndicates with known links to Chinese triads.

Drug trafficking in the Philippines is punishable by life in jail.

Eight percent of online Americans use Twitter: Pew

WASHINGTON, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - Three-fourths of the US adult population are Internet users and eight percent of those who are online use Twitter, according to a study released on Thursday.

The study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that the micro-blogging service is particularly popular with "young adults, minorities, and those who live in cities."

Eight percent of the online US adults surveyed said they use Twitter and two percent said they do so on a typical day, Pew said.

The survey found that 74 percent of American adults are Internet users, meaning that those who use Twitter amount to six percent of the entire adult population.

Pew said young adults -- Internet users aged 18 years old to 29 years old -- were significantly more likely to use Twitter than older adults.

Fourteen percent of 18 to 29-year-olds said they use Twitter.

African-Americans and Latinos are more than twice as likely to use Twitter than white Internet users and urban residents are roughly twice as likely to use Twitter as rural dwellers, Pew said.

The survey of 2,257 adults was conducted in November and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

Internet group calls for '.xxx' porn domain name

CARTAGENA, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - Internet specialists gathered in Colombia Thursday called for the creation of an ".xxx" domain for pornographic websites, saying it would make it easier to police them.

"Since we cannot fight the pornographic industry on the Internet, a thousand-headed monster... we are demanding that they be socially responsible and adopt a code of ethics," said Carmen Sanchez, from the non-government group, Internet Commitment for Social Responsibility (ICSR), based in Spain.

The group, which works to ensure the quality of web content, hopes that the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will approve the creation of the domain name Friday during its convention in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

"We should have a sort of red zone on the web where, under the name '.xxx.' we can clearly identify pages we do not want children to see and block them," Sanchez said.

ICM Registry, a company sponsored by the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), owns the domain name and has been trying to get the green light from ICANN since 2004.

Should ICANN finalize a deal reached earlier this year to launch the domain name, ICM Registry would sell .xxx addresses for 60 dollars each to an estimated 500,000 adult entertainment providers starting next year.

"An exclusive domain for adult entertainment has the advantage of allowing for greater control over their content and, in addition, for each web page added to the domain we will donate 10 dollars to finance initiatives to protect children, ICM Registry chief Stuart Lawley told the conference.

If approved, the .xxx would join other so-called Top-Level Domains, or TLDs, including .com, .edu, .mil, .gov and a host of country code TLDs.

Sanchez said the process had been held up by conservative and religious groups in the United States, who feared that creating the domain name would further normalize the industry.

But ICANN, a private non-profit tasked by the US government with managing the domain name system, has remained neutral in the debate.

"Opening up the name space to new generic top level domains is intended to promote competition, innovation and consumer choice in a safe and stable manner," ICANN head Rod Beckstrom told the conference this week.

Global Internet pornography generates around 3,000 dollars a second and the keyword "sex" appears in a fourth of all online searches, according to the ICSR.

Google says 300,000 Android phones activated daily

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - More than 300,000 smartphones running on Google-backed Android software are activated daily, according to an engineering vice president at the Internet giant.

Andy Rubin fired off the update in a terse "tweet" at microblogging service Twitter late Wednesday.
The news indicates that Android smartphones are building momentum in the hot mobile market, where just a few months ago Google boasted that the rate of Android handset activations averaged 200,000 a day.

Google is fueling interest in Android devices with the release next week of a new champion on the mobile phone market battlefield, a "Nexus S" smartphone made by South Korea's Samsung.

The Nexus S, the successor to the Nexus One launched about a year earlier, will be the first smartphone on the market powered by the latest version of Android mobile software, "Gingerbread."

The Android mobile operating system surged past Apple's iPhone and Canada's BlackBerry in the third quarter to become the second biggest smartphone platform after Nokia's Symbian, research firm Gartner reported in November.

Gartner said Finland's Nokia sold 29.5 million smartphones during the third quarter of the year for a 36.6 percent share of the worldwide market, down from 44.6 percent a year ago.

Sales of Android-powered smartphones soared to 20.5 million units, giving the Android platform a 25.5 percent market share, up from just 3.5 percent a year ago, Gartner said.

Apple's iPhone was next on sales of 13.5 million units for a 16.7 percent market share, down from 17.1 percent a year ago.

Canada's Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, was in fourth position with sales of 11.9 million units. Its market share dropped to 14.8 percent from 20.7 percent a year ago.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile saw sales of 2.2 million units giving it a 2.8 percent market share, down from 7.9 percent a year ago, Gartner said.


One in four worldwide pays bribes: study

BERLIN — One person in four worldwide paid a bribe during the past year, according to a study released Thursday to mark International Anti-Corruption Day.

The study, by the Berlin-based non-governmental agency Transparency International, focuses on small-scale bribery and was put together from polls conducted among more than 91,000 people in 86 countries and territories.

In the past 12 months, one in four paid a bribe to one of nine institutions, such as health, education or tax authorities, according to the 2010 Global Corruption Barometer.

But it was the police who proved most corrupt, according to the study which reported that 29 percent of those having dealings with police said they had paid a bribe.

Worldwide, sub-Saharan Africa was the region reporting the greatest incidence of bribery with more than one person in two saying they had made such payments to officials in the past 12 months.

The Middle East and North Africa was the next most corrupt region with 36 percent of people there reporting having paid a bribe.

This compared to 32 percent in the former Soviet republics, 23 percent in South America, 19 percent in the Balkans and Turkey, 11 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, and five percent in the European Union and North America.

Countries topping the list for reported bribe payments over the year were Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cameroon, India, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Senegal, Sierre Leone and Uganda, where more than one person out of two said they had handed out financial sweeteners to officials.

Nearly half of respondents said they paid to avoid problems, while a quarter said it was meant to speed up procedures.

Lower income earners reported paying more bribes than the better paid.

The study, the seventh on the matter by Transparency International since 2003, this time involved a greater number of countries, including for the first time China, Bangladesh and the Palestinian territories.

Polling, mostly by the Gallup Institute, was conducted between June 1 and September 30.

The United Nations established International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003 to raise awareness of graft and promote the global fight against it.

Singapore's GIC doubles stake in China's CICC

SINGAPORE, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) said Thursday it has more than doubled its stake in Beijing-based China International Capital Corporation (CICC).

The state agency increased its holding in the leading Chinese investment bank to more than 16.35 percent from 7.35 percent after it bought up part of the shares held by Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley, a spokeswoman said.

CICC was founded in 1995 by China Construction Bank and Morgan Stanley, which invested 35 million dollars in the joint venture at the time.

Apart from GIC, global asset manager Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts, private investment firm TPG and insurance group Great Eastern Life also bought Morgan Stanley's 34.3 percent stake in CICC.

CICC chairman Li Jiange welcomed the development, saying in a statement: "The change in our shareholding will have a very positive strategic impact on CICC and benefit its long-term development.

"The introduction of some of the most prominent international institutional investors will help CICC in its future business development and international expansion."

The CICC statement did not mention the amount paid by GIC, which typically does not release such information.

 GIC, which was set up in 1981, is one of Singapore's two sovereign wealth funds -- along with Temasek Holdings -- and invests the city-state's foreign reserves of well over 100 billion dollars with a 20-year horizon in mind.

