2011/06/11

Swiss solar-powered plane set for second cross-border flight

BRUSSELS - SWISS solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse will make its second international flight from Brussels to Paris on Saturday, where it will be showcased at an international air show.

The pioneering aircraft is expected to take off between 1200 and 1600 GMT in Brussels and land around 2200 GMT at the earliest at Le Bourget near Paris, its press office said on Friday, after several delays due to unfavorable weather conditions.

Rain and strong winds will keep the lightweight plane grounded as the maximum wind speed for it to take off safely is seven knots.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA, which has the wingspan of a large airliner but weighs no more than a saloon car, made history in July 2010 as the first manned plane to fly around the clock and through the night on the sun's energy. Last month it completed its first international flight from Switzerland to Belgium.

HB-SIA relies on 12,000 solar cells on its 64m wings to charge the batteries that provide the energy for the 7.45kw electric motors driving four propellers. It holds the endurance and altitude records for a manned solar-powered aeroplane after staying aloft for 26hr, 10min and 19sec above Switzerland, flying at 9,235m. -- AFP

Queen hails king: Actor Colin Firth leads British honours

LONDON - BRITISH actor Colin Firth was rewarded in Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honours list on Saturday after he played her father in Oscar-winning film The King's Speech.

Nobel Prize-winning IVF pioneer Professor Bob Edwards and veteran rock star Bryan Ferry were among hundreds of others honoured.

The queen awarded Firth, 50, who portrayed her father King George VI in the low-key historical drama, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to acting. Just months after he won the best actor Oscar for his role as the stuttering monarch, Firth will enjoy the regal pomp and pageantry of Buckingham Palace for real when he heads to pick up his award.

The queen was reportedly moved by the tale of her father's battle to overcome a speech impediment and deliver a rousing address to his subjects on the eve of World War II with the help of an Australian speech therapist.

While the government decides who receives the honours, the queen must give her formal approval before they are awarded. Meanwhile Britons were delighted that one of their national treasures, game show host Bruce Forsyth, 83, was given a knighthood after years as the face of some of the country's most popular television programmes.

The British honours system is one of the oldest in the world and the awards are handed out twice a year, on the queen's official birthday and at New Year. -- AFP

Japan launches 'research' whaling in NW Pacific

TOKYO, June 11, 2011 (AFP) - Japan sent a whaling fleet to the northwest Pacific for what it called a research hunt Saturday, four months after cutting short a similar mission in the Antarctic due to obstruction by activists.

The three-vessel fleet, led by the Nisshin Maru, plans to catch 260 whales including 100 minkes until late August to study their stomach contents, DNA and other information, according to the Institute of Cetacean Research.

The government-affiliated institute has organised such operations since 1987, citing a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling which allows hunts for scientific research.

Anti-whaling nations and environmentalist groups condemn the activity as a cover for commercial whaling but Japan said it is necessary to substantiate its claim that there is a robust whale population in the world.

The institute said the mission would be its 18th scientific expedition to the northwest Pacific.

On February 18, Japan halted a research hunt in the Antarctic Ocean for the 2010-2011 season, which had been due to run from December until March, because of obstruction by militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd.

The US-based Sea Shepherd, which says its tactics are non-violent but aggressive, hurled paint and stink bombs at whaling ships, snared their propellers with rope, and moved its own boats between the harpoon ships and their prey.

The four-ship fleet killed 172 whales in that season, only about a fifth of its target, the fisheries agency said at that time.

Australia -- which last year launched legal action against Japan's whaling programme at the International Court of Justice -- and New Zealand said they hoped Japan had given up whaling for good.

The institute told Japanese media that there has been no instance of obstructive activities in the northwest Pacific so far but that "we cannot automatically consider the area safe."

Palin received death threats after 2008 nomination

LOS ANGELES, June 11, 2011 (AFP) - Sarah Palin received death threats after she was nominated as Republican John McCain's running mate in 2008 presidential elections, according to emails released Friday, reflecting her meteoric rise.

The then Alaska governor -- and now possible White House candidate -- also emerges as hard-working and very concerned about her image from the 24,000 pages of emails released under a freedom of information request.

"Can you believe it?" Palin wrote in late August 2008, responding to a congratulatory after she was announced as McCain's surprise and controversial pick for vice-presidential nominee.

"He told me yesterday -- it moved fast! Pray! I love you," she added in an email highlighted by the New York Times, which along with other media outlets was rifling through the mass of exchanges released by the state of Alaska.

Just days before the announcement she had been dealing with mundane matters as governor of the northwestern US state, including a request for "Alaska pins and governor pencils (or pens) to drop off at gladys wood elem school today."

In many of the mails Palin -- who is toying with a possible run for the White House next year -- comes across as a hard-working politician, juggling her family and official business on both government and private email accounts.

In the weeks and months after she was catapulted onto the national political stage, she received a number of death threats, the mails reveal.

"She doesn't belong to the NRA (National Rifle Association) to support the right of each citizen to have weapons in an aim of self-defence, but just to support the right of every Southern white citizen to shoot all non-white people legally!" wrote a sender identified as Dominique Villacrouz.

"Sarah Palin MUST BE KILLED," said the mail, highlighted by the Los Angeles Times.

In another message dated Sept. 12, a resident in Antwerp, Belgium, also called for Palin to be shot, saying that "only on that moment justice will be accomplished," the LA Times said.

The northwestern US state released the mails in print form to a number of media outlets, keen to find nuggets as speculation grows that the Tea Party favorite and former Alaskan governor will run for the White House next year.

News outlets including CNN and the Anchorage Daily News asked for Palin's emails to be released in 2008, after Palin became the surprise running-mate of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

At the time officials said they could not be released because of the antiquated electronic databases they were stored on, complicated by the fact that Palin commonly used a Yahoo account to conduct state business.

The release comes as speculation mounts over whether Palin will run for the Republican nomination in next year's election against Democratic President Barack Obama.

Palin has kept the media guessing, including during a "One Nation" bus tour when journalists had to scramble to follow her, with no details given in advance about her travel plans.

CIA chief in bridge-building talks with Pakistan

ISLAMABAD - CIA chief Leon Panetta held talks with top Pakistani military and intelligence officials in Friday, an official said, amid a crisis in relations after the unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The difficult relationship between the two countries - allies in the 'war on terror' - has come under severe strain since US commandos swooped on the Al-Qaeda chief's compound in city of Abbottabad, home to a military academy.

Mr Panetta's visit to Islamabad came on the day when the United States said it had nearly completed a drawdown in military personnel from Pakistan as demanded by Islamabad after relations plummeted over last month's killing of Osama.

The CIA chief discussed the security situation with Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director general of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, according a Pakistani security official.

The official confirmed that issues arising out of the Osama operation were also discussed at Friday's meeting.

There was no official word from the Pakistan army while a spokesman from the US embassy in Islamabad declined to comment. -- AFP

US intelligence to Pakistan compromised: Report

WASHINGTON - US INTELLIGENCE officials have twice handed Islamabad tips about insurgent bomb-making factories, only to find them abandoned before Pakistani troops arrived, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The vacated factories have led US officials to question whether the information had been mistakenly leaked in recent weeks or whether the insurgents had been directly warned by Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, according to the report.

Relations between the two long-time allies have been seriously strained since US commandos raided a compound just a mile from a prestigious military academy deep in Pakistan, killing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been living there undetected for years.

The United States has been trying to bolster its relationship with Pakistan since the May 2 raid, and the information sharing with Islamabad is part of that effort.

The Post said Pakistani officials were given surveillance video in mid-May that located two bomb-making plants in the remote tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. But by the time Pakistani troops arrived on June 4, the sites had been vacated. A senior Pakistani military official said the United States had shared information about weapons storage facilities as well, but these had also been found empty.

'There is a suspicion that perhaps there was a tip-off,' the official told the newspaper. 'It's being looked into by our people, and certainly anybody involved will be taken to task.' -- AFP

UN official, investigator at odds over Libya 'mass rape'

GENEVA - A UN top official took offence on Friday at a UN investigator's description of mass rape claims in Libya as mass hysteria and said it was important to take such allegations seriously.

'I think we should avoid such language. What does it stand for? Does it mean that media has reported repeatedly? Does this constitute hysteria?' asked Ms Margot Wallstroem, the UN special representative of the secretary general on sexual violence in conflict.

'This has been called history's greatest silence. For too long, it was not considered proper to mention rape and sexual violence. That's why it's so important to take it seriously,' she added.

A day earlier, UN human rights investigator Cherif Bassiouni had expressed doubts over claims made on Wednesday by the chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of evidence that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had ordered mass rapes.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo had said that there was evidence the Libyan authorities bought 'Viagra-type' medicines and gave them to troops as part of the official rape policy. Mr Bassiouni, who led a team of investigators to Libya, said that his interpretation was that it was the result of a 'massive hysteria'.

He said he heard charges of such crimes from both sides in Libya, with the government accusing the rebels of a rape policy and the rebels making counter-accusations. The investigator said his team had only heard of three concrete cases of rape and that they hoped to return to investigate these allegations. -- AFP

UN summit adopts Aids targets amid condom dispute

UNITED NATIONS - A UN Aids summit on Friday adopted a landmark declaration setting a target of treating 15 million people with life-saving drugs and ending the mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015.

But Muslim countries and the Vatican protested over the summit statement which encouraged the use of condoms and called for greater emphasis on help for homosexuals, prostitutes and drug addicts.

