Baidu apologises to writers in copyright dispute

BEIJING, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Chinese search engine giant Baidu apologised on Saturday to writers who accused it of violating their copyright and promised to delete infringing items within the next three days.

"We will now make a concerted effort and devote considerable technological and manpower resources towards getting rid of any infringing content in the next three days," Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo told AFP.

"We apologise to any authors or publishers whose feelings may have been hurt by the presence of infringing content on Baidu."

The dispute began last week when more than 40 writers including top-selling author Han Han signed a letter blasting Baidu for providing their works as free downloads on its online library Baidu Wenku without their permission.

State media reported on Friday that negotiations between the Internet giant and Chinese writers to resolve the dispute had broken down, and that the company now faced potential court action.

Baidu Wenku was launched in 2009 and allows users to read, share or download books for free. Some books also can be purchased at a large discount from the cover price.

All documents are uploaded by Internet users and as of November Baidu Wenku had stockpiled more than 10 million files and books, accounting for 70 percent of China's online file-sharing market, according to the company's figures.

Kuo had previously defended Baidu Wenku, saying the firm had already deleted "tens of thousands of infringing items" uploaded by web users.

He denied claims that the firm had made money from Baidu Wenku, but he added the firm intended to profit from the service in the future and share the proceeds out.

Baidu has long been criticised for flouting intellectual property rights. Its MP3 search service, which provides links to free but often pirated music downloads, has drawn particular fire from the recording industry.

The US Trade Representative's office last month named Baidu as one of the world's top marketplaces for pirated and counterfeit goods.

Singapore widens import ban on Japan produce

SINGAPORE, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore suspended food imports of fruit and vegetables from more Japanese prefectures on Saturday after "radioactive contaminants" were found in two new food samples from the disaster-hit country.

The announcement means imports of fruit and vegetables from the entire Kanto region, a large area including greater Tokyo, are banned to the city-state.

"Radioactive contaminants have been detected in another two samples of vegetables from Japan," the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the country's food regulator, said in a statement.

"In view of the latest developments, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority will extend its suspension on the import of fruits and vegetables to include the prefectures of Kanagawa, Tokyo and Saitama," it said.

The AVA said radioactive contaminants were detected in cabbage samples from Kanagawa and in leek samples from Tokyo that reached the city-state on Friday and Saturday.

"This means the entire Kanto region of Japan is now suspended from exporting fruits and vegetables to Singapore as AVA had earlier suspended the Kanto prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba," the AVA said.

A global food scare is spreading as a result of severe damage to a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture following the March 11 quake and tsunami that have left more than 27,000 dead and missing in northeastern Japan.

China, Russia, Australia, Singapore, the United States, South Korea and Taiwan have all restricted imports of certain foods from affected regions and stepped up monitoring of food imports from other parts of the country as a precaution.

The quake has become Japan's deadliest natural disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which killed more than 142,000 people.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and taken shelter in emergency facilities.

Radiation levels have surged in seawater near a tsunami-stricken nuclear power station in Japan, officials said Saturday, as engineers battled to stabilise the plant in hazardous conditions.

Russian bloggers spot 'political censorship' on search site

MOSCOW, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Russia's most popular search engine was embroiled in a scandal on Saturday as bloggers accused it of blocking images of opposition protests, while it blamed technical problems.

Bloggers complained that they typed Russian-language opposition slogans into the Yandex search engine and found that it showed only unrelated images while a rival search engine, Google, came up with images of anti-government protests.

The chief editor of Yandex, Yelena Kolmanovskaya, told the Echo of Moscow radio station on Saturday that the search engine was having technical problems and had not yet had time to load the images into the system.

In a post on Friday, blogger Igor Bigdan cited the slogan, "It's time to change places", which opposition activists used on a giant banner showing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and jailed oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

On Saturday a Google.ru search brought up dozens of images of the giant banner, which activists hung on a bridge opposite the Kremlin last month, while Yandex showed unrelated images including cars and a pigeon.

Bigdan also gave the example of the slogan "a party of thieves and swindlers," which opposition blogger Alexei Navalny created for a poster competition to criticise the ruling United Russia party.

Google.ru came up with numerous images of the posters, while Yandex's first image choice was a poster for the Russian film version of children's book "Pippy Long-Stocking."

"We are waiting for your official comments, because without them, some not very pleasant thoughts come into our heads," Bigdan wrote in a post addressed to Yandex's management on Friday.

A spokeswoman for Yandex wrote back to his blog, saying that the system's algorithms had worked incorrectly.

"I can assure you that there was no censorship and could not have been," wrote the spokeswoman, Alexandra Topka.

Russia's Internet is the country's most lively forum for political discussion, with commentators and politicians writing regular blog entries, and President Dmitry Medvedev has joined them with a video blog and Twitter posts.

Radiation spike in sea near Japan nuclear plant

SENDAI, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Radiation levels have surged in seawater near a tsunami-stricken nuclear power station in Japan, officials said Saturday, as engineers battled to stabilise the plant in hazardous conditions.

Urgent efforts were under way to drain pools of highly radioactive water near the reactors, after several workers sustained radiation burns while installing cables as part of efforts to restore the critical cooling systems.

The new safety worries further complicated efforts to bring the ageing facility under control, and raised fears that the fuel rod vessels or their valves and pipes are leaking.

"It is becoming very important to get rid of the puddles quickly," said an official at the nuclear safety agency, Hidehiko Nishiyama.

One of the worst-case scenarios at reactor three would be that the fuel inside the reactor core -- a volatile uranium-plutonium mix -- has already started to burn its way through its steel pressure vessel.

Fire engines have hosed thousands of tons of seawater onto the plant in a bid to keep the fuel rods inside reactor cores and pools from being exposed to the air, where they could reach critical stage and go into full meltdown.

Several hundred metres offshore in the Pacific Ocean, levels of iodine-131 some 1,250 times the legal limit were detected Saturday, a ten-fold increase from just days earlier, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

Drinking a half-litre (20-ounce) bottle of fresh water with the same concentration would expose a person to their annual safe dose, Nishiyama said, but he ruled out an immediate threat to aquatic life and seafood safety.

"Generally speaking, radioactive material released into the sea will spread due to tides, so you need much more for seaweed and sea life to absorb it," he said.

Because iodine-131 decays relatively quickly with a half-life of eight days, "by the time people eat the sea products, its amount is likely to have diminished significantly," he said.

However, TEPCO also reported levels of caesium-137 -- which has a longer half life of about 30 years -- almost 80 times the legal maximum. Scientists say both radioactive substances can cause cancer if absorbed by humans.

The government's assurances did little to lift the gloom that has hung over Japan since a 9.0-magnitude quake struck on March 11 and sent a huge tsunami crashing into the northeast coast in the country's worst post-war disaster.

The wave easily overwhelmed the world's biggest sea defences and swallowed entire communities. The confirmed death toll rose to 10,151 on Saturday, with little hope seen for most of the 17,053 listed as missing.

The tsunami knocked out the cooling systems for the six reactors of the Fukushima plant, leading to suspected partial meltdowns

High-voltage electric cables have since been linked up to the reactors again and power has been partially restored in two reactor control rooms.

Worried about the salt buildup in the crippled plant, engineers have started pumping in fresh water into some of the reactors. The US military is supporting the effort by sending two full water barges from a naval base near Tokyo.

"I believe we have prevented the current situation worsening, taking steps towards real progress such as resuming power and injecting water," chief government spokesman Yukio Edano told reporters.

Radioactive vapour from the plant has contaminated farm produce and dairy products in the region, leading to shipment halts in Japan as well as the United States, European Union, China and a host of other nations.

Higher than normal radiation has also been detected in tap water in and around Tokyo, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the plant, leading authorities at one stage to warn against using it for baby milk formula.

Japan widened the zone around the plant where it suggests people evacuate, to 30 kilometres (20 miles) -- still below the 80 kilometres advised by the United States, and larger areas including Tokyo in other nations' alerts.

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace started its own monitoring near the plant, charging that "authorities have consistently appeared to underestimate both the risks and extent of radioactive contamination".

"We have come to Fukushima to bear witness to the impacts of this crisis and to provide some independent insight into the resulting radioactive contamination," said the group's radioactivity safety adviser Jan van de Putte.

The campaign group said it would provide "an alternative to the often contradictory information released by nuclear regulators".

Lights out as Tokyo lives with power crunch

TOKYO, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - The giant TVs are silent, the neon lights dark and the bars of Tokyo half-empty. Two weeks after Japan's deadly earthquake, the city that once never slept is learning to live with a new era of frugality.

Many public escalators are idle, the trains less frequent and the usually overflowing shelves of the round-the-clock convenience stores sparsely stocked.

In the daytime, under the crisp winter skies, the city almost seems to have recovered from the shock of the massive March 11 earthquake which sent a huge tsunami crashing into northeast Japan and triggered a nuclear crisis.

But nightfall reveals the reality -- a fortnight after the twin disaster struck, the capital is still a shadow of its former self.

Nowhere is the contrast more evident than in the usually vibrant teen fashion district of Shibuya.

