2011/05/14

Singapore's founding father announces retirement - 2ndlead

SINGAPORE, May 14, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore's founding prime minister
Lee Kuan Yew announced Saturday his retirement from the city-state's
cabinet to make way for a younger generation leaders.

The surprise statement came a week after the opposition scored a major
breakthrough in elections that revealed deep resentment against the
People's Action Party (PAP) which has ruled the country for more than
50 years.

Goh Chok Tong, Singapore's second premier, is also to retire,
according to a joint statement from the men.

"We have studied the new political situation and thought how it can
affect the future... The time has come for a younger generation to
carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation,"
the statement said.

"After a watershed general election, we have decided to leave the
cabinet and have a completely younger team of ministers to connect to
and engage with this young generation in shaping the future of our
Singapore."

Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is due to form a new
government soon after the PAP was returned to power in the May 7
polls.

In the previous cabinet, the 87-year-old Lee held the influential post
of minister mentor, while Goh was senior minister.

Although the ruling party won 81 out of the 87 elected seats at stake,
the opposition managed to break the PAP's stranglehold on power by
scoring its best performance ever.

 The opposition faces tough restrictions on political activity but six
small parties took advantage of the election campaign to demand
reforms and greater accountability.

Foreign Minister George Yeo was the biggest casualty of opposition
gains when his five-member People's Action Party (PAP) ticket was
toppled by the Workers' Party.

In addition the PAP's share of all votes cast -- the equivalent of an
approval rating in a country that does not publish surveys about
government performance -- fell to an all-time low of 60 percent from
67 percent in 2006 and 75 percent in 2001.

"The prime minister and his team of younger leaders should have a
fresh clean slate," the two former premiers said in their statement,
adding that  younger generation "wants to be more engaged in the
decisions that affect them"

"But the younger team must always have in mind the interests of the
older generation..... who has contributed to Singapore must be
well-looked after," the statement said.

Singapore's founding father announces retirement

SINGAPORE, May 14, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore's founding prime minister
Lee Kuan Yew announced Saturday he is retiring from the cabinet,
saying he wants to give the younger of generation a chance to lead.

The surprise statement came a week after the opposition scored a major
breakthrough in elections which brought to light deep resentment
against the People's Action Party (PAP) which has ruled the country
for more than 50 years.

Goh Chok Tong, Singapore's second premier, is also to retire, the
joint statement from both men said.

Google sends local news to smartphones

SAN FRANCISCO, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Friday began letting US
smartphone users stay abreast of local news whereever they happen to
be.

"News near you" lets iPhones or Android-powered smartphones display
stories relevant to people's locations at any given moment, according
to product manager Navneet Singh.

Google News first made location-based service available about three years ago.

The new featue enables people to tap into location-sensing
capabilities of smartphones to customize what headlines are displayed
on homepages of devices.

"Google News for mobile lets you keep up with the latest news,
wherever you are," Singh said.

He said the new feature "surfaces news relevant to the city you're in
and surrounding areas" once smartphone users have given permission for
the software to access location information on devices.

LimeWire pays $105 million in music copyright case

SAN FRANCISCO, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - The popular online file-sharing
service LimeWire has agreed to pay $105 million to settle charges that
it was a platform for music piracy.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said Thursday
that the negotiated settlement came as jurors in a federal court in
New York City mulled how much LimeWire should pay for "massive
copyright infringement."

"Designing and operating services to profit from the theft of the
world's greatest music comes with a stiff price," RIAA chief executive
Mitch Bainwol said in a statement.

"The resolution of this case is another milestone in the continuing
evolution of online music to a legitimate marketplace that
appropriately rewards creators."

LimeWire.com was shut down by a US federal court in October following
a lawsuit filed by the music industry.

The move came a little more than five months after a US judge ruled in
favor of 13 music companies in a copyright infringement and unfair
competition case brought against LimeWire.

The music companies filed their complaint against LimeWire in 2006 and
US District Court Judge Kimba Wood ruled in their favor in May of last
year.

In June, eight members of the National Music Publishers' Association
filed a separate copyright suit against LimeWire.

A jury trial to determine damages in the case began last week.

"We are pleased to have reached a large monetary settlement following
the court's finding that both LimeWire and its founder, Mark Gorton,
(are) personally liable for copyright infringement," Bainwol said.

"LimeWire wreaked enormous damage on the music community, helping
contribute to thousands of lost jobs and fewer opportunities for
aspiring artists."

LimeWire software was released in August 2000 and used peer-to-peer,
or P2P, technology to allow users to share music or other files over
the Internet.

LimeWire is owned by the Lime Group, a New York-based company.

Taiwan pop star Jay Chou leads music awards list

TAIPEI, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - Taiwanese pop prince and Hollywood star
Jay Chou dominated nominations for Asia's top Mandarin chart music
honours, the Golden Melody Awards, organisers said Friday.

Chou joined the few Taiwanese performers who have made it to Hollywood
when he starred alongside Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz in the superhero
box office hit "The Green Hornet".

His latest album "The Era" led the music awards field with seven
nominations, including the top categories of best album, best producer
and best composer.

For the coveted best male singer title, Chou will challenge
Chinese-American singer-songwriter Leehom Wang, who has also embarked
on a successful movie career.

Wang is also vying for best album with "The 18 Martial Arts", and best song.

The fight for best female singer sees Hong Kong singer and actress
Karen Mok competing against Taiwanese veteran Wan Fang and three
lesser-known rivals.

Hebe Tien of the popular girl band S.H.E, who was surprisingly left
out in the best female singer category, was nominated for best album
and best music video prizes.

No performers from mainland China were nominated this year, and
candidates from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore will compete in the
22nd Golden Melody Awards, to be handed out at a ceremony on June 18
in the Taipei Arena.

Yahoo! shares sink on Alibaba tensions

NEW YORK, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - Yahoo! shares extended their slide on
Friday amid tensions with Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant
in which the California Internet company holds a large stake.

Shares in Yahoo! were down 4.08 percent to $16.47 at midday on Wall Street.

Yahoo! stock began sinking on Wednesday on news that Alibaba had spun
its online payment business, Alipay, out of the reach of the US-based
Internet giant.

Yahoo! filed paperwork on Tuesday notifying the US Securities and
Exchange Commission that ownership of Alipay had been shifted to a
Chinese company owned mostly by Alibaba chief executive Jack Ma.

In the filing, Yahoo! said the transfer of ownership of Alipay was
done without the knowledge or approval of Alibaba's board of directors
or shareholders.

Yahoo! said it was done in August although Yahoo! and another major
Alibaba stakeholder, Japan's Softbank, were only informed of it in
March.

Alibaba rejected Yahoo!'s claims in a statement on Friday and said
that the Chinese legal requirements that necessitated the change in
ownership had been discussed at numerous board meetings.

Alibaba said the move was made to "comply with Chinese law governing
payment companies in order to secure a license to continue operating
Alipay."

"The Alibaba Group board discussed at numerous board meetings over the
past three years the impending imposition of new regulatory
requirements on the online payment industry, including ownership
structures," Alibaba said.

It said the Alibaba board was told in July 2009 that a majority
shareholding in Alipay had been transferred to Chinese ownership. The
remaining stake was apparently transferred in August.

"The actions taken by Alibaba Group management to comply with the
licensing regulations and to ensure continuation of operations are in
the best interests of the company and its shareholders," Alibaba said.

Yahoo! owns a 43 percent stake in Alibaba and an estimated 40 percent
share of Alipay.

Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, who stepped down as chief executive two
years ago and was replaced by Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz, sits on the
Alibaba board.

Relations between Yahoo! and Alibaba have been rocky for some time but
Bartz gave Alibaba's Ma a vote of confidence in September saying
Yahoo! is "very supportive of the operational direction Jack Ma and
his team are taking the group."

China Film Festival returns to Singapore

Singapore, 12 May 2011 � A selection of five Chinese feature films,
comprising award-winners and box-office successes, including the
country's most expensive animated feature, will debut in Singapore's
cinemas as part of the 2011 China Film Festival taking place alongside
ScreenSingapore this June.

The five-day China Film Festival will open on 6 June with the
critically acclaimed Deep in the Clouds (碧罗雪山), a love story set in
the remote mountains directed by Liu Jie, which swept four awards at
the 13th Shanghai International Film Festival last year, including
Best Director, Best Music, Jury Grand Prize and Special Jury Prize. It
will close on 10 June with Eternal Moment (将爱情进行到底), a box office hit
in China directed by Zhang Yibai and produced by popular actor Li
Yapeng, who also starred in the film opposite top-rated actress Xu
Jinglei.

The film selection also includes The Piano in The Factory (钢的琴), whose
male lead clinched the Best Actor Award at the 23rd Tokyo
International Film Festival and Walking to School (走路上学), which was
conferred Best Children's Film at several festivals. Completing the
line-up is The Dreams of Jinsha (梦回金沙城), a hand-drawn animation
masterpiece that took five years and US$11 million to complete, and
which was one of 15 films to qualify for the Best Animation Feature at
this year's Oscars. Together, these five films present a snapshot of
China's vibrant and diverse film industry and highlight a new
generation of filmmakers exploring a variety of genres including
romance, drama and animation.