It announced in September that it would concentrate its investments in Asia.

Foreign media websites apparently blocked in China

BEIJING, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - The websites of several foreign media outlets appeared to be blocked in China on Thursday on the eve of the award ceremony in Oslo honouring the 2010 Nobel peace laureate, jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

AFP attempts to access the websites of television networks CNN, the BBC and Norwegian public broadcaster NRK were unsuccessful, with the message "Internet Explorer cannot display the web page" appearing on the screen.

China on Thursday stepped up its criticism of the Oslo-based Nobel committee that in October chose Liu -- who was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges -- as this year's honoree.

"Those people at the Nobel committee have to admit they are in the minority. The Chinese people and the overwhelming majority of people in the world oppose what they do," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"Any attempt to exert pressure on China... cannot succeed."

When Liu was named the peace prize winner two months ago, initial reports were blacked out on CNN, BBC and French satellite channel TV5, while the state network China Central Television did not report on the prize.

Chinese group awards 'peace prize' ahead of Nobel ceremony

BEIJING, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - Brushing aside questions over its political motives, a Chinese group awarded its own "peace prize" Thursday, just a day before the Nobel Committee was set to honour jailed China dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The inaugural Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwan vice-president Lien Chan at a chaotic press conference held by a handful of Chinese university professors.

Lien's own office has denied all knowledge of the award, but that did not stop the "prize jury" presenting it on his behalf to a pony-tailed young Chinese girl.

"For Peace!" jury member Yang Disheng said with a flourish as he handed a glass trophy to the girl, who looked somewhat frightened amid a hail of camera flashes.

The prize comes one day before the Nobel ceremony in Oslo honouring Liu, a 54-year-old dissident writer who has called for political reform in one-party China and who was announced as peace laureate in October.

A deeply embarrassed Chinese government has responded furiously, threatening repercussions on ties with Norway, lashing the Nobel committee as "clowns" and pressuring countries to avoid the ceremony.

Members of the prize jury denied links to China's government or suggestions their prize was in response to Liu's award.

"The more peace prizes we can have in the world, the better. How can this be bad?" said Yang, identified by the jury as a professor of "ideology and culture" at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

But the press conference soon took a farcical turn when members were questioned about aspects of the award, such as its timing.

Jury chairman Tan Changliu, a philosophy professor at Beijing Normal University, said the award had been in the works for "a long time", but refused to provide specifics.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman declined comment on the rival prize.

Lien's office in Taiwan also declined comment to AFP, saying they had no knowledge of the award.
But Chinese poet Qiao Damo, one of the "candidates", told reporters the lack of any word from Lien represented "silent acceptance" of the prize, prompting laughter from assembled journalists.

If unaccepted, a purported 100,000 yuan (15,000 dollars) in prize money will be "donated", members said, giving no details on where it would go.

Liu was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring a petition advocating political reform and human rights protections in China.

Tan said "those three words were never uttered" in the jury's deliberations, referring to the Chinese characters for Liu's name.

But the prize's own literature expresses resentment towards Norway, home to the Nobel committee.

It said China, with its population of 1.3 billion people, "should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace", calling Norway "only a small country with a scarce land area and population".

Lien was a politically safe choice. He is an honorary chairman of Taiwan's Beijing-friendly ruling Kuomintang party.

Other "candidates" included South African democracy icon Nelson Mandela and former US president Jimmy Carter -- both Nobel peace laureates.

Zhou Guidian, a jury member and Confucian scholar, said some past Nobel choices were appropriate, such as Mandela, but others were not.

He singled out last year's laureate US President Barack Obama, citing the continued US involvement in war-wracked Iraq.

"Some of the Nobel choices have been inappropriate. So we need to select a peace representative according to Chinese traditions, and Confucian pacifism," Zhou said.

Fwd: Musicians vie for fan devotion at new My YouTube pages

SAN FRANCISCO, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - Musicians both famous and obscure began vying on Wednesday for the crown of most-loved artist at YouTube as the world's top video-sharing website launched new personalized home pages for users.

A "My YouTube" competition at youtube.com/myyoutube will last two months and end with status for the winning musical act and prizes for users active in the contest.

Artists that took part in the launch included Rihanna, Michael Franti, Justin Bieber, Shakira and Maroon 5.

Musicians earn popularity points when fans do things such as subscribe to their YouTube channels or share likes for groups at social networking venues such as Facebook and Twitter.

"And did we mention all the prizes?" YouTube asked rhetorically in a release about the My YouTube competition. "Every artist is giving out five prizes to users who score points for them in the contest."

Prizes range from T-shirts and music compact disks to concert tickets and iPod shuffles loaded with tunes, according to YouTube. The top five artists will be announced when the competition ends February 5, 2011.

My YouTube lets users tailor pages to their tastes in video at the website.

China video site Youku soars on Wall Street debut

SHANGHAI, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - Shares in Chinese online video company Youku.com's soared 161 percent on their first day of trading on Wall Street -- the strongest New York Stock Exchange debut in more than five years.

Youku's founder and chief executive Victor Koo rang the opening bell on Wednesday to celebrate the firm's debut, which ended at 33.44 dollars from their 12.80 pricing, completing a 203 million-dollar initial public offering.

The first day performance by Youku -- whose name means excellent and cool -- was the best since Baidu, China's most popular search engine, rose 354 percent in August 2005, according to New York Stock Exchange data.

The listing by China's number one video site by audience and advertising revenue raises the pressure on its rival Tudou.com, which filed last month for its own 120-million-dollar US offering.

The IPO proceeds could provide Beijing-based Youku with huge advantages over Tudou if the latter fails to list during the current favourable window for Chinese IPOs in the United States, experts say.

In a sign of the strong appetite for Chinese stocks, online bookseller E-Commerce China Dangdang, which was also making its NYSE debut, closed at 29.91 dollars, up 86.9 percent from its listing price of 16 dollars.

Youku had an audience of 252 million in the third quarter, ahead of Tudou's 225 million viewers, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

A total of 319 million people watched online videos in China over that three-month period, with the same viewers visiting multiple sites, Analysys said.

The online video advertising market's value rose 148 percent on year in the third quarter to 621 million yuan (93.5 million dollars), with Youku taking a 23 percent share and Tudou 19 percent, according to Analysys.

However, both companies have yet to make a profit.

Youku, founded in 2006, has raised 160 million dollars privately and has 10 million dollars in debt, although it has reportedly said it expects to turn a profit in 2013.

Tudou, which has managed costs better than Youku according to SEC filings, has said it could make its first ever profit this quarter after receiving 135 million dollars in financing since it was founded in 2005.

AirAsia X to launch Japan route on Thursday

TOKYO, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysian long-haul budget airline AirAsia X is to launch regular flights between Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo starting on Thursday, airport officials said.

Its inauguration flight is scheduled to depart from Tokyo's Haneda airport at 11:45 pm (1445 GMT). The carrier plans three flights a week connecting the Malaysian capital with the Tokyo airport, the officials said.

It will be the first foreign budget airline authorised to use Haneda, which began handling an expanded array of international flights in October when it opened a fourth runway and a new terminal.

