2011/06/25

Google confirms US probe into search business

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - Google confirmed on Friday that the US Federal Trade Commission has begun a review of the Internet giant's search and and advertising business.

"Yesterday, we received formal notification from the US Federal Trade Commission that it has begun a review of our business," Google said.

"We respect the FTC's process and will be working with them (as we have with other agencies) over the coming months to answer questions about Google and our services," Google said in a blog post.

2011/06/24

Malaysia fines three for screening 'Anwar' sex video

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - Two politicians linked to Malaysia's ruling party and a businessman were fined Friday for screening a video they allege shows opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim having sex with a prostitute.

The video was shown in March to several Malaysian journalists at a hotel in the capital Kuala Lumpur. Anwar has denied that he is the man in the video, saying he is the victim of a political smear campaign.

A Kuala Lumpur lower court charged the three on Friday with publicly exhibiting obscene material, a crime in the Muslim-majority country carrying a maximum prison sentence of three years.

The three -- a former state chief minister, a ruling party member and a businessman -- were fined around 3,000 ringgit ($1,000) each after pleading guilty to the offence.

In his ruling, Judge Azatul Akmal Maharani said he had taken into account the men's defence that they had acted in the public interest in exposing Anwar's alleged immoral behaviour.

Abdul Rahim Tamby Chik, the former chief minister, told reporters outside court the three had accepted the verdict, as scores of supporters cheered noisily.

"We feel that it is very patriotic of us to expose the hypocrisy of the first degree happening in this country," he said. "We cannot accept this kind of leadership."

Segments of the 17-minute sex tape, which was allegedly recorded in February, were shown in court with defence lawyers insisting the man in the video was Anwar, a 63-year-old married father-of-six.

The video, parts of which have since circulated on YouTube, shows a man resembling Anwar having sex with a woman in a hotel room.

Anwar has said the tape is another "dirty and obscene" attempt to end his career following a sodomy charge he is currently fighting in court.

The opposition leader is currently defending himself in court over charges of having sex with a male 25-year-old former aide in 2008, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. He has denied the charge.

The former deputy premier was jailed in 1998 on sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.

The sodomy charge was eventually overturned and he was freed in 2004, leading a resurgent opposition to make major electoral inroads in the 2008 general elections.

Taiwan blogger fined $7,000 over restaurant review

TAIPEI, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - A Taiwanese woman was ordered to compensate a noodle shop Tw$200,000 ($7,000) for defamation after criticising the store as unclean and its food as "really bad" on her blog, a court said Friday.

Liu Ying-hui escaped a 30-day jail term, with the high court deciding to grant her a two-year suspended sentence after she agreed to compensate the shop, according to the verdict released by the court.

Liu was convicted of defaming the shop in February for commenting on her blog in 2009 that its food was "really bad ... too salty" while the owner was a "bully" and the stop was "unclean with cockroaches", the verdict said.

A district court in central Taiwan ruled that her remarks "crossed the boundary of an appropriate review" since she had failed to prove her allegations.

It was the latest of a number of controversial rulings involving Internet commentaries, after a teacher was ordered to pay her dentist Tw$1.5 million for calling him a "rat's dropping" in March, according to local media.

Ex-media mogul Conrad Black may go back to prison

CHICAGO, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - Deposed media baron Conrad Black faces a possible return to prison on Friday but is hoping to get away with time served on fraud and obstruction of justice charges.

Black was released on a $2 million bond nearly a year ago after the US Supreme Court tossed out the "honest services" law that formed the basis of his 2007 fraud conviction.

But after a series of appeals, Black was only able to get two of the four counts he was convicted of tossed out. It is now up to Judge Amy St. Eve to determine if Black should go back to prison for the remaining charges.

"If I am sent back, it will not be for very long," Lord Black wrote this week in an e-mail to Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper.

"I do feel that I will ultimately win the battle, as the poverty of the government's case is clear and we got rid of their (fraud) statute.

"We took down all 17 of their counts and two were revived by a real exercise in gymnastics by the appeal panel chairman."

Black, 66, has already served 29 months of his original 78-month sentence and made restitution payments of $30 million.

The US probation department recommended that he be sentenced to 33 to 41 months in prison for the remaining charges.

Black's lawyers argued that the British lord has suffered enough after watching his media empire crumble, losing $250 million in stock equity and seeing both his and his wife Barbara's health deteriorate under the strain of the lengthy legal battle and prison term.

"This case has resulted in eight years of unmitigated agony for Mr. Black and his family," they wrote in a presentencing motion.

"Mr. Black has lost the business that he built and deeply loved, suffered merciless attacks on his reputation, endured the need for significant financial outlays, (and) contended with a morass of litigation in the United States and Canada."

They also noted his good behavior in the Florida prison, saying he tutored an estimated 100 student inmates, gave a popular lecture on African-American history and was actively involved in Catholic religious services.

He has also penned a book on American history.

Prosecutors have meanwhile cited two prison workers who said Black often demanded special treatment and lorded over his fellow inmates, convincing some to cook and clean for him, iron his clothes and generally "act like servants."

The prosecution has said Black should return to prison for the full 78-month sentence because of his "continued refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes."

"He fails to acknowledge his central role in destroying Hollinger International through greed and lies, instead blaming the government and others for what he describes as an unjust persecution," they wrote.

They also noted that the appeals court emphasized that there was "more than ample evidence" that Black was guilty of the two tossed out fraud counts and that there had been "no acquittal... just an error warranting -- barely -- a retrial."

Black once ran the world's third largest media empire with such titles as Britain's Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Flamboyant in lifestyle and brutal in business, he counted politicians and pop stars among his entourage as he built a towering newspaper empire.

But he was forced to quit as head of the Hollinger holding company when he was charged with siphoning off millions of dollars from the firm, notably when it began divesting its Canadian and US publications in 2000.

Black and his associates were accused of skimming off some $60 million in all between 1999 and 2001.

They were ultimately convicted of stealing $6.1 million by awarding themselves tax-free bonuses from the newspaper sell-offs without the approval of Hollinger's board.

That figure went down to $600,000 after the two fraud counts were tossed out in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

Black's obstruction charge stems from security video footage showing him removing 13 boxes from his Toronto office after he learned he was possibly under investigation by US securities regulators.

US ready to arm Philippines amid China tension

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - The United States said Thursday it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of the Philippines, which vowed to "stand up to any aggressive action" amid rising tension at sea with China.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, on a visit to Washington, said the Philippines hoped to lease equipment to upgrade its aged fleet and called for the allies to revamp their relationship in light of the friction with China.

"We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a joint news conference when asked about the hardware wish-list from the Philippines.

Clinton said the two nations were working "to determine what are the additional assets that the Philippines needs and how we can best provide those." She said del Rosario would meet Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.

"We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability," Clinton told reporters, urging "all sides to exercise self-restraint."

Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said: "While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard."

The Philippines has announced the deployment in disputed waters of its navy flagship, the Rajah Humabon. One of the world's oldest warships, the Rajah Humabon was a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II.

The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the navy.

Shortly ahead of his talks with Clinton, del Rosario said that the Philippines was asking the United States for "an operational lease so that we can look at fairly new equipment and be able to get our hands on that quickly."

"We need to have the resources to be able to stand and defend ourselves and, I think, to the extent that we can do that, we become a stronger ally for you," del Rosario said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago's independence from US colonial rule. Del Rosario said he believed the treaty -- which calls for mutual defense in the event of an attack in "the Pacific area" -- covers the South China Sea.

The United States has been providing military aid to the Philippines primarily to fight Islamic militants in the wake the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The United States gave the Philippines $15 million in military assistance in the 2011 fiscal year, with much larger sums devoted to development, according to official US data.