The 2011 China Film Festival is organised by the Media Development
Authority of Singapore (MDA) and supported by the Film Bureau under
China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT),
with the aim of promoting film exchanges between the two countries
which signed a bilateral film co-production treaty last year.
Following the 2011 China Film Festival in Singapore, China will host a
Singapore Film Festival next year.

This is the second time that both parties are collaborating to host
film festivals in each other's country, following the inaugural
Singapore Film Festival in Beijing and Shanghai in 2007, and the first
China Film Festival in Singapore in 2008.

"In addition to reaching out to the movie-going public, these film
festivals serve as platforms for filmmakers from both countries to
meet and exchange ideas. We hope that co-hosting such film festivals
will contribute towards cultural exchanges between China and
Singapore, as well as promote the development of our film industries,"
said Mr Yeo Chun Cheng, Director of Broadcast, Animation, Film and
Music, MDA, and Director of Singapore Film Commission.

The 2011 China Film Festival is a co-located event of ScreenSingapore.
To be held from 5 to 12 June 2011, ScreenSingapore is positioned as
the country's first international cinema event that brings together
movie stars, renowned directors and eminent film industry
professionals to exchange ideas, explore business opportunities and
showcase film products. The week-long event comprises a trade show,
conferences, master classes and nightly red carpet premieres.

The screening schedule for the 2011 China Film Festival is as follows:
6 June 6.45pm Deep in the Clouds (碧罗雪山) (Opening film - By invitation only)
7 June 6.45pm The Piano in the Factory (钢的琴)
8 June 7.00pm Walking to School (走路上学)
9 June 7.00pm The Dreams of Jinsha (梦回金沙城)
10 June 6.45pm Eternal Moment (将爱情进行到底)
All screenings will take place in Cinema Europa at Golden Village
VivoCity. Priced at $5 each, tickets can be purchased at all Golden
Village Box Office Counters and online at www.gv.com.sg from 19 May
2011. Please see the Annex for more details about the 2011 China Film
Festival selection.

France calls pre-G8 Internet summit

PARIS, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - Founders and bosses of major Internet
firms including Facebook, Google and Amazon will meet in Paris this
month ahead of the G8 summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said
Friday.

"I am delighted that numerous leaders of the Internet world have
responded to France's invitation to come and discuss the Internet at
the e-G8 forum on May 24 and 25," said a message on Sarkozy's official
page on Facebook.com.

The guests named include the founder of that social networking site,
Mark Zuckerberg, the executive chairman and until recently chief
executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Bezos, founder of online
retail giant Amazon.

Maurice Levy of the communications group Publicis, which is organising
the gathering, said hundreds of industry players would discuss how the
Internet can be used to fuel economic growth.

Another of the organisers told AFP that Sarkozy would open the
gathering, which will also discuss protecting intellectual property --
a sensitive issue which has notably set Google at odds with publishers
in France and elsewhere.

Sarkozy chairs the summit of the Group of Eight (G8) rich nations on
May 26 and 27 in Deauville, western France.

Aleris Reports First Quarter 2011 Results

BEACHWOOD, Ohio, May 13, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Aleris today reported
results for the quarter ended March 31, 2011.

Performance Summary

First quarter 2011 volume increased 8% versus the first quarter of
2010. This increase, coupled with higher LME prices and improved
rolling margins, resulted in first quarter revenue growth of 24% from
$962 million in 2010 to $1.2 billion in 2011.

Net income for the first quarter of 2011 was $57 million compared to
$10 million for the first quarter of 2010.

Adjusted EBITDA for the first quarter of 2011 was $78 million compared
to $56 million for the first quarter of 2010, a 40 percent increase.

Cash used by operating activities was $57 million in the first quarter
of 2011 due to a seasonal working capital build compared to a $103
million use of cash in the first quarter of 2010.

Liquidity at March 31, 2011 was $689 million, which consisted of $462
million of availability under the revolving credit facility plus $227
million of cash.

The Company broke ground for its joint venture rolling mill in China
in January and initiated an upgrade and expansion of our European
operations to increase capacity for autobody sheet products.

Midas' First Quarter Net Profit Up 25.4% to RMB60.4 Million

Midas Holdings Limited ("Midas" or the "Company", together with its
subsidiaries, the "Group"; SGX-ST stock code: 5EN; SEHK stock code:
1021) today announced its financial results for the three months ended
March 31, 2011 ("1Q2011").

The presentation currency of the Group has been changed from Singapore
Dollar ("S$") to Chinese Yuan ("RMB") as the majority of the Group's
sales and earnings originate in RMB and the change of presentation
currency to RMB will more closely align the Group's external financial
reporting with the profile of the Group.

Profit attributable to equity holders rose 25.4% from RMB48.1 million
in the three months ended March 31, 2010 ("1Q2010") to RMB60.4 million
in 1Q2011. This was on the back of a 32.9% increase in revenue from
RMB223.0 million in 1Q2010 to RMB296.5 million in 1Q2011.

The Group's core business and key growth contributor, Aluminium Alloy
Division, saw its sales climb 33.9% to RMB288.7 million in 1Q2011,
accounting for approximately 97.4% of total revenue.

In terms of end usage within the Aluminium Alloy Division, the Rail
Transport Industry was the division's main revenue contributor,
accounting for 79.9% of its revenue in 1Q2011. The Power Industry and
Others segment made up 0.1% and 20.0% of the division's revenue
respectively.

The Group's overall gross profit margin improved from 32.6% in 1Q2010
to 34.4% in 1Q2011. This was due to a higher gross profit margin at
the Aluminium Alloy Division, which increased from 33.2% in 1Q2010 to
35.0% in 1Q2011.

During the period under review, selling and distribution expenses
increased 28.6% to RMB7.7 million, attributed mainly to the Aluminium
Alloy Division's higher business volume which translated to higher
staff costs. Administrative expenses remained fairly stable at RMB16.5
million.

The Group's finance cost surged 209.1% to RMB2.8 million in 1Q2011,
due to higher level of bank borrowings in 1Q2011 as compared to
1Q2010, and also an increase in interest rates.

The Group's associated company Nanjing SR Puzhen Rail Transport Co.,
Ltd ("NPRT") contributed approximately RMB4.1 million in 1Q2011,
compared to RMB8.0 million in 1Q2010. This was attributed to a
decrease in delivery of train cars to its customers during the period
under review.

Outlook

According to its 12th Five-Year Plan, the PRC government is committed
to the continuity and safety of railway development in the country,
and will continue to step up on the expansion and improvement of its
railway network nationwide. The Ministry of Railways has set aside
RMB745.5 billion for railway investment in 2011. In particular,
high-speed railway remains the main focus of the PRC's strategies on
national railway development, with a total of 45,000 kilometres and
spending of RMB2.8 trillion expected at the end of the 12 th Five-Year
Plan. At the same time, more second-tier cities and provincial
capitals are expected to initiate the construction of urban light rail
and metro lines.

To tap these growth opportunities, Midas recently announced plans to
establish a new plant in Luoyang City, Henan Province. This will
enable the Group to be in closer proximity to its customers located in
central and southern China. Its strategy has already won the
endorsement of Luoyang CSR Mass Transit Vehicle Co., Ltd ("Luoyang
CSR"), which entered into a master supply agreement with the Group.

Mr. Patrick Chew, CEO of Midas, said, "With our established track
record and quality products and services, we are well-placed to
leverage on the potential market opportunities in the PRC.

"Following the completion of our new production plant, we will also
have the capacity to pursue growth opportunities in the international
rail transportation market. We are optimistic that our proven track
record with global rail transport players will enhance our presence in
the international markets."

Construction of the new plant is expected to be completed in the
second half of 2012. The Group's total annual extrusion production
capacity is set to increase to 70,000 tonnes, while its annual
downstream fabrication capacity to process train car body components
will also increase to 1,300 train cars.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Group is optimistic that it will
continue to achieve good performance in 2011.

Google's Blogger recovering from outage

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - Google's Blogger was recovering on Friday from an outage that knocked the popular service offline.

A Google spokesman said at 12:30 pm (1630 GMT) that users had been unable to publish on Blogger for the past 19 hours.

"Recovery is underway and we expect things to be back to normal soon," the Google spokesman told AFP in an email. "We're very sorry for the inconvenience this is causing."

The spokesman said Google would provide a more detailed explanation soon for the disruption.
Visitors who attempted to access the site at blogger.com were met with the message: "Blogger is unavailable right now. We apologize for this interruption in service."

Blogger is one of the world's most popular blogging platforms and has millions of active blogs.
Google was providing updates on Blogger's status at its official Twitter account, @Blogger, and on its status page at status.blogger.com.

2011/05/13

China says to double land for low cost housing

BEIJING, May 13, 2011 (AFP) - China has vowed to more than double land supply for low-cost housing this year, an apparent effort to ease social tensions over high home prices and atone for missing a similar target in 2010.

The Ministry of Land and Resources plans to provide 77,400 hectares (191,200 acres) of land for government-subsidised housing this year, nearly 140 percent more land than actually used for such projects in 2010.

If the goal is met it will comprise 35 percent of the total land supply planned for residential development this year, Liao Yonglin, a senior official with the ministry, said in a statement published Thursday.

Last year, 32,400 hectares of land was used for low-income housing projects, far below the government target of 65,800 hectares for the year, according to government data.

The 2011 plan aimed to "continue the central government's real estate policies to curb overly fast rises of property prices," Liao said.

The government has been struggling to rein in soaring real estate prices, which are often far beyond what average income earners can afford.