The huge television screens and illuminated billboards that usually light up one of the world's busiest pedestrian intersections are lifeless -- victims of an energy crunch that is expected to drag on for weeks if not months.

Even the normally ubiquitous store workers with loudhailers are absent.

"It's almost too much. It doesn't seem like Shibuya anymore," said student Shiyo Suzuki, hanging out with his friends near the statue of Hachiko, a dog famed for his loyalty, a traditional meeting place by Shibuya station.

The shops close earlier than usual, leaving apologetic signs that ask for the understanding of those clients who do arrive at their doors.

"Before the earthquake, there were many customers between 7 and 8 pm, but now they go home earlier," said one saleswoman at a men's clothing shop.

The taxi drivers, known for their white gloves and doors which swing open at the touch of a button, are also feeling the pinch.

"We have no passengers. People don't go out or they go home early by train," one driver lamented.

In normal times the capital's myriad bars and restaurants brim with office workers letting off steam after a long day in the office.

But few are in the mood for socialising these days and food safety is a major concern since abnormally high levels of radiation from a tsunami-crippled nuclear plant were detected in food and even tap water.

"I avoid going to restaurants because of the problems with food and vegetables found to contain radioactive substances," said one 38-year-old company worker.

Nobody knows when life will return to normal for the 35 million residents of the greater Tokyo area, even if conditions are immeasurably better than those endured by survivors in the quake and tsunami zone further north.

"The factories have halted, the roads in the northeast are hard to navigate, petrol there is rationed and power is sometimes cut. We're not getting the usual deliveries," said a worker at a FamilyMart convenience store in Tokyo.

The 9.0-magnitude tremor and ensuing tsunami prompted 11 of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors to automatically shut down and also damaged several thermal power plants.

The government has imposed rolling blackouts and asked people and businesses to save power as Tokyo Electric Power Co. struggles to meet demand.

But the real crunch could come in the hot summer months of July and August when Japanese usually crank up the air conditioning.

In the meantime frequent aftershocks have rattled the city -- which has long been braced for the "Big One" -- but there have been so many tremors recently that residents now seem to barely notice.

And on top of the visible privations, residents must live with the knowledge that 250 kilometres (155 miles) to the northeast, radiation-suited workers are battling to bring a stricken nuclear plant back under control.

Many foreigners have fled and embassies closed, fearful that dangerous levels of radiation might reach the capital, but for Japanese with jobs and families, leaving is not so easy.
Instead, they yearn for a return to normality.

"From now on everyone has to do all they can so that this doesn't drag on," said 18-year-old Nobuya Matsuda, one of those who -- despite the new era of sobriety and thrift -- refuses to abandon the streets of Shibuya.

Greenpeace to monitor Japanese radiation levels

SENDAI, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - Nuclear experts from environmental watchdog Greenpeace started monitoring radiation near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 atomic power plant in northeast Japan on Saturday, the group said.

Greenpeace said it believed Japanese authorities may have been underplaying the scale of the disaster at the quake- and tsunami-hit plant and wanted to assess the radiation levels and risks to the local population for itself.

"Since the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the authorities have consistently appeared to underestimate both the risks and extent of radioactive contamination," Greenpeace's Jan van de Putte said in a statement.

"We have come to Fukushima to bear witness to the impacts of this crisis and to provide some independent insight into the resulting radioactive contamination," said Van de Putte, the group's radioactivity safety advisor.

The campaign group said it would provide "an alternative to the often contradictory information released by nuclear regulators".

The statement came as Japan's nuclear safety agency said the operator of the Fukushima plant, which has seen a series of blasts since the March 11 quake, had detected radioactive iodine 1,250 times the legal limit in seawater nearby.

Fears over radioactive contamination have sparked the evacuation of an area within 30 kilometres (20 miles) of the plant and led governments around the world to ban imports of certain Japanese food products.

Abnormally high levels of radiation have also been detected in tap water in Tokyo, some 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the plant, leading authorities to briefly advise against using it to make infant milk formula.

But the warning was lifted after just one day because the amount of radioactive iodine in the water fell back below the safe level for babies.

Radioactive iodine 1,250 times limit in sea off Japan plant

OSAKA, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - The operator of Japan's disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear plant on Saturday detected radioactive iodine 1,250 times the legal limit in Pacific Ocean waters nearby, the nuclear safety agency said.

In a test by the Tokyo Electric Power Company, "radioactive iodine-131 at 1,250.8 times the legal limit was detected several hundred metres offshore near reactor number one," an agency official told AFP.

Another agency spokesman, Hidehiko Nishiyama, in a televised press conference said that the level is "relatively high" but said that the impact on marine life and seafood would be minor.

"This figure means that if you drank 500 millilitres (17 fluid ounces) of water containing this level of iodine it would reach the limit that a person can take in in one year, which is one millisievert.
"This is a relatively high level."

Speaking on the likely impact on aquatic life, Nishiyama added: "Generally speaking, radioactive material released into the sea will spread due to tides, so you need much more for seaweed and sea life to absorb it.

"And, since (the iodine) has a half-life of eight days, by the time people eat the sea products its amount is likely to have diminished significantly."

The reading is sharply higher than several taken last week at the same spot, about 330 metres (yards) offshore.

TEPCO said Tuesday that the seawater reading was 126 times above the legal level, and on Thursday that it was 145 times the legal level.

Fire-engines and concrete trucks have poured thousands of tons of seawater onto the reactors and into fuel rod pools at the plant after cooling systems were knocked out by the March 11 quake and tsunami.


Taiwan detects radiation on seafood from Japan

TAIPEI, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - Taiwan said Thursday it had found radioactive particles on a batch of clams imported from Japan amid growing anxiety about food safety.

The discovery came after Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council for the first time on Sunday found a shipment of fava beans from southern Japan had been slightly contaminated.

The latest radiation was found on 12 kilograms (26.4 pounds) of geoduck, better known to locals as "elephant trunk clam." The clams from Aichi prefecture, in central Japan, arrived in Taiwan by air on Tuesday.

However Tsai Shu-chen, an official with the Food and Drug Administration said radiation found on the clams was within safety limits.

She said the importer agreed to destroy the tainted shipment even though the radiation posed no health hazard.

Singapore finds radioactive traces in Japanese vegetables

SINGAPORE, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore said Thursday that "radioactive contaminants" had been found in four samples of vegetables from Japan and expanded a block on food imports from the disaster-hit country.

"Radioactive contaminants have been detected in four samples of vegetables from Japan," said the city-state's food regulator said.

"The contaminated samples were imported from the affected prefectures of Tochigi and Ibaraki, as well as Chiba and Ehime which are outside the affected areas," the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) added.

It said there was "no cause for alarm" since an adult would need to consume 3.5 kilos (7.7 pounds) of the affected vegetables to receive a level of radiation exposure similar to that generated by one x-ray.

A global food scare is spreading as a result of severe damage to a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture following the March 11 quake and tsunami that have left more than 27,000 dead and missing in northeastern Japan.

Radioactive traces were found on Japanese wild parsley, rape seed plant, Japanese mustard and perilla leaf, the AVA said in a statement.

It said imports of all food and vegetables from Chiba and Ehime were being suspended after an earlier halt in imports of dairy products, fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat from the Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures.

"All the affected shipments have now been detained and will be disposed of in an appropriate manner," the AVA statement said.

"We have also expanded the testing of food products from Japan to include high risk processed food such as infant formula and fresh dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cream."

The quake has become Japan's deadliest natural disaster since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which killed more than 142,000 people.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and taken shelter in emergency facilities.

Journalism Online sold to Chicago printer

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - Journalism Online, a company started two years ago to help newspapers and magazines collect revenue from online readers, was sold on Thursday to Chicago-based printing firm RR Donnelley.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Journalism Online was launched in April 2009 by three veteran US media executives with the goal of helping news organizations make money on the Internet.

The company developed a payment platform called "Press+" that would allow newspapers or magazines to charge online readers using a universal Journalism Online account.

RR Donnelley president and chief executive Thomas Quinlan said Press+ "provides a valuable tool for monetizing content."

"Press+ enhances our offering and opens new avenues for publishers to generate incremental subscription and advertising revenue," Quinlan said in a statement.

Journalism Online co-founder Steve Brill said "we are delighted to bring Press+'s innovative capabilities to RR Donnelley and look forward to engaging with the broad array of consumer and b-to-b publishers with whom RR Donnelley has relationships."

US newspapers, faced with declining print advertising revenue and falling circulation, have been looking for ways to make money online but Press+ never gained widespread adoption.

The Press+ platform was being tested by a number of small newspapers around the United States at the time of the sale.

The New York Times last week announced that it would begin charging online readers for full access to NYTimes.com using a system developed in house.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. invested in Journalism Online last year and the paidContent website reported that it had sold its unspecified stake in the company to RR Donnelley.

Jon Housman, president of digital journalism initiatives for News Corp., told paidContent the investment had "appreciated considerably" but did not provide any details.

Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, The Times and The Sunday Times already charge online readers and the media tycoon has announced plans to eventually make readers pay for online access to all of the newspapers in his stable.