Del Rosario said that Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf has largely been defeated, estimating that only around 200 guerrillas remained.

"The Philippines' relative success in counter-insurgency coupled with pressures in the regional environment compel a reorientation of focus and resources," he said.

"A reset in our relations has therefore become an imperative to allow the alliance to continue to meet domestic goals while contributing to global stability," he said.

China has said that it will not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea but has also warned the United States to stay out of territorial spats.

"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," China's vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said.

Cui will meet Saturday in Hawaii with Kurt Campbell, a US assistant secretary of state, for a first dialogue between the two nations to focus specifically on Asia-Pacific affairs.

The United States plans to hold joint exercises with the Philippines next week and the US Navy will visit Vietnam next month, although US officials have described the events as routine.

US ready to arm Philippines amid China tension

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - The United States said Thursday it was ready to provide hardware to modernize the military of the Philippines, which vowed to "stand up to any aggressive action" amid rising tension at sea with China.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, on a visit to Washington, said the Philippines hoped to lease equipment to upgrade its aged fleet and called for the allies to revamp their relationship in light of the friction with China.

"We are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a joint news conference when asked about the hardware wish-list from the Philippines.

Clinton said the two nations were working "to determine what are the additional assets that the Philippines needs and how we can best provide those." She said del Rosario would meet Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Pentagon officials.

Tensions in the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines and Vietnam alarmed at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by Beijing in the disputed waters.

"We are concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea could undermine peace and stability," Clinton told reporters, urging "all sides to exercise self-restraint."

Del Rosario, with Clinton at his side, said: "While we are a small country, we are prepared to do what is necessary to stand up to any aggressive action in our backyard."

The Philippines has announced the deployment in disputed waters of its navy flagship, the Rajah Humabon. One of the world's oldest warships, the Rajah Humabon was a former US Navy frigate that served during World War II.

The Philippines has historically bought second-hand hardware, but del Rosario said that President Benigno Aquino has allocated 11 billion pesos ($252 million) to upgrade the navy.

Shortly ahead of his talks with Clinton, del Rosario said that the Philippines was asking the United States for "an operational lease so that we can look at fairly new equipment and be able to get our hands on that quickly."

"We need to have the resources to be able to stand and defend ourselves and, I think, to the extent that we can do that, we become a stronger ally for you," del Rosario said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States signed a defense treaty with the Philippines in 1951, five years after the archipelago's independence from US colonial rule. Del Rosario said he believed the treaty -- which calls for mutual defense in the event of an attack in "the Pacific area" -- covers the South China Sea.

The United States has been providing military aid to the Philippines primarily to fight Islamic militants in the wake the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The United States gave the Philippines $15 million in military assistance in the 2011 fiscal year, with much larger sums devoted to development, according to official US data.

Del Rosario said that Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf has largely been defeated, estimating that only around 200 guerrillas remained.

"The Philippines' relative success in counter-insurgency coupled with pressures in the regional environment compel a reorientation of focus and resources," he said.

"A reset in our relations has therefore become an imperative to allow the alliance to continue to meet domestic goals while contributing to global stability," he said.

China has said that it will not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea but has also warned the United States to stay out of territorial spats.

"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," China's vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said.

Cui will meet Saturday in Hawaii with Kurt Campbell, a US assistant secretary of state, for a first dialogue between the two nations to focus specifically on Asia-Pacific affairs.

The United States plans to hold joint exercises with the Philippines next week and the US Navy will visit Vietnam next month, although US officials have described the events as routine.

Google facing wide-ranging US antitrust probe: WSJ

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - The US Federal Trade Commission is poised to open a formal antitrust probe into whether Internet search giant Google has abused its dominance on the Web, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The newspaper, citing "people familiar with the matter," said the FTC is preparing to serve Google with civil subpoenas "signaling the start of a wide-ranging, formal antitrust investigation."

The Journal said the five-member commission will send Google the formal demands for information "within days" and other companies were likely to receive requests for information about their dealings with Google.

The FTC declined to comment on the report and there was no immediate response to a request for comment from the Mountain View, California-based Google.

Google, which controls around 65 percent of the lucrative US Internet search market, has been the target of numerous antitrust investigations by the FTC and the US Department of Justice in recent years.

But the Journal said the FTC's probe "is the most serious to date" in the United States because it will examine "fundamental issues relating to Google's core search advertising business."

The newspaper said the FTC probe is expected to take a year or more to unfold and "won't necessarily lead to any federal allegations of wrongdoing against the company."

Google makes most of its money from search-related advertising.

According to digital marketing firm eMarketer, Google's share of net US search advertising revenue will grow 38.9 percent this year to $10.92 billion, giving Google a 75.9 percent share of overall US search revenue.

The Journal said the probe will look at whether Google "unfairly channels users to its own growing network of services at the expense of rivals."

European Union competition watchdogs opened an investigation into similar allegations in November and the US state of Texas is also conducting a probe into whether Google abused its power in the online search advertising arena.

Two US senators, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Michael Lee of Utah, wrote to Google earlier this month asking that chief executive Larry Page or executive chairman Eric Schmidt attend a hearing in Washington on competition issues in Internet search.

Google proposed that chief legal officer David Drummond testify instead but the senators said in a letter to Google obtained by AFP that they would "strongly prefer" for Page or Schmidt attend the hearing.

"A hearing on this important topic would be incomplete without the direct perspective and views from one of Google's top two executives," they said.

The Senate panel could issue a subpoena compelling Page or Schmidt to testify but the senators said they would "very much prefer to work this out by agreement rather than needing to resort to more formal procedures."

Google has faced increasing scrutiny from US and European regulators as it has grown over the years from a scrappy startup into an Internet powerhouse.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department is currently conducting an antitrust review of Google's recent $400 million acquisition of Internet advertising company Admeld.

In April, US Justice Department approved Google's entry into the online travel sector with its $700 million purchase of flight data firm ITA Software but it insisted on a number of concessions from Google.

Several online travel sites, including Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity, had sought to block the Google-ITA deal, claiming it would give Google too much control over the lucrative online travel market and lead to higher prices.

In late March, the FTC reached a settlement with Google over Google Buzz, the social networking tool rolled out last year which spawned a slew of privacy complaints.

Under the settlement announced by the US regulator, Google is required to implement a comprehensive privacy program and will be subject to independent privacy audits every two years for the next 20 years.

Also in March, a US judge dealt a setback to Google's plans for a vast digital library and online bookstore, rejecting a copyright settlement hammered out by the Internet giant with authors and publishers.

In 2008, Google abandoned a plan to forge a joint search advertising partnership with Yahoo!, citing a desire to avert a "protracted legal battle" with US regulators.

Jailed Indonesian ex-Playboy editor to walk free

JAKARTA, June 24, 2011 (AFP) - The former editor of Indonesia's version of Playboy magazine will walk free Friday after the supreme court accepted his final appeal against indecency charges, his lawyer said.

Erwin Arnada has been imprisoned since October last year following his sentencing to two years in jail by the supreme court in August 2010 despite a lack of nudity in the publication.

"He's expected to be released today. The supreme court has informed us that his judicial review has been accepted," Todung Mulya Lubis told AFP, adding that the ruling was a victory for press freedom.

Arnada lodged his final appeal in October against his two-year jail term, saying the conviction contravened press freedom and the spirit of democracy established after the fall of military strongman Suharto in 1998.

The case has highlighted the growing power of Islamist extremists who launched violent protests against the magazine when it appeared in 2006, and pushed the supreme court to overturn the editor's earlier acquittal by a lower court.

The magazine published only a handful of issues, none of which contained nudity, before the stick-wielding Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) forced it to close in 2006.