'We must win our battle against Aids and we will,' said Mr Joseph Deiss, president of the UN General Assembly, after the declaration was passed by consensus at the end of the summit marking the 30th anniversary of the discovery of Aids.

UN countries committed 'to accelerate efforts to achieve the goal of universal access to anti-retroviral treatment'. It aims to place 15 million HIV sufferers in the poorest countries on anti-retroviral treatment by 2015. The international community currently pays for about 6.6 million to receive treatment, according to UN figures.

The accord also aims to end mother-to-child transfer of HIV by 2015 and increase preventative measures for the 'most vulnerable populations'. Health groups have welcomed the declaration, but said the international community must now commit the necessary funds to pay for the targets.

The summit did not make financial commitments. The United Nations estimates the international community will have to find more than US$6 billion (S$7.4 billion) a year to get the extra nine million sufferers onto retroviral treatment. -- AFP

Lagarde favourite as IMF nominations close

WASHINGTON - FRENCH Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was the odds-on favourite to become the next IMF chief as nominations closed on Friday, with her main rival short of any endorsements from major economies.

With much of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) resources now focused on Europe's debt problems, Ms Lagarde was expected to keep the region's lock on the managing director slot, even though many experts said Mexico's central bank governor Agustin Carstens was better-qualified.

Both were still intensely lobbying world leaders for support ahead of the IMF's likely two-week process to choose a new chief from the shortlist.

Ms Lagarde was in Lisbon on Friday for the African Development Bank's annual gathering after holding meetings in China. She will next travel to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Meanwhile Mr Carstens, who is expected in Washington next week, met with Indian leaders in New Delhi on Friday to press his case to be the next IMF chief.

Most observers gave him only a slim chance at beating his European rival, however, given the depth of the IMF's involvement in Europe's crisis. 'In these circumstances it's difficult to win against Christine Lagarde,' said Brookings Institution economist Colin Bradford. -- AFP

US stocks post heavy losses as Dow falls 1.42%

NEW YORK - US STOCK markets closed firmly in the red Friday, with the Dow posting six straight weeks of losses for the first time since 2002.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 172.45 points (1.42 per cent) at 11,951.91 in closing trades.

The broader S&P 500 lost 18.02 points (1.40 per cent) at 1,270.98, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite gave up 41.14 points (1.53 per cent) at 2,643.73.

All but three of the 30 Dow components were down, with Pfizer and Travelers down over three per cent.

Caterpillar, Home Depot, Walt Disney and Boeing all lost over two per cent.

There were few data releases on the calendar to give the market direction, but a sense of malaise prevailed. -- AFP

Alonso fastest on day of chaos in Canada

MONTREAL - FERNANDO Alonso played down his and Ferrari's success in clocking the fastest practice time, but forecast a fun race for the fans in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix.

The 29-year-old Spaniard said he suspected that, despite appearances to the contrary during Friday's chaotic incident and crash-hit day, champions Red Bull would end up quickest in qualifying and once again be the team to beat.

'We also topped the practice in Monaco and then in qualifying (Sebastian) Vettel was one second quicker than us,' he said, issuing a warning to the legions of Ferrari fans who had packed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the day.

'We know tomorrow is the day to put everything into it and we know Red Bull will be very strong and probably the favourite.

'Tomorrow it is supposed to rain and especially on Sunday - so all the job we did today is maybe just for practice because everything can change for tomorrow. So, I think we will stay focused and get ready for a change - be ready for anything.'

Alonso topped Friday's times with a best lap of one minute and 15.107 seconds to pull three-tenths of a second clear of second-fastest Vettel, who bounced back from a heavy crash during the morning session. -- AFP

Opposition leader demands Fifa bribery probe

PORT OF SPAIN - TRINIDAD and Tobago opposition leader Keith Rowley gave police commissioner Dwayne Gibbs until Tuesday to launch a probe into suspended Fifa executives Mohammed bin Hammam and compatriot Jack Warner.

The investigation would centre upon whether or not the two suspended Fifa executive committee members illegally brought US$1 million (S$1.23 million) into the nation.

Warner, who like Rowley is a member of the Trinidad parliament, also serves as Minister of Works and Transport.

Qatari bin Hammam and Warner are among four people suspended by Fifa for alleged roles in the attempted bribery of 25 Caribbean Football Union associations in the build-up to the FIFA presidential elections. Bin Hammam challenged Fifa President Sepp Blatter for the top football post but bowed out after being charged. Blatter was re-elected unopposed on June 1.

Gibbs, who is Canadian, said on Tuesday that there was 'nothing tangible to investigate' regarding the allegations of bribery at a meeting in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain. But Rowley described the stance of Gibbs as 'irresponsible' and 'tantamount to a dereliction of duty'.

'We believe that he is guided by some misguided approach that he is toeing the line of the political directorate,' Rowley said. The penalty for the filing of a false declaration under the Customs Act is a fine of three times the value of the item not so declared or a term of imprisonment of eight years. Rowley did not reveal his next move if his deadline elapsed. -- AFP

Webber tells Red Bull to step it up

MONTREAL - MARK Webber warned his Red Bull team that they need to up their performance if they want to secure front row starts in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix.

After an eventful opening day on Friday, which saw four big crashes and three red flags, the 34-year-old Australian wound up seventh fastest, almost a second slower than pace-setter Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.

Webber said the red flags had hindered his practice schedule, but admitted he was concerned about the pace of rivals McLaren and Ferrari.

'We did all our fuel loads - so we were pretty compromised with the red flags in the end,' he said. 'Not too bad overall, but we need to chip away and get a bit quicker. Fernando was quick, but we need to get a bit more pace.'

Defending champion and Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel crashed in the morning session, but bounced back with the second fastest time behind Alonso in the afternoon.

The 23-year-old leader of this year's title race said: 'I was a bit quick and lost the rear. 'By the time I hit the wall, it was low speed. The crash was quite mild and there was not too much damage to fix.' -- AFP

Dengue vaccine could be ready by 2015

BANGKOK - FRENCH drugs group Sanofi said on Friday that its vaccine against dengue, a mosquito-borne infection that kills thousands of people around the world each year, could be launched in about four years.

'The vaccine could be available... around 2015,' Jean Lang, head of vaccine development at the group's subsidiary Sanofi-Pasteur, told reporters in Bangkok.

The launch date is dependent on regulatory approval in each country based on the results of trials.

The vaccine is the first for dengue to undergo advanced 'Phase III' clinical trials - the final stage before the results are submitted for regulatory approval.

About 4,000 children in the central Thai province of Ratchaburi, one of the worst affected areas in the country, are participating in a study that aims to establish the efficacy of the vaccine.

Dengue causes severe, flu-like symptoms in about 50 million people every year, mainly in developing countries. There are four strains, one of which is a potentially lethal type. -- AFP

Two new elements added to periodic table

WASHINGTON - TWO new elements are being added to the periodic table after they were discovered through a collaboration between US and Russian scientists, a top US chemistry expert said on Friday.

The elements are the first to be added since copernicium in 2009. They have not yet been named, but are known for now as 114 and 116.

'Over the past 250 years, there have been basically 100 new elements discovered,' said Prof Paul Karol, a chemistry professor at Carnegie Mellon University and chair of the committee that recommended the additions. 'But it is becoming more and more difficult to do this so when a new element is discovered, it's actually pretty exciting.'

The pair were found through atom-smasher experiments called cross-bombardments, according to research published by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. The experiments, hosted at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and in cooperation with a US team based at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, smashed calcium together with plutonium to make 114, and calcium with curium for 116.

'So they smash those two together and if they fuse, if they stick, you have then made something that is the sum of the two pieces and that is where the new elements come from,' Prof Karol told AFP. The new elements were first detected in 2004 and 2006, but it took years to confirm them.

Now the naming process gets under way, which could takes weeks or months. 'They have named things after geographic places, sometimes people, Greek gods,' said Prof Karol, noting that the only restriction is that any name must end in -ium. -- AFP

British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor dies

LONDON - BRITISH travel writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose work includes a much-loved account of his teenage journey across 1930s Europe on foot, died Friday at the age of 96, press reports said.

The writer had lived in Greece since the 1960s but returned to England shortly before his death, according to reports citing his publisher John Murray.

He died before finishing the trilogy of books about the year-long walk he made from Rotterdam to Istanbul when he was 18, which included the hugely popular A Time Of Gifts (1977) and Between The Woods And The Water (1986).

Although some people questioned the accuracy of the events he described, Leigh Fermor was hailed for his lyrical writing and his ability to recreate the vivid worlds in which he travelled, as well as his understanding of them.

His own wartime exploits would also have filled a history book. In 1944, as a major in the British army during World War II, Leigh Fermor led a group of British officers and Greek resistance fighters in the audacious capture of the German general in command of Nazi-occupied Crete.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his action and the escapade was later recorded for posterity in a 1957 film, Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde as the intrepid British major. Leigh Fermor was knighted in 2004, a year after the death of his wife, Joan. The couple had no children. -- AFP

Newly published Beatles photos revealed in London

LONDON - FIFTY unpublished photos of The Beatles at their first US concert in 1964 went on show in London on Friday ahead of an auction in New York, offering an intimate glimpse of the band just as they hit the big time.

The black and white shots were taken by photographer Mike Mitchell, who was just 18 years old when the Fab Four, themselves little older, came to his home town of Washington, and presented him with the opportunity of a lifetime.

He was granted exceptional access to the gig at the Washington Coliseum on Feb 11, 1964, just two days after the band's US television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, which was watched by 73 million people.