It has introduced a number of measures to cool the market since late 2009, including bans on buying second homes in some cities and introducing trial property taxes in Shanghai and Chongqing.

Despite the policies, the average home price in 67 out of the 70 major Chinese cities continued to soar year-on-year in March, latest official figures showed.

Chinese media has reported that low-cost houses often end up in the hands of the wealthy who falsify application forms or engage in other corrupt practices.

According to the China Daily, nearly 300 applicants for low-income housing in the south China boom town of Shenzhen were this week found to be well-paid government employees who were unqualified for such homes.

2011/05/12

China to raise bank reserve requirement ratio

BEIJING, May 12, 2011 (AFP) - China's central bank said Thursday it would raise the amount of money that lenders must keep in reserve to reduce liquidity as official concerns persist over inflation and rising housing costs.

The People's Bank of China said it would raise its reserve requirement ratio by 0.50 percentage points, effective May 18 -- the fifth such hike this year.

When the new measure takes effect, China's commercial banks will be required to hold 21 percent of their deposits in reserve, based on earlier announcements made by the bank -- what the state Xinhua news agency called a "record high".

The move comes one day after the government said the country's consumer price index rose 5.3 percent year on year in April -- a slight easing from March but well above Beijing's official four percent target for 2011.

The politically sensitive inflation reading had hit a 32-month high of 5.4 percent in March.

Analysts had predicted more tightening measures were on the cards as Beijing tries to rein in rising costs of food and other essentials.

Ahead of the central bank's announcement, Chinese shares had closed down for the second straight day since the release of the April CPI data, falling 1.36 percent on renewed investor concerns over further tightening.

Interest rates have been hiked four times since October, and the central bank raised the reserve requirement ratio six times last year.

The last reserve ratio hike took effect on April 21, and the previous interest rate hike on April 6.

"The most pressing problem we are facing right now is the problem of inflation," Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said in a US television interview broadcast earlier this week during high-level Sino-US talks in Washington.

Wang pledged that Beijing would use monetary policy, fiscal policy and economic restructuring to fight soaring prices.

The potential for spiralling inflation to spark unrest was highlighted last month when hundreds of truckers went on strike at port facilities in Shanghai over rising fuel costs, prompting a heavy police response to restore calm.

"A combination of yuan appreciation, bank reserve ratio increases and rate hikes will all be required to tame inflation and money supply growth," Moody's Analytics economist Matthew Circosta said in a research note Wednesday.

The broadest measure of money supply, M2, which includes cash in circulation and money held in bank accounts, rose 15.3 percent at the end of April on-year, slowing from a 16.6 percent increase at end-March, the PBoC said Wednesday.

The central bank said Wednesday that new loans issued by China's banks went up slightly in April from the previous month to a total of 739.6 billion yuan ($113.8 billion), despite efforts to curb lending.

In April, Premier Wen Jiabao made a rare pledge to increase the flexibility of the yuan's exchange rate to ease price pressures, suggesting top leaders were willing to accept a stronger currency to bring down domestic prices.

Taiwan fraud rings move into Southeast Asia

TAIPEI, May 12, 2011 (AFP) - Tears well up in Chen A-hsiu's eyes as she recalls her son's first trip abroad -- to Thailand -- which will also be his last until he finishes a 12-year jail term there for fraud.

Chen said her son, a 25-year-old high-school dropout, was conned by a "friend" into going to Bangkok to unknowingly work for a fraud ring before he was arrested and imprisoned last year.

"They gave him forged ATM cards to withdraw money, and when he felt something was wrong, they threatened him to keep doing it until he was caught," said Chen, who is 50 and ekes out a living as a janitor in Taipei.

The case is seen as part of a trend of Taiwan fraud rings expanding into Southeast Asia as they seek new business opportunities after being driven from China.

China was, until a couple of years ago, a favourite destination for Taiwanese criminals hoping to evade arrest and sometimes start new lucrative careers.

But that changed when Taipei and Beijing signed a crime-fighting agreement in 2009 amid improving ties, and in less than a year more than 1,600 suspected swindlers were rounded up on both sides, according to Taiwanese police.

"Fraud rings now relocate to Southeast Asia," said Tsai Tyan-muh, a criminologist at Taiwan's Central Police University.

"The area is close by and the criminals can spread across several countries, making it less likely they'll get caught."

Arrests of Taiwanese and Chinese nationals have since been reported in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In February, a decision by the Philippine government to deport a group of 24 suspects, including 14 Taiwanese, to China triggered a diplomatic row with Taipei.

"Fraud rings are getting common because they're operating with virtually no cost but can bag huge profits if they succeed," said Tsai.

"They're good at copying (each other's) business models so they come back quickly after each crackdown."

Technological advances have also made it more convenient for fraudsters to operate across borders, as shown in a growing number of scams involving instant messaging, social networking and online bidding sites, police said.

"Fraud rings are going international and have more tools at their disposal. It's getting more difficult to track down the masterminds," said Liang Chuang-ting, an anti-fraud expert at Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau.

In Thailand, where more than 100 Taiwanese and Chinese suspects were detained last year, the police said they are gearing up for "major arrests soon" after collaborating with their Taiwanese and Chinese counterparts.

Kitti Sapaothong, deputy commander of the Royal Thai Police's economic crime unit, said Taiwanese and Chinese gangs arrange their business across borders so they are harder to crack.

"Gangs based in Thailand normally target the people in Taiwan or China or abroad while those targeting Thais are based in Taiwan or China. That's why it's harder for us to arrest them," he said.

Chang Xue-hai has made several visits to Thailand's crowded jails in his capacity as head of the Taiwan Association for Legal Aid, an NGO with a mission to help people in legal trouble.

He estimated that dozens of young Taiwanese are now held in Thai prisons on fraud charges.

"I believe that some were lured to Thailand by false job deals only to become pawns of the fraud rings and were slapped with heavy prison terms up to 20 years," Chang said.

Fraud rings usually pick young people who have never gone abroad, speak no English and are from humble backgrounds like Chen's son so they are more easily manipulated, he said.

Taiwan's foreign ministry, on the other hand, has said many young people arrested in Thailand were aware of the nature of their "job" but fell for the fat salaries and luxury houses promised by fraud rings.

Chen A-hsiu, however, insisted that her son fell victim to a scam.

"He is a simple young man looking for a job but now he will forever have a criminal record. I dare not think how he is going to spend 12 years in a jail abroad," said Chen, who is appealing her son's case.

Google notebooks challenge Microsoft - Lead

SAN FRANCISCO, May 11, 2011 (AFP) - Notebook computers powered by Google software are heading to market in a direct assault on the Windows operating system at the heart of Microsoft's technology empire.

The California-based Internet colossus partnered with electronics makers Samsung and Acer on notebook computers essentially crafted as portals to online applications or services reached through Google's Chrome Web browser.

"Whether it be Microsoft or other operating system vendors, the complexity of managing your computer is really torturing computer users out there," Google co-founder Sergey Brin said during a press briefing.

"That is a flawed model," he said. "Chrome notebooks are a new model that doesn't put the burden of managing a computer on you."

Thousands of people have tinkered with a prototype Chrome notebook that Google distributed last year to live test the product.

Google collaborated with Samsung and Acer on versions of Chrome notebooks that will be available for purchase online beginning June 15 in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and the United States.

Acer notebooks based on Chrome will have starting prices of $349 and Samsung models will start at $429, Chrome senior vice president Sundar Pichai said while announcing the news at a Google developers conference in San Francisco.

"It gets pretty obvious, when you use a Chrome notebook you understand how it is different," Pichai said. "These devices are designed to be really simple to use."

Chrome notebooks don't use installed software other than the browser that connects to applications hosted as services in the Internet "cloud."

Behind the scenes, Google tends to updates, security, and other computer management tasks once the responsibility of hardware owners.

"With the creation of the Series 5 we are again pushing the boundaries of innovation by introducing an entirely new product category to the notebook market," said Samsung director of mobile PC marketing Scott Ledterman.

"This partnership has allowed us to combine Samsung's design and engineering expertise with Google's simple, secure software to provide consumers with a revolutionary notebook to fit today's Web-centric lifestyle."

Each Series 5 "Chromebook" features a vibrant 12.1-inch (30.7-centimeter) display screen, a body less than an inch thick, and an overall weight of 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms), according to Samsung.

A version of the Samsung Chromebook with built in 3G telecom connectivity will be priced at $500.

Chromebooks take the hassle out of setting up computers and store data online so it is easy to retrieve if hardware needs to be replaced or upgraded, according to Brin.

"I think it is an easier way to compute," Brin said. "Ultimately, the most precious resource is the user's time."

Chrome notebooks raise questions about how much people should trust leaving their data in the hands of cloud services and how well Google engineers will be able to fend off hackers if the system becomes an attractive target.

Chromebook users will also need a way to easily find applications for accessing digital files they use for work or play, according to Michael Cherry at independent analyst firm Directions On Microsoft.

"What is really going to kick Chrome devices off is if there is a location where one can get all the applications they need for them," Cherry said, noting that software file compatibility will be vital.
"Are the Web-based apps adequate?" he asked rhetorically. "Almost nobody buys a computer for the operating system it runs; people buy them for what they can do."

While Google has diligently worked to make sure Chromebooks can be used offline, the computing model ultimately relies on being connected to the Internet.