2011/06/23

Apple removes 'third Palestinian intifada' app: Israel

JERUSALEM, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Apple has removed an application from its iTunes App Store that calls for a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, after Israel lodged a complaint, Israeli officials said on Thursday.

Public Diplomacy Minister Yuri Edelstein wrote to Apple to complain about the "Third Intifada" app earlier in the week and Apple then removed it, a statement from the minister's office said, commending Apple for its "quick action."

In the letter, he said the application incited violence against Israel and provided details on impending violent protests.

Edelstein had earlier succeeded in getting Facebook to remove a similar "Third Intifada" page from its website.

"By its action, Apple has proven, as Facebook did, that it shares the values that oppose violence, incitement and terrorism," he said.

The first intifada, or uprising, began in December 1987 with rock throwing, protests and civil disobedience and lasted until the 1993 Oslo peace accords. A second and far more bloody intifada broke out in 2000 and eventually ran out of steam some five years later.

Hamburg braces for Facebook metro party

HAMBURG, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - The German city of Hamburg is bracing for a mass drunken party organised via Facebook on its metro system in September, a day before an alcohol ban on trains starts, authorities said Thursday.

They fear that the September 30 event may be similar to when revellers caused mayhem on London's transport system on May 31, 2008 before drinking on tubes and buses in the British capital became illegal.

According the Bild daily, more than 19,000 people in the lively German port city have already indicated on Facebook they they planned to attend, although a link on the social networking website was no longer visible on Thursday.

A spokesman for the northern city's transport operator, Hamburger Hochbahn, said the company was currently "in talks" with the relevant authorities and was following the situation closely.

A number of "Facebook parties", when a get-together announced on the website is gatecrashed by large numbers of unwanted guests, have alarmed police and hit the headlines in Germany in recent weeks.

In early June some 1,500 unwanted guests tried to attend a girl's 16th birthday party in Hamburg that she had announced on Facebook. The teenager forgot to mark the invitation private and even included her parents' address.

Last Friday the western city of Wuppertal saw clashes between police and youths setting off fireworks and throwing beer bottles after 800 people turned up at a party called by an anonymous Facebook user.

Police used pepper spray and took 41 people into custody, while 16 others were injured. Including a major clean-up the next day, the party cost taxpayers around 120,000 euros ($170,000), reports said.

Authorities in Wuppertal have attempted to ban another party organised by a 16-year-old due to take place on July 1 that 1,600 people have said on Facebook they planned to come to.

Rowling unveils New Harry Potter website, e-books

LONDON, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Harry Potter creater J.K. Rowling Thursday unveiled an interactive website featuring new material about the boy wizard's world, while his adventures will also now be sold as e-books for the first time.

Rowling made the announcement at a press conference in London after days of fevered speculation about her new project, which had been shrouded in secrecy and rumour since a mysterious "Pottermore" website appeared last week.

She said Potter fans will be able to register on the free website using one of the young sorcerers from the books as their online identity, then play games and interact with elements of the fictional world.

The site will also have new material that she has written on the backgrounds to the characters. It will go live from July 31 for one million fans who pass a special "test" and to the general public from October.

"It's a great way to get back to the Harry Potter readership," she told reporters. "I had more than half of the new material already written."

But she revealed that she had "no plans" to write another novel.

The seven e-books will be available through the website from October in partnership with Sony.

Singapore investment boss seeks state presidency

SINGAPORE, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - The deputy chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC) said Thursday he had resigned to run for the state presidency, whose duties include safeguarding its vast foreign reserves.

Tony Tan, 71, a former deputy prime minister and government minister, said he would stand as an independent and was stepping down from the sovereign wealth fund in order to do so.

He has also resigned from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and as chairman of Asian media giant Singapore Press Holdings, publisher of the Straits Times and other newspapers and magazines, he said.

"If I am granted the certificate of eligibility (to run), I will contest as an independent candidate," Tan said in a statement.

Two other candidates -- neither of whom have strong PAP connections -- have announced they will contest the presidency, in a poll which must take place before August 31.

The post is largely ceremonial but one that remains significant because the head of state is the custodian of the reserves, which stood at close to $240 billion in May.

Singapore held parliamentary elections in May, with the PAP retaining its overwhelming majority, but it suffered a drop in public support as its share of votes cast fell to 60 percent, its worst showing after 52 years in power.

Tan, who held top cabinet portfolios such as education, finance and defence before stepping down as an MP in 2006, said he was not approached by the government to stand as a candidate and that he decided on his own to run.

"I remain convinced that Singapore’s best days lie ahead of us. The years ahead will be challenging, but exciting. In the midst of so much change, we need a president with experience and a steady hand," Tan said.

"If I am elected president, I will be fair and independent," he added.

"I will work in partnership with the government, all political parties, and civil society to safeguard and advance the future of all Singaporeans."

GIC was founded in 1981 to invest Singapore's foreign reserves and is among the world's biggest sovereign wealth funds.

The other Singaporean state investment fund is Temasek Holdings.

Tablet war heats up as Asia challenges iconic iPad

SINGAPORE, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - A tablet war is heating up in Asia as companies from China, South Korea and Taiwan challenge the dominance of Apple's iPad on features and price, analysts said.

Asia is a major battleground because of the presence of alternatives offered by top global brands like South Korea's Samsung as well as cheaper choices from dozens of smaller firms, many of them from China.

By one estimate, Asia will account for about a third of tablet sales by 2015, triggering a race for market share by big and unknown brands alike.

Chinese technology firm Huawei became the latest company to jump on the bandwagon when it launched the MediaPad, which has a seven-inch (178-millimetre) screen and is powered by Google's Android 3.2 Honeycomb operating system.

Making its global debut at this week's CommunicAsia trade fair in Singapore, the MediaPad sports Qualcom's dual-core 1.2GHz processor.

It is just 10.55 mm (0.4 inches) thick and weighs 390 grams (0.86 pounds), making it much lighter than an iPad2.

"With the Huawei MediaPad, we are demonstrating yet again that design, functionality and performance is within everyone's reach," said Victor Xu, chief marketing officer of Huawei Device.

The market is already abuzz with models such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab, the HTC FlyerTM by Taiwan's leading smartphone maker HTC and the ZTE Light tablet by Chinese manufacturer ZTE.

Add to these other Western brands such as the BlackBerry Playbook by Canada's Research in Motion and a growing array of inexpensive gadgets from little-known vendors and the field is widening up for competition.

"We see Apple’s market share declining -- in a growing market -- as credible alternatives emerge from a variety of manufacturers," said Tim Renowden, an analyst with technology research firm Ovum.

"The emergence of lower-cost tablets, predominantly running Google's Android operating system, will be an important opportunity for Asian manufacturers," he told AFP.

He said Samsung and HTC "are arguably the front runners with their experience producing smartphones".

However, Chinese technology companies such as Huawei and ZTE "are also actively pursuing market share and can potentially succeed with lower-cost devices", he said.

In addition, traditionally PC-focused companies like Acer and Asus of Taiwan have also launched some interesting tablet products.

"All of these players are really competing against each other, more than they are competing with Apple," Renowden said.

Industry research firm Gartner has said the iPad accounted for a hefty 84 percent of the total 17.6 million tablets sold worldwide in 2010, with that share tipped to decline to 69 percent of 70 million to be sold this year.

Bryan Ma, an analyst with technology industry consultancy IDC, said although the iPad is expected to remain a major player in Asia, the region is different from Western markets.

Samsung is strong in South Korea because of nationalist sentiment, while the massive China market is awash in inexpensive tablets known as "white box" devices because of their obscure brands.

"In that sense there's an interesting activity that's giving Apple some competition. A lot of these guys are low-priced players," Ma told AFP.

"They might not necessarily have that cool cachet that Apple has but... these Chinese vendors are selling these products overseas, to other developing markets as well like Indonesia, parts of the Middle East and Africa."