The photos captured the frenzy and excitement of early Beatlemania, but have been locked away in Mitchell's basement for 46 years.

They are now being displayed at Christie's auction house and at the Hotel Marriot at Grosvenor House in London before being moved to New York for sale at auction on July 20, where they are expected to fetch 100,000 pounds (S$200,820).

'Only later I realised that this Washington concert was considered so important to the eyes of specialists,' Mitchell told AFP. 'It was great, there were all these screaming girls - they were mostly girls - and we were all so young. I loved the music. I identified with it. The sound was so different and so alive.' -- AFP

Unseen Chagall sketchbook to auction in NY

NEW YORK - A NOTEBOOK containing 85 pages of sketches by Marc Chagall, until now never seen in public, will be auctioned June 17 in New York.

The work is being sold by a European collector and is expected to bring in anywhere from US$600,000 (S$741,480) to US$900,000. It has never been on display before, auction house Sotheby's said.

The burgundy leather-bound book originally belonged to Chagall's wife Bella, who filled the first eight pages with Yiddish translations of French poetry.

After Bella Chagall died in the United States in 1944, the painter continued to work in the notebook, filling it with ink, pencil or watercolour sketches. The notebook reflects a 'virtual catalogue' of the artist, according to Sotheby's.

Many pictures depict Chagall with his late wife. Others reflect his lifelong interest in drawing Jewish and Christian imagery and scenes of peasant life from his native Belarus.

Several striking self-portraits appear, one of them showing Chagall as a satyr and another as a drinker staring at a bottle inscribed with his own initials, 'MC'. -- AFP

Unseen Chagall sketchbook to auction in NY

NEW YORK - A NOTEBOOK containing 85 pages of sketches by Marc Chagall, until now never seen in public, will be auctioned June 17 in New York.

The work is being sold by a European collector and is expected to bring in anywhere from US$600,000 (S$741,480) to US$900,000. It has never been on display before, auction house Sotheby's said.

The burgundy leather-bound book originally belonged to Chagall's wife Bella, who filled the first eight pages with Yiddish translations of French poetry.

After Bella Chagall died in the United States in 1944, the painter continued to work in the notebook, filling it with ink, pencil or watercolour sketches. The notebook reflects a 'virtual catalogue' of the artist, according to Sotheby's.

Many pictures depict Chagall with his late wife. Others reflect his lifelong interest in drawing Jewish and Christian imagery and scenes of peasant life from his native Belarus.

Several striking self-portraits appear, one of them showing Chagall as a satyr and another as a drinker staring at a bottle inscribed with his own initials, 'MC'. -- AFP

Facebook tests real-time update feature

SAN FRANCISCO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Facebook on Friday said it is dabbling with a Twitter-like feature that alerts members in real time to what their friends are up to on the social network.

The feature, reportedly called "Happening Now," is being tried by a "fraction of a percent" of Facebook's more than 600 million members, according to the world's leading online social network.

"We are currently testing a feature within News Feed that gives people the ability to see what their friends are commenting on and 'liking,' as these actions are being taken on Facebook," the California company said in an email reply to an AFP inquiry.

"In the coming weeks, as we learn more from this test, we'll keep making improvements and may expand it to more people."

The feature was seen by some as a potential challenge to global microblogging service Twitter, which lets people share what they are thinking, doing, or seeing instantly in messages of 140 or fewer characters.

The new Facebook feature for now apparently alerts people to what friends are doing at the social network.

Facebook tests real-time update feature

SAN FRANCISCO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Facebook on Friday said it is dabbling with a Twitter-like feature that alerts members in real time to what their friends are up to on the social network.

The feature, reportedly called "Happening Now," is being tried by a "fraction of a percent" of Facebook's more than 600 million members, according to the world's leading online social network.

"We are currently testing a feature within News Feed that gives people the ability to see what their friends are commenting on and 'liking,' as these actions are being taken on Facebook," the California company said in an email reply to an AFP inquiry.

"In the coming weeks, as we learn more from this test, we'll keep making improvements and may expand it to more people."

The feature was seen by some as a potential challenge to global microblogging service Twitter, which lets people share what they are thinking, doing, or seeing instantly in messages of 140 or fewer characters.

The new Facebook feature for now apparently alerts people to what friends are doing at the social network.

Alaska publishes Palin emails, media hunts nuggets

LOS ANGELES, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Journalists and others began Friday rifling through thousands of emails by or to Sarah Palin, published in response to a freedom of information request into her correspondence as Alaska governor.

The northwestern US state released the mails in print form to a number of media outlets, keen to find nuggets as speculation grows that the Tea Party favorite and former Alaskan governor will run for the White House next year.

More than 24,000 pages of emails were published, although 2,415 pages the state deems privileged, personal or otherwise exempt will remain under wraps.

The media are not the only ones seeking nuggets in the Palin emails: the New York Times has asked its readers to help it sift through the huge mass of mostly banal material.

For anyone who wants to help in the hunt search engines were set up, including at http://palinemail.msnbc.msn.com/palin2011/allList.html.

News outlets including CNN and the Anchorage Daily News asked for Palin's emails to be released in 2008, after Palin became the surprise running-mate of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

At the time officials said they could not be released because of the antiquated electronic databases they were stored on, complicated by the fact that Palin commonly used a Yahoo account to conduct state business.

The release comes as speculation mounts over whether Palin will run for the Republican nomination in next year's election against Democratic President Barack Obama.

Palin has kept the media guessing, including during a "One Nation" bus tour when journalists had to scramble to follow her, with no details given in advance about her travel plans.

Chinese tourist bus crashes in Sweden, 17 injured: police

STOCKHOLM, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - A bus carrying 44 Chinese tourists, their travel guide and a driver, crashed and flipped on its side in central Sweden on Friday, injuring at least 17 people, police said.

"According to the latest information I have, 17 people have been taken by ambulance to different hospitals in the region," said Thomas Gustafsson, the duty officer in the county of Vaestmanland to the west of Stockholm.

"As far as I know now, no one was seriously injured," he told AFP.

The bus had been taking the tourists from Finland to Copenhagen when it ran off the road near the town of Arboga and flipped over on its side.

The cause of the accident, which was reported to police shortly after 4:30 pm (1430 GMT), had yet to be determined, Gustafsson said.

"The driver may have been going too fast or been blinded by the sun. We really don't know. We're trying to find out now exactly what happened," he said.

Police said the driver was among those injured in the accident.

US urges peaceful end to South China Sea tensions

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - The United States is "troubled" by tensions triggered by a maritime border dispute in the South China Sea, US officials said Friday, calling for a "peaceful" resolution to the crisis.

"We've been troubled by some of these reports about the South China Sea and believe they only serve to raise tensions and don't help with the peace and security of the region," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

"We support a collaborative diplomatic process... and call on all claimants to conform all of their claims, both land and maritime, to international law."

He said the United States and the international community at large share an interest in maintaining maritime security in the region, citing freedom of navigation, economic development and respect for international law.

Beijing says it is committed to peace in the South China Sea, but its more assertive maritime posture has caused concern among regional nations.

Tensions between China and Vietnam are at their highest level in years after Hanoi accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship in May inside its exclusive economic zone in the maritime waters.

On Thursday, Vietnam alleged a similar incident in the zone, saying a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another oil survey ship in its waters.

Beijing countered by warning Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate its sovereignty in disputed South China Sea waters.

The two countries have long-standing disputes over the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and surrounding sea.

Tensions have also risen this year between China and the Philippines, another claimant to the Spratly islands, where Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also say they have a stake.

Vietnam's navy on Friday announced it will hold a live-fire drill in the South China Sea next week.

"We don't support anything that adds to raising the current level of tension; we don't think it's helpful," Toner said.

"What there needs to be is a collaborative diplomatic process, a peaceful process, to resolve various territorial disputes and otherwise," he added. "Shows of force, other gestures like that, just I think raise tensions."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last weekend that clashes may erupt in the South China Sea unless nations with conflicting territorial claims adopt a mechanism to settle disputes peacefully.

IBM circuit heralds era of better mobile gadgets

SAN FRANCISCO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - IBM announced Friday it has designed a circuit the thickness of an atom that ramps up the ability of mobile gadgets to receive signals or even scan people for hidden weapons.

IBM scientists created the circuit from graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb structure considered the thinnest electronic material.

"This research breakthrough has the potential to increase the performance of communication devices that enable people to interact with greater efficiency," said IBM Research science and technology vice president T.C. Chen.

"Just a few days before IBM commemorates its 100th anniversary, our scientists have achieved a nanotechnology milestone which continues the company's century-long pursuit of innovation."

The graphene circuit works as a type of broadband frequency mixer that could improve performance and lower cost of smartphones and other devices with wireless connections, according to IBM.

The circuits have the potential to enable mobile phones to get signals in places where that isn't possible today and even enable security scanners or medical X-ray machines to be more effective with less radiation danger.

IBM said governments and big companies were eager to develop the technology but it was not clear when it might be made commercial.

The company was founded on June 16, 1911 in New York State, where it now has its headquarters in the town of Armonk.

Japan marks three months since tsunami

TOKYO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Japan Saturday marked three months since its  devastating quake-tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis, with the prime minister visiting the disaster zone and thousands set for anti-nuclear protests.

Centre-left Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under heavy opposition pressure to step down over his handling of the March 11 catastrophe, was to make a one-day trip to an area in Iwate prefecture, one of the worst-hit regions.