"The best thing about this device is that it spurs everyone else to build better devices," Cherry said. "In the end, the market becomes better."

2011/05/11

Google unveils online music service - 5thlead

SAN FRANCISCO, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Tuesday began letting people store music collections in virtual online libraries in a challenge to Apple's popular iTunes shop as well as a similar service from Amazon.

Google Music does not sell songs but allows users to store personal collections in the Internet "cloud" for streaming to smartphones, tablet computers or other gadgets.

Google Music is being rolled out on an invitation-only basis in the United States to test the service, which the California Internet giant envisions eventually making available worldwide.

"When you add your music to the new service, you can listen to it on the Web on any compatible device," said Google product manager Paul Joyce.

Google was getting around having to cut deals with music labels by letting people store digital versions of songs they already own in online "lockers" which they can access using gadgets linked to the Internet.

As many as 20,000 songs could be stored at Google Music, Joyce said at the Internet search giant's annual developers conference in San Francisco.

Invitations can be requested online at music.google.com.

The music service is a "compelling platform" for eventually selling digital music, according to Google director of digital Jamie Rosenberg. "It has been in our interest and has been in our plans to work with the music industry to sell music,

"Unfortunately, some of the major labels were only interested in doing so on terms that were unreasonable," he said. "That isn't going to stop us."

Rosenberg contended that Google Music is "a completely legal" service akin to a person storing music collections on home computer hard drives.

Stored music could be streamed to gadgets but digital files cannot be downloaded for sharing or copying.

Google Music takes aim at a similar service launched in March by Internet retail powerhouse Amazon.com and is a long-coming step toward taking on Apple's iTunes digital content shop.

With Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, users can upload digital music, photos, videos and documents to Amazon servers and access the files through Web browsers or phones and tablet computers running Google's Android software.

Music bought from Amazon.com or Apple's iTunes or from a personal collection is held in a digital "music locker" on the Internet and can be accessed from computers running Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Chrome Web browsers.

Cloud Drive gives five gigabytes of free online storage to Amazon account holders and a free upgrade to 20GB with the purchase of an MP3 album. Users can also purchase 20GB for $20 a year.

Google Music is free for the time being.

Apple sells music at iTunes and is reportedly working on an Internet "cloud" storage service for streaming digital music collections but has not announced any plans.

Apple purchased an online music site called Lala.com in December 2009 which hosted digital music collections on the Web.

"Google is trying to differentiate its Android platform because they want Android to dominate," said Wedbush Morgan Securities managing director of research Michael Pachter.

Pachter said the move was a necessary tactic to keep Android devices popular in the fierce smartphone and tablet markets but shouldn't be a big deal for consumers who already have options for getting or storing music online.

"Another vendor of the same content at the same price isn't very exciting," Pachter said. "But, by integrating it into all Android devices Google can make a competitive advantage for Google."

Google also used the opening of its developers conference to announce it is adding movie rentals to its Android Market offering digital content for devices running Android software.

Movie rental prices start at $1.99 and films could then be streamed to any Android-powered device. People have 30 days to view rented movies, and must finish watching them within 24 hours of starting.

More than 100 million Android devices have been activated worldwide and 400,000 new gadgets powered by the Google-backed software are activated daily, according to Google product manager Hugo Barra.

Social media shake up Singapore political terrain

SINGAPORE, May 11, 2011 (AFP) - The most popular Singaporean public figure on Facebook is not a pop star, actress or athlete.

Nicole Seah, 24, who lost as an opposition candidate in Saturday's election, had close to 97,000 "likes" on her public Facebook page on Tuesday, overtaking a page set up by supporters of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, 87.

Seah, who is back at her day job in advertising, generated a wave of support with her photogenic looks and passionate appeals to help poor Singaporeans left behind by the city-state's rapid economic progress.

The neophyte's rise into an instant icon among young Singaporeans underscored the dramatic emergence of social media in a society in transition from strict political control to a more open democracy.

The People's Action Party (PAP), which has been in power for 52 years, was stunned when its share of all votes cast fell to an all-time low of 60 percent even though a bloc-voting scheme limited the opposition to six seats out of 87.

"Online media has definitely been a game-changer in that it allows for the democratisation of all voices," said Kelly Choo, co-founder of online business intelligence firm Brandtology.

"If all voters are only made up of people expressing their opinions online, then the opposition seems to be in a better position," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, couldn't agree more, acknowledging the impact of the social media on the results and describing the election as a "distinct shift in our political landscape".

The PAP had long relied on pro-government media such as newspaper group Singapore Press Holdings and broadcaster MediaCorp during election campaigns.

It quickly found itself swamped by critics on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and web portals as technology and demographics conspired to undermine PAP domination of the political debate in the traditional media.

Official statistics show that nearly 30 percent of Singapore's 3.77 million citizens and permanent residents are between 15 and 34, a generation that relies heavily on the web and mobile phones for information and social networking.

Alternative news site The Online Citizen saw its unique daily visitors spike to 100,000 in the week leading up to polling day, more than three times its regular audience of 20,000-30,000, said editor-in-chief Choo Zhengxi.

MSN said page views on the news section of its Singapore website xinmsn hit 2.87 million in the same week -- more than 10 times its viewership a year ago.

Another extremely busy site was Yahoo! Singapore, which said "Nicole Seah" was one of its most heavily searched keywords after she emerged as an opposition candidate in late April.

Even the Straits Times newspaper, long seen as a PAP mouthpiece, benefited from the shift to the web, declaring 6.5 million hits on its website on election night.

"The Internet has played a very prominent role in terms of enabling the various parties, especially opposition parties, to reach out to voters," said Eugene Tan, an assistant law professor at Singapore Management University who tracks local politics.

The ruling party made an attempt to tap into social media in the final days of the campaign.

The prime minister hosted an hour-long Facebook chat but was swamped by 5,000 postings, leaving him unable to catch up with the torrent of questions, comments, praise and insults from the public.

Popular blogger Lee Kin Mun, who runs the satirical site mrbrown.com, said the PAP was not used to the spontaneous, two-way communication in social media.

"They have full control of the media here, so you've got mainstream media, papers and TV stations and radio stations toeing the line for you and disseminating your views, your spin to the public," he told AFP.

"Now you can't be shielded any more... You tell people to 'like' you on your Facebook page, I will 'like' just to go in there and say something I don't like about you," he added.

Outgoing foreign minister George Yeo, the biggest victim of the opposition surge in the election despite being the most web-savvy cabinet member, said the PAP should transform itself to win back voters.

"It's not good that so many of them feel alienated from the Singapore they love," he said in a farewell news conference at the foreign ministry.

US, China laud deal on economic ties

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2011 (AFP) - The United States and China inked a broad economic framework Tuesday, one the authors hope will guide often fractious relations between the world's two biggest economies.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and a top Chinese official, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, signed the agreement at the conclusion of two days of high-level annual talks in Washington.

Geithner welcomed "very promising shifts" in the direction of Chinese economic policy.

"We're very confident we're going to see substantial, ongoing improvement in the opportunities that American companies have in the Chinese market, both American companies operating in China and companies that are creating, building things in the United States," Geithner said.

The economic framework capped the third round of the talks, called the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, designed to build ties between the two countries.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and State Councilor Dai Bingguo led the strategic track of the talks.

The economic agreement builds upon commitments made by President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao during Hu's state visit to Washington in January, as well as the two previous dialogues.

Geithner pointed to some progress on the thorny issue of China's currency, the yuan, which the US and many economists say is kept deliberately undervalued to gain a trade advantage that has produced a record trade deficit for the US.

The currency has strengthened five percent against the dollar since last June when Beijing pledged greater flexibility -- but the gains have not satisfied critics who claim the yuan is undervalued by as much as 40 percent.

"We hope that China moves to allow the exchange rate to appreciate more rapidly and more broadly against the currencies of all its trading partners," he said at a news conference.

Geithner said that among the pledges both sides made in the framework agreement, China declared it will stop demanding firms make use of domestically developed technology in order to win lucrative government contracts.

"China," he said, "confirmed that it will no longer employ government procurement preferences for indigenous innovation products at any level of government."

The United States has long complained that China shuts out US companies for Chinese government contracts by favoring "indigenous innovation."

"This is important to make sure of course that US technology, US firms can compete fairly for business opportunities in China," Geithner said.

China's vice minister of foreign affairs, Cui Tiankai, called the framework a "milestone in China-US cooperation."

"So far both our nations have never signed any economic cooperation as broad... with any third country," Cui said, speaking through an interpreter.

Regarding the yuan, "we stick with China's national interests" on monetary policy he said, adding that the two sides also discussed "the importance of a stable dollar as a major global currency."

The dollar is down about 8.0 percent in the year to date compared with a basket of currencies held by trade partners, including China.

The agreement outlines actions each side will take to promote a mutually beneficial economic partnership, according to the Treasury.

The United States vowed to maintain vigilance against excess volatility in exchange rates, and China will continue to promote exchange rate flexibility for the renminbi, the official name of its currency.

China also would continue to take steps to make the yuan an internationally traded currency.

"This is a significant policy choice, one which will require more open capital flows into and out of China, and more market-based interest and exchange rates," the Treasury said.

China committed to take steps to increase domestic consumption in a bid to move the booming economy away from export dependence, including raising household incomes at a pace faster than economic growth.