Apple's advantage is that it has cultivated an image as a "cool product, and in many cases there is that status symbol element," Ma said.

"It's in the local culture. People will aspire to that social status to carry an Apple product."

Ovum's Renowden said the Asia-Pacific market was big enough for several players, forecasting tablet sales to reach 50 million units in 2015 out of a global total of 150 million.

"The market is certainly big enough for a number of players to be profitable," he said.

"But competition is already fierce and standing out from the crowd is important, as is maintaining good relationships with distributors, both retail and through telco partners."

Ma expects some competitors to fall by the wayside.

"Frankly, the market is over-saturated, there's way too many vendors trying to participate in this market than there is demand for," he said.

"We expect that there are going to be vendors that will find that they are not shipping enough volumes and they will eventually back out of the market both this year and probably in the upcoming year," he added.

"There's going to be some sifting of the market, the dust still needs to settle a bit because it's still very, very early stages."

Extra potatoes can pack on pounds: US study

WASHINGTON - SLIGHT changes in eating habits, such as eating an extra serving of potato chips or fries each day, can add plenty to a person's weight over the years, US researchers said on Wednesday.

Three studies that spanned 20 years and more than 120,000 people showed that the notion of eating less and exercising more for good health may be too simplistic.

However, overall food choice - picking fruits and whole grains instead of starches and meats - appears to have the strongest link to how much a person gains, or doesn't, in the long term, said the research led by the Harvard School of Public Health.

The average adult gains about 0.45kg per year. To find out what drives weight gain, researchers examined data from three large studies of nurses and health professionals, said the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The subjects' lifestyle changes and weight gain were tracked every four years for two decades. Participants gained an average of 1.5kg over each four-year period, for a 7.6kg gain over 20 years. The food linked to the greatest amount of weight gain were French fries, one extra daily serving of which could add 1.5kg every four years. An extra handful of potato chips each day could add 0.77kg in the same time period.

Similar results were seen among people who consumed extra sugary drinks (0.45kg) and meats (0.43kg for unprocessed, 0.42kg for processed). However there was less weight gain as time went on among people who ate more of certain foods, such as yoghurt, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. People who ate an extra serving of vegetables per day gained 0.1kg less over a four year period than people who did not. More yoghurt meant a 0.37kg dip, more fruit a 0.21kg dip and more nuts meant 0.26kg less. -- AFP

US approves cell therapy injection for wrinkles

WASHINGTON - US REGULATORS have approved a new type of therapy that uses a person's own skin cells to create an injectable cosmetic plumper to smooth out laugh lines, Fibrocell Science said on Wednesday.

The Food and Drug Administration approved late on Tuesday the Pennsylvania-based company's application for license to market laViv, which uses a person's own collagen cells, multiplies them, and creates an injectable substance.

'LaViv is the first and only personalised aesthetic cell therapy approved by the FDA for the improvement of the appearance of moderate to severe nasolabial fold wrinkles in adults,' a company statement said. 'In clinical trials, laViv was well tolerated with the majority of adverse events being injection-site reactions that were of mild to moderate intensity and resolved within one week.'

The company has a patent on a process of extracting and multiplying a person's skin cells known as fibroblasts, which are responsible for making collagen, the protein that keeps skin firm and resilient. Fibrocell said the FDA approval came after two phase III randomised, double blind trials of 421 patients who received either laViv or a placebo in three three treatments about five weeks apart. Those trials showed laViv 'effectively improved the appearance of nasolabial fold wrinkles', the company said.

In one study, 57 per cent of patients on laViv saw an improvement compared to 30 per cent who received the placebo treatment, according to a summary of the research published by the New York Times. In the other, 45 per cent of patients receiving laViv thought they looked better afterwards, compared to 18 per cent in the control group.

Doctors' opinions were more reserved - 33 per cent in the first trial and 19 per cent in the second trial said they saw an improvement in their patients from laViv, the report said. The most common side effects were redness, pain, swelling or bruising at the injection site, the company said. Further studies are necessary to see how long the treatment lasts. The follow-up studies to date have only spanned six months. -- AFP

US approves cell therapy injection for wrinkles

WASHINGTON - US REGULATORS have approved a new type of therapy that uses a person's own skin cells to create an injectable cosmetic plumper to smooth out laugh lines, Fibrocell Science said on Wednesday.

The Food and Drug Administration approved late on Tuesday the Pennsylvania-based company's application for license to market laViv, which uses a person's own collagen cells, multiplies them, and creates an injectable substance.

'LaViv is the first and only personalised aesthetic cell therapy approved by the FDA for the improvement of the appearance of moderate to severe nasolabial fold wrinkles in adults,' a company statement said. 'In clinical trials, laViv was well tolerated with the majority of adverse events being injection-site reactions that were of mild to moderate intensity and resolved within one week.'

The company has a patent on a process of extracting and multiplying a person's skin cells known as fibroblasts, which are responsible for making collagen, the protein that keeps skin firm and resilient. Fibrocell said the FDA approval came after two phase III randomised, double blind trials of 421 patients who received either laViv or a placebo in three three treatments about five weeks apart. Those trials showed laViv 'effectively improved the appearance of nasolabial fold wrinkles', the company said.

In one study, 57 per cent of patients on laViv saw an improvement compared to 30 per cent who received the placebo treatment, according to a summary of the research published by the New York Times. In the other, 45 per cent of patients receiving laViv thought they looked better afterwards, compared to 18 per cent in the control group.

Doctors' opinions were more reserved - 33 per cent in the first trial and 19 per cent in the second trial said they saw an improvement in their patients from laViv, the report said. The most common side effects were redness, pain, swelling or bruising at the injection site, the company said. Further studies are necessary to see how long the treatment lasts. The follow-up studies to date have only spanned six months. -- AFP

View to a krill: Prospects of feast drive marine predators

PARIS - A DECADE-LONG study of the Pacific's biggest predator species has pinpointed the food hotspots and migratory avenues which lure them in seasonal patterns, Nature reported on Wednesday.

Biologists tagged 23 species, from mammals such as whales and seals to sharks, tuna, albatrosses and turtles, which are considered 'apex predators,' meaning they are at the top of the marine food chain.

The animals, monitored throughout the last decade, headed for biological hotspots like the California Current System, flowing southwards along the US West, where a mix of surface and deep waters brings an up-welling of tiny marine plants and crustaceans. Another place for congregation is the North Pacific Transition Zone, a boundary between cold sub-Arctic water and warm sub-tropical water located between Hawaii and Alaska.

'These are the oceanic areas where the food is most abundant, and it's driven by high primary productivity at the base of the food chain,' researchers Barbara Block of Stanford University and Daniel Costa of the University of California at Santa Cruz, said in a press release. Block likened such areas to Africa's Serengeti Plain, whose vegetation is the building block for a dazzling array of species.

The investigation also showed some predators may spend all their lives in one food-rich zone but others can cross the ocean to get to the banquet. Differences exist even in closely-related species: some tuna species, for instance prefer particular water temperatures, which prompts them to seek out specific habitats.

Amongst the patterns, though, was some intriguing variability. Dr Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, said he and colleagues tracked a fin whale for more than a year. 'It did nothing that we expected,' he said. 'Usually, we think large whale species go south for the winter and north in the summer, but this whale spent its winter in the Gulf of Alaska and didn't go south until spring when it went as far south as the tip of Baja (California) - but returned back to the Gulf of Alaska without stopping anywhere.' -- AFP

Breast implants safe, but not for life: US experts

WASHINGTON - WOMEN need to beware that while breast implants are safe, they are not meant to last a lifetime and could lead to problems later on, the top US drug agency said on Wednesday.