Kan was to attend a government-sponsored forum in the port town of Kamaishi on ways to improve survivors' lives, said his spokesman, who apologised for the fact that many people were still enduring harsh conditions.

Frustration has run high in Japan as the Fukushima nuclear crisis shows no sign of ending and nearly 100,000 evacuees remain holed up in more than 2,400 crowded shelters, many of them jobless and worried about their future.

Rebuilding the muddy wastelands of the northeastern Tohoku region -- an area now covered in 25 million tons of rubble -- will take up to a decade and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, say experts.

The death toll from the quake -- Japan's biggest on record and the world's fourth largest tectonic event since 1900 -- has topped 23,000, including more than 8,000 people still officially listed as missing by national police.

Radiation is still leaking from the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant,  surrounded by a 20-kilometre (12-mile) no-go zone, which emergency crew hope to bring into stable "cold shutdown" between October and January.

Environmental and anti-nuclear group Greenpeace called on Japan this week to evacuate children and pregnant women from Fukushima town, about 60 kilometres from the stricken plant, because of what it said was high radiation.

Since the disaster, Japan has raised the legal exposure limit for people, including children, from one to 20 millisieverts per year -- matching the safety standard for nuclear industry workers in many countries.

Greenpeace is among organisers of an anti-nuclear rally scheduled for Tokyo  Saturday, where demonstrators were due to observe a minute's silence at 2:46 pm (0546 GMT), the moment the quake struck below the Pacific seafloor.

Aside from their "Energy Shift Parade" in Tokyo, more anti-nuclear rallies were planned nationwide, including in the western cities of Osaka and Hiroshima, which was devastated by a US atomic bomb in 1945.

Protesters also planned a Tokyo demonstration against embattled nuclear plant operator the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), once the world's biggest utility, whose share price has plunged more than 90 percent.

In the wake of the disaster, Kan has said resource-poor Japan will review its energy policy, including its plans for more nuclear reactors, while making solar and other alternative energies new pillars of its energy mix.

No new 'drunk driving' apps for Apple

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Apple, in a move hailed by a group of US senators, has agreed not to allow any new iPhone applications in the App Store that identify police drunk-driving checkpoints.

Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Tom Udall urged Apple, Blackberry maker Research In Motion and Google in March to ban smartphone applications that could help intoxicated drivers avoid police.

The Canada-based RIM immediately complied but Apple and Google initially refused.

Apple, however, changed its App Store guidelines this week to ban future applications that contain information on drunk-driving checkpoints not published by the police.

The senators praised the move but expressed disappointment that the California gadget-maker had declined to remove existing applications from the App Store.

"I commend Apple Inc for taking this important first step towards making our roads and neighborhoods safer from drunk drivers," Reid said. "However, I strongly encourage Apple to take the next responsible step of removing all applications that allow unsafe drivers to evade police checkpoints."

One popular smartphone program, PhantomAlert, asks potential customers on its website: "Tired of traffic tickets? The embarrassment, the time, the points, the frustration, the money?"

"You will be alerted as you approach: Railroad Crossings, Dangerous Intersections, Dangerous Curves, Speed Bumps, Speed Traps, Speed Cameras, Red Light Cameras, School Zones, DUI Checkpoints."

DUI means "driving under the influence," or intoxicated.

Federal agency backs HP inkjet patent complaint

SAN FRANCISCO, June 11, 2011 (AFP) - Hewlett-Packard said Friday that a US federal agency has backed its claim that rival MicroJet Technology Co. was infringing on patents for lucrative inkjet printer cartridges.

The International Trade Commission issued a favorable "initial determination" regarding the validity of HP's patents in the case, according to the California-based computer and printer maker.

HP said the ITC ruled that MicroJet infringed on HP patents while Asia Pacific Microsystems was a "contributory infringer."

"HP is pleased with the outcome on these matters and the ITC's pursuit of legal enforcement against practices that violate intellectual property rights," said HP executive Andy Binder.

The decision was reportedly based on the quasi-judicial federal agency's investigation of a complaint filed a year ago about importation of printer cartridges featuring HP's patented technology.

Federal agency backs HP inkjet patent complaint

SAN FRANCISCO, June 11, 2011 (AFP) - Hewlett-Packard said Friday that a US federal agency has backed its claim that rival MicroJet Technology Co. was infringing on patents for lucrative inkjet printer cartridges.

The International Trade Commission issued a favorable "initial determination" regarding the validity of HP's patents in the case, according to the California-based computer and printer maker.

HP said the ITC ruled that MicroJet infringed on HP patents while Asia Pacific Microsystems was a "contributory infringer."

"HP is pleased with the outcome on these matters and the ITC's pursuit of legal enforcement against practices that violate intellectual property rights," said HP executive Andy Binder.

The decision was reportedly based on the quasi-judicial federal agency's investigation of a complaint filed a year ago about importation of printer cartridges featuring HP's patented technology.

Electronic Arts merging big games, gadgets

LOS ANGELES, June 11, 2011 (AFP) - US videogame publishing titan Electronic Arts is merging blockbuster titles with social play, popular new gadgets and downloadable content in a changing world of interactive entertainment.

"Historically, as a publisher, you developed a game, packed it on a disk, shipped it and then started work on your next game," said EA vice president and managing director of Southern Europe Pascal Brochier.

"The Web has helped us expand with multi-player and downloadable content to extend incredible gaming experiences," he continued during an interview at the Electronic Entertainment Expo this week in Los Angeles.

"Multi-platform enables us to follow gamers where they want to be."

Crowds of industry insiders and press jockeyed for behind-closed-doors glimpses at eagerly-awaited EA releases such as "FIFA 12" and "Mass Effect 3."

Long queues formed for looks at hot shooter title "Battlefield 3" and a new installment to racing franchise "Need for Speed" that for the first time gets virtual drivers out of their cars.

EA is taking the beloved "Star Wars" science fiction saga to a new frontier in the form of a "massively multi-player online" game that people around the world will be able to immerse themselves in using personal computers.

More than a million people signed up for a test phase of "Star Wars: Old Republic," which EA is due to release later this year.

EA has been focusing its resources on fewer, bigger games and working to adapt versions of titles to popular smart gadgets.

"I think we are in a very sweet spot in the sense that we embraced multi-platform fairly early on," Brochier said of EA's strategy of publishing versions of games for a variety of consoles and other devices.

"You can start 'FIFA' in the living room on your TV and then engage with it on the go," he continued. "The iPad, iPhone, social gaming... It's not the same play, but it is the best football game available."

EA last week launched an Origin.com online shop for videogame offerings.

Origin will have exclusive limited edition copies of hot games, including "Battlefield 3" and "FIFA 12," as well as upcoming titles such as "Alice: Madness Returns" made by the California company's partners.

Origin will eventually let people see what friends are playing and where, according to EA.

"We're committed to offering consumers direct access to great content and community in a way they have never experienced before," said EA chief executive John Riccitiello.

Origin will also link to smartphones to let people connect and play games such as "Scrabble" and "Battlefield 3" with friends on the move.

"We think the growth of this industry is correlated to the social element of it," Brochier said.

He saw social games as being in their infancy with much potential to grow.

Popular online social games such as "Farmville" or "Words With Friends" tend to be "asynchronous" with friend's not playing together when moves are made.

Brochier believed social play would become more real-time and personal.

For example, EA released a "Need for Speed" title that challenges a player to complete a course and then shows a shadow of that car as a competitor when a friend takes on the same virtual track at another time.

"I definitely think elements that allow you to share are the future," Brochier said. "We are going to start seeing socially relevant experiences."

In the coming months, EA will launch a "Sims Social" game on Facebook that lets people play a version of the virtual world game that features friends at the social network and evidently allows for activities such as flirting.

EA has reportedly sold about 140 million copies of "Sims" videogames.

"It is not just technology, you have to have great content," Brochier said above the din of the packed EA booth. "A lot of companies have exited the business; it is difficult to have content and technology."

Three nuclear workers exposed to high radiation

TOKYO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Three male emergency workers at a crippled Japanese nuclear plant have been exposed to more than twice the legally permitted level of radiation, an official watchdog agency said Friday.

A man in his 30s was confirmed to have been exposed to 678 millisieverts of radiation, while a man in his 40s received 643 millisieverts, according to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

The agency said another man in his 50s was found to have received more than the 250 millisieverts of exposure allowed for emergency crews working at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

None of the men have shown immediate signs of illnesses, the agency said.

The men in their 30s and 40s have worked at various areas of the nuclear plant since March 11, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami damaged the nuclear plant, which has been emitting radioaction ever since.

Details about the older man were not immediately available.

The safety agency's spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said the government issued a warning to the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and demanded the utility draft measures to prevent similar incidents.

"It is extremely regrettable that TEPCO brought this" to the workers, Nishiyama told a press conference.

In March, three workers were treated after stepping in radioactive water during efforts to install cables and restore critical reactor cooling systems at the plant.

Spanish police swoop on vigilante hackers

MADRID, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Spanish police said Friday they had nabbed three hackers from vigilante group Anonymous for online attacks on Sony PlayStation and the governments of Egypt, Libya and Iran among others.

The trio were suspected leaders of the Spanish operations of Anonymous, a so-called "hacktivist" group that breaks into computers online to pursue an agenda of political activism.

Officers snatched the three in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, Valencia in the east and Almeria in the southeast.

One of the suspects, aged 31, had a server at his home in the northern city of Gijon to run attacks on government, financial and business sites worldwide, police said.