The United States, for its part, said it welcomes foreign investment in all sectors, including the financial sector, and insisted it was committed to a level playing field for Chinese financial institutions.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, China agreed to deepen the reform of its financial system and increase the use of direct financing channels, including stocks, bonds and private equity.

Geithner had vowed to make financial reform a top priority for the talks to address what critics say is an unfair flow of capital to state-owned enterprises that all but ignores the needs of private firms.

Best of Android packed into "Ice Cream Sandwich"

SAN FRANCISCO, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Tuesday said it is packing the best of its Honeycomb tablet computer software into a new "Ice Cream Sandwich" version of Android for mobile devices.

The California-based Internet titan planned to release Ice Cream Sandwich by the end of the year and promised that it is being designed to run smartphones, tablets, and any other Android gadgets.

"Our top priority for Ice Cream Sandwich will be one operating system that runs everywhere," Android engineering team chief Mike Claron said at a Google developers conference in San Francisco.

"We are taking all the good stuff we added to Honeycomb for tablets and making it available everywhere."

Google crafted Honeycomb from the ground up to power tablet computers being rushed to market to compete with Apple's hot-selling iPads.

Android software is free and Google was concerned that tablet makers would resort to using a prior version of the open-source operating system geared for smartphones but not optimal for tablets.

Ice Cream Sandwich features shown off at the conference included compatibility with major videogame console controllers and the ability of Web cameras to recognize who is speaking at given moments.

"With Ice Cream Sandwich we will make consumers really happy," Cleron promised a room packed with thousands of software developers.

"It will work on phones in every size and shape, tablets in every size...even tablets that transform to laptops."

Google unveils online music service project

SAN FRANCISCO, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Tuesday launched an invitation-only test version of an online music service.

"When you add your music to the new service, you can listen to it on the Web on any compatible device," Google product manager Paul Joyce said while announcing the new service.

Google was getting around having to cut deals with music labels by crafting a service that lets people store digital versions of songs they own in an online "locker" they can access using gadgets linked to the Internet.

As many as 20,000 songs could be stored at Google Music, Joyce said at the Internet giant's annual developers conference in San Francisco.

Google Music began rolling out in the United States and was by invitation only. People could request invitations online at music.google.com.

2011/05/10

India to hire 10,000 teachers from Taiwan

TAIPEI, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - India plans to recruit up to 10,000 teachers from Taiwan to meet growing demand for Chinese language classes, Taiwan's education ministry said Tuesday.

Kapil Sibal, India's minister of human resources, made the proposal during a meeting with Taiwan's education minister Wu Ching-ji in India last week, an education official said.

Sibal said there was a strong demand for Chinese teachers as about 10,000 Indian high schools currently offer Chinese classes, or plan to do so, the official added.

Taipei will set up a taskforce to train India-bound teachers and hold more talks with New Delhi by the end of this year on the teaching programme, she said.

India's Education Ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

Like most countries, India officially recognises Beijing over Taipei but maintains trade ties with the island.

Chinese language classes are becoming increasingly popular as China's political and economic clout grows.

Chinese is also the official language in Taiwan, which split from China in 1949 after a civil war.

Taiwan has previously supplied Chinese language teachers to France, the United Sates and Vietnam, according to the education ministry.

Google to launch online music service: report

NEW YORK, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - Internet giant Google could launch an online music service as early as Tuesday to rival Amazon's "cloud" service, which allows users to store digital music online, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Citing unnamed sources, the neswspaper said on Monday that Google, like Amazon, has yet to secure licenses from the major record companies, and would limit users to a "streaming mode" to prevent piracy.

The new service, expected to be announced at an annual developers conference in San Francisco, would initially be launched in a testing phase, only becoming accessible to the public at a later date, the Journal said.

The newspaper also reported that Apple is currently in talks with major record companies to launch a far more ambitious service than either that offered by Amazon or the new service planned by Google.

Amazon unveiled a service in late March that allows users to store their digital music online and play it on a computer or an Android device.

With Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, users can upload digital music, photos, videos and documents to Amazon servers and access the files through Web browsers or phones and tablet computers running Google's Android software.

Music bought from Amazon.com or Apple's iTunes or from a personal collection is held in a digital "music locker" on the Internet and can be accessed from computers running Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari or Chrome Web browsers.

Microsoft mulling Skype buy: Wall Street Journal

SAN FRANCISCO, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - US software giant Microsoft is near to clinching a deal to buy Internet telephony pioneer Skype for $7-8 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The newspaper cited unnamed people familiar with the matter as saying the deal could close as soon as Tuesday or fall apart completely.

Microsoft did not return an AFP request for comment.

Skype was launched in 2003 by Estonian software developers who were part of the group that created peer-to-peer file-sharing service Kazaa.

Millions of people use Skype to make low cost or free phone calls over the Internet using their computers or smartphones.

Buying Skype could be a way for Microsoft to gain momentum in a hot smartphone market where rivals Apple and Google have shined with iPhones and Android-powered handsets respectively.

Skype in January closed a deal to buy Qik, a California startup that specializes in allowing people to use smartphones to stream video to Internet-linked friends in real time.

The acquisition came amid surging popularity of video chat using smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

Skype handled 24.7 percent of all minutes spent on international phone calls last year and 40 percent of calls between Skype users were video, Skype chief executive Tony Bates said while announcing the Qik takeover.

Bates said Skype was also continuing its push into living rooms, expanding a line of televisions embedded with its Internet telephony service and even infusing the software in a Blu-ray player made by Panasonic.

Online auction giant eBay in 2009 sold most of its stake in Skype to an investment group that includes the two founders of the Web communications company. That deal valued Skype at $2.75 billion.

The firm, which has its headquarters in Luxembourg, bypasses the standard telephone network by channeling voice and video calls over the Internet.

It allows users to call others free of charge and provides the ability to connect with land lines or mobile devices at low rates.

18 arrested in Hong Kong milk bribery case

HONG KONG, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - Hong Kong's graft watchdog says it has arrested 18 people who ran a milk powder bribery syndicate, as the city struggled with shortages linked to a tainted milk scare in mainland China.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said late Monday that it had detained 15 suspects in recent days as part of operation "Sunshine", in addition to three others arrested last month.

The suspects included six staff at an unnamed supermarket chain and four traders, with the latter accused of offering bribes in exchange for information on the availability of milk powder at the grocery stores, the agency said.

The supermarket employees also helped the traders buy milk powder in bulk quantities, the ICAC said, adding that it seized over 1,000 cans of powder during the operation.

The South China Morning Post reported that the employees worked at ParknShop, one of Hong Kong's largest supermarket chains.

"At the moment we don't have any comment on this incident," a ParknShop spokesman told AFP on Tuesday.

Hong Kong saw a severe shortage of milk powder earlier this year as mainland Chinese shoppers flocked to the teeming city of seven million over fears about Chinese-made products.

Mainland China's dairy industry was rocked in 2008 when at least six babies died and another 300,000 became ill from milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

Melamine had been added to give the appearance of higher protein levels.

Last month, Beijing said three people died and 34 were left ill in northwestern China from food poisoning believed linked to tainted milk, the latest food safety scare in the country.

Apple pays compensation over Beijing brawl

BEIJING, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - US high-tech giant Apple said staff at its flagship Beijing store acted in self-defence when a fight broke out, resulting in injuries to a customer who has since been compensated, reports said Tuesday.

Scuffles broke out at the Apple store in the Chinese capital on Saturday, with crowds jumping queues and smashing the store's glass door as they rushed to snap up the popular iPad 2 tablet computer and the white iPhone 4 handset.

"The Apple Store Sanlitun was closed for several hours on Saturday after a group outside the store became unruly," Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu told AFP in a statement.

"The store team acted to protect themselves and our customers by closing the doors and preventing the group from entering. The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority."

According to state press reports, angry consumers rushed the store after a "foreign" Apple employee allegedly stepped into the crowd to push and beat people suspected of queue-jumping.

On Tuesday, the Global Times reported that Ding Wencheng, 27, reached a 20,000-yuan ($3,000) settlement with the store for the injuries he suffered during the fracas.

Police helped mediate the settlement, the report said, but it was unclear if three other customers reportedly hospitalised during the melee were also compensated.

Consumers lined up for hours at Apple stores in Beijing and Shanghai when the iPad 2, the updated version of the tablet computer, went on sale in the world's biggest Internet market on Friday.

Lines for the popular iPad 2 grew so long that people began selling their places in the queue, while a secondary market also developed with consumers reselling the tablet computers for profit, reports said.

Singapore to explore bolder investments of reserves

SINGAPORE, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - The Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) will explore bolder ways of investing the country's foreign reserves, its chairman Lee Kuan Yew said in remarks published Tuesday.

The 87-year-old former prime minister said the GIC, known in the market for conservative investments, cannot keep following conventional practices as it grows.

"This could lead to mediocrity. GIC must develop the capacity and courage to make the right decisions, thinking in depth and foresight for what works best for us, even if the decisions are at times unconventional," he said.

Lee did not go into detail in a speech late Monday at the GIC's 30th anniversary celebrations.

The GIC is a company founded in 1981 to invest Singapore's foreign reserves, which stood at close to Sg$300 billion ($243 billion) in April, according to central bank estimates.

The GIC periodically reviews the mix of its investments by assigning weights to different asset classes such as stocks, bonds, private equity and prime real estate across the world.