'Breast implants are not lifetime devices. The longer a woman has silicone gel-filled breast implants, the more likely she is to experience complications,' the US Food and Drug Administration said in a report.

The FDA approved the sale of silicone breast implants in November 2006 for women age 22 and above. But in updated safety guidelines it warned that one in five women who have had breast implants to increase their cup-size or for reconstruction surgery will have to undergo another operation within 10 years.

'For patients who received implants for breast reconstruction, as many as one in two will require removal 10 years after implantation,' the report said.

And one in five patients who received implants to boost their appearance will need them removed within 10 years. Most complications occur from hardening of the breast tissue around the implant, from a rupturing of the implant, or 'wrinkling, asymmetry, scarring, pain and infection', the FDA said.

It stressed its preliminary investigation showed no risk of cancer or any reproductive problems linked to breast implants, but recommended that there should be further studies. -- AFP

Saltwater ocean lurks beneath Saturn moon: Study

PARIS - A STRANGE moon of Saturn may have a salty ocean lurking beneath its iceball surface, according to a study appearing on Wednesday in the British journal Nature. The discovery comes from data from the US-European orbiter Cassini, which has been touring the giant planet and its ring system since 2004.

One of Saturn's most intriguing moons is Enceladus, a worldlet measuring only 504km named after a Titan who stirred a revolt against the Olympian gods. Enceladus is unmarked by asteroid impacts, for its surface is encased in a dazzling white shell of ice that is pristine except for deep ridges near its south pole.

These 'tiger stripe' fractures unleashed huge excitement, for they emit geyser-like sprays of water vapour and icy grains. They spawned the idea that a sea could lie beneath the moon's crusty mantle. The notion is counter-intuitive, for Saturn is so distant that the Sun is just a tiny point and the ambient temperature in space is near absolute zero (minus 273 deg C).

The new study takes the innovative theory further by sifting through data sent back from 2008 and 2009, when Cassini made three passes to 'taste' the enigmatic plumes. The scout has an onboard sensor called the Cosmic Dust Analyser (CDA) which collided with the grains at up to 18km a second, instantly vaporising them.

Grains found farther out from Enceladus are relatively small and ice-poor, matching shiny granules in the 'E' ring which traces the moon's orbit around the Saturn - and indeed may be their origin. In contrast, grains found closer to Enceladus are larger and richer in salt.

Some 99 per cent of the mass of the 'tiger-stripe' particles comprise these salt-rich grains, which tend to fall back onto the moon's surface rather than make it to the 'E' ring. They point to a source that is liquid salt water rather than Enceladus' icy surface, the study maintains. -- AFP

'Scarface' gun sells for $133k in London sale

LONDON - A REVOLVER belonging to notorious US gangster Al Capone sold at a London firearms auction on Wednesday for 67,250 pounds (S$133,245).

The 1929 .38 'Police Positive' gun was used by the mobster, full name Alphonse Gabriel Capone, during his reign as king of the Chicago underworld in the prohibition era.

The Christie's Antique Arms, Armour and Collectors Firearms sale displayed 209 lots dating from the 10th to the 20th centuries and raised a total of 634,825 pounds.

'This sale saw strong international interest from a notable number of new clients, including the successful purchaser of Al Capone's revolver,' Howard Dixon, Head of Sale, said. 'The clear demand for quality, condition and rarity reflected the hunt for perfection in this category,' he added.

New York-born Capone gained notoriety for his involvement in the 1929 St Valentine's massacre which claimed the lives of seven rival mobsters and for his sharp suits and hats, which became the stereotypical image of gangsters thereafter.

Capone, who was also known by the nickname 'scarface', once mused: 'You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.' -- AFP

George Clooney in 'sad' split with girlfriend

LOS ANGELES - HOLLYWOOD heart-throb actor George Clooney has split from his Italian girlfriend of two years Elisabetta Canalis, the ex-couple said on Wednesday.

'We are not together any more. It's very difficult and very personal, and we hope everyone can respect our privacy,' they said in a joint statement cited by People magazine.

A spokesman for 32-year-old Canalis added: 'It is a very personal and sad matter, and Elisabetta wants it to remain that way. She will be taking some time... and then will face the press... She has not authorised me to say when the split happened.'

The celebrity couple were first seen in public at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, and had been spotted together in Italy as recently as last week, People reported.

The 50-year-old actor, voted Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine in 1997, was married to actress Talia Balsam from 1989-93, but has downplayed the chances of getting hitched again.

'I gave it a shot,' Clooney, whose girlfriends have also included Renee Zellwegger, told CNN's Piers Morgan in January. Clooney's The Ides Of March, a thriller about a US presidential campaign, will open this year's Venice Film Festival and will compete for the coveted Golden Lion award, organisers said on Wednesday.-- AFP

Prize-winning reporter reveals he's in US illegally

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - A former reporter for The Washington Post who shared a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre has written another extraordinary story: his own.

Jose Antonio Vargas, 30, revealed in a 4,300-word article published in The New York Times magazine on Wednesday that he is an illegal immigrant and has been hiding it for nearly 20 years.

He said he was speaking out now in a bid to drum up support for the DREAM Act, a bill which would provide young immigrant students with the possibility of gaining US citizenship.

Vargas, originally from the Philippines, said his mother put him on a plane for the United States in 1993, when he was 12, to live with his grandparents in the San Francisco area.

He said he discovered he was living in the United States illegally when he attempted to get a driving license at the age of 16 and was told by a clerk to go away because his papers were fake.

"I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American," he said.

"Over the past 14 years, I've graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country.

"On the surface, I've created a good life. I've lived the American dream," he said. "But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality.

"It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am," he said.

Vargas, who left The Washington Post in 2009 and briefly joined The Huffington Post, said he was confessing his immigration status now becase he no longer wanted to be "running away from who I am."

"I'm done running. I'm exhausted. I don't want that life anymore," he said.

"I don't know what the consequences will be of telling my story," Vargas said, adding that he was seeking legal counsel to review his options.

Winklevoss twins won't take Facebook to Supreme Court

SAN FRANCISCO, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss have opted not to go to the US Supreme Court with their bid to get out of a deal they made in a lawsuit charging that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for Facebook.

Lawyers filed legal paperwork on Wednesday saying that the twin brothers will not ask the top court in the nation to overturn a decision the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made siding with Facebook.

A spokesman for the attorneys declined comment on the decision to abandon the suit and said the Winklevoss brothers had no statement.

The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in May rejected a bid by the identical twin brothers to have a full panel of 11 judges second guess a ruling made a month earlier by a three-justice panel.

The three-judge panel said that litigation in the case "must come to an end" and threw out the bid by the Winkevosses to review the settlement.

The twins had argued that Facebook held back information about the estimated value of the California-based social networking firm while reaching a $65 million dollar settlement with the brothers.

The twins inked a settlement two years ago that got them $20 million in cash and $45 million worth of stock valued at $36 per share.

The value of that yet-to-be-issued stock has skyrocketed along with Facebook's estimated market value.

The brothers challenged the settlement, which was supposed to be confidential, on the grounds that Zuckerberg suckered them during settlement talks by not revealing Facebook internally valued the stock at $9.

The lower figure would have resulted in the Winklevoss twins getting many more shares.

Bosch plans Malaysia solar panel plant

FRANKFURT, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - German industrial group Bosch will invest 520 million euros ($750 million) in a solar panel factory in Malaysia, a statement said on Wednesday.

Construction of the factory will begin this year in the northwest Penang region and will employ 2,000 people once operational.

"With this investment, Bosch is moving further along the path of internationalisation it has already set for its photo-voltaic business," Bosch chairman Franz Fehrenbach said in the statement.

Once fully ramped up, the factory will supply enough solar panels to power 300,000 Malaysian homes, the company said.