They are accused of hacking the Sony PlayStation online shop, the sites of major banks BBVA and Bankia, Italian power company Enel, and the governments of Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand.

A police technological investigation squad analysed more than two million lines recorded on web pages and chats to track down the leadership who took decisions and launched the online hacks, they said.

It is unclear if the suspects are accused of a role in the massive online attacks in April on Sony, which only this month restored PlayStation Network services everywhere except Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

The Sony attack was one of the biggest data breaches since the advent of the Internet. The user names, passwords, addresses and birth dates of more than 100 million people may have been compromised.

Sony later suffered attacks on websites including in Greece, Thailand and Indonesia.

The Internet vigilante group has denied carrying out the attack on Sony's online services, but said it could not rule out that some of its members were responsible.

According to Spanish police, Anonymous is organized in independent cells which coordinate to launch simultaneous "denial of service" attacks on Internet sites.

In these attacks, web servers crash under the sheer volume of connections made by "zombie" computers worldwide that have been infected with a virus and enslaved to carry out the hackers' commands.

The cell is also accused of attacking Spain's central election commission on May 18, four days ahead of regional elections, and later targeting both the Catalan police and the major UGT labour union.

The three arrested were "IT experts" who were capable of encrypting their exchanges, said Manuel Vazquez, the head of the police technology investigation unit.

Two of them had no Internet connection at home so as not to raise suspicions, and instead "piggybacked" on the wireless WiFi systems of neighbours, he told a news conference.

They also "helped people who wanted to take part in attacks to reconfigure their computers" and used a "manual on ways remaining anonymous on the Internet," said Vazquez.

Police said they launched the investigation in October 2010 after the culture ministry filed a complaint over online attacks mounted in protest at legislation to curb illegal downloads.

It was the first Spanish police operation against Anonymous, which has only been subject to similar police action in the United States and Britain, because of the complex security measures members take to guard their anonymity, the police statement said.

Japan woman lost in Himalayas survived on bamboo

KATHMANDU, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - A Japanese woman who was missing for 12 days in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal told on Friday how she survived by eating bamboo shoots and drinking water.

Makiko Iwafuchi, 49, left her hotel on May 25 to trek to a nearby lake in Gosaikunda, a religious site for Hindus located at an altitude of 4,380 metres (14,370 feet).

But she lost her way in a forest and was only saved when a group of pilgrims finally found her by accident.

"The trail seemed pretty clear and I thought I would not get lost. I was confused and took the wrong trail," Iwafuchi, an experienced trekker, told reporters in Kathmandu.

"For two days, I didn't move. (I) stayed in a small cave. I thought about the food I would like to eat when I got back," she recalled. "I ate leaves, bamboo shoots and drank a lot of water."

Iwafuchi, a former jewellery trader who is now a full-time traveller, appeared exhausted and had minor injuries to her feet, but otherwise suffered no serious effects from her ordeal.

"When I heard the pilgrims, I felt it was like a miracle. I thanked God for saving me," she said. "Now on I won't trek alone. I've learned a lesson from this experience."

Nepal hosts thousands of trekkers and mountaineers annually. The country has eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, including the highest, Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres.

Expert warns NATO of cyber arms race

TALLINN, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - The world is entering an era of a cyber arms race where ever-more sophisticated versions of malware are the weapons of choice of actors often impossible to trace, a top IT expert told NATO Friday.

"We are entering the era of a cyber arms race, but the problem in this arms race is we don't know what kind of new arms the others have, so we don't have a quick, effective means to counter them," Mikko Hypponen said at a meeting on global cyber conflict organised by the Tallinn-based NATO Cyber Centre.

"And we often don't know also who is in charge, who has these weapons," said the Finn, who works for a top global IT security firm.

Hypponen is known for having been involved in weeding out the feared Storm and Stuxnet computer worms and has assisted authorities in the United States, Europe and Asia in cracking global cyber crime.

He singled out defence contractors, government and non-governmental organisations as the "three main large target groups of hackers."

"We are following daily how hackers break into computers and take them over without users having the slightest idea what is going on," Hypponen said.

"The damage arrives usually with the attachment from a sender you know or trust fully, having been linked even to mail looking like arriving from the US Department of Defence, World Bank, United Nations etc., but having in fact nothing to do with them," he added.

He said failures in a widely-used documents system were largely to blame.

"Current technologies are simply failing," charged Chris Brown, an expert from US network security company NetWitness.

"People underestimate the complexity and capability of cyber threat and are not taking proactive steps," he warned.

A NATO official announced this week at the Tallinn conference that the alliance plans to beef up its cyber defence capabilities with the creation of a special task force to detect and respond to Internet attacks.

The Symantec cyber security firm recently reported that web-based attacks in 2010 were up 93 percent from 2009.

The June 7-10 NATO cyber security conference attended by 300 top IT experts from across the globe focuses on the legal and political aspects of national and global Internet security.

Tweets tip off NATO on potential Libya air raids

BRUSSELS, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Twitter as a weapon of war? NATO has scrambled warplanes against Moamer Kadhafi's forces after Libyans tweeted troop movements on the micro-blogging website, alliance officials said.

Twitter and Facebook are among a wide range of media and other sources NATO's intelligence officers monitor around-the-clock to identify potential targets in the air war against Kadhafi's troops, the officials said.

"We will take information from every source we can," said British Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the Libya operation's military spokesman. "We get information from open sources on the Internet, we get Twitter."

A NATO official said Libyans have been tweeting from the rebel-held city of Misrata, Ajdabiya and Tripoli, providing information ranging from movements of troops and tank columns to shellings of towns and fleeing refugees.

"Twitter is a great source," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The official stressed that any information gleaned from the website is checked against other more reliable sources such as satellite imagery and other traditional intelligence gathering before any jets are deployed.

"On their own they don't represent a reliable source but they do help to draw attention to emerging issues or threats that can be checked out with more sophisticated means," the official added.

The United Nations mandate that authorised that NATO mission in Libya forbids the presence of ground troops, forcing the alliance to rely on other sources of information.

RIM offering PlayBook outside North America

MONTREAL, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Blackberry maker Research In Motion announced plans Friday to begin selling its new touchscreen tablet computer, the PlayBook, outside of North America.

RIM said the PlayBook would go on sale in Australia, Britain, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela over the next 30 days.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM released the PlayBook in April to mixed reviews. The device is RIM's answer to Apple's hot-selling iPad and its first foray outside the mobile phone realm.

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

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

In May, RIM recalled around 1,000 PlayBooks because of an operating system issue.

Ex-NSA official pleads guilty in leak case

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - A former senior official in the top secret US National Security Agency at the center of a probe into leaks of classified information pleaded guilty Friday to charges of unauthorized computer access, officials said.

Thomas Drake, 54, had been accused of leaking classified information to a newspaper reporter and charged with illegally retaining classified information, obstructing justice and making false statements.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the government filed a motion to dismiss the pending indictment against Drake at the time of his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 15, the Justice Department said.

"In cases involving classified information, we must always strike the careful balance between holding accountable those who break our laws, while not disclosing highly sensitive information that our intelligence agencies conclude would be harmful to our nation's security if used at trial," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in a statement.

The plea deal came after prosecutors told a US district judge they would withhold some documents they had planned to introduce as evidence out of concern that releasing them would disclose sensitive technology information and harm national security.

Drake could have faced up to 35 years behind bars, but under the plea deal he will instead plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misusing a government computer to share data with someone without authorization, and according to court documents, the government will not seek jail time.

The bargain came days before Drake was due to go on trial Monday in the US District Court in Baltimore on 10 felony counts, all of which will now be dropped.

The plea documents said Drake "intentionally accessed" the NSA's internal intranet NSANet from about February 2006 to March 2007.

He then "obtained official NSA information, and provided said information orally and in writing to another person not permitted or authorized to receive the same."

In doing so, Drake "knew that he exceeded his authorized use of NSANet each time he accessed" it, the papers added.

A high-ranking employee at the NSA between 2001 and 2008, Drake is alleged to have provided information to a reporter for a series of articles published between February 2006 and November 2007 about the NSA and its activities.

The information concerned the Signals Intelligence programs (SIGINT), which are used in the capturing and processing of foreign communications.

While the indictment did not identify the reporter, it was believed to be Siobhan Gorman, who now works for The Wall Street Journal.

According to the indictment, Drake left the agency's Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters in 2006 to work at the National Defense University in Washington but remained an NSA employee.

His security clearance was suspended in November 2007 and he resigned from the NSA in April 2008.

Using Hushmail, a secure email service, Drake allegedly exchanged hundreds of emails with "Reporter A," and they met on six occasions in the Washington area, according to the indictment.

He used the email service to transmit both classified and unclassified documents never intended to be made public and then allegedly shredded them and lied to federal agents about his conduct, according to prosecutors.

The government had charged Drake using the 1917 Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to hold classified material without authorization, but President Barack Obama's administration abandoned those efforts last year.

Ex-NSA official pleads guilty in leak case

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - A former senior official in the top secret US National Security Agency at the center of a probe into leaks of classified information pleaded guilty Friday to charges of unauthorized computer access, officials said.

Thomas Drake, 54, had been accused of leaking classified information to a newspaper reporter and charged with illegally retaining classified information, obstructing justice and making false statements.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the government filed a motion to dismiss the pending indictment against Drake at the time of his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 15, the Justice Department said.

"In cases involving classified information, we must always strike the careful balance between holding accountable those who break our laws, while not disclosing highly sensitive information that our intelligence agencies conclude would be harmful to our nation's security if used at trial," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in a statement.