Radiation in Tokyo water back to infant-safe level

OSAKA, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - The amount of radioactive iodine in Tokyo drinking water fell back below the level safe for infants Thursday, city government officials said, lifting a warning issued to parents the day before.

In one Tokyo ward, Katsushika, a water sample that was taken on Tuesday and publicised on Wednesday had contained more than double the legal limit for infants, at 210 becquerels per kilogramme.

But the level fell back to 79 in a test Thursday, a Tokyo official told AFP.

The upper limits are 100 becquerels for infants and 300 for older people.

As a result of the tests, the city government has lifted the safety warning "for now" on the consumption of tap water by infants under the age of one, a water department official told AFP.

Global food scare widens from Japan nuclear plant

TOKYO, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - Australia, Canada and Singapore joined a list of countries shunning Japanese food imports Thursday as radioactive steam wafted anew from a disaster-struck nuclear plant, straining nerves in Tokyo.

The grim toll of dead and missing from Japan's monster quake and tsunami on March 11 topped 25,000, as hundreds of thousands remained huddled in evacuation shelters and fears grew in the megacity of Tokyo over water safety.

The damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant from the tectonic calamity and a series of explosions has stoked global anxiety. The United States and Hong Kong have already restricted Japanese food, and France wants the EU to do the same.

Australia also ordered a halt to food imports from four prefectures near the charred plant 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, including seaweed and seafood, milk, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables.

It said, however, that Japanese food already on store shelves was safe, as it had shipped before the quake, and that "the risk of Australian consumers being exposed to radionuclides in food imported from Japan is negligible".

Singapore also suspended imports of milk products and other foodstuffs from the same four prefectures -- Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi -- and Canada implemented enhanced import controls on products from the quartet.

"Food safety issues are an additional dimension of the emergency," said three UN agencies in a joint statement issued in Geneva, pledging they were "committed to mobilizing their knowledge and expertise" to help Japan.

Japan was taking the right actions, said the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organization, and Food and Agriculture Organization.

"Food monitoring is being implemented, measurements of radioactivity in food are taking place, and the results are being communicated publicly."

In greater Tokyo, an urban sprawl of more than 30 million people, three strong aftershocks overnight served as uncomfortable reminders that Japan's capital itself is believed to be decades overdue for a megaquake.

The anxiety was compounded by the Tokyo government's revelation that radioactive iodine in the capital's drinking water was now more than twice the level deemed safe for infants, although it remained within safe adult limits.

The news triggered a run on water bottles in shops and the city's ubiquitous vending machines, while the Tokyo government said it would give families three 550-millilitre (18.5-ounce) bottles of water per infant.

Osaka resident Yuko Yamaguchi, a mother of one, said her younger sister in Tokyo had emailed her to say that she was "very concerned".

"She said she was scared. And she doesn't have much more stock (of bottled water) available. She wants me to send her supplies," Yamaguchi told AFP at a fresh food market in Osaka.

Tokyo authorities said Wednesday they had measured 210 becquerels of radioactive iodine per 1.0 kilogram of water -- more than the 100 becquerel limit for infants, but below the 300 becquerel ceiling for adults.

Japan's government has also halted shipments of untreated milk and vegetables from Fukushima and three adjoining prefectures, and stepped up radiation monitoring at another six, covering an area that borders Tokyo.

The health ministry has detected 82,000 becquerels of radioactive ceasium -- 164 times the safe limit -- in the green vegetable kukitachina, and elevated levels in another 10 vegetables, including cabbage and turnips.

At the source of the radiation -- the Fukushima plant located on the Pacific Coast -- white smoke could be seen on television images wafting from four of the six reactors.

Fire engines again aimed their high-pressure water jets at the number three reactor, a day after a plume of dark smoke there forced workers to evacuate, in their bid to avert a full meltdown that would release greater radiation.

Engineers have now linked up an external electricity supply to all six reactors and are testing system components and equipment in an effort to soon restart the tsunami-hit cooling systems and stabilise the reactors.

On Thursday, they partially restored power to the reactor one control room.

The grim statistics from Japan's worst post-war disaster kept rising, with 9,523 now confirmed dead and 16,094 listed as missing by national police.

Scientists at the Port and Airport Research Institute, meanwhile, found that the tsunami that swallowed entire towns was even bigger than first thought -- in devastated Ofunato, Iwate prefecture, it topped 23 meters (76 feet).

Singapore halts food imports from near Japan plant

SINGAPORE, March 24, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore has suspended imports of milk products and other foodstuffs from four areas near Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant due to radioactivity fears, regulators said Thursday.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told AFP it suspended imports of dairy products, fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat from the Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures with immediate effect late Wednesday.

"The suspension is in line with the precautionary approach adopted by other countries such as US and Australia," the AVA said in a statement on its website.

"Meanwhile, AVA will continue to closely monitor and test imports of food from Japan," it added.

The US, Australia and Hong Kong have also restricted dairy and vegetable imports, and France called on the European Union to do the same, while Japan was testing seawater to measure the impact on marine life.

Japan has already ordered a halt to consumption and shipments of farm products grown near the Fukushima power plant, which was struck by the powerful earthquake and tsunami of March 11, triggering explosions and fires at the nuclear facility.

Japanese health ministry tests found elevated levels of iodine and caesium in food samples including broccoli and spinach from the area.

Singapore mulls licensing credit rating agencies

SINGAPORE, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore is proposing to regulate credit ratings agencies to enhance the quality and "safeguard the integrity" of the process following the recent financial crisis, the central bank said Wednesday.

Credit ratings firms were widely criticised for failing to adequately monitor the risks that came with complex financial instruments blamed for the 2008-2009 crisis.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which released details of its proposals as well as a code of conduct for scrutiny, said it wanted to license credit ratings agencies so that they can be "subject to licensing obligations".

After the financial crisis, "a view has emerged among regulators that there is a need to further supervise (credit ratings agencies) to enhance the quality of ratings, safeguard the integrity of the rating process and promote (their) independence and the avoidance of conflicts of interest," it said.

It noted that Europe, the United States, Australia, Japan, Canada and Kong Kong have begun to regulate credit ratings agencies.

"In line with global developments and to conform with international standards and practices, MAS is proposing to regulate activities conducted by credit rating agencies," the central bank said in a statement.

"This is to ensure that Singapore remains an attractive location for CRAs (credit rating agencies) to operate in."

The industry is dominated by three major players, Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, whose credit risk evaluations can sink or boost the entities that they grade, including financial instruments, companies and governments.

They had come under fire for not spotting the dangers inherent in the financial instruments -- supported by risky US home mortgages -- that were sold to investors around the world.

Many of the affected investors were retirees who had used all their life savings to buy financial products linked to collapsed US bank Lehman Brothers and other institutions hammered by the financial crisis.

India's media industry 'sleeping tiger': James Murdoch

MUMBAI, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - News Corp top executive James Murdoch on Wednesday called India's media industry a "sleeping tiger" as a report forecast the sector would double its revenues to nearly $30 billion by 2015.

"India's creative force is still a sleeping tiger waiting to be awakened," said Murdoch, News Corp's European and Asian operations chief, while describing global media firms as "grey and tired".

"The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfil the potential of this great land," added the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch's comments to a media conference in Mumbai came as a report by consultancy firm KPMG said India's media and entertainment industry grew 11 percent in 2010 to post revenues of 652 billion rupees ($14.54 billion).

The report forecast that the industry would grow by 14 percent annually to achieve revenues of 1.28 trillion rupees ($28.3 billion) by 2015.

India's media industry has bounced back from the global financial downturn but experts say foreign investment in radio, direct-to-home (DTH) and print media companies is relatively low, compared to developed countries.

The print media sector has defied a global downward trend to grow by 10 percent in 2010 and is likely to continue to expand at a similar pace over the next five years, the report added.

However, Murdoch told the conference that "India's $15 billion media industry should have been $120-odd billion -- given its creative human talent and historical depth".

He urged India's media to focus more on digitisation so that Indian industry has the incentive to invest and give consumers greater content and choice.

India has around 120 million TV households but there are only about 30 million homes which have digital channels, he noted, highlighting the need for the country to focus more on creating digital infrastructure.

Digital systems have the capacity to deliver many more channels to the consumers than analogue cable.

Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp's local media firm, Star India, beams programmes through 32 channels to over 168 million people each week across India and over 65 countries worldwide.

Some readers will get around paywall: NY Times

NEW YORK, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - The publisher of The New York Times said Wednesday that some people will manage to find ways around paying for the newspaper online but they will mostly be teenagers and the unemployed.

"We did create something purposely porous," Arthur Sulzberger said of the system being implemented by the Times to begin charging readers next week for full access to NYTimes.com.

"Can people go around the system?" Sulzberger asked during an appearance at The Paley Center for Media here. "The answer is yes. There are going to be ways.

"Just as if you run down Sixth Avenue right now and you pass a newsstand and grab the paper and keep running you can actually get the Times free," he said.

"We have to accept that. Is it going easy? No. Is it going to be done by the kind of people who buy the quality news and opinion of the New York Times?

"We don't think so," he said.

"It'll be mostly high school kids and people out of work," Sulzberger said, before adding "I can't believe I said that."