The statement said the investment was one of the largest building projects in the company's history.

Android phones to pit vampires against slayers

SAN FRANCISCO, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - Facial recognition startup Viewdle on Wednesday began letting Android smartphone users see which of the people around them are vampires and which are vampire slayers.

A "Third Eye" augmented reality game released by the San Francisco company online at viewdle.com is the first installment in a trilogy that will culminate in a battle between the undead and defenders of the living.

It was also intended as a fun demonstration of a powerful software platform that lets smartphone cameras recognize what they see and potentially support services such as sight for the blind or memories for the forgetful.

"It is true science fiction on some level," Viewdle chief product officer Jason Mitura told AFP. "The way people use their devices to interact with the world is going to change dramatically."

At the heart of the vampire-themed game is Viewdle's facial recognition technology that debuted in April in the form of a SocialCamera application for Android-powered smartphones.

SocialCamera uses computer algorithms to create "faceprints" that people can tag with names and store in smartphones. The software then matches faceprints to subjects in subsequent photos.

Android smartphones can instantly connect names to those in photos and share the images using social networking service Facebook, photo-sharing website Flickr, or by email or instant message.

"Third Eye" uses facial characteristics to evaluate whether people viewed through smartphone cameras are "blood suckers" or humans who can be recruited as vampire slayers.

The objective of the first part of the game is to amass an army and establish alliances for battles between clans that will play out in installments due for release later this year.

"The gaming mechanism forces play that requires people to interact with the real world," Mitura said. "You hold the smartphone up to an object and it triggers game play; in this case the object is a person."

Viewdle has avoided controversy by putting the facial recognition power in smartphones with users keeping control, instead of putting the information on servers in the Internet "cloud."

Viewdle is working with chip and smartphone makers that are building computer vision into their offerings.

Viewdle bills itself as the leading independent facial recognition company for consumer gadgets. Its technology is developed by the company's research team in the Ukraine.

Viewdle is the result of 15 years of research, rooted in work done at The Cybernetics Institute in Kiev, and got its first infusion of investor money -- 2.5 million dollars -- in June 2008.

High-powered players in September pumped $10 million into the Palo Alto, California, startup devoted to crafting ways to let smartphones "see" things the same way people do.

The influx of cash came from Qualcomm, BlackBerry Partners Fund, US electronics retail chain Best Buy, and Anthem Venture Partners, an investment firm that has backed Viewdle from the outset.

"We are giving smartphones human eyes," Viewdle co-founder and chief executive Laurent Gil told AFP.

"Letting them see the world the way people do... it is artificial intelligence," he said. "It is happening."

Viewdle plans to make a software developers kit available to gadget makers interested in building computer vision into devices.

"It is an exciting future for computer vision," Mitura said.

Camera lets people shoot first focus later

SAN FRANCISCO, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - Startup Lytro is promising to deliver by year's end a camera that lets people adjust the focus on photos after they take them.

Work that Ren Ng started in a lab while working on a PhD at Stanford University about eight years ago has led to the creation of what was billed as the first camera that captures the entire light field in a scene.

Software was then designed to use the light data to allow points of focus to be easily shifted in digital images, according to Northern California-based Lytro.

"Shoot now, focus later," the startup said Wednesday in a blog post describing its innovation.

"A Lytro can also help you remember more of what happened at that party last weekend," the message continued playfully.

Lytro has tested prototypes of the camera with photographers and was asking people interested in the gadgets to sign up at its website to measure interest.

Ng referred to Lytro camera images as "living pictures" because they allow whoever is looking at them, say as a post on a Facebook page, to shift the focus between people or objects captured in photos.

"Our mission is to change photography forever, making conventional cameras a thing of the past," Ng said in a blog post. "Light field cameras are the next big step in that picture revolution."

Lytro is having the cameras made itself and did not disclose the planned price. Most of the reported $50 million in funding for the startup has come from Andreessen Horowitz.

US tablet users paid $53 for apps: study

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - More than 90 percent of US tablet computer users have downloaded applications and most have bought apps, spending over $50 on average during the past 12 months, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Twelve percent of the total US population own or use a tablet, the study by the Online Publishers Association (OPA) found, with the number expected to rise to 23 percent, or 54 million people, by early 2012.

Ninety-three percent of tablet users have downloaded apps, the study said, with the average tablet user downloading 20 apps, predominantly for weather, games and music, social networking and news.

Seventy-nine percent of those who have downloaded apps have paid for apps during the past 12 months, spending $53 on apps during the period, the OPA study said.

Twenty-six percent of all apps downloaded are paid apps with games making up more than 50 percent of the apps people paid for, it said.

The study also found that 60 percent of tablet users are men and 48 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34.

Tablet owners were largely happy with their devices, the study found. Eighty-nine percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their tablet.

Apple's iPad was the tablet of choice among those surveyed with 46 percent saying they owned or used an iPad and 21 percent saying they owned or used an iPad 2.

The next most popular tablets were the Android-powered Samsung Galaxy, the Dell Streak and the HP Slate.

The survey of 2,482 people between the ages of eight and 64 was conducted by Frank Magid Associates between April 15 and April 20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.97 percentage points.

PrivateSky shields online exchanges from prying eyes

SAN FRANCISCO, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - A free service launched on Wednesday called PrivateSky lets Internet users shield email, Facebook updates, and other online exchanges from hackers or other unwanted snoops.

The service from startup CertiVox comes as hackers appear to be rampaging through the Internet, cracking defenses at companies, attacking public websites, and tricking their way into email accounts to spy on contents.

PrivateSky works with Internet Explorer (IE) browsers to provide encryption for whatever people type into message boxes and decodes it only for those they chose.

Users highlight blog posts, Facebook updates, email messages or other text then indicate who should be allowed to read them. Missives are decrypted only for intended recipients.

"It is literally one click encryption and decryption," said CertiVox founder and chief executive Brian Spector.

Internet security firm Trend Micro warned this month that cyberattackers have attempted to infiltrate Web-based email services run by Microsoft and Yahoo! as well as Google.

"There has been a variety of recent attacks on popular Webmail platforms," Trend Micro senior threat researcher Nart Villeneuve said in an online post. "In addition to Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail have also been targeted."

Trend Micro released the news after Google said a cyber spying campaign originating in China had targeted Gmail accounts of US officials, military personnel, journalists, Chinese political activists, and officials in several Asian countries, mainly in South Korea.

Encrypting email is seen as a way to thwart email snooping, but the process has typically taken a bit of software savvy.

CertiVox set out to make encryption simple with PrivateSky. "This is kind of like arming the citizenry," Spector said.

The encryption service works on any Web-based email such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail as well as posts at social networks.

CertiVox started with IE because of its global popularity but is adapting the service to other Web browsing software. CertiVox intends to eventually encrypt photos and other large data files as well as text.

The application for IE browsers is available for download online at https://privatesky.me.

China allows yuan foreign direct investment: report

BEIJING, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - China has formalised rules allowing foreign firms to use yuan raised overseas to make investments in the country, a report said Wednesday, as part of moves by Beijing to internationalise its currency.

A trial scheme will permit overseas companies to use yuan raised offshore to set up companies, make acquisitions, increase stakes in subsidiaries and provide loans, the China Business News said, citing a central bank statement.

They will be banned from investing in certain industries, the report said, without providing details. The statement appeared to have been removed from the central bank's website on Wednesday.

The People's Bank of China will review foreign investment projects on a case-by-case basis, the report said.

The statement marks the first time China has issued specific rules on yuan-denominated foreign direct investment in the country and analysts said it would encourage wider use of the unit overseas.

"This policy on yuan-denominated foreign direct investment is a significant stride towards making the yuan an international currency," Deutsche Bank economist Ma Jun was quoted saying.