Haneda is considered more practical than its sister airport Narita as it is located only 30 minutes from Tokyo, roughly half the amount of time it takes to travel to Narita, which is 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the capital.

AirAsia X plans to sell a one-way ticket for 5,000 yen (60 dollars) for an economy seat from Japan as an opening discount, compared with economy fares of more than 200,000 yen offered by current route operators.

AirAsia's entry into the Japanese market is expected to further boost competition in a space that is set to become increasingly crowded as more budget carriers enter the fray.

In September Japan's All Nippon Airways said it will establish a low-cost carrier by the end of the year that will eventually operate international and domestic short-haul routes, anticipating booming Asian demand.

Debt-hit Japan Airlines has also said it is also looking into the possibility of launching a low-cost carrier.

Japan's existing cheaper domestic carriers such as Skymark and Air Do have been unable to offer the kind of heavily discounted fares associated with budget airlines in the United States and Europe due to higher operating costs.

Qantas Airways' budget Jetstar airline already flies between Australia and Japan from Osaka and Narita.

Leaked US cable says China has 'no morals' in Africa

BEIJING, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - The United States thinks China is a "pernicious economic competitor with no morals" whose booming investments in Africa are propping up unsavoury regimes, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.

The frank assessment by the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson, was among the latest revelations in thousands of documents released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

"China is a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons," Carson said in a February meeting with oil executives in Nigeria.

"China is in Africa for China primarily," he said, according to a confidential February 23 cable written by the US consul-general in Lagos.

Carson said another reason was to "secure votes in the United Nations from African countries" to forward China's own aims, and also to depress diplomatic support for its rival Taiwan.

Beijing had pumped a total of 9.3 billion dollars into Africa by the end of 2009, according to the China-Africa Trade and Economic Relationship Annual Report 2010, launched in October by a government-linked research institute.

Investment in the continent reached 1.44 billion dollars in 2009 alone, compared with 220 million dollars in 2000, the report said, reflecting China's growing interest in Africa's resources to fuel its fast-growing economy.

More than 1,600 Chinese businesses are investing in Africa in the mining, processing, commerce, agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors, state media has said, citing the commerce ministry.

China has been criticised by the West for its support of hardline leaders such as Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, but many African leaders praise Beijing for not preaching to them over human rights.

"The United States will continue to push democracy and capitalism while Chinese authoritarian capitalism is politically challenging," Carson said.

Beijing pursues a "contrarian" approach by dealing with the "Mugabes and Bashirs of the world", he said.

Beijing reiterated earlier this week that it hoped the ongoing revelations from the cables leaked by WikiLeaks would not affect ties with the United States.

The Chinese foreign ministry had no immediate comment Thursday on the details of the messages on China's policies in Africa. It has thus far refused to comment on the specifics of the documents involving Beijing.

Carson said the United States had "trip wires" in terms of China's presence in Africa.

"Is China developing a blue-water navy? Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations?" he said.

"Once these areas start developing, then the United States will start worrying," he said, though noting for the time being, Washington did not perceive China as a "military, security or intelligence threat".

Another cable sent by the US ambassador to Kenya on February 17 said Nairobi had received weapons and ammunition from China in support of its "Jubaland initiative", referring to a Somali border province.

The east African state has also received telecoms and computer equipment from China for its intelligence services, the memo said.

The cable says a Chinese telecoms firm was granted a contract for landline monitoring equipment with the help of corrupt officials, one of whom received monthly payments of more than 5,000 dollars used to pay "medical bills".

Le Monde identified the Chinese company as ZTE. The name of the company has been redacted out of the cable that appears on the WikiLeaks site.

ZTE and its Chinese rival Huawei have been trying to boost their presence in the United States, despite opposition from US lawmakers concerned about possible threats to national security.

In a cable from Angola, where China has extended generous credit lines conditioned on the hiring of Chinese firms and repaid in oil from Africa's top petroleum producer, the US called the pace of Chinese investment "feverish" until the global crisis hit, gutting Angolan government expenditures.

China was involved in everything from building roads and highways to diamond mining to oil exploration.

New traffic rules drive car sales in Beijing

BEIJING, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - More than 20,000 cars were sold in Beijing in the first week of December as citizens scrambled to buy vehicles ahead of curbs aimed at reducing the city's massive traffic jams, state press said Thursday.

Sales were driven by fears that China's government would restrict purchases by capping the number of car plates issued in the congested capital, the Beijing News reported.

Beijing's air is among the most polluted in the world, and the problem is getting worse amid high demand for private vehicles from its increasingly affluent residents.

Vehicle sales in the first week of December were more than double the 9,000 cars sold in the same period last year, the paper said.

As of December 5, Beijing had 4.71 million registered cars on its crowded roads, it added.

China outpaced the United States as the world's top auto market in 2009 when 13.64 million units were sold nationwide. That sales figure was already surpassed in the first 10 months of this year.

Relieving traffic jams in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing -- China's biggest cities -- will be a top government priority in the coming years, Xinhua news agency said earlier this week.

According to the China Daily, new car restrictions for Beijing will include an odd-even licence plate restriction system for the city centre, while buyers will have to have a parking permit before they are allowed to purchase cars.

A new two-yuan (0.30-dollar) traffic "congestion fee" will also be charged for every litre (quart) of gasoline or diesel, the paper said.

The capital would also restrict car purchases to those who have Beijing residence permits, while each household would only be allowed one car, it said.

Beijing government officials refused to confirm the content of the new measures, only saying that the traffic management plan had been basically approved by the nation's powerful economic planning agency.

China's property bubble getting worse: state media

BEIJING, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - A Chinese government think tank has warned the country's real estate bubble is getting worse, with property prices in major cities overvalued by as much as 70 percent, state media reported Thursday.

Of the 35 major cities surveyed, property prices in eleven including Beijing and Shanghai were between 30 and 50 percent above their market value, the China Daily said, citing the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Prices in Fuzhou, capital of the southeastern province of Fujian, had the worst property bubble with average house prices more than 70 percent higher than their market value, according to the survey conducted in September.

The average price in the 35 cities surveyed was nearly 30 percent above the market value, the report said.

Property prices have remained stubbornly high despite the government adopting a slew of measures since April including hiking minimum downpayments to at least 30 percent and ordering banks not to provide loans for third home purchases.

Prices in 70 major cities were up 0.2 percent in October from the previous month and 8.6 percent higher than a year ago, official data showed.

The increase came after prices gained 0.5 percent month on month in September, which was the first increase since May.

Massive stimulus measures taken since 2008 to fend off the financial crisis injected huge amounts of liquidity in the market and have been blamed for fuelling real estate prices.

"The government target is not clear and policy is incoherent," CASS senior research Ni Pengfei was quoted saying.

Taiwan confirms mass producing cruise missiles

TAIPEI, December  9, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan has confirmed for the first time that it is mass-producing cruise missiles, despite fast warming ties with China.

"Mass production of indigenous weapons like the ones under the codenames of 'Chichun' (Lance Hawk) and 'Chuifeng' (Chasing Wind) is very smooth," Deputy Defence Minister Chao Shih-chang told parliament Wednesday.

"The problems with key parts and components that had previously stalled the manufacturing have been tackled," he said in reply to queries raised by legislator Lin Yu-fang.