The plea deal came after prosecutors told a US district judge they would withhold some documents they had planned to introduce as evidence out of concern that releasing them would disclose sensitive technology information and harm national security.

Drake could have faced up to 35 years behind bars, but under the plea deal he will instead plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misusing a government computer to share data with someone without authorization, and according to court documents, the government will not seek jail time.

The bargain came days before Drake was due to go on trial Monday in the US District Court in Baltimore on 10 felony counts, all of which will now be dropped.

The plea documents said Drake "intentionally accessed" the NSA's internal intranet NSANet from about February 2006 to March 2007.

He then "obtained official NSA information, and provided said information orally and in writing to another person not permitted or authorized to receive the same."

In doing so, Drake "knew that he exceeded his authorized use of NSANet each time he accessed" it, the papers added.

A high-ranking employee at the NSA between 2001 and 2008, Drake is alleged to have provided information to a reporter for a series of articles published between February 2006 and November 2007 about the NSA and its activities.

The information concerned the Signals Intelligence programs (SIGINT), which are used in the capturing and processing of foreign communications.

While the indictment did not identify the reporter, it was believed to be Siobhan Gorman, who now works for The Wall Street Journal.

According to the indictment, Drake left the agency's Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters in 2006 to work at the National Defense University in Washington but remained an NSA employee.

His security clearance was suspended in November 2007 and he resigned from the NSA in April 2008.

Using Hushmail, a secure email service, Drake allegedly exchanged hundreds of emails with "Reporter A," and they met on six occasions in the Washington area, according to the indictment.

He used the email service to transmit both classified and unclassified documents never intended to be made public and then allegedly shredded them and lied to federal agents about his conduct, according to prosecutors.

The government had charged Drake using the 1917 Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to hold classified material without authorization, but President Barack Obama's administration abandoned those efforts last year.

Hong Kong orders recall of Glaxo children's drug

HONG KONG, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Hong Kong has ordered pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to recall an antibiotic used to treat infections in children which contained a chemical additive twice recommended European safety limits.

A government spokesman said Friday that tests revealed the Augmentin antibiotic syrup produced by the British firm's French factory contained an unsafe level of a plasticiser known as Diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP).

France's drug regulator had been notified of the syrup recall on Thursday, he added.

The drugs maker is the latest company to become embroiled in a scare over plasticisers -- chemicals used to make plastic pliable -- with Hong Kong banning several Taiwanese drinks in recent weeks after tests showed they were tainted with excessive amounts of another plasticiser.

Taiwan has issued a major recall of products, including nearly half a million bottles of sports drinks and fruit juice, over fears they contained the chemical used in plastics.

GlaxoSmithKline's popular Augmentin powder was found to contain twice Europe's limit for DIDP in food, the spokesman said, adding that long-term consumption at high levels may have adverse effects on the liver.

"(GlaxoSmithKline) has failed to demonstrate the safety of the tainted product to our satisfaction. The threat to public health cannot be ruled out as this stage," the spokesman added.

But the firm appeared to contradict Hong Kong's findings, saying the "level of DIDP exposure identified as present in the sample tested is significantly lower than the levels that the US and European authorities deem to present a level of risk."

The firm added that is does not "intentionally" use the additive in its products, but said phthalates "are ubiquitous and are present as trace compounds in the environment and in many common items of daily consumption."

Hong Kong's undersecretary for food and health Gabriel Leung told reporters Friday: "Existing laws provide us with the option of revoking the licence of any medication with problems."

"We will seek advice from the Department of Justice to see if further legal action shall be taken," he added.

The Hong Kong health department did not say how much of the syrup was available in the teeming city of seven million.

Hong Kong also announced early Friday that it would ban the import of all fruit syrup produced by manufacturer Jin Zhuan Lifesciences Enterprise in Taiwan over concerns about plasticiser additives.

China, the Philippines and South Korea have also limited imports or sales of foodstuffs from Taiwan after the alarm was raised over the chemical DEHP, which can cause hormone malfunctions in children.

China cracks the whip on affordable housing

SHANGHAI, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - China's housing authorities said Friday construction of 10 million state-subsidised apartments must start by the end of November in order to meet this year's target, calling it a "political mission".

The housing ministry issued the urgent statement after state media said this week that a lack of funding and low profit margins for developers meant it "would be very difficult" for all low-income housing projects to start on time.

"The plan to build up to 10 million affordable homes is not only an economic mission but also a political mission. It's a promise made by the central government to the nation's people," the ministry said.

"All local (governments) must start full-scale construction by the end of November."

China's public housing programme has been neglected for years as local governments eager to cash in on soaring property prices sold land to developers for high-end projects.

Faced with growing public anxiety over rising costs, Premier Wen Jiabao told China's legislature in March the government would ramp up a campaign to build affordable housing for the country's millions of low-income earners.

The subsidised housing will cost an estimated 1.3 trillion yuan ($200 billion), with about 500 billion yuan provided by the central and local governments and the rest coming from the private sector, Xinhua news agency said.

But less than one-third of the low-income homes to be built this year in some cities had started due to a lack of funds and some projects had quality problems, Xinhua said.

Authorities hope the social housing programme will soften the impact of a slowdown in the residential property market as China tries to restrict bank lending and avoid a potentially damaging property bubble.

Vietnam websites hacked amid China row

HANOI, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - More than 200 Vietnamese websites have been attacked and some defaced with Chinese flags, an Internet security firm said Friday as a maritime dispute raises tensions between the countries.

The ministries of agriculture and foreign affairs are among those targeted since the beginning of June, said Nguyen Minh Duc, director of the state-linked Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Centre (BKIS).

Hackers sometimes left "information in Chinese and Chinese flags," he told AFP.

"We don't yet know if it concerns Chinese hackers," Duc said.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga told reporters on Thursday that "a number" of Vietnamese websites had been hacked, including one from the ministry's translation centre.

Tensions between China and Vietnam are at their highest level in years after Hanoi accused three Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship in May inside its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

On Thursday Vietnam alleged a similar incident, saying a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another oil survey ship in its waters.

Beijing countered by warning Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate its sovereignty in disputed South China Sea waters.

The two countries have long-standing disputes over the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and surrounding waters.

Hundreds of people held a peaceful anti-China protest outside Beijing's embassy in Hanoi on Sunday, the largest action of its kind since 2007.

Protests are rare in authoritarian Vietnam but web users have been debating whether or not to hold another rally.

Japan warns of post-quake mental health risks

TOKYO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - A Japanese government report on suicide prevention warned Friday of the mental health burden for survivors of the quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters three months ago.

In the annual white paper on suicide, Tokyo warned that many disaster survivors might experience long-term anxiety although their symptoms may be more moderate than with clinical conditions such as depression.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on March 11 in northern Japan traumatised many people in the region, wrote Yoshiharu Kim, director of adult mental health at the National Institute of Mental Health.

"People tend to feel a sense of guilt after surviving when those who tried to escape the disasters with them died," he wrote in the paper.

"Adding to the shock of having to see damaged bodies (to identify dead family members), concerns have been raised for chronic depressive conditions and complex grief" among survivors, he said.

The natural disasters, which left more 23,000 people dead or missing, triggered the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 and forced hundreds of thousands of residents to leave their homes.

The government should offer mental health screenings to help affected individuals get referred to specialists, Kim wrote.

Japan, with more than 30,000 suicides a year in a population of 128 million, has long had one of the world's highest suicide rates, behind only a group of former Soviet bloc countries, says the World Health Organization.

Japan warns of post-quake mental health risks

TOKYO, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - A Japanese government report on suicide prevention warned Friday of the mental health burden for survivors of the quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters three months ago.

In the annual white paper on suicide, Tokyo warned that many disaster survivors might experience long-term anxiety although their symptoms may be more moderate than with clinical conditions such as depression.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami on March 11 in northern Japan traumatised many people in the region, wrote Yoshiharu Kim, director of adult mental health at the National Institute of Mental Health.

"People tend to feel a sense of guilt after surviving when those who tried to escape the disasters with them died," he wrote in the paper.

"Adding to the shock of having to see damaged bodies (to identify dead family members), concerns have been raised for chronic depressive conditions and complex grief" among survivors, he said.

The natural disasters, which left more 23,000 people dead or missing, triggered the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 and forced hundreds of thousands of residents to leave their homes.

The government should offer mental health screenings to help affected individuals get referred to specialists, Kim wrote.

Japan, with more than 30,000 suicides a year in a population of 128 million, has long had one of the world's highest suicide rates, behind only a group of former Soviet bloc countries, says the World Health Organization.

600 arrested in Asia-wide crime bust

TAIPEI, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Nearly 600 people, mostly Taiwanese and Chinese, were rounded up across Asia for suspected massive online fraud in a rare example of regional police coordination, officials said Friday.

Taiwanese police said 598 suspects, including 410 Taiwanese and 181 Chinese nationals, were nabbed in a carefully planned operation involving law enforcers from half a dozen countries.

They were detained in Taiwan, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on Thursday for allegedly running Internet and telephone scams mainly targeting mainland Chinese, said Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau.

"This will deal a heavy blow to the fraud rings and help substantially reduce fraud cases," said Taiwan's police chief Wang Cho-chiun.

"This was also the first time Taiwan and China police jointly investigated cases in a third country and we believe this will set an example in joint crime-fighting," he told reporters.