In its latest available annual report, the GIC said 41 percent of its portfolio as of March 2010 was in public equities in developed markets.

Geographically, 36 percent of its assets were in the United States, 30 percent in Europe and 24 percent in Asia.

In September last year, the GIC said it had recovered most of its losses caused by the 2008 financial crisis and planned to keep its stakes in banking giants Citigroup and UBS.

Singapore's other state investment arm is Temasek Holdings, whose portfolio of Sg$186 billion is weighted toward Asia and Singapore.

"The vision to create GIC was original, bold and forward-looking," Lee said in remarks carried by local media.

"If it stays true to its original vision and values, it can continue to do well over the next 30 years," he added.

He warned that the next three decades were fraught with challenges and uncertainty with the rise of emerging economies, which would change geopolitical dynamics and put pressure on resources and the environment.

The US-based Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute in March ranked GIC as the eighth largest in the world.

The Singapore dollar was trading higher against the greenback at 1.2314 to the US dollar around 0300 GMT, from 1.2321 in late Asian trade on Monday.

But analysts said this was due to a rebound in the euro and commodities markets from last week, as well as Singapore's ruling People's Action Party returning to power in the May 7 elections, rather than Lee's comments.

US views on China 'simple': top official

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - A senior Chinese official on Monday described US views of his country as "simple" and said that a Middle East-style democracy uprising would not happen against Beijing.

Vice Premier Wang Qishan, in a rare foreign television interview during high-level talks in Washington, said that most US media did not cover China much and showed a bias when they did.

"It is not easy to really know China because China is an ancient civilization and we are of the Oriental culture," Wang told "The Charlie Rose Show" on public television, according to a transcript.

"The United States is the world's number one superpower, and the American people, they're very simple people," he said.

"If they're asked to choose to understand a foreign country, their first choice would be the European countries, and the South American countries may come second," he said.

Wang said that China's foreign ministry has frequently contacted the State Department to explain its position on protest movements.

"I don't think it is possible for events like Arab Spring to take place in China," he said.

China has rounded up dozens of writers, lawyers and other perceived critics in recent weeks amid the wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East.

It is one of China's most sweeping clampdowns on dissent since authorities in 1989 crushed student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

Wang is in Washington for the two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue with the United States.

Opening the talks on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States had "vigorous disagreement" with China on human rights and encouraged respect for freedom of speech.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also raised human rights concerns in private meetings with Wang and Chinese State Council Dai Bingguo, US officials said.

But Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, in a joint interview with Wang on "The Charlie Rose Show," said: "We have to recognize we come from different political traditions."

"As you heard the vice president and the secretary of state say today and you've heard the president say in the past, we convey our concerns on these issues as you'd expect us to do," he said.

"But our part of these discussions are about the broader economic and financial challenges facing the global economy," Geithner said.

Geithner and Wang are leading their countries' delegations for the economic track of the two-day talks, while Dai and Clinton are meeting on the political side.

Obama presses human rights with China

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama on Monday pressed Beijing to improve its human rights record in talks with senior Chinese officials, calling for freedom of expression and worship.

Obama met with China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who were in Washington for two days of in-depth talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"The president raised US concerns about the current human rights situation in China and underscored his support for the universal rights of freedom of expression and worship, and of access to information and political participation," a White House statement said.

Vice President Joe Biden raised the concerns publicly as he launched the talks earlier Monday, saying that the United States sought cooperation with China but had "vigorous disagreement" on human rights.

China has rounded up dozens of lawyers, bloggers and other perceived critics in recent weeks, carrying out its biggest crackdown on dissent in years amid a wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East.

Obama and the Chinese officials also discussed the Iranian nuclear standoff and ways "to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, to meet its international commitments and to avoid destabilizing behavior," the White House said.

Obama "underscored his preference for a diplomatic solution to both challenges," it said.

China is virtually the only ally of North Korea and has come under criticism in the United States for refusing to condemn the hardline communist regime over incidents last year, including the sinking of a South Korean warship.

YouTube adds thousands of movies for rent online

SAN FRANCISCO, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - YouTube on Monday added 3,000 new movies for "rent" online in the United States as it continued an evolution aimed at wooing viewers away from television.

"You're spending just 15 minutes a day on YouTube, and spending five hours a day watching TV," YouTube head Salar Kamangar said in a post at the Google-owned video-sharing website.

"As the lines between online and offline continue to blur, we think that's going to change."

In addition to beefing up its online movie roster, YouTube was increasing support for "partners" who create amateur clips that are attracting "TV-sized" audiences at the website, according to Kamangar.

Approximately two billion video views are logged daily at YouTube, which is available on 350 million devices, he noted.

"Whether it's short movie trailers, funny movie parodies or full-length blockbuster films, we encourage you to sit back and settle in to the YouTube movies experience," Kamangar said.

Movies available for streaming as online rentals at YouTube had been mostly older titles but the Google-owned technology firm has been collaborating with Hollywood studios to find ways to make fresh films available.

YouTube said that it is broadening its rental service at youtube.com/movies with new films from Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, NBCUniversal, Lionsgate Films and "many great independent studios."

New releases will cost $3.99 to rent while library titles will cost $2.99, YouTube product marketing manager Camille Hearst said in a blog post.

People will have 30 days to watch rentals, needing to finish a movie within 24 hours from when viewing is started. Hearst promised some titles would be available for streaming the same day they are released on DVDs.

The list of titles being added to YouTube included "Inception" and "King's Speech" as well as "Green Hornet" and "Despicable Me."

"In addition to the hundreds of free movies available on the site since 2009, you will be able to find and rent some of your favorite films," Hearst said.

"The new titles will begin appearing later today and over the coming weeks to www.youtube.com/movies, so keep checking back."

Many movie pages will feature extra content such as interviews as well as parodies and remixed clips uploaded by YouTube users, according to Hearst.

YouTube has been evolving from its early days as predominately an online stage for amateur snippets of backyard stunts and other antics.

In April, YouTube added a stage for live events at the world's leading video-sharing website.

YouTube Live launched online at youtube.com/live, letting people subscribe to watch shows or events streamed by the Google-owned operation's partners.

The video-sharing website had live-streamed concerts, sporting events and interviews previously, but on an intermittent basis. The Live platform made real-time programming a standard part of the service.

YouTube has reportedly been preparing a major overhaul of the website by creating "channels" to compete with broadcast and cable TV.

Already the third most viewed website in the world, it hopes the plan will further boost traffic to the site and take a bite out of the $70 billion US television advertising market.

YouTube in March debuted what it said was the first feature-length Hollywood movie created specifically for the Internet.

"Girl Walks Into A Bar" was described "a comedy about a seemingly unrelated group of characters spending a single night at 10 different bars throughout Los Angeles."

It was directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, who wrote the screenplay for "Snakes on a Plane" starring Samuel L. Jackson, and produced by Gato Negro Films and Shangri-La Entertainment.

It could be watched at youtube.com/ytscreeningroom.

YouTube, which was bought by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion, has been adding professional content such as full-length television shows and movies to its vast trove of amateur video offerings in a bid to attract advertisers.

Groupon, Live Nation to offer ticket deals

WASHINGTON, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - US online coupon giant Groupon and Live Nation Entertainment announced Monday that they were teaming up to offer discount tickets to concerts, theater and other live events.

The joint venture, GrouponLive, will be launched in time for the summer concert season, Groupon and Live Nation Entertainment said in a statement. Financial terms were not disclosed.

"With unprecedented access to Live Nation's expansive roster of performers and events, GrouponLive will be the destination for exclusive live event deals," Groupon founder and chief executive Andrew Mason said.

Michael Rapino, president and chief executive of Ticketmaster owner Live Nation, said GrouponLive "represents a new channel to drive value for fans, while helping artists and others to reach ever larger audiences.

"By adding this channel to our ticketing platform, we will also provide our venue partners with another option for driving ticket sales across a wide range of events," Rapino said. "Our success is based on selling tickets and filling seats and GrouponLive gives us another platform to achieve this."

Groupon and Live Nation said GrouponLive will offer limited-time deals on tickets to concerts, sports, theater, arts and other live events across the United States and Canada.

Chicago-based Groupon, which offers subscribers online coupons for discounts on a broad range of consumer goods and services, has enjoyed a spectacular rise since its founding in 2008 and rejected a reported $5 billion takeover offer from Google last year.

Live Nation Concerts produces more than 20,000 shows a year for over 2,000 artists.

YouTube founders buy social media tracker

SAN FRANCISCO, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - The founders of YouTube on Monday announced they bought a startup that specializes in tracking what campaigns at Twitter or Facebook are doing for companies' bottom lines.

Chad Hurley and Steve Chen did not disclose financial terms of the deal to purchase Tap11.com, which came on the heels of the pair buying popular social bookmarking website Delicious from Yahoo! for an undisclosed sum.

Hurley and Chen, who sold YouTube to Google for $1.65 billion in 2006, said they planned to integrate Tap11 and Delicious with their new San Mateo, California-based Internet company AVOS.

"Our vision is to create the world's best platform for users to save, share, and discover new content," Hurley said in a release.

"With the acquisition of Tap11, we will be able to provide consumer and enterprise users with powerful tools to publish and analyze their links' impact in real-time."

Tap11 bills itself as a real-time platform for companies to monitor and measure how well their media campaigns are playing out at microblogging service Twitter and online social networking community Facebook.