The Chichun project refers to the Hsiungfeng 2E cruise missile, Taiwan's answer to the US-made Tomahawk. Chuifeng is project to develop the island's long-anticipated supersonic anti-ship missile.

Chao declined to specify the range of the missiles or the number to be put into service.

The cruise missiles could be launched from land or sea, and would be capable of hitting airports and missile bases in southeast China, as well as cities such as Shanghai and Hong Kong, local media said.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power in 2008 on a platform of beefing up trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists.

However, China still refuses to renounce the possible use of force against the island in its long-stated goal of re-taking Taiwan, which has ruled itelf since the end of a civil war in 1949.

The Pentagon said in an annual report to Congress earlier this year that China's military build-up against Taiwan has "continued unabated" despite improving political relations.

Taiwan turns to Russia for submarines after US stall: report

TAIPEI, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan has sought help from Russia to upgrade its submarines after a lack of progress in plans to buy new subs from the United States, a report said Wednesday.

The Taiwanese military sent a team to Russia in October to inquire about replacing the frames of its four ageing submarines, said the Next magazine, citing unnamed sources.

After the team met a shipbuilder in Moscow, Taiwan's defence and intelligence authorities are now evaluating the possibility of collaborating with Russia, it said.

The move came after Taipei's failure so far to acquire new submarines from Washington despite repeated requests to boost its naval defence against threats posed by China, the weekly said.

The government hopes to stress to Washington its wish to still buy the submarines even though ties with Beijing have warmed recently, the report said.

The US is Taiwan's leading arms supplier and Washington announced in January a 6.4-billion-dollar arms package to the island, although it has yet to decide on whether to sell the submarines and F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.

Analysts have said they doubt Washington would risk further angering Beijing by approving the more sensitive items.

Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of a 1949 civil war, but Beijing has repeatedly threatened to invade should the island declare formal independence.

The defence ministry denied the report, in line with its policy on sensitive arms issues.

"The military is cautiously optimistic and continues to urge the United States to authorise the submarine deal," it said in a statement.

Taiwan's navy operates a fleet of four submarines, but only two of them, Dutch-built, could be deployed in the event of war. The other two were built by the United States in the 1940s.

Budget Philippine carrier to launch regional flights

MANILA, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - Philippine budget carrier South East Air Lines said Wednesday it will begin overseas flights from next, with a service to Singapore and added that it would introduce more routes in the new year.

SEAIR will launch the service on December 16, flying a leased Airbus A319 from its base at Clark airport north of Manila, said its president Avelino Zapanta.

"The introduction of these new flights will create a welcome boost to the Philippine tourism industry and create more high-calibre local jobs," said Zapanta, a former president of flag carrier Philippine Airlines.

Flights to Hong Kong, Macau and Bangkok are also planned to take of some time next year when SEAIR gets its second Airbus, the company said.

The airline also said it has signed a partnership with another budget Asian carrier, Tiger Airways, and will be marketing and distributing SEAIR seats using the Singapore company's Internet booking system.

"The resulting operational and cost efficiencies will ensure more low-fare seats are available and contribute to the growth of SEAIR and the Clark gateway," Zapanta said in a statement.

SEAIR is the only carrier at Clark, a former US air force base.

The airline, which was established in 1995, serves Manila and Cebu, the top Philippine tourist resort of Boracay and the isolated Batanes island group.

EU slaps 649 million euro fine on Asian flat-screen cartel

BRUSSELS, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - The European Commission imposed on Wednesday 649 million euros (860 million dollars) in fines against South Korean and Taiwanese makers of LCD flat screens for running a price-fixing cartel.

Taiwan's AU Optronics, Chimei InnoLux Corporation, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and HannStar Display Corporation were hit with fines along with South Korean firm LG Display.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics was also accused for being part of the cartel but avoided a fine for being the first to provide information on the alleged scheme.

Europe's competition watchdog accused the firms of running a cartel between October 2001 and February 2006 that fixed prices, harming European buyers of televisions and computers equipped with the liquid crystal display component.

The companies held monthly meetings to agree on price ranges and minimum prices, and trade information on future production planning, capacity utilisation, pricing and other commercial conditions, the commission said.

Company officials met 60 times, mainly in hotels in Taiwan, for what they dubbed "the Crystal meetings," the regulator said.

The investigation found that the companies knew they were breaking competition rules and took steps to conceal their meetings.

The commission cited a document urging everybody "to take care of security/confidentiality matters and to limit written communication."

Chimei InnoLux was given the largest fine, 300 million euros, followed by 215 million euros against LG Display.

AU Optronics was fined 116.8 million euros, followed by nine million euros for Chunghwa Picture Tubes and 8.1 million euros for HannStar Display.

"Foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair," European competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.

"The companies concerned knew they were breaking competition rules and took steps to conceal their illegal behaviour," he said.

Hackers target bank, credit card websites in WikiLeaks war

ZURICH, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - An anonymous group of hackers said Wednesday they had launched online attacks to shut down the websites of credit card Mastercard and a Swiss bank that cut off business ties with WikiLeaks.

The self-styled 'hacktivist' group dubbed Anon_Operation said in one tweet that "www.mastercard.com/ is down" and the site of the credit card giant could not be accessed from Geneva.

On their homepage the group, which claims it is fighting for "freedom on the internet" and against censorship designated mastercard.com as their "current target" in what was taking the proportions of cyber war.

It quoted John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the San Francisco-based internet freedoms group Electronic Frontier Foundation, as saying on microblogging service Twitter: "The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops."

The Swiss post office banking service, PostFinance, confirmed Wednesday that its website was suffering denial of service attacks since it closed the bank account of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Monday.

"Since the closure of the account, groups have launched 'Operation Payback' with the aim of blocking PostFinance by simulating hundreds of thousands of connections with the aim of overloading it," said PostFinance spokesman Alex Josty.

The spokesman said the hackers had not endangered its payment systems or account managements.

"The situation improved Wednesday but the attacks are continuing," the spokesman added.

Attempts to connect to the Postfinance.ch website earlier Wednesday produced error messages but it later came back online with notices warning of disruption.

"Target: postfinance.ch : Grab your weapon and its settings: FIRE NOW!" said one tweet on Anon_Operation.

PostFinance closed an account set up by Assange because he gave "false information" on his address, claiming he lived in the Swiss city of Geneva, in violation of banking and money laundering rules.

The bank insists that any deposit belongs to Assange and the money can be transferred where he wishes.

News website CNET cited a MasterCard spokesman as saying the whistleblowing website was being cut off due to rules barring use for "directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal."

Visa followed its credit card rival in suspending all payments to WikiLeaks, a spokesman for the debit card company said Tuesday.

US-based online payment service PayPal has also blocked financial transfers to WikiLeaks after governments around the world sought legal action against the site following its publication of sensitive US diplomatic cables.

The whistleblowing site says it has also come under attack, including during the weekend when a hacker disabled the website according to Internet security firm Panda Labs.

A statement purportedly issued by the hacker, or hackers, at Twitter claimed the assault was retaliation for WikiLeaks "attempting to endanger the lives of our troops, other assets and foreign relations," according to Panda.