Details of the scams are sketchy and appeared to have varied from country to country, but police believe thousands of people were taken in.

In Taiwan alone, more than 800 policemen were mobilised to arrest suspected local swindlers, with Tw$1.33 million ($458,000) in cash confiscated.

In Indonesia and Cambodia, 177 and 166 people respectively were held. Taiwan said it expected Cambodia to deport many of the detainees to the island later Friday.

Cambodia's Interior Ministry said in a statement the crackdown was made "in collaboration with the ministry of public security of the People's Republic of China".

The nationwide raids in Cambodia followed numerous victim complaints, a police spokesman said, adding that the suspects had "many tricks" to extort funds.

In Malaysia, police on Borneo island arrested 27 Chinese and 10 Taiwanese for allegedly duping people into paying fake traffic fines, the official news agency Bernama and New Straits Times daily reported.

The group in Malaysia is accused of calling individuals in China and telling them they had been issued a traffic summons, asking them to pay money into an online account to settle the fine or face court action.

Thai police said they had arrested four suspects, one Taiwanese woman and three Thais, in raids on seven locations in Bangkok based on information provided by Taiwanese police.

The element of surprise was key for the scam artists, said police there.

"The two main tricks are to surprise the victim, for instance by telling them they have won the lottery, or to frighten them by saying their bank account or credit card was suspended," said Colonel Phanthana Nutchanart.

Taiwanese fraud rings have recently relocated to Southeast Asia after the island's police joined forces with Chinese authorities to bust their operations.

Jakarta's police chief Sutarman, who goes by one name, said Chinese and Taiwanese had been arrested in 15 different locations in the Indonesian capital "following requests by Chinese and Taiwanese police".

He said the suspects would rent houses with broadband access and make phone calls over the Internet "to many victims in China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam in which they posed as an official to extort money".

Philippines calls for truce on Spratlys squabble

MANILA, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - The Philippines, which has been engaged in an ongoing spat with China over conflicting claims to the Spratlys islands, on Friday called on all claimants to put a halt to "inflammatory statements".

President Benigno Aquino's spokesman said the Philippines was "committed to dialogue with other claimants" after earlier accusations of Chinese intimidation in the South China Sea.

"We call on all parties to refrain from inflammatory statements that would make it more difficult to reach a mutually agreeable solution," spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

"It is better for the parties to talk away from the cameras so that we could have a peaceful dialogue," he told reporters.

In the past two weeks, the Philippines has publicly accused Chinese forces of being behind seven confrontations with Filipinos in the Spratlys in less than four months.

However, Chinese ambassador Liu Jianchao said the reported incidents were mere "rumours" or exaggeration, even as he asserted China's claim to the reputedly oil-rich Spratlys island chain.

The islands are claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Lacierda's statements came before Vietnam announced it would conduct a live-fire drill in the South China Sea next week, raising tensions further.

Vietnam to hold live-fire drill as China rift grows

HANOI, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Vietnam announced Friday that it would hold a live-fire naval drill next week in the South China Sea as an escalating maritime dispute fuels tensions with Beijing.

Relations between China and Vietnam are at their worst in years as the two countries trade accusations over recent confrontations between their ships in potentially energy-rich contested waters.

A Vietnamese naval officer told AFP that the six hours of live-fire exercises would be held on Monday around Hon Ong island, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) off Quang Nam province in central Vietnam.

The officer declined to give the reason for the night drill or say how many vessels would be involved.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said the exercises were part of routine annual training.

Tensions between the communist neighbours have risen sharply after Hanoi accused Chinese marine surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship in May inside its exclusive economic zone, where the drill will be.

On Thursday Vietnam alleged a similar incident in the zone, saying a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another oil survey ship in its waters, describing it as a "premeditated" attack.

Beijing countered by warning Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate its sovereignty in disputed South China Sea waters.

The two countries have long-standing disputes over the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly archipelagos and surrounding sea.

The area where the live-fire exercise is planned is about 250 kilometres from the Paracels and almost 1,000 kms from the Spratlys.

Carl Thayer, a veteran analyst of Vietnam and the South China Sea, said the drill would be a way for Vietnam to send a message, after China on Thursday also said it would conduct naval exercises.

Thayer said Vietnam was firing "a soft warning shot across the bow, rather than a real one."

But he added such drills were not unprecedented as Vietnam held an air-defence drill on land about two months ago.

In a sign of how seriously Hanoi views the situation, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung this week vowed to protect Vietnam's "incontestable" sovereignty of the Paracels and Spratlys.

Vietnam said it has since deployed eight boats to "escort" the ship involved in the May incident, without saying what kind of vessels. Analysts say the move raises the stakes in the dispute.

Beijing says it is committed to peace in the South China Sea, but its more assertive maritime posture has caused concern among regional nations.

Tensions have also risen this year between China and the Philippines, another claimant to the Spratlys, where Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also say they have a stake.

"Nobody wants war but when there is an escalation we will act," vice defence minister Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh told local media earlier this week.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last weekend that clashes may erupt in the South China Sea unless nations with conflicting territorial claims adopt a mechanism to settle disputes peacefully.

Hundreds of people held a peaceful anti-China protest outside Beijing's embassy in Hanoi on Sunday, the largest action of its kind since 2007. Protests are rare in authoritarian Vietnam.

Tensions have also spread to the Internet.

More than 200 Vietnamese websites have been attacked and some defaced with Chinese flags, an Internet security firm said Friday.

The ministries of agriculture and foreign affairs are among those targeted since the beginning of June, said Nguyen Minh Duc, director of the state-linked Bach Khoa Internetwork Security Centre.

"We don't yet know if it concerns Chinese hackers," Duc said.

2011/06/10

Mexico trove of 1,200 Kahlo works all frauds: Experts

MEXICO CITY - EXPERTS said on Thursday that a trove of 1,200 art works displayed at prominent Mexican gallery as the work of famed artist Frida Kahlo are forgeries.

The works, owned by the art dealer Carlos Noyola and his wife, had been on exhibit at a gallery in San Miguel Allende in central Mexico. But experts said there was no chance that the works could be genuine.

'The works in question are not authentic,' Hilda Trujillo, director of the Frida Kahlo museum, told AFP. 'All of the pieces are signed exactly the same way, while Frida used different signatures,' she said.

'Nowhere is this trove of works documented - much less a reserve of this size,' said Carlos Phillips Olmedo, another expert affiliated with the Kahlo Museum. The couple who owns the pieces, which include oil paintings, sketches, letters and other documents, claim to have purchased them in 2005.

Law enforcement officials said no criminal charges had been filed against the couple, because they are alleged simply to have claimed that the works were by Kahlo, and not to have actually created the forgeries.

Frida Kahlo, who lived from 1907 to 1954, is best known for her haunting self portraits, but she also celebrated women and indigenous traditions in her surrealistic paintings. -- AFP

William and Catherine dazzle at charity gala

LONDON - PRINCE William and his new wife Catherine laughed and smiled as they mingled with celebrity guests at their first official engagement in the gardens of Kensington Palace on Thursday.

Wearing a shimmering, dusty-pink cap-sleeve gown by Jenny Packham, the new Duchess of Cambridge and her husband were guests of honour at a lavish gala dinner hosted by financier Arpad Busson for his children's charity ARK.

Busson welcomed the couple as they arrived to join other supporters like artists Tracey Emin and Anish Kapoor and actor Kevin Spacey, who had all paid 10,000 pounds (S$20,143) a head to attend the banquet in the heart of London.

William, in a black dinner jacket and bow-tie, and Catherine, wearing her hair down and looking relaxed, were attending on behalf of the charitable foundation of the prince and his younger brother Harry.

The dinner was held in an enormous purpose-made marquee built on the grounds of Kensington Palace, once home to William's mother Diana.

Before dinner, the guests were entertained by a troupe of divers who leaped off boards into a specially constructed pool nearby. On June 30, William and Catherine will embark on their first overseas tour as a married couple, beginning in Canada and ending with a trip to California. -- AFP

Leona Helmsley's millionaire dog die

NEW YORK - TROUBLE, the pooch who inherited US$12 million (S$14.8 million) from hotel mogul Leona Helmsley, has died, heading to the hunting grounds in the sky and leaving a trail of money and legal disputes behind.

The pampered Maltese with a curly off-white coat died Dec 13, spokesman Eileen Sullivan said, but news only emerged on Thursday.

She was 12 in human years, or 84 in doggie years, just shy of the 87 years at which her eccentric mistress and benefactor Helmsley died in 2007. 'She was cremated, and her remains are being privately retained,' Ms Sullivan said. The remaining funds held in trust for Trouble have gone to The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

When Helmsley died she left her adored companion US$12 million, but a New York judge agreed she had been mentally incompetent and knocked down that fortune to a mere US$2 million, while boosting the inheritance left to Helmsley's human family and to charity.

Trouble, known for snapping nastily at just about anyone except Helmsley, retired to Florida, living and finally dying in luxury at the Helmsley Sandcastle hotel in Sarasota. According to the New York Daily News, which broke the story, Trouble chewed through US$100,000 a year, with US$8,000 for grooming, US$1,200 for food and the rest for security against dozens of kidnapping and death threats.

For Trouble, meal-time was never a question of canned meat in a plastic bowl, but fresh chicken and vegetables prepared by a Helmsley hotel chef and served on silver and china plates - for the diamond-collar canine, the New York Times reported. -- AFP

NZ museums clamour for sheep's remains

WELLINGTON - MUSEUMS are vying to display the remains of New Zealand's most famous sheep, Shrek, and a church memorial in his honour has been postponed to accommodate global media interest, reports said on Friday.