"We plan to leverage our Volume algorithm to fully measure the impact of content consumed and shared across the social ecosystem," said Tap11 chief technology officer Braxton Woodham.

"In combination with Delicious.com, we will be able to provide consumers and publishers with deep, relevant insights and recommendations."

Financial details of the Tap11 acquisition were not disclosed.

2011/05/09

US says human rights in China's own interest

WASHINGTON, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Top US leaders urged China on Monday to improve its human rights record, saying it was in the rising power's own interest, but a visiting official insisted Beijing was making progress.

Opening two days of talks between the world's two largest economies, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both aired concerns about China's sweeping crackdown on dissent in recent weeks.

"We have vigorous disagreement in the area of human rights," Biden said, with top Chinese leaders at his side. "No relationship that's real can be built on a false foundation. Where we disagree, it's important to state it."

"I recognize that some in China see our advocacy of human rights as an intrusion, and Lord only knows what else," Biden said.

But he said that US leaders believe "protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, such as those enshrined in China's international commitments as well as in China's own constitution, is the best way to promote long-term stability and prosperity of any society."

Clinton said that the United States was making "very clear, publicly and privately, our concern about human rights."

"We know over the long arc of history, that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable and successful," she said.

"That has certainly been proven time and time again, but most particularly in the last months," she said, in a likely allusion to pro-democracy protests that have swept the Arab world.

Clinton, without elaborating, said that concerns about human rights in China also affected domestic politics in the United States.

President Barack Obama's administration has sought a broad, cooperative relationship with China, but many members of the US Congress are strongly critical of Beijing over issues from trade to human rights.

Chinese authorities, apparently concerned about the effects of changes in the Middle East, have detained dozens of perceived critics in recent months including world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei, whose outspoken views authorities begrudgingly tolerated in the past.

But State Councilor Dai Bingguo, one of two senior Chinese officials leading the talks in Washington, said that his country was making progress on human rights.

Dai encouraged more Americans to visit the growing Asian power to see "the friendship of the Chinese people."

"You may also learn first-hand the enormous progress China has made in various fields, including in human rights, and get to know what the real China is," he said.

Taiwan in name dispute with UN health agency

TAIPEI, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Taiwan said Monday it would protest to the World Health Organization after the body allegedly told its officials to refer to the island as a province of China, highlighting a decades-old sovereignty dispute.

"We'll launch a protest to the WHO authorities through the foreign ministry's liaison office in Geneva," government spokesman Philip Yang told reporters.

His comments came after Kuan Pi-ling, a lawmaker of the main anti-China opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), released what she said was an internal WHO document obtained from an international organisation.

The memorandum allegedly said WHO communications "must use the terminology 'the Taiwan Province of China'" when referring to Taiwan.

"Information related to the Taiwan Province of China must be listed or shown as falling under China and not separately as if they referred to a state," the memorandum was reported to say.

Taiwan's foreign ministry issued a statement saying "the political position displayed in the document is by no means acceptable".

China still regards Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

It opposes Taiwan participation in -- or attendance at -- international organisations even though the island has ruled itself since a split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

Ties between the two former rivals have improved markedly since Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang came to power in 2008, beefing up trade links and allowing in more Chinese tourists to visit the island.

This is believed to have enabled Taiwan to be invited in 2009 to attend the annual meeting of of the World Health Assembly, the highest decision-making body of WHO, in the name of Chinese Taipei.

Ma has repeatedly hailed the island's participation in the international gathering over the past three years, saying that it was made possible by his detente with China.

Malaysia detains Singaporean over 'militant ties'

KUALA LUMPUR, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysian police are holding a Singaporean under a tough security law on suspicion of channelling funds to an Islamic militant group in the southern Philippines, officials said Monday.

"Abdul Majid Kunji Mohamad is suspected of funnelling funds and providing logistic (aid) to a militant organisation in southern Philippines," Ismail Omar, inspector general of police, said in a statement.

"Abdul Majid Kunji Mohamad was detained because his involvement will endanger Malaysia's security."

Ismail said Abdul Majid, a businessman who lives in Kuala Lumpur, was arrested May 6 in the capital and is being held under the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

Malaysia is assisting the Philippines to broker peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in an effort to end a bloody secessionist war in the restive but mineral-rich region of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines.

A long-running rebellion in the region has left more than 150,000 people dead.

Singapore party mulls reform after landmark polls

SINGAPORE, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is seeking ways to reconnect with voters after its popularity plunged to the lowest point of its half-century rule, commentators said Monday.

Policies on housing, immigration, transport, income distribution and support for the poor -- the hot-button topics on which the opposition hammered the PAP before Saturday's vote -- are all expected to be reviewed.

The PAP, widely credited for leading Singapore to independence and prosperity, won 81 out of 87 parliament seats in Saturday's election but saw its share of the popular vote plunge to an historic low of 60 percent.

Only a system of group voting in which most members of parliament are elected in clusters prevented the opposition from gaining a total number of seats reflecting its 40 percent share of the votes cast.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for "soul searching" within his party after its approval rating plunged in two successive elections -- in 2006, the PAP won 67 percent of the popular vote, down from 75 percent in 2001.

Its best showing was a whopping 84 percent in 1968, three years after his his father Lee Kuan Yew, who co-founded the PAP, led Singapore to independence.

While losing six seats seems minute by global standards, it is significant in Singapore because the PAP has been the dominant party for over 50 years and never lost more than four seats in any election.

"I think soul searching will benefit the party," said Reuben Wong, an assistant professor with the National University of Singapore's political science department.

He said the voters' message to the PAP was that "we know you are giving us economic growth but the wealth must be more equitably distributed; don't take us for granted."

The rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube as  alternatives to PAP-controlled news media also stunned the politically conservative ruling party, which came under withering attack from young Singaporeans.

"I had come to believe that the PAP's systematic use of fear as a strategy to silence critics was so successful that it had become a permanent feature of the Singapore political landscape," said Singapore's most famous writer Catherine Lim.

"Never again can I write about a population muted by fear, and its contemptible off-shoot, self censorship," she wrote in a blog.

Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, who fared even worse than the party by getting only 57 percent of the votes in his district, said there was a "sea change in the political landscape... that tide was very strong."

Prominent socio-political blogger Alex Au said "the degree of frustration and cynicism among the electorate is now of such a level" that people will closely follow if Lee delivers on his promises of change.

"I think it will weigh on (PAP) minds that they cannot take for granted that ministers will be returned to power in future," he added in a blog.

The opposition's success in winning more support -- it never called for the PAP to be toppled -- came after it hit the party on gut issues, from rising costs and a sharp intake of immigrants to the widening income gap and the need to help the poor and senior citizens left behind by rapid progress.

"There is generally likely to be more attention focused on issues relating to the constraints to growth -- namely, housing affordability, the inflow of foreign workers and the quality of life for the 'sandwiched' middle income group," Barclays Capital economist Leong Wai Ho wrote in a commentary.

DBS Bank economist Irvin Seah said the poll outcome "could mark a shift towards policies aimed at sustainable and inclusive growth, and away from headline growth per se."

"Firstly, future budgets may focus more on income distribution to ensure that all Singaporeans benefit from growth," he wrote in a commentary.

Singapore hunts for new foreign minister after poll shock

SINGAPORE, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore has been left with no ready replacement for Foreign Minister George Yeo, the biggest casualty of the city state's general election, a leading think tank warned Monday.

Yeo, one of Southeast Asia's best-known diplomats, led a five-member People's Action Party (PAP) ticket that was toppled by the opposition Workers' Party in Saturday's poll -- the government's worst result since independence.

"One of the most significant outcomes of May 7 has been the defeat of Foreign Minister George Yeo," Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, wrote in the Today newspaper.

"Yeo has emerged in the international community as among the best-recognised and respected of this generation of Singaporean leaders. The next cabinet has no ready replacement for him."

While the PAP lost only six of 87 seats as a result of an electoral system in which most seats are contested in groups, its 60 percent share of all votes cast was the lowest ever for a party that has been in power for 52 years.

Yeo is a former brigadier general who entered politics in 1988 and held various positions including stints as trade minister and information minister before being appointed foreign minister in 2004.

An influential figure in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), he was known as a moderate in a party led by conservatives and graciously accepted his defeat.

"A new chapter has opened in Singapore's history, there's a tide which we were not able to overcome," a visibly shaken Yeo told his supporters in a brief speech after his defeat was confirmed in the early hours of Sunday.

On the eve of the vote, Yeo told the pro-government Straits Times newspaper that "there is considerable resentment against the government and its policies, and some of them run deep."

He said the PAP, in power since 1959, needed to review its policies regardless of the outcome of the election, or risk further losing touch with the electorate.

"We have to listen harder to what people say," he said.

Facebook driving more traffic to news sites: study

WASHINGTON, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Facebook is driving an increasing amount of traffic to news sites but Google remains the top referring service, according to a study published on Monday.

The study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at the behaviour of news consumers online during the first nine months of 2010 using audience statistics from the Nielsen Co.

The study examined the 25 most popular news websites in the United States, looking at how users get to the sites, how long they stay there, how deep they explore a site and where they go when they leave.

An average of 40 percent of the traffic to the top 25 news sites comes from outside referrals, the study found, with Google Search and, to a lesser extent, Google News the single biggest traffic driver.