The rules are expected to accelerate the issue of yuan-denominated bonds and other forms of yuan financing in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, Ma added.

A growing pool of investors have piled into yuan in a bid to capitalise on the currency's expected appreciation, but there are limited investment outlets for the cash.

Beijing in recent years has relaxed limits on the convertibility of the yuan in its push for greater use of the currency abroad.

The country has signed swap arrangements with several nations and launched trials for yuan trade settlement with a number of mainly Southeast Asian countries.

Yuan-related financial products have also boomed in Hong Kong, which has been acting as a test bed for Beijing's ambitious goal to turn the unit into a global currency.

In 2009, China approved using the yuan to settle cross-border trade with Hong Kong and last year it relaxed rules to allow non-financial foreign firms to issue yuan-denominated bonds.

In January, the World Bank issued its first yuan-denominated bonds, which it said would "further deepen the market and permit investors to diversify their currency holdings and expand renminbi (yuan) exposure".

That came after heavy equipment maker Caterpillar and fast-food giant McDonald's each issued yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong, the first such sales by non-financial foreign firms in the city.

2011/06/22

China releases artist Ai Weiwei on bail

BEIJING, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - Chinese police have released detained artist Ai Weiwei on bail after he confessed to tax evasion and because he suffers from a chronic disease, the state-run Xinhua news agency said Wednesday.

The outspoken dissident was taken into custody in April during the government's biggest crackdown on activists in years, with authorities later saying he was accused of evading tax and destroying accounting documents.

Xinhua reported late Wednesday that Ai had offered to repay the taxes, and would be released because of "his good attitude in confessing his crimes".

Relatives have said they did not know where the artist was being held, while his detention sparked an international outcry, with the United States and European Union condemning the move.

China warns US to stay out of maritime spat

BEIJING, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - China on Wednesday warned the United States to stay out of the deepening territorial spat in the South China Sea and accused other countries in the region of provocation, a report said.

Vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai said neighbouring countries, including Vietnam, were responsible for recent incidents in the disputed waters and dismissed calls for Washington to play a greater role in resolving tensions .

"I believe some countries now are playing with fire. And I hope the US won't be burned by this fire," Cui was quoted by the Wall Street Journal saying.

Tensions between China and other rival claimants to the strategically vital waters -- home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys -- have escalated in recent weeks.

The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have expressed alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed area, but Beijing has repeatedly said it was committed to resolving the issue peacefully.

US Senator John McCain on Monday called for Washington to expand military and political support to Southeast Asian nations to stand up to China over the increasingly volatile issue.

But Cui -- speaking ahead of weekend talks in Hawaii with US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on Asia-Pacific affairs -- said Washington should limit itself to urging "more restraint and responsible behaviour from those countries that have been frequently taking provocative actions".

"Some American friends may think the US can provide some help. We appreciate the gesture, but sometimes such help can only make things more complicated," he was quoted saying.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Tuesday China's territorial claims in the South China Sea did not interfere with other countries' right to travel in the hotly contested waters -- but maintained its sovereignty in the area.

"China's maintenance of sovereignty in the South China Sea and rising interest will never influence the freedom of navigation of other countries in the South China Sea," Hong told reporters.

"There has never been a problem with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea."

Hipmunk travel booking lands on iPad

SAN FRANCISCO, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Hipmunk's slick travel booking service that sorts flights by "agony" and hotels by "ecstasy" landed on Apple's iPad tablet computers on Tuesday.

The San Francisco-based startup released an iPad application that capitalizes on the large, high-resolution screen to present visual timelines for flights as well as touch "sliders" for filtering results.

"The Hipmunk App optimized for iPad aligns with our mission of providing a superior, and fun, travel search experience," said startup chief Adam Goldstein.

The program tailored for iPads allows travelers to "easily search for flights on a screen that is well-equipped for viewing results, understanding trade-offs, and booking flights at a glance."

Hipmunk also updated the versions of its free application for Apple iPhones and iPod Touch devices.

The startup launched late last year at hipmunk.com and its roster of investors includes actor Ashton Kutcher.

Google translates more India languages

SAN FRANCISCO, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Tuesday expanded its free Internet translation service to include five languages spoken by more than a half million people in India and Bangladesh.

Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu were added to Google Translate, bringing to 63 the number of languages supported by the California-based firm's online service.

Translation of the newly added languages were in "alpha" form meaning that there was polishing to be done, Google research scientist Ashish Venugopal said in a blog post.

"If you notice incorrect or missing translations for any of our languages, please correct us; we enjoy learning from our mistakes and your feedback helps us graduate new languages from alpha status," Venugopal said.

"We hope that the launch of these new alpha languages will help you better understand the Indic web and encourage the publication of new content in Indic languages," he added.

Google also made software for fonts used in the languages available for download.

Google translates more India languages

SAN FRANCISCO, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Tuesday expanded its free Internet translation service to include five languages spoken by more than a half million people in India and Bangladesh.

Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu were added to Google Translate, bringing to 63 the number of languages supported by the California-based firm's online service.

Translation of the newly added languages were in "alpha" form meaning that there was polishing to be done, Google research scientist Ashish Venugopal said in a blog post.

"If you notice incorrect or missing translations for any of our languages, please correct us; we enjoy learning from our mistakes and your feedback helps us graduate new languages from alpha status," Venugopal said.

"We hope that the launch of these new alpha languages will help you better understand the Indic web and encourage the publication of new content in Indic languages," he added.

Google also made software for fonts used in the languages available for download.

1,300 journos to cover William and Catherine in Canada

OTTAWA, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - A whopping 1,300 journalists are accredited to cover Britain's Prince William and his new wife Catherine's visit to Canada from June 30 to July 7, Heritage Minister James Moore said Tuesday.

It is almost twice the number that followed the prince's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, during her trip to the Commonwealth country last year.

Among them will be 241 foreign journalists, including from Japan, China, India and Qatar, Moore told a media briefing to highlight the massive interest from around the world in the couple's first visit abroad as newlyweds.

From donning aprons in a cookery workshop to taking part in a boat race, the packed nine-day tour is being billed by royal officials as a hands-on affair, and an energetic contrast to the more reserved approach taken by the queen on foreign tours.

It is, however, like several royal visits to this country in the past, also expected to see a few bumps as anti-monarchists in Quebec have vowed to disrupt the royals' public events in the mostly French-speaking province.

Moore noted that the role of the monarchy in Canada has always been a subject of fierce debate, pitting monarchists against republicans, but he asked protestors to "be respectful."

"I know that there are many people across Canada as well as in Quebec who will be very excited to see the duke and duchess here in Canada," he added.

Ex-footballer Gray settles newspaper phone-hacking case

LONDON, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Former Scottish footballer and pundit Andy Gray on Tuesday accepted damages of £20,000 ($32,480, 22,540 euros) from the News of the World newspaper after it hacked his mobile phone.

The ex-Everton striker follows in the footsteps of British actress Sienna Miller, whom was awarded £100,000 by parent company News Group Newspapers (NGN) after she discovered her voicemail messages had been intercepted.

Gray reached an agreement with NGN for compensation plus legal costs after fighting "tooth and nail" to establish he had been a victim of the crime, said his lawyers.

"When Andy first contacted the News of the World about this matter it denied any liability," John Kelly, a partner at Schillings law firm which represented Gray, said.

"Andy was forced to issue legal proceedings and had to fight tooth and nail to establish that he had been the victim of unlawful phone hacking.

"The News of the World has since that time apologised to Andy and other victims, has agreed that it won't target Andy in this way again and has now agreed to pay Andy substantial damages and his legal costs," he added.