The Times will offer readers 20 free articles a month at NYTimes.com before they will be asked to sign on to one of three digital subscription plans that cost from $15 to $35 a month.

Web users who find articles through links from Internet search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles even after reaching their monthly reading limit.

There will be a five-article a day limit of free links to articles to readers who visit NYTimes.com from Google or Microsoft's Bing.

Sulzberger said he believed the Times plan to charge online would work because "unfortunately quality journalism is less and less out there."

"There are fewer and fewer news organizations that have foreign correspondents," he said. "There are fewer and fewer that have national correspondents."

"We have more foreign bureaus than ever in our history," he said of the Times. "We have more national bureaus, probably, than ever in our history as well."

Sulzberger also said print was not going away anytime soon. "All of us think that print has very long legs, longer than people expect," he said.

Yahoo! stays in search game with real-time results

SAN FRANCISCO, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - Yahoo! on Wednesday began a US rollout of a feature that delivers real time Internet search results as quickly as people can time queries.

A test version of Search Direct will be added in coming months to all Yahoo! properties with search query boxes.

Search Direct predicts what people may be seeking with each letter typed query boxes and then pops up an evolving set of results.

"It's not just a bunch of links," said Yahoo! chief product officer Blake Irving. "It is images and data you were looking for; much smarter and much faster."

The feature is also being crafted for smartphones and tablet computers.

"That is where users don't have the screen real estate, the time, or patience to dive into those links of results," Yahoo! search senior vice president Shashi Seth said as he demonstrated Search Direct.

"Our job from here on is to find the results for users as quickly as we can."

Irving said the move underscores the pioneering Internet firm's commitment to search despite a deal that has Microsoft's Bing engine doing the laborious job of gathering up-to-date website information that Yahoo! can mine.

"The search game is incredibly important to us, because we know it is what people want to engage in," Irving said.


Tokyo water unsafe for babies, food bans imposed

TOKYO, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - Tokyo on Wednesday warned that radioactive iodine over twice the safe level for infants had been detected in its tap water due to the disaster at a quake-hit nuclear plant northeast of Japan's capital.

The revelation came after the United States barred imports of dairy and other produce from areas near the crippled Fukushima power station, and as the Chinese territory of Hong Kong became the first Asian economy to follow suit.

Japan also estimated the immense economic impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, saying it could hit 25 trillion yen ($309 billion) -- double that of the 1995 Kobe quake and nearly four times more than Hurricane Katrina.

The confirmed death toll from the earthquake and tsunami that battered Japan's northeast coast rose to 9,487, and Japan holds out little hope for 15,617 officially listed as missing.

Japan has already banned farm produce from areas near the crippled plant, which has been leaking radiation and has suffered a series of explosions and fires since Japan's worst natural disaster in nearly a century.

France urged the European Union to also control Japanese food imports due to the emergency at the Pacific coast plant, where engineers are battling to prevent a meltdown in overheating reactors.

In one Tokyo ward, a water sample contained 210 becquerels of iodine per kilogramme, a city official said. That is more than double Japan's legal limit. Tokyo's stock market dived 1.6 percent on the news.

The government advised residents throughout the city to avoid using tap water to make infant milk formula until further notice, and said it would distribute 240,000 water bottles to households in need.

Tainted tap water was also detected in the city of Hitachi-ota in Ibaraki prefecture, located between Tokyo and the Fukushima plant, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan stopped shipments of untreated milk and vegetables including broccoli, cabbage and parsley from areas near the plant, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

Farm produce shipments were halted from Fukushima and three nearby prefectures -- Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma -- while radiation monitoring of farm and seafood products was stepped up in six others, officials said.

The new inspection zone extends to Saitama and Chiba, part of the greater Tokyo urban sprawl that is home to more than 30 million people.

The health ministry said radioactivity drastically exceeding legal limits had been found in 11 kinds of vegetable grown in Fukushima.

Radioactive caesium at 82,000 becquerels -- 164 times the legal limit -- was detected in one type of leaf vegetable, it said.

The ministry said that if people eat 100 grams (four ounces) a day of the vegetable for about 10 days, they would ingest half the amount of radiation typically received from the natural environment in a year.

"Even if these foods are temporarily eaten, there is no health hazard," said top government spokesman Yukio Edano, following reports that some products may have already entered the market.

"But unfortunately, as the situation is expected to last for the long term, we are asking that shipments stop at an early stage, and it is desirable to avoid intake of the foods as much as possible."

Even if the short-term risk is limited for now, scientists pointing to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster warn that some radioactive particles concentrate as they travel up the food chain and stay in the environment for decades.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it had placed an import alert on all milk, dairy products, fresh vegetables and fruit from four Japanese prefectures.

"In addition, FDA will continue to flag all entries from Japan in order to determine whether they originated from the affected area," it said. "FDA will test all food and feed shipments from the affected area."

Hong Kong said Wednesday it was slapping a ban on a variety of food imports from five prefectures after contamination as much as 10 times above safe levels was found in vegetables shipped from Japan.

South Korea said it was considering a similar ban.

Around Asia, many Japanese restaurants and shops have reported a decline in business, and governments have stepped up radiation checks on the country's goods. Tainted fava beans from Japan have already cropped up in Taiwan.

In Japan, any further food shortages threaten to compound the misery for hundreds of thousands made homeless by the 9.0-magnitude quake and the jet-speed tsunami it spawned that erased entire communities.

As grieving survivors huddled in evacuation shelters amid the rubble of their former lives, their fate was overshadowed by the struggle to avert another massive catastrophe -- a full nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.

Engineers hope to restart the cooling systems of all six reactors that were knocked out by the 14-metre (46-foot) tsunami, and they have already reconnected the wider facility to the national power grid.

But workers were evacuated from part of the site after dark smoke rose from one of the reactors, said plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Fears mount in Asia over Japanese food

MANILA, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - Supermarkets across Asia are selling fewer Japanese products and restaurants in "Little Tokyo" districts are suffering as fears rise that Japan's food chain is being dangerously tainted with radiation.

No Asian government has yet imposed a ban on Japanese food imports, a step taken Wednesday by the United States which is now barring dairy products and fresh produce from regions around a stricken nuclear plant in eastern Japan.

But governments in Asia did begin testing Japanese food imports shortly after radiation started leaking from the Fukushima power station, which was crippled by a devastating earthquake and tsunami nearly two weeks ago.

The testing has so far not detected any major contamination of imports, and Japanese as well as other authorities around the world have insisted the crisis will not be nearly as bad as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

But with radiation continuing to leak and Japanese authorities unable to say how much contamination has already occurred, nor exactly where it has gone, people around the Asia-Pacific are growing increasingly anxious.

"Over the past two weeks we've had the lowest number of customers since I opened three years ago," said Japanese restaurateur Shigeyoshi Yasumoto, who runs the Saika eatery in the Philippine capital's "Little Tokyo" enclave.

Across the street, a speciality Japanese mini-supermarket was almost empty of customers this week and the Filipino store manager said business had almost dried up.

"I can't blame the customers. I wouldn't buy Japanese products myself nowadays, although we assure the public our stocks were pre-March 11," the manager said, referring to the date of the 9.0-magnitude quake that hit Japan.

Japanese authorities sought in the early stages of the nuclear crisis to assure people that radiation had not entered the food chain in harmful levels, but they acknowledged this week the situation was becoming more dangerous.

Japan has found radiation exceeding legal limits in 11 kinds of vegetable grown near the damaged plant. The government Wednesday banned the shipments of some of those vegetables, as well as untreated milk, from the affected areas.

In South Korea, some retailers and consumers were taking no chances despite the nation's food safety agency testing all food imports from Japan.

Two of the biggest South Korean supermarket chains, Lotte Mart and Homeplus, suspended sales of some Japanese fish this week.

"The customs inspection officials declared them safe but we decided to ban them from stores because consumers were so afraid," said a Homeplus spokesman, adding the retailer had bought more fish from Russia to fill the void.

Huh You-Kyung, a lawyer in Seoul, said she had no plan to eat even fish caught at home, one of the closest countries to Japan geographically.

"You may say I'm overreacting with baseless fear, but I'm trying to think as protectively as possible for my baby daughters' safety," she said.

Tensions were similarly rising in Hong Kong, where thousands of people work in about 600 Japanese restaurants.

"We can see the impact now, a drastic drop in these businesses and it is threatening the livelihood of people who work (in Japanese restaurants)," Yuen Fuk-wo, chairman of the Eating Establishment Employees General Union, told AFP.

The World Health Organization has given a guarded response to the situation in Japan, cautiously endorsing the government's actions while emphasising that the contamination threat for the food chain remains unknown.

"We still don't have a lot of specific information," Swiss-based WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told AFP by telephone when asked about how much radiation was leaking and the dangers this posed for people and the food chain.

But he said it appeared the Japanese authorities were acting properly in issuing alerts about contaminated products and food bans.

"It appears to be the case that they have taken the precautionary measures necessary," he said.

Pavel Tkalich, an engineer who advised authorities in Ukraine about how radiation had spread following the Chernobyl disaster, similarly said no-one yet knew the extent of contamination in the food chain in and around Japan.