Assange was denied bail in London on Tuesday after his arrest on a warrant from Swedish police on suspicion of rape offences.

Football: Ronaldo admits five-year-old boy is his son

SAO PAULO, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - Star Brazilian striker Ronaldo on Wednesday admitted to being the father of a five-year-old boy born in Japan and living in Singapore, following the result of a DNA test.

"Alex is my son, the brother of three other children. I will always behave as his father," wrote Ronaldo, 34, on his Twitter social networking account.

"The result of the test confirmed my feelings when I met Alex," added Ronaldo, who first met the child on Monday.

The DNA test to which Ronaldo submitted confirmed that he was the father of the boy, who was born in Japan and has Brazilian nationality.

The mother of Alex, Michele Umezu, had been trying since 2009 to have Ronaldo recognised as the boy's father and is demanding child support.

She says she met Ronaldo at a party in Tokyo in 2002 celebrating Brazil's success at that year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Ronaldo, she says, returned to Tokyo in 2004 during a tour of Real Madrid, for whom he was then playing. She said she became pregnant by him at that time.

Reports said Michele Umezu was a 28-year-old Brazilian living in Singapore.

Ronaldo, nicknamed 'Fenomeno', already has three children: a 10-year-old son with his ex-wife Milene Dominguez, and two younger daughters, one aged 21 months and the other eight months, with his current wife, Bia Anthony.

He rose to prominence as a prolific striker in the mid-1990s, playing for European giants Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid and winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002.

He is currently playing for Brazilian side Corinthians but has confirmed that he will retire from the game next year.

Morgan Stanley cleared to sell Chinese bank stake

NEW YORK, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - US investment bank Morgan Stanley said Wednesday it has received US regulatory approval to sell its shares in Chinese bank China International Capital Corporation.

The Wall Street bank said it expects to record a pretax gain of 700 million dollars in the sale of its 34.3 percent stake in CICC.

The bank is selling its stake to a group of investors that includes TPG Capital, Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, a Singapore sovereign wealth fund and the Great Eastern Life Assurance Company.

The transaction was expected to close by year-end.

"We are proud of our history and successful track record in China," James Gorman, president and chief executive of Morgan Stanley, said in the statement.

"This includes our long partnership with CICC, which made us the first foreign securities firm to have a major stake in a China-based joint venture investment bank."

CICC, the leading Chinese investment bank, was founded in 1995 by China Construction Bank and Morgan Stanley, which invested 35 million dollars in the joint venture at the time.

Gorman emphasized China remained a critical part of Morgan Stanley's global strategy but the bank's focus was now on expansion in its domestic US market.

Morgan Stanley is struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis that hit many banks in the United States.

The bank received a 10-billion-dollar government bailout to stay afloat.

In October Morgan Stanley said it swung into a 91-million-dollar loss in the third quarter compared with a year ago, citing the sale of a business and a drop in lending income.


Google opens online shop for Chrome applications

SAN FRANCISCO, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - Google on Tuesday opened an online shop stocked with applications tailored for its increasingly popular Chrome Web browsing software.

Chrome Web Store opened online at chrome.google.com/webstore with categories including games, news, entertainment, productivity, and family.

The virtual shop stocked with programs that add fun, hip or functional features to Chrome Web browser was intended as a spot for "apps" to be discovered, according to Google.

"The Web has more applications than any of us can count," Google vice president of product management Sundar Pichai said while opening the online doors of the shop at a press event in San Francisco.

"It is really hard for a developer to stand out."

He showed off an application that queued NPR broadcasts for online listening and another that provided eye-catching access to Sports Illustrated images and stories.

A New York Times application was built "from the ground up" for Chrome to make viewing stories and images more interactive and enticing, according to Times chief technology officer of digital operations Marc Frons.

"We are truly happy to be pioneering the next generation of Web technologies with Google," Frons said while demonstrating the Times application for Chrome. "It is only the beginning of what we can achieve."

The shop was only available in the United States but would spread internationally, complete with payment platforms in local currencies, early next year, according to Pichai.

Chrome browsing software has seen a surge in popularity, with the number of users tripling to 120 million from 40 million in the past six months, according to Google.

"Chrome now is this huge success," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said during a brief appearance at the press event.

The latest generation of Chrome introduced on Tuesday featured stunning speed and hardened protections against computer viruses and other malicious software.

"The combination of speed, simplicity and security is what has given us tremendous momentum in the marketplace," Pichai said.

Kindle books to open on Web browsers

SAN FRANCISCO, December  8, 2010 (AFP) - Amazon will make its Kindle electronic books available for reading on Web browsers beginning early next year, with people's digital collections saved in the Internet "cloud."

Amazon executives on Tuesday showed off "Kindle for the Web" at a Google press event introducing a new, swifter version of the California technology giant's Chrome software for navigating the Internet.

Kindle for the Web was unveiled a day after Google opened an online electronic bookstore in a heavyweight entry into a booming market long dominated by Amazon.

Google eBookstore rolled out in the United States features the Mountain View, California-based company's massive library of digitized works online at books.google.com.

Hundreds of thousands of digital books from leading publishers such as Macmillan, Random House and Simon & Schuster are for sale in the eBookstore, which Google said will expand internationally next year.

Google e-books are kept online in the Internet "cloud" and available for reading from any Web-linked computer or using free applications on gadgets such as Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch or on smartphones running Google's Android software.

Kindle for the Web will launch early next year and the application will be available in a Google Web Store that made its debut on Tuesday.

Kindle books will be accessible through any standard browser, which will enable new features such as being able to do Internet searches on words highlighted in digital works, a demonstration showed.

"All the books you love will be right there in the browser," said Amazon vice president David Limp. "All the books I have are backed up in the cloud."

About two months ago Amazon began letting people read the first chapters of Kindle e-books free through Web browsers.

The expanded version of Kindle for the Web rolling out next year will allow bookstores, authors and others to earn fees for selling Amazon's digital books at their websites.

Kindle books can be read using most popular Internet gadgets including smartphones and iPads.
"And now, anywhere you have a Web browser," said Kindle Content vice president Russ Grandinetti.

"Your reading library, last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights are always available to you no matter where you bought your Kindle books or how you choose to read them."

Google Chrome-powered notebooks on sale next year

SAN FRANCISCO, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Google is building its Chrome operating system into notebook computers expected to hit the market next year in a challenge to the software at the heart of Microsoft's empire.

The technology giant on Tuesday began releasing an unbranded notebook to businesses and consumers as part of a pilot program aimed at testing a computing model that shifts operating software into the Internet "cloud."

"For us, it is a long journey building a true cloud computing model," Google vice president of product management Sundar Pichai said while demonstrating the Chrome operating system at a press event in San Francisco.

"That is what we are working on," Pichai said.

Taiwan's Acer and South Korea's Samsung are building Chrome notebook computers that will go on sale next year, according to Pichai.

Organizations signed on to take part in the pilot program include the US Department of Defense as well as Kraft, American Airlines and Virgin America.

Google has partnered with US telecom titan Verizon to provide wireless broadband connections for Chrome notebooks.

"Not only is this the right time to build these products, but because they work they will be very successful," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said.

"Cloud computing will define computing as we all know it in the coming decades."