The merino became a celebrity in 2004, when he was found in a mountain cave six years after wandering off from his flock. He was sporting a massive fleece that made him appear three times his normal size.

The fleece was sheared for charity and weighed in at 27kg, around six times the wool normally gathered from the average merino. News of Shrek's death this week made the front-pages of New Zealand newspapers and led television bulletins in a nation where sheep outnumber the human population of 4.3 million by almost 10 to one.

Mindful of the sheep's immense popularity, museums are reportedly keen to put Shrek's body on public display, a move that would confirm his status as a New Zealand icon alongside 1930s racehorse Phar Lap.

The country's national museum, Te Papa in Wellington, told the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA) it was in negotiations to exhibit the famous ovine. The Otago Museum, near Shrek's South Island farm, was also keen to round up the merino.

Shrek's owner John Perriam said he had not decided on the celebrity's ultimate destination and in the meantime he was 'on ice, he's lying in state at the station (farm) here'. Mr Perriam also told Fairfax Media that plans to hold a memorial service for the sheep had been delayed due to interest from international media wanting to travel to New Zealand for the event. The venue for the proposed service, a chapel in Tekapo, is called the Church of the Good Shepherd. -- AFP

Joe Jackson cashing in?

A COMPANY working with Joe Jackson, father of musical icons Michael and Janet Jackson, has been accused of illegally cashing in on his dead son's name.

Joe has recently been promoting the Michael Jackson-branded perfumes, Jackson Tribute, Legend and Legacy on behalf of Julian Rouas Paris but according to a new lawsuit, the company never obtained permission to use the name or image of Michael - who died of acute Propofol intoxication in June 2009 - on the product.

A representative for Bravado International, who are responsible for selling Michael Jackson products said: 'Michael Jackson's talent made his name one of the most valuable in the history of entertainment, and no person acting on behalf of the estate gave Rouas oral or written consent to exploit it.'

Bravado International has asked a Los Angeles federal court to remove Michael's name and likeness from the perfume and is seeking $750 for each time they were used along with three times the amount of profits already made and more than $150,000 in damages.

Joe has recently defended his controversial plans to turn his son's Californian ranch Neverland into a theme park, as well as a second site, Happyland in Vietnam, insisting it is what Michael always wanted.

He said: 'I want people to know that it's (the Jackson Family Foundation) a legitimate foundation to make money and carry on what we have to do. It is for the health of people in need, like any foundation, in any part of the world.' -- CHINA DAILY

Solar system edge 'bunches' in magnetic bubbles: Nasa

WASHINGTON - A PAIR of Nasa probes wandering in deep space discovered that the outer edge of the solar system contains curious magnetic bubbles and is not smooth as previously thought, astronomers said on Thursday.

The Nasa Voyager twin spacecraft, which launched in 1977, are currently exploring the furthest outlays of the heliosphere, where solar wind is slowed and warped by pressure from other forces in the galaxy, the US space agency said.

'Because the sun spins, its magnetic field becomes twisted and wrinkled, a bit like a ballerina's skirt,' said astronomer Merav Opher of Boston University. 'Far, far away from the sun, where the Voyagers are, the folds of the skirt bunch up.'

The Voyagers are almost 16 billion km from Earth in a little known boundary region where solar wind and magnetic field are influenced by 'material expelled from other stars in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy', Nasa said.

This 'turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles' occurs when parts of the Sun's distant magnetic field break up and reorganise under pressure. The bubbles are giant - about 160 million km wide - meaning the Voyager probes could take multiple weeks to cross a single one of them.

Scientists have previously theorised that the sun's distant magnetic field curved in 'relatively graceful arc, eventually folding back to rejoin the sun', Nasa said. But images of a smooth outer heliosheath have now been discarded as scientists begin to realise that the region is actually bubbly and 'frothy'. 'The actual bubbles appear to be self-contained and substantially disconnected from the broader solar magnetic field.' -- AFP

Lab clones cow to produce human-like milk

BUENOS AIRES - AN ARGENTINE laboratory announced on Thursday that it had created the world's first transgenic cow, using human genes that will allow the animal to produce the equivalent of mothers' milk.

'The cloned cow, named Rosita ISA, is the first bovine born in the world that incorporates human genes that contain the proteins present in human milk,' Argentina's National Institute of Agrobusiness Technology said in a statement.

Rosita ISA was born on April 6 by Ceasarian because she weighed more than 45kg, about twice the normal weight of Jersey cows, according to the statement.

As an adult, 'the cow will produce milk that is similar to humans,' the statement said.

'Our goal was to raise the nutritional value of cows' milk by adding two human genes, the protein lactoferrin, which provides infants with anti-bacterial and anti-viral protection, and lysozyme, which is also an anti-bacterial agent,' said researcher Adrian Mutto at a press conference.

The cloning was a joint effort between the Argentine institute and the country's National University of San Martin. -- AFP

Morgan Stanley launches China securities venture

SHANGHAI, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - Morgan Stanley Friday launched a securities joint venture in China, boosting its presence in the booming mainland market after selling its stake in China International Capital Corp last year.

The US investment bank said it will hold one-third of the tie-up with Shanghai-based Huaxin Securities, which will have the rest of Morgan Stanley Huaxin Securities Co Ltd -- mirroring moves by other Western investment banks.

The venture gives Morgan Stanley the chance to rebuild its presence in China after it sold its 34.3 percent stake last year in China International Capital Corporation, a leading mainland investment bank it helped found in 1995.

China "remains a major priority within our international growth strategy," Morgan Stanley chief executive James Gorman said in a statement.

The venture is "an important milestone that allows us to bring to China and to domestic clients many of Morgan Stanley’s core capital market skills and competencies", Gorman said.

Foreign banks keen to grab a piece of China's fast-growing investment banking sector have been pairing up with Chinese players, despite regulations preventing them from holding a controlling stake in the ventures.

The value of stock offerings in China reached a record $186.3 billion in 2010, up 24 percent from the previous record set in 2007, according to Hong Kong-based financial data provider Dealogic.

Morgan Stanley's foreign rivals including UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank already have securities joint ventures in the fast-growing market.

Pragmatic China wades into Libya conflict

BEIJING, June 10, 2011 (AFP) - After months of calls for dialogue in Libya, China has waded into the diplomatic fray, but is courting both sides more to safeguard its interests than to bring an end to the conflict, analysts say.

Beijing's warm welcome to Libya's foreign minister this week and invitation for the opposition to visit China comes as the West throws its diplomatic and financial support behind the rebels looking to oust Moamer Kadhafi from power.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei has said Beijing is "working along with the international community to resolve the Libyan crisis politically", but analysts say that its involvement is pragmatic above all.

"What matters for China is not who is in power, but how its economic interests are served and its citizens protected," Jonathan Holslag, a fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, told AFP.

"It reckons that new regimes in developing countries usually require more Chinese economic support and thus do not necessarily undermine its presence."

In just the past week, Beijing has confirmed two meetings with Mustapha Abdul-Jalil, the leader of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) -- one in Doha, and one in the eastern rebel-held Libyan city of Benghazi.

A Chinese foreign ministry official then said Thursday that Beijing was ready to receive NTC representatives "in the near future".

Meanwhile, Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelati al-Obeidi spent three days in Beijing this week discussing ways to bring an end to the crisis, with Beijing insisting a ceasefire should be the "top priority" of both sides.

Holslag said Beijing has often "diversified its political relations" in unstable countries such as Sudan, Myanmar and Pakistan by meeting opposition groups so its economic interests can "better withstand political turmoil".

China has significant commercial interests in Libya including oil, telecoms and rail projects, and was forced to evacuate more than 35,000 migrant workers from the north African state when unrest broke out in mid-February.

Until recently, Beijing had maintained its long-standing policy of non-interference and public neutrality since the start of the conflict in Libya, calling multiple times for a peaceful end to the popular uprising.

Although it allowed the UN Security Council to green-light international military action against Kadhafi's regime by abstaining from the vote on the resolution, rather than using its veto, it has criticised NATO-led air strikes.

"After having without a doubt hoped for the failure of the (NATO-led) intervention, Beijing realised the situation had truly changed, and decided to preserve its interests and its implantation in the zone," Paris-based China expert Valerie Niquet told AFP.

"In the short term, China has made contact with the opposition and will put its pieces on the chess board, economically and no doubt politically," said Niquet, head of the Asia department at the Foundation for Strategic Research.

For Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, although Beijing -- unlike Washington and even Moscow -- has yet to call for Kadhafi to step down, it is trying to "prepare for the future by getting closer to the rebels without backing the West's position".

In its unfamiliar role as mediator Beijing risked having no more than a limited impact on the conflict itself, he told AFP, but added: "China has a lot of interests in the Middle East and Africa."

Cabestan explained that as Libya is "at the crossroads of these two regions", Beijing has had to deal with Tripoli despite "a complicated relationship" with Kadhafi, who has not visited China for nearly 30 years.

China also needs to manage its crucial ties within both the African Union and the Arab League, in a political landscape that has been turned upside-down by a spate of popular uprisings that Beijing has watched with mounting concern.

"Beijing does not want to cut itself off from a base that allows it to build upon its international clout, especially in relation to the United States," Niquet said.

Washington brushed aside China's increased involvement, with US State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: "There is a UN mediator on this issue. And we believe that should be the focus of efforts to mediate the conflict there."