"Everything depends on the quantity (of radiation)," said Tkalich, who is now an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's civil engineering department.

"How much of the radioactive material falls into the agriculture, how much exactly gets into the water, but the information is not yet clear."

In the case of Chernobyl, millions of people are believed to have been exposed to some form of radiation in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, where millions of acres (hectares) of farming and forest land remain contaminated.

Singapore takes charge of key IMF board

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that Singapore's finance minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, would take charge of a key board setting the global lender's policy direction.

Members of the International Monetary and Financial Committee chose Tharman to succeed Egypt's former finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali, who was obliged to step down as chairman after his government was dissolved.

Tharman, who has served as Singapore's finance minister since December 2007, was chosen to head the committee for three years, an IMF statement said.

The International Monetary and Financial Committee is in charge of deliberating on the main policy issues facing the IMF.

The committee is comprised of 24 finance ministers or central bank governors from countries that reflect the makeup of the IMF, with the chairman taking a 25th seat.

The committee meets twice a year, generally during the spring and autumn meetings of the IMF and World Bank. The IMF's next meeting is scheduled for April 16 in Washington.

Singapore's economy grew 14.7 percent in 2010, making the city-state one of the top economic performers in the world.

LinkedIn hits 100 million members

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - LinkedIn, the career-oriented social network, said Tuesday that it has hit 100 million members, more than half of whom live outside the United States.

"We're now growing at roughly one million new LinkedIn members every week, the equivalent of a professional joining the site at faster than one member per second," LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner said in a blog post.

Weiner said LinkedIn's ultimate goal is to "connect all of the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful."

"We're most inspired that by connecting talent with opportunity at massive scale, we're changing people's lives in meaningful and sustainable ways," he said.

"Each of our 100 million members has a unique story -- from finding a job, to recruiting talent, to sourcing new deals, and even starting a business," Weiner said.

LinkedIn released details about its membership to mark the milestone.

Forty-four million of its members are in the United States and 56 million are outside the United States, it said.

LinkedIn grew by 428 percent in Brazil last year over the previous year, by 178 percent in Mexico, by 76 percent in India and 72 percent in France.

Nearly one million members of LinkedIn describe their job as teacher.

Seventy-four are "Elvis tribute artists."

In January, the Mountain View, California-based LinkedIn announced plans to go public and raise an initial public offering of stock to fuel expansion.

The company made a net profit of $10 million on net revenue of $161 million in the first nine months of 2010, according to the LinkedIn filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Facebook, the world's largest social network, boasts more than 500 million members.

Steve Jobs to be deposed in iTunes antitrust suit

SAN FRANCISCO, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - A federal judge has cleared the way for Apple's ailing leader Steve Jobs to be deposed in a class-action lawsuit charging the iPod maker turned iTunes into a digital music monopoly.

US Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd ruled on Monday that attorneys for the plaintiffs may question Jobs for a total of two hours, but only about an iPod update making RealNetworks digital music inoperable with iPod MP3 players.

Lloyd determined that Jobs "has unique non-repetitive, firsthand knowledge" relevant to the six-year-old case, according to court documents.

The suit charges Apple with creating a monopoly by shackling digital music with FairPlay anti-piracy software that prevented iPods from playing song downloads from anywhere but the firm's online iTunes shop.

RealNetworks in 2004 released Harmony software crafted to let its music be played on iPods, but Apple quickly released an update that shut out the Seattle-based company's digital files.

With Jobs leading the charge, Apple did away with digital rights management software on iTunes music in 2009.

Jobs, 56, went on medical leave in January for an unspecified illness, but remains involved in running the California company and hosted the unveiling of second-generation iPad tablet computers in San Francisco early this month.

It was not indicated when the deposition might take place.

Mozilla unleashes sleek new Firefox Web browser

SAN FRANCISCO, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - A fast, sleek new version of Firefox was released on Wednesday to vie Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) and Google Chrome in the fiercely competitive market for Web browsing software.

Nonprofit group Mozilla made Firefox 4 available as a free download to computers powered by Windows, Mac OS X or Linux operating systems in more than 80 languages.

Firefox 4 was billed as six times faster than its predecessor and boasted features including a "Do Not Track" signal to opt-out of having online activities recorded by websites for targeted online ads or services.

The open-source Web browsing software was also designed as a stage for rich video or game graphics based on the HTML5 standard being touted as a boon for online visual experiences.

"Firefox puts users in control of their Web experience, providing a streamlined user interface, fun new features, a boost in speed and support for modern Web technologies," Mozilla said in an online message.

Powerful new versions of Chrome and IE9 Web browsers were released earlier this month by Google and Microsoft, respectively, putting pressure on California based Mozilla to release a finished version of Firefox 4.

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

US judge rejects deal for Google digital book plan

NEW YORK, March 23, 2011 (AFP) - A US judge dealt a major setback on Tuesday to Google's plans for a vast digital library and online bookstore, rejecting a settlement hammered out by the Internet giant with authors and publishers.

US District Court Judge Denny Chin said in a ruling 13 months after the parties had their day in his Manhattan courtroom that the proposed settlement is "not fair, adequate and reasonable."

"While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the (settlement) would simply go too far," Chin said in his 48-page decision.

The settlement would grant Google "rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners," he said, and reward it "for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission."

The 2008 settlement resulted from a class action lawsuit filed in 2005 by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) charging Google with copyright infringement over its huge book-scanning project.

The settlement called for Google to pay $125 million to resolve outstanding copyright claims and to establish an independent "Book Rights Registry," which would provide sales and advertising revenue to authors and publishers.

While rejecting the settlement, the judge left the door open for the parties to go back to the negotiating table.

Google said it was studying the judge's ruling while the Authors Guild and the publishers said they were willing to try to reach a new agreement.

Supporters of the settlement argued that Google's proposed digital library and e-bookstore would make millions of out-of-print books available and provide a new avenue for authors to profit from their works.

Opponents urged the judge to reject the deal on antitrust, copyright and privacy grounds and said it would give Google exclusive rights to digitize "orphan works" -- out-of-print books which remain under copyright but whose authors cannot be traced.

The US Justice Department criticized the settlement for including books unless an author expressly opted out of the deal and Chin also expressed concern about the opt-out aspect of the settlement.

"Many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the (proposed settlement) were converted from an 'opt-out' settlement to an 'opt-in' settlement," the judge said.

The Justice Department welcomed Chin's ruling. "We believe the court reached the right result on this complex, proposed settlement," said Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

"The settlement proposed by Google and the authors and publishers exceeded the scope of the underlying lawsuit on which it was based and created concerns regarding antitrust, class certification and copyright issues," she said.

Google counsel Hilary Ware said the ruling was "clearly disappointing" and the company would "consider our options."

"Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open-up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the US today," Ware said. "Regardless of the outcome, we'll continue to work to make more of the world's books discoverable online through Google Books and Google eBooks."

Google opened a Google eBookstore in December, a venture that is separate from Google Books, which was launched in 2004 and has digitized over 15 million books from more than 100 countries.

The Open Book Alliance, a coalition of groups and companies opposed to the settlement, said Judge Chin's ruling is "a victory for the public interest and for competition in the literary and Internet ecosystems."

Gary Reback, counsel for the Open Book Alliance, which includes Google rivals Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo!, said in an interview with AFP that the ruling is "exactly what we hoped for."

"It does firmly and unequivocally reject what Google proposed," Reback said. "I suppose they could appeal but they got slapped down so badly I don't expect them to do that."

"If this goes back to first base I think a lot of authors are going to ask why the case was settled so cheaply," Reback added.

John Simpson of settlement opponent Consumer Watchdog said the ruling "should send the message to the engineers at the Googleplex that the next time they want to use someone's intellectual property, they need to ask permission."

Macmillan chief executive John Sargent, speaking on behalf of the AAP member publishers, said they are "prepared to modify the settlement agreement to gain approval."

Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, said "readers want access to these unavailable works, and authors need every market they can get.

"There has to be a way to make this happen," Turow said. "We'll be studying Judge Chin's decision and plan on talking to the publishers and Google with the hope that we can arrive at a settlement within the court's parameters that makes sense for all parties."

iPad 2 on sale in Hong Kong, Singapore in April

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Apple said Tuesday that the iPad 2, the latest model of the hot-selling tablet computer, will go on sale in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea in April.

The iPad 2 hit stores in the United States on March 11 and will be available in 25 other countries on Friday.

The iPad 2 had been scheduled to go on sale in Japan on Friday but Apple announced last week that it was delaying the sale of the iPad 2 there because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said there had been strong demand for the iPad 2 in the United States.

"While competitors are still struggling to catch up with our first iPad, we've changed the game again with iPad 2," Jobs said in an Apple statement.

"We're experiencing amazing demand for iPad 2 in the US, and customers around the world have told us they can't wait to get their hands on it," he said.

"We appreciate everyone's patience and we are working hard to build enough iPads for everyone," said Jobs, who went on medical leave in January for an unspecified illness.

The iPad 2 goes on sale on Friday in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Apple said it will be available in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and unspecified additional countries in April but did not release an exact date.