 Schmidt added that Chrome will be a "viable third choice" when it comes to operating systems for laptop computers. Microsoft Windows software has long been the ruling operating system in the world computer market.

Microsoft adding privacy options to new Web browser

NEW YORK, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Microsoft unveiled increased privacy options Tuesday for the upcoming version of its popular Web browser Internet Explorer 9 including the ability to prevent tracking by third-party websites.

The US software giant said that the new feature, "Tracking Protection," is designed to "help consumers be in control of potential online tracking as they move around the Web."

"Tracking Protection is the new privacy feature in Internet Explorer 9 designed to help keep third-party websites from tracking your Web behavior," Microsoft said in a press release.

Microsoft said it will be built into a test version of IE9 being released early next year.

The default will be for Tracking Protection to be off, Microsoft said, and IE9 users will have to create lists of the third-party websites that they do not want to track their behaviour.

Microsoft's privacy announcement comes amid moves in Washington to create "Do Not Track" mechanisms that would signal to online services not to collect Web surfing or ad-targeting data.

The US Federal Trade Commission last week proposed an online "Do Not Track" option and a US congressman announced plans to introduce legislation that would bar companies from tracking the behavior of children online.

"Some consumers today have been very clear that they have privacy concerns, like being unclear about what information is being shared and how it is used as they browse," said Peter Cullen, Microsoft's chief privacy strategist.

"Consumers understand that they have a relationship with the site they visit directly, whose address is clearly visible to them," Cullen said.

"The modern Web though means that websites include content from many other sites as well," he said. "These 'third-party' sites are in position to potentially track consumers, via cookies and other technology mechanisms."

Tracking Protection allows users to set up lists of third-party websites they do not want to exchange information with and to keep their choices in place as they navigate the Web.

"These lists include Web addresses for IE to treat as 'Do Not Call' unless the consumer visits the address directly," said Dean Hachamovitch, head of Internet Explorer development, in a reference to popular "Do Not Call" lists used to curb telemarketers.

"If a consumer chooses to add a Tracking Protection List, Internet Explorer 9 prevents information from being sent to the addresses in that list," Hachamovitch said.

Microsoft released an initial test version of IE9 in September which did not include Tracking Protection. Microsoft doesn't charge separately for IE and the browser is included with Windows software.

Internet Explorer is the most widely used Web browser in the United States followed by Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari.


Washington Post watching online pay experiments

NEW YORK, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - The Washington Post is monitoring efforts by The New York Times and other newspapers to charge readers online but has no plans to do the same for now, the Post Co. chairman said Monday.

"On pay models, obviously what The New York Times is doing is of interest to us," Donald Graham told financial analysts at the UBS 38th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference here.

"We'll be watching it and we wish them well," Graham said, adding that his newspaper was also monitoring pay wall efforts by Rupert Murdoch's The Times.

Acknowledging that the Post would not be a pioneer in fee-based services, Graham said the company would be watching how others implement those approaches.

"There are experiments galore going on in pay models at newspapers all around the country," he added.

"We're quite willing to be followers on this front."

News Corp.'s The Times and The Sunday Times recently began charging readers for full access to their websites and The New York Times has announced plans to begin charging next year for full online access to NYTimes.com.

Graham also said the Post Co. is "investing a little bit in technologies for news delivery generally and we may have something new and interesting to announce before too many months go by."

Like other US newspapers, the Post has been grappling with declining print advertising revenue, eroding circulation and the migration of readers to free news on the Web.

Internet body meets on domain names, IP addresses

CARTAGENA, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - ICANN, the international regulatory body for Web architecture, met here Monday to discuss expanding the list of top level domain names and a new generation of Internet protocol addresses.

"We are a thousand individuals from all over the world convening in Cartagena to adopt fundamental decisions on the biggest issues facing the Internet industry on a global scale," said ICAAN chairman Peter Thrush.

A California-based non-profit corporation, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers manages the Domain Name System and Internet Protocol addresses that form the technical backbone of the Web.

Every device connecting to the Internet needs an IP address and Thrush said ICANN's board meeting was to help prepare the transition from IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) to IPv6, which already exists but is rarely used.

Less than 150 million IPv4 addresses are still available, and "will come to an end by mid-2011, which necessitates an urgent adoption of a new generation of the respective protocols," he said.

During its meeting here, ICANN is also expected to discuss expanding the list of what are known as generic top level domains such as .com, .net and .org.

Thrush said an expansion of domain names would herald "the beginning of a new era of change for completion of the map of the Internet."

Taiwan's EVA Air to expand services to China

TAIPEI, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan-based international carrier EVA Airways said Tuesday it will expand its services to China to meet growing business and tourism demand.

Starting from Friday, EVA will fly to three additional cities including Zhengzhou, Jinan and Ningbo, boosting its total weekly flights to China to 77, covering 17 destinations, it said.

The central city of Zhengzhou was chosen as it is a base for more than 400 Taiwanese companies, including electronic goods maker Hon Hai and Formosa Plastics, the airline said in a statement.

Jinan was added due to the growing number of tourists from the eastern province of Shangdong, where it is located, while Ningbo, also in the east, is a popular tourist spot for Taiwanese visitors, it said.

Taiwan and China launched direct chartered flights in 2008 and scheduled flights last year, reflecting warming ties since Taiwan's Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office that year.

But Beijing still considers self-ruled Taiwan a part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Shanghai teenagers are world's smartest

PARIS, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Teenagers from the Chinese city of Shanghai have the best education in the world, according to a major international study of standards in in maths, science and literacy released Tuesday.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's "Pisa" report, released every three years, studied 470,000 15-year-old pupils in 65 countries around the more developed parts of the world.

South Korea and Finland topped the country rankings in the survey but, taken separately from China, the huge city of Shanghai -- taking part in the survey for the first time -- came top in all three of the disciplines.

"More than one-quarter of Shanghai's 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just three percent," the OECD said.

Other Asian countries and regions also scored particularly well, and OECD education expert Eric Charbonnier said the continent's success was a result of educational values that favour equality as well as quality.

"In Shanghai, a city of 20 million, they followed policies to fight against social inequality, to target the schools that were in most difficulty and send them the best performing heads and most experienced teachers," he said.

South Korea came second in comprehension, fourth in maths and sixth in science and Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan were well-placed.

Finland, whose educational system has been hailed by Western experts, remains the best performing European country, coming third in comprehension, second in science and third in maths.

Seven European countries performed better than the OECD average: Belgium, Estonia, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Switzerland. Of these, Poland was praised for making rapid progress through school reform.

The United States, Sweden, Germany, France, Ireland, Denmark, Britain, Hungary and Portugal scored around the average for richer countries, but pupils in Sweden and Ireland performed worse than three years ago.

"Better educational outcomes are a strong predictor for future economic growth," said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.

"While national income and educational achievement are still related, PISA shows that two countries with similar levels of prosperity can produce very different results," he said.

"This shows an image of a world divided neatly into rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated countries is now out of date."

The study also found that girls read better than boys in every country, by the equivalent of one year of school. The gender gap has not shrunk anywhere since 2000, and widened in France, Israel, Korea, Portugal and Sweden.