The Nielsen figures did not break down where the remaining 60 percent of a news site's traffic comes from but the study said much of it stems from direct visits to the home page of a news site.

"Far from obsolete, home pages are usually the most popular page for most of the top news sites," the study said, and were the most viewed part of the site for 21 of the 25 studied.

Google Search was responsible for driving an average of 30 percent of traffic to top news sites with the Drudge Report and Yahoo! also ranking as major traffic drivers.

But social media -- and Facebook in particular -- is "rapidly becoming a competing driver of traffic," the study said.

At five of the top 25 sites, Facebook was the second or third most important driver of traffic.

"If searching for news was the most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next," the study's authors said.

The website drawing the most traffic from Facebook links was The Huffington Post with eight percent of its visitors landing on the site that way.

Twitter, somewhat surprisingly, "barely registers as a referring source," the study found.

Only one website in the top 25 -- the Los Angeles Times with 3.53 percent -- derived more than one percent of its total traffic from Twitter.

Many visitors to top news sites are what the study described as "casual users" people who visit just a few times a month and spend a total of just a few minutes there at a time.

On average, 77 percent of the traffic to the top 25 news sites came from users who visited just one or two times, the study said, with the percentage varying among sites. Yahoo! News, had lowest number of people visiting only once or twice, but it was still more than half at 55 percent.

More loyal and frequent visitors -- what the study called "power users" -- return more than 10 times per month to a particular site and spend over an hour there over that time.

But "power users" make up an average of just seven percent of total users among the top 25 sites, the study said. CNN had the most "power users" -- 18 percent -- while 16 percent of Fox New's audience fell into that category.

Only six sites had "power user" figures in double digits.

"Overall, the findings suggest that there is not one group of news consumers online but several, each of which behaves differently," the study said. "These differences call for news organizations to develop separate strategies to serve and make money from each audience.

"Advertising may help monetize some groups, while subscriptions will work for others."

As for where readers go when they leave a site, Google is a leading destination accounting for up to seven percent of departure links.

The study also noted the divide between Google and Facebook in that Google does not send users to Facebook and vice versa.

"Google and Facebook are increasingly set up as competitors sorting through the material on the Web," it said. "They are two fundamentally different ways to navigate the Web."

The top 25 sites included 11 newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Britain's Daily Mail.

Six were the websites of broadcast or cable television networks -- MSNBC, CNN, ABC, Fox, CBS and the BBC -- and four were pure news aggregators -- Google News, the Examiner, Topix and Bing News.

Three were "hybrid" sites which mix aggregation of other news sources with original reporting -- Yahoo! News, AOL and The Huffington Post -- and one was a wire service, Reuters.

China favours stronger yuan to fight inflation

BEIJING, May  9, 2011 (AFP) - Confronted with fresh US pressure over its currency policy, China appears more willing to let the yuan strengthen at a faster pace to control inflation, its new primary concern, analysts say.

China has let the currency appreciate five percent against the dollar since vowing greater flexibility last June and Beijing has signalled the exchange rate will be used to curb rising prices and growing foreign exchange reserves.

As the world's two biggest economies meet in Washington from Monday for annual high-level talks, Washington will demand faster appreciation but experts say Beijing will go at its own speed and is prepared to change course if exports stall.

"There has been a real shift in the last couple of months," Alistair Thornton, an economist for IHS Global Insight in Beijing, told AFP.

"There's more public acceptance of what is driving inflation -- the exchange rate peg, which generates a lot of domestic liquidity in the economy."

Patrick Chovanec, an economics professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, agreed.

China's leaders are "trying to put out fires and the fire of the day is inflation, and they are willing to allow currency appreciation if that fights inflation -- but only moderately," Chovanec told AFP.

"They are still concerned about the impact it will have on the export sector (and) if they felt they got inflation under control, then their willingness to allow currency appreciation could taper off quite a bit."

The United States has been a strident critic of China's exchange rate policy, which it claims keeps the yuan grossly undervalued against the greenback and artificially cheapens Chinese exports at the cost of US jobs.

On Monday, the central bank set the yuan central parity rate -- the midpoint of an allowed trading band -- at 6.4988 to the dollar, the strongest rate since last June's promise for greater flexibility.

But David Loevinger, a senior Treasury Department official, said Thursday we "absolutely see a change in tone" from China as it confronts inflation.

"Eighteen months ago, the Chinese exchange rate was frozen. Today it's moving," Loevinger told reporters ahead of the two-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Beijing, anxious about inflation's potential to spark social unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, has made tackling soaring food and housing costs its number one priority this year.

But multiple interest rate hikes, tighter lending restrictions and price controls have had little impact. Inflation remained stubbornly high at 5.4 percent in March -- the highest annual rate since July 2008.

Premier Wen Jiabao last month made a rare pledge to increase the flexibility of the yuan's exchange rate to ease price pressures, suggesting top leaders were willing to accept a stronger currency to bring down domestic prices.

In a further sign that Beijing had shifted its stance, People's Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan said last month that the size of China's foreign exchange reserves "exceeds our reasonable requirements".

Central vice governor Yi Gang was quoted by the state-run China Daily on Thursday as saying foreign exchange accumulation was the main source of excess liquidity in China.

For Thornton, those comments were "a real signal that the only way they can cap it (foreign exchange reserves) is by using the yuan appreciation a bit more aggressively".

Foreign currencies used to pay for Chinese exports are snapped up by the central bank in return for yuan, enabling authorities to control the value of the local unit.

The practice adds to China's world-beating foreign exchange stockpile, which soared past $3 trillion at the end of March, and increases the amount of yuan in the domestic economy, fuelling inflation.

Despite the recent gains in the Chinese currency, Loevinger said the United States would press China "to let its exchange rate adjust at a faster pace to correct its still substantial undervaluation".

China made clear on Friday that while it was willing to talk about currency policy, it would not be pushed on the pace of appreciation.

"On these issues, to be frank with you, we have different views that make discussions necessary," Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters.

Beijing was right to be concerned about inflation but a stronger currency was not "a perfect solution" to the problem, said Ben Simpfendorfer, managing director of economic consultancy firm China Insider.

"Capital inflows might rise, for instance, as the currency strengthens, creating even bigger liquidity and asset bubbles," he told AFP.

Singapore opposition makes election breakthrough

SINGAPORE, May  8, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore's ruling party was returned to power Sunday with a huge majority but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted that opposition gains had marked a "distinct shift" in the country's politics.

The People's Action Party (PAP) has ruled since the former British colony became self-governing in 1959 but despite the poll victory, it sank to its lowest ever approval rating and lost a key district to resurgent opponents.

The PAP won 81 of the 87 parliament seats in Saturday's election, down slightly from its 82 out of 84 seats when Singapore last voted in 2006.

Its share of all votes cast -- the equivalent of an approval rating in a country that does not publish surveys about government performance -- fell to an all-time low of 60 percent from 67 percent in 2006 and 75 percent in 2001.

The win by the opposition Workers' Party in six seats may appear modest but it was the opposition's best performance since Singapore became independent from the Malaysian federation in 1965.

It upstages a previous best of four seats in 1991.

The number of seats did not reflect the opposition's 40 per cent share of the total votes cast because most constituencies elect teams of four to six candidates, a system critics see as stacked in favour of the PAP.

"This is a watershed general election," Premier Lee said in a televised post-election address.
"This is a very different world in 2011 as compared to 2006, and a very different Singapore."

He said the PAP would undergo some soul-searching and expressed willingness to work with lawmakers from the opposition.

Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang said the results showed Singaporeans wanted "a more responsive, inclusive, transparent, accountable government" and "a more caring political leadership".

Four days before the election, Lee apologised in public for the government's shortcomings after opponents and voters berated the PAP over the rising cost of living, competition from immigrants and foreign workers, high salaries of cabinet ministers and other grievances.

The opposition relied heavily on the Internet, particularly social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, because the mainstream local media are widely regarded as PAP mouthpieces.

In the most intensely fought contest, Foreign Minister George Yeo and four other PAP candidates lost to the Workers' Party in a group contest, forcing him out of the cabinet.

Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University, stressed the significance of the opposition's first ever win in a group representation constituency (GRC).

"The GRCs have been a cornerstone of one-party dominance in the Singapore state, and the breaking of its GRCs is really allowing a diversity of political views in the country," Welsh said.

Six opposition parties took part in the election with the modest goal of winning more seats from the PAP, dividing electoral districts among themselves to force the ruling party to fight on several fronts.

Despite growing optimism in opposition ranks after the election, Cherian George, one of Singapore's leading social commentators, warned against expecting a radical transformation after the vote.

"The problem is that Singapore society has been systematically depoliticised over the decades and is mired in apathy," he wrote in an essay.

He said the PAP could seize the opportunity to overhaul itself and address Singaporeans' grievances in time for the next election five years from now.

"The sobering truth for the opposition is that the vast majority (of its supporters) will return to their private lives tomorrow, and continue to outsource public affairs to politicians."

The PAP was co-founded by the prime minister's father Lee Kuan Yew, who governed Singapore for 31 years and was re-elected to parliament unopposed on Saturday at the age of 87.

The PAP has long relied on its economic record to convince Singaporeans to return it to power and kept the opposition in check by imposing curbs on political activity -- except during elections.

Tens of thousands of supporters attended opposition rallies during the campaign, far greater than the crowds drawn by the PAP.