Apple sold more than 15 million iPads last year and rival electronics manufacturers have been scrambling to produce their own touchscreen devices.

Blackberry maker Research In Motion announced Tuesday that its iPad rival, the PlayBook, would go on sale in the United States and Canada next month at a price identical to that of the iPad.

iPad 2 on sale in Hong Kong, Singapore in April

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Apple said Tuesday that the iPad 2, the latest model of the hot-selling tablet computer, will go on sale in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea in April.

The iPad 2 hit stores in the United States on March 11 and will be available in 25 other countries on Friday.

The iPad 2 had been scheduled to go on sale in Japan on Friday but Apple announced last week that it was delaying the sale of the iPad 2 there because of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs said there had been strong demand for the iPad 2 in the United States.

"While competitors are still struggling to catch up with our first iPad, we've changed the game again with iPad 2," Jobs said in an Apple statement.

"We're experiencing amazing demand for iPad 2 in the US, and customers around the world have told us they can't wait to get their hands on it," he said.

"We appreciate everyone's patience and we are working hard to build enough iPads for everyone," said Jobs, who went on medical leave in January for an unspecified illness.

The iPad 2 goes on sale on Friday in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Apple said it will be available in Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and unspecified additional countries in April but did not release an exact date.

Apple sold more than 15 million iPads last year and rival electronics manufacturers have been scrambling to produce their own touchscreen devices.

Blackberry maker Research In Motion announced Tuesday that its iPad rival, the PlayBook, would go on sale in the United States and Canada next month at a price identical to that of the iPad.

Amazon opens Appstore, Apple files suit

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Amazon began offering applications for mobile devices running Google's Android software on Tuesday as Apple seeks to prevent the online retail giant from calling it an "App Store."

The Seattle, Washington-based Amazon is offering free and paid programs for Android smartphones and tablet computers in its "Amazon Appstore for Android" at www.amazon.com/appstore.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Apple, which sells applications through its "App Store," urged a California court to bar Amazon from using a similar name.

Amazon's new Appstore gives the company a presence in the fast-growing market for applications for smartphones and tablet computers.

Google offers free and paid applications through its Android Market while Apple's App Store provides programs for its popular iPhones, iPods and iPad devices.

In the complaint filed against Amazon in US District Court for the northern district of California, Apple accused Amazon of "unauthorized use of Apple's App Store trademark."

Apple said it coined the term App Store with the July 2008 launch of the service and has spent "millions of dollars on print, television, and Internet advertising.

"The enormous public attention given the App Store service, and the success of the service, have cemented the public's identification of App Store as a trademark for Apple's service," Apple said.

It said the US Patent and Trademark Office had approved Apple's application to register App Store as a trademark -- a move opposed by Microsoft, which offers mobile applications for devices running its Windows Phone software.

The case is currently being heard by an appeals board.

Apple said it had contacted Amazon asking that it not use the name App Store but had received no substantive response.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and for the court to enjoin Amazon from using the phrase App Store.

Among the applications available in Amazon's new store are Angry Birds, Pac-Man, Doodle Jump Deluxe, Evernote, WeatherBug Elite and Zagat to Go.

Amazon said it will offer customers a paid application for free every day.

"The Android platform's openness provides a great opportunity to reach new customers," Mikael Hed, the chief executive of Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, said in a statement.

The Amazon Appstore can be reached through a Web browser or from Android smartphones or tablets using the Amazon Appstore application.


Power back at control room of stricken Japan reactor: NHK

OSAKA, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - External power has been partially restored to the control room of one of the six reactors at a crippled nuclear plant in Japan, public broadcaster NHK reported late Tuesday.

It said the lights had come back on in the control centre of the number three reactor at the Fukushima plant, making conditions easier for workers racing to prevent dangerous radiation leaks after a huge tsunami.

The number three reactor is a particular concern because it contains a potentially volatile mixture of uranium and plutonium.

RIM unveils launch date, price for iPad rival

MONTREAL, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Blackberry maker Research In Motion (RIM) announced Tuesday that its iPad rival, the PlayBook, would go on sale next month at a price identical to that of the hot-selling Apple tablet computer.

The BlackBerry PlayBook will be available at Best Buy and other stores in the United States and Canada on April 19, the Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM said in a statement. Orders can be placed online as of Tuesday.

RIM is offering three models of the PlayBook. A version with 16 gigabytes of storage will cost $499, a 32GB model will sell for $599 and one with 64GB will cost $699. The prices are the same as for comparable models of the iPad.

The PlayBook features Wi-Fi connectivity to the Internet while Apple sells both Wi-Fi and 3G versions of the iPad.

"Tablets are becoming a bigger part of our business everyday and the launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook will heighten the level of excitement in this category," said Scott Anderson, head of merchandising for Best Buy Mobile.

RIM describes the PlayBook as the first "professional-grade" tablet and has stressed its integration with its BlackBerry smartphone, a favorite among many business users.

The PlayBook is RIM's first foray outside the mobile phone realm.

BlackBerry users can pair their handset with the PlayBook using a Bluetooth connection to view their email, calendar, documents or other content.

The PlayBook has a seven-inch (17.8-centimeter) touchscreen, smaller than the iPad's 9.7 inches (24.7-cm), and also plays Adobe Flash video software, which is banned from the Apple device.

At less than a pound (425 grams), the PlayBook is lighter than the iPad 2's 1.3 pounds (590 grams) and is also thinner.

It features front- and rear-facing cameras for video conferencing, a feature which was added to the iPad 2 which went on sale in the United States on March 11.

Apple sold over 15 million iPads last year and scores of other companies have been scrambling to release their own tablet computes in a bid to grab a share of the fast-growing market.

China plugging holes in 'Great Firewall'

BEIJING, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - China appears to be moving aggressively to plug holes in its "Great Firewall" censorship system, causing frustration for businesses and web users, foreign Internet companies and analysts said.

Google's email service Gmail has been heavily disrupted, as have several popular online services providing encryption software that many businesses and individuals depend on for web security and to get around the firewall.

The problems have followed a call for subtle, weekly "strolling" protests in China inspired by political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and indicate the government is intent on nipping dissent in the bud, analysts said.

"They're testing new capabilities to see if there are technical means of dealing with the possibility of organised opposition," Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst, told AFP.

China operates an ever-expanding system of Internet control and censorship dubbed the "Great Firewall of China", aimed at snuffing out information or comment that the government considers a threat to its authority.

Gmail users have complained of access difficulties in recent weeks that have forced some to switch to other services such as Hotmail and Yahoo!, and Google points the finger at the Chinese government.

"There is no technical issue on our side -- we have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail," Google said in a statement Monday to AFP.

Providers of virtual private networks (VPNs) -- encrypted tunnels through the Internet that make communications secure and enable users to bypass censors -- also are blaming the government in occasionally colourful terms.

"Yes... The Klingon Empire scored a couple (of) solid hits on the USS Enterprise," Bill Bullock, chief executive of WiTopia, a popular VPN provider, told China-based customers in a recent email, using imagery from the US television show "Star Trek".

At least three other established VPN providers have reported disruptions in China recently.

A spokesman for provider 12VPN told AFP they were avoiding new sign-ups from China "during this unstable period."

"As far as we can tell this is part of the Chinese reaction to the calls for 'walks' as a form of protest," he said.

The mysterious online appeal for demonstrations in dozens of cities around China each Sunday has prompted tight security at designated protest sites. No obvious protests have been reported yet.

China faces rising public dissatisfaction over inflation, official corruption, and growing income disparities -- similar to the mix of problems contributing to the Arab unrest.

The Beijing government has watched the Middle East turmoil with unease, largely blocking mention of it on the Chinese Internet.

The online disruptions impact users seeking access to long-blocked sites such as Facebook or Twitter, and hitting businesses.

"It's one more strike that makes it difficult to get things done in China," said Ben Cavender, associate principal at Shanghai-based China Market Research Group.

He said companies already face a tough business environment in China including foreign complaints of a regulatory environment that discriminates against them.

"And if they have trouble accessing information, it's one more major issue to deal with."

China's government has repeatedly said it has the right to police its Internet. A ministry overseeing Internet issues did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest disruptions.

Some observers said foreign enterprises are particularly affected, as they rely on access to overseas sites for business.

But Chinese netizens also have expressed dismay, particularly over Gmail, which is popular with white-collar, educated users.

"This type of intermittent interference on the Internet -- where users have no patience -- will seriously impact the level of use (for Gmail). It's a really despicable method," one netizen said on popular web portal Sina.com.

Battle to restore cooling systems at Japan plant

KITAKAMI, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Engineers battled to get cooling systems at a crippled Japanese nuclear plant back up Tuesday after smoke and steam escaping from stricken reactors delayed the operation.

White steam-like vapour was seen rising from one reactor and what looked like white hazy smoke from another, 11 days after a monster 14-metre (46-foot) tsunami knocked out the plant's cooling systems and backup generators.

The twin quake and tsunami disaster, Japan's worst crisis since World War II, has now left 8,805 people dead and a further 12,664 listed as missing, with entire communities along the country's northeast coast swept away.