Analysing the results, experts found that high performing school systems prefer to pay teachers more rather than reduce class sizes, and countries that force underperformers to repeat years to do badly overall.

Swiss return to Taiwan jailed ex-president's deposits

GENEVA, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Switzerland has returned to Taiwan about 20 million dollars from deposits held by jailed ex-president Chen Shui-bian, following his corruption conviction, the Swiss attorney general said Tuesday.

"The Attorney General of Switzerland has returned some 20 million Swiss francs (20.4 million dollars, 15.3 million euros) to the Supreme Prosecutors Office of Taiwan," his office said in a statement.

The deposits seized in Swiss banks were "part of the money that was deposited in Switzerland by the former President of the Republic of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian, who was recently convicted of corruption in his homeland," it added.

China detains Australian national on way to Nobel ceremony

SHANGHAI, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - An Australian-based Chinese dissident has said police detained him for 24 hours at Shanghai's airport and forced him to return home in a bid to block him from attending Friday's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Zhang Heci, an Australian citizen, was headed to Norway via China to attend an award ceremony in Oslo in honour of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, this year's Nobel peace laureate.

Zhang said police boarded his flight after it landed at Pudong airport and brought him to a holding area where he was searched, interrogated and not allowed to call his wife or the Australian consulate.

"They have no right to cut off my journey to Oslo to attend Liu Xiaobo's ceremony," Zhang wrote in a open letter to Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

"Instead they forced me to return to Australia, and before that, engaged in torturous mistreatment of me."

Liu, who is serving 11 years for subversion after co-authoring a petition calling for democratic reform, and his relatives are not expected to be able to attend the ceremony. His wife, Liu Xia, is currently under house arrest.

The Chinese consulate in Melbourne had granted Zhang a visa on December 1 to visit friends and family in China on his way to Oslo, he wrote in the letter posted Monday on the New York-based Human Rights in China website.

Zhang, a Melbourne-based writer who often comments on human rights and is a friend of Liu's, said he visits China every year without any problem.

Authorities gave no reason for detaining him for 24 hours and denied his nine requests to call his wife in Australia, he said.

They also refused to allow him to use transit facilities to travel directly to Norway without going through immigration, he said.

Four policemen guarded the room where he slept and two police watched him use the toilet "apparently enjoying the pleasure of humiliating me", he wrote.

A Shanghai government spokesman said he was not immediately aware of the detention, when contacted by AFP.

Scores of activists and lawyers have been prevented from leaving China in recent weeks in what is widely seen as a crackdown linked to the prize, which has angered the government.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei said he was prevented from traveling to South Korea last week in a move he believes was linked to the Nobel ceremony.

Lawyer Mo Shaoping, whose firm represents the jailed Nobel laureate, said  immigration officials stopped him last month at Beijing's airport, where he had intended to board a flight to take him to a lawyers' conference in London.

Top Chinese official says some economic data 'man-made'

BEIJING, December  7, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang, widely tipped to be the next premier, admitted in 2007 that some of the country's economic data was "man-made" and thus unreliable, leaked US diplomatic cables show.

Li -- whom analysts expect will succeed Premier Wen Jiabao in the coming years -- was the top Communist Party official in the northeastern province of Liaoning when he made the remarks to then-US ambassador Clark Randt.

When evaluating the province's economy, Li said he focused on three figures -- electricity consumption, volume of rail cargo and the amount of loans issued, a confidential memo released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks said.

"By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth," the cable said.

"All other figures, especially GDP statistics, are 'for reference only,' he said, smiling."

If Li succeeds Wen as expected in 2013, he will be responsible for the day-to-day running of government as well as economic policy in the world's second-largest economy.

During the dinner in Beijing, Li mainly focused on the challenges of administering the province and trade relations between the United States and China, which he described as "developing smoothly".

Li said the income gaps in Liaoning "remain severe" despite official statistics showing the province recorded "brisk economic growth of... 12.8 percent in 2006".

"GDP figures are 'man-made' and therefore unreliable, Li said," according to the leaked notes of the dinner.

Analysts have long questioned the reliability of data provided by local government officials in China, whose career prospects depend on the pace of economic growth in their region -- giving them an incentive to beef up figures.

WikiLeaks has released 250,000 US diplomatic cables, embarrassing a number of US allies and foes.

China's foreign ministry has refused to comment on individual cables that make reference to Beijing, describing the content of the website as "absurd".

Some of the documents contained allegations that China may have turned a blind eye to illicit exports of North Korean missile parts and that the top Chinese leadership orchestrated cyberattacks on Google and other US targets.

In one cable, Chinese officials are quoted as calling the erratic regime in Pyongyang -- China's close ally -- a "spoiled child".

Malaysia launches new bid to stem 'brain drain'

KUALA LUMPUR, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia on Monday launched a "Talent Corporation" with incentives to woo highly skilled workers to the country, in its latest bid to stem a worrying "brain drain".

Some 700,000 Malaysians work abroad, a valuable group that the government hopes it can harness to drive its goal of turning the nation of 28 million people into a high-income economy by 2020.

"This is just the beginning. With the establishment of Talent Corporation, we will be able to step up our efforts to strengthen Malaysia's talent pool as required for our economic transformation," Prime Minister Najib Razak said.

"Talent issues are broad and complex, so these goals cannot be achieved by a single agency," he said at the launch of the Talent Corporation which will begin operating in January.

Analysts agree that it will not be easy to reverse the brain drain, which has been caused by a variety of economic, political and social factors including preferential policies for Muslim Malays.

Many of the professionals leaving the country are from Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.

Najib said the government would introduce a new "resident pass" which will give foreign skilled workers, and Malaysians who have relinquished their citizenship, the long-term right to live and work in the country.

The pass -- renewable every 10 years and to be implemented from next April -- will allow holders to remain in the country without being tied to an employer.

The government will also waive a current ruling that requires students who receive government scholarships to return and work in the civil service, allowing them to serve their bond in the private sector.

Najib said the government was not only targeting the return of Malaysians working overseas -- mainly in Singapore and Hong Kong -- but would also focus on retaining talent in the country.

He declined to set a target on how many Malaysians the government hopes to attract back under the new program.

The premier himself will head a board of trustees that will oversee the corporation.

Malaysian PM says not alarmed over 'hot money'

KUALA LUMPUR, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - Inflows of speculative foreign capital have not yet reached a problem level in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday.

Najib, who is also the finance minister, said the Malaysian central bank has been monitoring the flow of "hot money" that has raised fears that it could destabilise regional economies.

"We are monitoring it. It has not reached a position where it is alarming yet," Najib told a press conference.

The speculative funds have nudged most Asian currencies higher, making their exports more expensive on the global market as the US allows the dollar to weaken and China keeps a tight rein on the yuan.

The influx has also led to steep gains in stocks and property prices, fuelling fears of inflation and speculative bubbles that could burst if the money exits in haste.

Some central banks have acted to cool down their markets, including Thailand which slapped a tax on foreigners investing in bonds after a 10 percent jump in the value of the baht over the past year.

Southeast Asian finance ministers who met in Kuala Lumpur last week said they have no plans for a region-wide structure to tackle the speculative cash at the moment.