But fears of a full-scale nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which lies just 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the greater Tokyo area and its 30 million inhabitants, have in many ways overshadowed the natural disaster.

Plant staff and technicians, firefighters and military personnel were struggling to prevent a full meltdown at the seaside plant but spikes in radiation levels have at times forced the crews to suspend work.

Higher than normal levels of radiation have been detected in some farm produce from regions around the plant, as well as in sea water and tap water in Tokyo, forcing authorities to suspend shipments of milk and some vegetables.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's office moved to reassure consumers Tuesday that no seafood from Fukushima prefecture had entered the market since the quake.

The government has urged people to keep calm, with chief spokesman Yukio Edano insisting that radiation levels, although elevated, do not pose an immediate risk to human health.

"Even if you eat and drink them (contaminated products) several times it will not be a health hazard. So I would like you to act calmly," Edano said.

The only exception was tap water in a single village near the troubled plant, whose inhabitants were advised not to drink the water as a precaution.

The government has declared an exclusion zone with a radius of 20 kilometres around the plant and evacuated tens of thousands while telling people within 20 to 30 kilometres to stay indoors.

The Japanese head of the UN atomic watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said he had "no doubt" the nuclear crisis would be "effectively overcome" -- while cautioning that the situation remained serious.

France's Nuclear Safety Authority, however, warned that local contamination from the plant would last "for decades and decades".

The six-reactor plant has been hit by a series of blasts since the March 11 tsunami, and radiation levels around the facility have hit danger level, in the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986.

Concerns have focused on reactor number three, which contains potentially more dangerous plutonium, and on reactor four, where reduced water levels at a storage tank containing used fuel rods had led to overheating.

While external power has been restored to all six reactors, it was unclear whether engineers would be able to get cooling systems back online at reactors one to four. Cooling systems at reactors five and six were already running.

Workers were forced to evacuate part of the plant on Monday when grey smoke rose from reactor number three, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

TEPCO staff have reconnected the plant to the power grid and hoped to reconnect cooling systems soon, but it was unclear how much damage these sustained during the series of explosions at the facility.

Firefighters were ready to again use high-pressure water jets to keep overheating under control on Tuesday and stop fuel rods from degrading and releasing high levels of radiation.

A truck with a pump 50 metres high was also expected to start pouring water into the storage tank -- the so-called containment pool -- of reactor four.

Prime Minister Kan said Monday there was "slow but steady progress" in dealing with the atomic crisis.

"Workers' efforts at the risk of their lives have made the situation progress little by little," he said, according to a government spokesman.

The latest bid to get cooling systems working came as TEPCO said the size of the wave that knocked out power was larger than originally thought and at least 14 metres high, judging by what a spokesman called "traces of the tsunami".

Rain that on Monday complicated rescue efforts and compounded the misery of tsunami survivors had eased on Tuesday, but for the nearly half a million people huddled in chilly shelters, conditions were grim.

"We are really short of water and food. We don't have enough toilets either," said Tsutomu Nakai, a businessman in charge of relief efforts for about 1,000 people sleeping at a school in the town of Rikuzentakata.

Authorities have struggled to cope with the scale of the humanitarian crisis, with hopes of finding more survivors dim, despite the discovery Sunday of an 80-year-old woman and her grandson still alive in their collapsed house.

It was not just the human cost of the catastrophe that defied imagination. The twin natural disaster -- Japan's deadliest since 1923 -- could cost the world's third-biggest economy up to $235 billion, the World Bank said.

That would be equivalent to 4.0 percent of annual economic output, in an economy that has already been struggling for years.

But growth should pick up in subsequent quarters "as reconstruction efforts, which could last five years, accelerate", the bank said in a report.

Tokyo's stockmarket, which took a pummelling most of last week, jumped four percent as the Bank of Japan renewed its emergency fund provision injecting two trillion yen ($24.67 billion) into the money market to calm jittery investors.

It has now injected a total of 39 trillion yen to soothe markets and ease concerns about the ability of financial institutions to meet demand for funds.

Radioactive substances in seawater near Japan plant

OSAKA, March 21, 2011 (AFP) - High levels of radioactive substances have been detected in seawater near a quake-crippled nuclear power plant in Japan, its operator said early Tuesday.

The substances were detected in seawater which was sampled Monday about 100 metres south of the Fukushima No.1 plant, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) official said, stressing it was not a threat to human health.

"Normally, such radioactive substances are not detected in the area," said  Naoki Tsunoda, adding that the company will continue monitoring at the same point and in other areas.

TEPCO said the level of iodine-131 was 126.7 times higher and caesium-134 was 24.8 times higher than government-set standards.

The level of caesium-137 was also 16.5 times higher while that of cobalt-58 was lower than the standard, said Tsunoda.

A 9.0-magnitude quake and ensuing tsunami on March 11 devastated Japan's northeastern Pacific coast, knocking out the plant's cooling systems and leaving it on the brink of a catastrophic meltdown.

Helicopters and fire trucks have been deployed to pour water over heating fuel rods at the plant since Thursday.

Female rockers bring girl power to China music scene

BEIJING, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - China's veteran punk rock queen Kang Mao fiddles with her faux pearl necklace and leopard skin scarf as she dodges a journalist's questions before a quiet acoustic set honouring women.

As the lead singer for SUBS, she is one of the first women in China to front a band pumping out loud punk music and was the opening act for a Beijing show marking International Women's Day on March 8.

"I'm still a girl. Please don't call me a woman," she said with a wry smile.

"Tonight we are playing unplugged, no distortion, just clean, acoustic guitar," she said, adding that the band is playing with "wooden instruments" or "muqin," which in Chinese is a homonym for "mother."

Kang Mao, a stage name meaning "fighting cat," refuses to reveal her real identity, age or hometown. Probably in her late twenties or early thirties, she insists she comes from Mars.

Now in its third decade in the world's most populous nation, rock and roll has faced tough government censorship, a lack of support on state-controlled airwaves and rampant piracy of music copyrights.

Yet more and more Chinese youths are picking up guitars and beating drums -- with women fronting a variety of bands as the country's increasing openness encourages many to break out of traditional female roles and sample new lifestyles.

Founded in 2003, SUBS has released four albums and earlier this month the quartet -- the other three members are men -- embarked on a 22-city, 37-day tour of China, including Hong Kong, that will mainly play small underground clubs and bars.

"We are promoting 'Queen of Fucking Everything,' our newest album," said Kang Mao.

"I think we will be making some money on this tour. How much is hard to say, but I can tell you, SUBS is no longer losing money," Kang Mao, who has traded a mohawk haircut for long flowing black hair, said between swigs of beer.

But it remains a spartan life. The band will travel on public buses and trains, sometimes departing cities immediately after a gig and arriving at the next destination early the next morning to save on hotel bills.

Nationwide tours are becoming increasingly common for Chinese rock bands, most of which have made names for themselves in Beijing -- the country's rock hub -- with its many live music venues and vibrant summer rock festivals.

"Beijing is just a natural place to come to play rock music because as the capital it is the most open to new types of music and art," said Wang Jing, lead singer of Bigger Bang, a band she co-founded in 2008 and named after a Rolling Stones album.

Wang, 27, who sports a three-inch tattoo of the word "ENDURE" across the front of her neck, is originally from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where she formally studied at a music institute.

"But you have to love the music, you have to do it for the fun and the enjoyment of performing," she said, before rocking the Women's Day crowd with a version of the band's punk-funk anthem "Cry of Youth" while prancing across the stage in a set of bright pink tights.

Bigger Bang is fresh from signing a record deal and hopes to have its first album out this year.

"I think the future of rock and roll in China is bright," said Wang Hui, lead singer of the Chinese Hellcats, an eight-piece swing band that plays covers of American jazz and rhythm and blues standards.

"We are all optimistic about the future, but you cannot be playing rock for the money, you have to do it to make people happy," she said.

The tiny 33-year-old, who hails from southwest China's Sichuan province, is the wife of Wang Jian, who plays lead guitar for both the Hellcats and Brain Failure, arguably China's leading punk band.

Baby steps for small business after Japan tsunami

KESENNUMA, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - It's hard to see how business can thrive in the post-tsunami devastation in Japan, but consumer demand is running high -- and Sayuri Miyakawa is determined to supply it.

Days after a tsunami reduced her seaside grocery store in Kesennuma to driftwood, Miyakawa was back in business, albeit with no shop, no cash and virtually no produce.

With something like half a million people living in ill-equipped, badly stocked evacuation centres along the northeastern coastline, there is a huge need for everything from food to fuel and medicines.

Every day, survivors go looking for supplies they can scavenge to supplement the meagre handouts available in the shelters.

With transport almost non-existent -- most private vehicles were destroyed and there's no fuel anyway -- they have little choice but to focus their search in what remains of their home towns.

And that's where Miyakawa has stepped up.

Six days after the disaster, she was able to lay out a small selection of groceries including chocolates, fruit and bottled water, the prized goods presented on a few boxes on the street where her family store once stood.

"I'm not sure when I can really restart my business. But I came here today because I thought people needed food. They might not be able to wait for food rations," she told AFP.

Less than an hour later, everything was sold out, barring some rice flour which needed fuel and water to cook it.

The following day, Miyakawa managed to find a truck to bring more fresh and canned produce -- which sold almost as fast as she could unpack it.

"Unless you start somewhere, you cannot start at all," she said cheerfully, busily handing a sack of tomatoes, herbs and apples to a customer.

And she's not alone. Other small businesses are trying to resume a similar ad hoc service, selling anything from tools to clothing.

One obstacle they have quickly encountered is cash -- the lack of it.

While Miyakawa was able to secure her supplies from a wholesaler on credit, individual consumers need ready money and, with no functioning ATMs, cash is hard to come by.

Four days after the March 11 quake and tsunami, Kesennuma Shinkin Bank managed to open two of its 12 branches despite the absence of any power.

Without computers, bank staff had to use paper ledgers to check the accounts of depositors wishing to withdraw cash. Customers without picture ID cards were interviewed to verify their identity and account balances.

"Our institution is small enough that our employees should be able to recognise the faces of most of our clients," said Eiji Fujimura, a sales promotion official.

"Nearly half or possibly more people in Kesennuma have accounts with us. We consider ourselves a financial lifeline of this community," said Fujimura, who wore several winter jackets to keep out the cold in the branch office.

"We must continue to do what we can to provide services to our clients," he said.

After withdrawing some cash, 53-year-old grandmother Akimi Ogata bought milk and diapers that she found on the mostly empty shelves of a damaged grocery store.

Ogata's house was not damaged in the tsunami, so several relatives, including her six-month-old grandson, moved in with her.

"We didn't need cash on the very first or second day after the quake, but stores are starting to open," she said. "You really need cash at the ready because you never know when you might chance on something to buy."

According to a World Bank estimate, Japan's quake and tsunami disaster could cost its economy up to $235 billion, or 4.0 percent of output, and reconstruction could take five years.

The four worst affected prefectures account for an estimated six to seven percent of the national economy.

Facebook buys startup to link with more mobile phones

SAN FRANCISCO, March 21, 2011 (AFP) - Facebook is buying an Israeli startup that specializes in software that connects any type of mobile telephone to the leading online social network and other popular Internet destinations.

Facebook on Monday confirmed that it is acquiring Snaptu with an eye toward extending its reach to the hundreds of millions of mobile phones that don't feature the computer-like Internet capabilities of smartphones.

"As part of our goal to offer people around the world the opportunity to connect and share on mobile devices, we're excited to confirm that we recently signed an agreement to acquire Snaptu," Facebook said in an email response to an AFP inquiry.

"As part of Facebook, Snaptu's team and technology will enable us to deliver an even better mobile experience on feature phones more quickly."

The deal was expected to close in a few weeks. Financial details were not disclosed.

Snaptu was founded in 2007 with the stated goal of making available on "feature phones" innovative services people access routinely on smartphones.

Nearly 1.6 billion mobile phones were sold worldwide last year, with 296.6 million of those being sophisticated smartphones, according to figures released last month by industry tracker Gartner.

In January, Facebook launched a new software application for feature phones that was co-developed with Snaptu.

"We'll be working hard to offer a richer and more advanced Facebook app on virtually every mobile phone," Snaptu said.

Apple called on to pull 'gay cure' app from iTunes

SAN FRANCISCO, March 21, 2011 (AFP) - Apple on Monday was under pressure to yank a so-called "gay cure" application from its iTunes shop for software for iPhone, iPad, and iPod devices.

More than 110,000 people had electronically signed an online petition at a change.org website calling for Apple to remove the Exodus International application from iTunes.

Exodus, a Florida-based Christian group that advocates freeing oneself from homosexuality through religion, has publicly condemned the petition as an assault on free speech and an improper spin on the application's purpose.

The free software program links users to Exodus information including videos, podcasts, a Twitter feed, and the group's page at social networking service Facebook.

Exodus boasted at its website that Apple ranked its program as containing "no objectionable material."

"This application is designed to be a useful resource for men, women, parents, students, and ministry leaders," Exodus said.

"We hope to reach a broader demographic and readily provide information that is crucial for many seeking hope and encouragement," the message continued.

The online petition picking up momentum on Monday expressed shock at iTunes approving an app from "a notoriously anti-gay organization" that used "scare tactics, misinformation, stereotypes and distortions."

Exodus advocates "reparative therapy" to change the sexual orientation of homosexuals.

"No objectionable content?" a message at the petition page at change.org asked rhetorically. "We beg to differ. Exodus's message is hateful and bigoted."

Microsoft says Android e-reader violates patents

SAN FRANCISCO, March 21, 2011 (AFP) - Microsoft on Monday accused Taiwan electronics colossus Foxconn and US book seller Barnes & Noble of using its patented technology in e-readers running on Google-backed Android software.

Taiwan-based Inventec Corporation was also targeted in Microsoft's legal filings with the US International Trade Commission and a federal court in Washington state where the software giant has its headquarters.

"By bringing this case, we are protecting our investments on behalf of our customers, partners and shareholders - just as other companies do," Microsoft deputy general counsel Horacio Gutierrez said in a blog post.

"Our firm view remains, however, that licensing is the best way forward for the industry."
The legal filings assert that the bookseller's Nook e-reader and Nook Color tablet violate Microsoft patents.

Patents at issue include being able to page through on-screen windows using tabs and to annotate text without altering digital documents, according to Gutierrez.

The filings raised to 25 the total number of Microsoft patents that are the subjects of infringement litigation centered on smartphones, tablets or other devices powered by Android software.

Taiwan-based HTC Corp. last year bought a license from Microsoft to cover technology in Android-powered smartphones, the attorney said.

The legal filings came after more than a year of talks with Barnes & Noble, Foxconn, and Inventec failed to culminate in a licensing deal, according to Microsoft.

Singapore Airlines cuts flights to Tokyo's Haneda airport

SINGAPORE, March 22, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore's flag-carrier said Tuesday it will suspend half of its daily flights between the city-state and Tokyo's Haneda airport as demand weakened because of the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) said in its website it will halt two of its four flights between Changi Airport and Haneda from Sunday.

"Flights SQ635 and SQ636 which operate between Singapore and Haneda will be suspended from 27 March 2011," a post on the  website read.

However, an SIA told AFP the airline would maintain its four flights between Singapore and the Japanese capital's Narita Airport.

The spokesman said the suspension of the Haneda flights was due to a slump in customers going to Japan after a massive 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit the country's northeast.

The twin disasters triggered a crisis at a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant about 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Tokyo, where workers have been struggling to bring overheating reactors under control.

"We are seeing weakening demand in and out of Tokyo due to the situation in Japan," the spokesman said.

Kyodo News on Tuesday reported that smoke and steam were again rising from damaged reactors at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

White steam-like vapour was seen rising from the number two reactor and what looked like white hazy smoke from the number three reactor, Kyodo said, adding that efforts to spray water and restore electricity had temporarily stalled.

Abnormal levels of radiation were also detected in shipments of certain vegetables and milk from four prefectures near the plant, fuelling public anxiety about contamination from radiation.

'Worst song ever' tops 30 million YouTube views

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2011 (AFP) - A song by a California teenager that has been mercilessly panned by music critics has topped 30 million views on YouTube and rocketed up Apple's iTunes charts.

"Friday," sung by 13-year-old Rebecca Black, was uploaded to YouTube last month by Ark Music Factory, a Los Angeles-based company that was hired by the girl's parents to produce the song for their daughter.

"It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday, everybody's looking forward to the weekend," the chorus goes. "Partying, partying, partying. Fun, fun, fun, fun. Looking forward to the weekend."

The video attracted scant attention until a popular comedian linked to it on his blog 10 days ago saying "Songwriting Isn't for Everyone."

As the tune began to attract attention on YouTube, a Yahoo! music blog called it a "mind-meltingly horrific song" and asked readers "Is YouTube Sensation Rebecca Black's 'Friday' The Worst Song Ever?"

Time magazine described "Friday" as a "train wreck" and the video as "hilariously dreadful."

The poor reviews only fueled more interest in the video and it has become a viral hit, racking up millions of YouTube views, spawning a slew of parodies on the video-sharing site and making Black an Internet sensation.

A total of around 17,000 YouTube viewers have hit the "like" button on YouTube for the song while the vast majority -- 133,100 -- have gone for "dislike."

"Friday" was nonetheless number 45 on the iTunes list of best-selling 99-cent singles on Monday.

Amid the deluge of venom, Black has shown considerable poise and dignity in interviews and appearances in which she has addressed her numerous detractors.

The aspiring singer told ABC's Good Morning America that some of the comments had made her cry.

"When I first saw all these nasty comments I did cry," Black said. "I felt like this was my fault and I shouldn't have done this and this is all because of me.

"Now I don't feel that way," she said.

"I think I have talent on some level," Black told Good Morning America. "I don't think I'm the worst singer but I don't think I'm the best singer."

Asked who she would most like to sing a duet with, the YouTube star said Justin Bieber, the Canadian teen idol who was also discovered on YouTube.

"I have Bieber fever," she said. "I am in love with Justin Bieber."