Top Malaysian politician charged with graft over mansion

KUALA LUMPUR, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - A top figure and powerbroker in Malaysia's ruling coalition was charged with corruption Monday over a Balinese-style mansion he built while chief minister of the country's richest state.

Khir Toyo was the chief minister of Selangor state until being unseated in 2008 elections and is one of the most senior government figures ever to face corruption charges in Malaysia.

His arrest comes as Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose ruling coalition has been lambasted for failing to rein in rampant graft, prepares to hold elections which are tipped to be announced within months.

"The authorities have a credibility problem in that there has been hardly any sign of big fish being nabbed, so this might help," said Ngooi Chiu Ing, secretary-general of Transparency International.

Khir, 45, was charged at the Sessions Court outside Kuala Lumpur with offences that carry a penalty of two years' imprisonment, along with Shamsuddin Haryoni, who allegedly sold him plots of land at a huge discount.

The pair pleaded not guilty, said the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which pursued the case after a public furore over the lavish residence which was constructed on the land.

"Mohamad Khir Toyo was charged for illegally receiving items, namely, two land plots and a bungalow worth 3.5 million ringgit in 2007 through Shamsuddin Haryoni," MACC said in a statement.

The anti-graft body said the property had been bought for 6.5 million ringgit (2.1 million dollars) in 2004 by a company in which Shamsuddin was a director.

The case came to prominence after a lawmaker claimed the sprawling 50,000 sq ft (4,645 sq metre) mansion was built at an estimated cost of 20 million ringgit -- way out of the league of Khir's official salary.

Pictures of the house, complete with swimming pools and tropical gardens, caused a sensation in the press and hit a nerve with Malaysians who are frustrated by endemic corruption.

The ruling coalition's failure to root out graft was a major factor in 2008 elections which saw the opposition make unprecedented gains.

Transparency International's (TI) annual survey released in September showed Malaysia had slipped from 4.5 to 4.4 out of 10 on its index scale, where 1.0 is the most corrupt.

Ngooi said that although Najib had announced many anti-graft measures since coming to power in the wake of the 2008 electoral drubbing, "the implementation still leaves something to be desired".

Previous high-profile corruption cases have often resulted in acquittals.

Google unveils new smartphone, Nexus S

SAN FRANCISCO, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - Internet giant Google unveiled its second smartphone on Monday, the "Nexus S" made by South Korea's Samsung.

Google said the Nexus S, which follows the Nexus One, which was a critical success if not a huge commercial hit, is powered by "Gingerbread," the latest version of Google's popular Android operating system for mobile phones.

Google vice president of engineering Andy Rubin said the Nexus S would be the first Android device to ship with the new version of the Android platform.

It will be available in the United States from December 16 and in Britain from December 20, Rubin said in a blog post.

Football: DNA paternity test for Brazilian star Ronaldo

SAO PAULO, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - Star Brazilian footballer Ronaldo said on Monday on his Twitter feed that he is undergoing a DNA test to determine whether he is the father of a five-year-old boy living in Singapore.

"Life is full of suprises. After the sadness over yesterday's game (when his Corinthians team lost out to Fluminense in the Brazilian title race), today I got to know Alex, a beautiful, polite and healthy boy," the 34-year-old player wrote.

"Now we are waiting for the results of the test and will take on the responsibilities and pleasures that the results give us."

The mother of Alex, Michele Umezu, has been trying since 2009 to have Ronaldo recognised as the father and is demanding child support.

She says she met Ronaldo at a party in Tokyo in 2002 celebrating Brazil's success at that year's World Cup.

Ronaldo, she says, returned to Tokyo in 2004 during a tour of Real Madrid, for whom he was then playing. She said she became pregnant by him at that time.

Reports said Michele Umezu was a 28-year-old Brazilian living in Singapore.

Ronaldo, nicknamed 'Fenomeno', already has three children: a 10-year-old son with his ex, and two younger daughters, one aged one and the other eight months, with his current wife, Bia Anthony.

He rose to prominence as a prolific striker in the mid-1990s, playing for European giants Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid and winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002.


Google opens e-book store

SAN FRANCISCO, December  6, 2010 (AFP) - Internet giant Google opened an online electronic bookstore on Monday in a heavyweight entry into a booming market long dominated by Kindle-maker Amazon.

Google eBookstore was being rolled out in the United States featuring the  Mountain View, California-based company's massive library of digitized works online at books.google.com.

"We believe it will be the world's largest e-books library," said Google spokeswoman Jeannie Hornung. "Including the free books, there are more than three million."

Hundreds of thousands of digital books will be for sale in the eBookstore, which Google said will expand internationally next year.

Google e-books will be kept online in the Internet "cloud" and be available for reading from any Web-linked computer or using free applications on mobile gadgets such as smartphones running Apple software or Google's Android.

People will be able to "sideload" books equipped with anti-piracy software on to dedicated reading devices made by Sony and other firms, Hornung said.

Amazon's Kindle was not on the list of Google-friendly e-readers.

Google believes that most people will prefer to log in and read their books online from whichever gadget is most convenient at a given moment, in a manner similar to the way people check Web-based Gmail accounts.

"You will be able to store the books in a library in the cloud and use your Google account to access them from anywhere using the Internet," Hornung said. "It will be a page-turning experience with flowing text."

"I believe that years from now we will buy e-books from any bookstore, keep them all in a virtual bookshelf, and read them on any device," said James Crawford, engineering director for Google Books. "This moment is the beginning of that vision."

Powell's, online book shop Alibris and the American Booksellers Association are among launch-day partners that will also sell Google digital books.

Titles sold at the eBookstore will range from hot new works such as those featured on The New York Times bestseller lists to technical books with "image support" for graphics on virtual pages.

Google eBookstore prices will be "competitive" with the cheapest being free works already available in the firm's online library, Hornung said.

Google will team with book-lovers social website Good Reads as part of an effort to build an "affiliate network" of online locales where people will be able to buy its e-books.

Google has 4,000 publisher partners, with revenue from sales split based on individually negotiated deals.

"The idea is that you can buy e-books from a retailer of your choice and read them on devices you already own," Hornung said.

Google has digitized more than 15 million books from more than 100 countries and in more than 400 languages since its Google Books project launched in 2004.

Google is still awaiting a ruling by a US federal judge pondering the fate of a legal agreement with US authors and publishers that would clear the way for Google Books, a separate project from the Google eBookstore.

A sticking point in the settlement has been the fate of "orphan" works and copyrighted titles that are out of print. Such books won't be for sale at the eBookstore.

US spending on e-books is expected to total 966 million dollars this year, up from 301 million dollars last year, and to reach 2.81 billion dollars in 2015, according to market research firm Forrester.

The number of e-book readers with dedicated devices in the United States is expected to grow from 3.7 million at the end of last year to 10.3 million at the end of this year to 29.4 million in 2015.

A Forrester survey of e-book readers found that 35 percent read e-books on a laptop computer, 32 percent on Amazon's Kindle, 15 percent on Apple's iPhone, 12 percent on a Sony e-reader and 10 percent on a netbook computer.

Nine percent said they use a Nook e-reader from Barnes and Noble, nine percent said they use Apple's iPad, eight percent said they use some other e-reader and six percent said they use a cellphone other than the iPhone.