Gray now works for radio station Talksport after being sacked by Sky for making sexist comments about a football lineswoman which were caught on camera.

Two months ago the News of the World apologised for phone-hacking in a controversy that has involved a string of high-profile figures and in 2007 led to the jailing of a journalist and a private investigator.

Police were forced to reopen an investigation in January following a stream of fresh allegations, and have arrested several journalists from the newspaper in recent months.

USA Today publisher Gannett cuts 700 jobs

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Gannett, the largest US newspaper chain and the publisher of USA Today, said Tuesday it is laying off 700 employees, around two percent of its workforce.

A Gannett spokeswoman said the layoffs did not involve USA Today or the Detroit Free Press but were being spread out among the chain's various local newspapers across the United States.

The McLean, Virginia-based Gannett publishes around 80 daily US newspapers and more than 600 magazines and non-dailies.

Like other US newspapers, Gannett has been grappling with declining print advertising revenue, falling circulation and the migration of readers to free news online.

Robert Dickey, the head of Gannett's US Community Publishing division, said in a memo to employees that the layoffs were necessary to "align our costs with the current revenue trends."

"As we reach the mid-point of the year, the economic recovery is not happening as quickly or favorably as we had hoped and continues to impact our US community media organizations," Dickey said.

"While we are seeing improved circulation results and audience growth, weakness in the real estate sector, slow job creation and now softer auto ad demand continue to challenge revenue growth in the division," he said.

"National advertising remains soft and with many of our local advertisers reducing their overall budgets, we need to take further steps to align our costs with the current revenue trends," he said.

Dickey said each local publisher would decide how many employees to let go but the total would be approximately 700 employees.

Gannett's net profit fell 23 percent in the first quarter of the year as a double-digit boost in digital revenue failed to make up for a continued print advertising slide.

Revenue was down 3.7 percent to $1.25 billion in the quarter.

Gannett shares gained 2.91 percent, or 40 cents, on Tuesday, to close at $14.16.

Kinect bringing interactive ads to Xbox 360

SAN FRANCISCO, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Microsoft announced Tuesday it will bring interactive ads to Xbox360 consoles using the voice- and gesture-recognizing capabilities of Kinect controllers.

The US technology titan unveiled "NUads" technology that it heralded as the future of television advertising.

"I believe that the Kinect platform, and NUads, will unlock the incredible potential of interactive TV, and interactive TV advertising," Microsoft advertising business group general manager Mark Kroese said in a blog post.

Microsoft has been beefing up film and television show content at its Xbox Live service that consoles connect with using the Internet.

Kinect controllers allow people to tell a console to post a video ad in a Twitter update or ask it for more information about a product.

Viewers can use waves of hands to share opinions in polls or send material to themselves by email.

"Simply put, NUads break down the barriers between consumers and content on the TV screen," Kroese said.

"NUads make traditional linear content -- like a 30-second TV spot -- irresistibly interactive," he continued.

Early in June, Microsoft added YouTube, voice commands, television shows and more to Xbox 360 with Kinect as the hot-selling videogame console matures into an entertainment center for all.

Microsoft ramped up voice capabilities in Kinect to allow Xbox users not only to give commands to in-game characters but also to speak Bing searches for games, movies, television shows, music and other entertainment content.

Microsoft has sold more than 10 million of the gesture-sensing Kinect accessories for the Xbox 360 worldwide since they hit the market in November.

Kinect uses a 3D camera and motion recognition software to let people play videogames on the Xbox 360 using natural body movements and voice commands instead of hand-held controllers.

Microsoft has expressed a vision of Kinect moving beyond the living room to medical centers, schools and other places where technology to track skeletal movement and recognize voices could be useful.

Google breaks billion-visitor barrier on Internet

SAN FRANCISCO, June 22, 2011 (AFP) - Figures released on Tuesday by industry tracker comScore credited Google with being the first online operation to attract more than a billion visitors in a single month.

Slightly more than a billion people went to Google websites in May in what comScore billed as an unprecedented turn-out on the Internet.

Microsoft websites were closing in on the milestone with about 900,000 "unique visitors" for the month, according to comScore.

Facebook had the third most visited Web addresses, but topped other online venues in terms of how long people lingered after they arrived. ComScore extrapolated the findings from a sampling of two million Internet users.

Ryanair to help China's COMAC on medium-range jet

PARIS, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Ryanair said on Tuesday it had signed an agreement to help China's COMAC develop its medium-range C919 jet for its possible use by the low-cost airline.

Ryanair "will share its experience and expertise to assist COMAC to develop the new C919 commercial aircraft, with up to 200 seats, which would enable Ryanair to lower costs and continue to lower fares for its passengers across Europe," the airline said in a statement.

"Ryanair can become a two aircraft operator carrier, as long as the economies achieved by our current Boeing 737-800 fleet can be matched or lowered by a similar sized order from a different manufacturer," said the airline's chief executive Michael O’Leary.

The C919 -- a planned single-aisle jet which can seat up to 190 passengers -- is China's first large homegrown passenger jet, and is seen as a potential competitor to the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737.

"We look forward to its introduction into commercial service from 2018 onwards," said the Ryanair chief.

O'Leary noted that Ryanair will have a fleet of over 300 Boeing aircraft by 2013, "and we remain in continuing discussions with both Boeing and now COMAC for a replacement aircraft order of at least 200 aircraft."

While the tie-up with COMAC won't affect Ryanair's relationship with Boeing, O'Leary said increased competition would be good for airlines and lowering the cost of air travel for consumers.

"We are pleased that there is now a real alternative to Boeing and Airbus," he said.

COMAC General Manager Zhuanglong Jin expressed appreciation for Ryanair's support and said "we look forward to strengthening the cooperation and communication with Ryanair as we strive to establish a close, long-term strategic partnership."

China defends claims in South China Sea

BEIJING, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - China said Tuesday its territorial claims in the South China Sea did not interfere with other countries' right to travel in the disputed waters and pledged to resolve the latest spat peacefully.

Tensions between China and other rival claimants to the strategically vital waters -- home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys -- have escalated in recent weeks.

The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have expressed alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed waters, but Beijing reiterated its commitment to resolve the issue peacefully.

"China's maintenance of sovereignty in the South China Sea and rising interest will never influence the freedom of navigation of other countries in the South China Sea," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

"There has never been a problem with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea."

China was a "constructive force in the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea," he added.

Hong's comments came after Singapore on Monday urged China to be more open about the extent of its territorial claims, saying Beijing's ambiguity was causing international concern.

Singapore's foreign ministry said that while the city-state had no claims of its own, it was a major trading nation whose interests could be affected by issues relating to freedom of navigation in the area.

US Senator John McCain meanwhile called for Washington to expand military and political support to Southeast Asian nations to stand up to China in the increasingly volatile waters.

McCain said Monday he welcomed the Obama administration's defence of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but said it should go further.

He said it should let "other countries know, where possible, which claims the United States accepts, which ones we do not, and what actions we are prepared to support," especially in defence of the Philippines, a treaty ally.

Police halt Google 'Street View' project in India

BANGALORE, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Indian police said Tuesday they had ordered Google to stop taking photos of the city of Bangalore for its Street View product because of fears the images could be used by militants.

Technology giant Google launched its plan to collect panoramic images of India last month, picking IT and software hub Bangalore as the starting point for the gigantic undertaking.

"Since Bangalore has been on the radar of terrorists and anti-national elements as a high target area, we are wary of its streets and localities being filmed and made available on Google Maps," Bangalore additional police commissioner T. Sunil Kumar told AFP.

Kumar said Google would need written permission from the ministry of home affairs and the ministry of external affairs to continue filming. Neither ministry commented when contacted by AFP.

Google, which claimed it had received all the necessary authorisations from the state and federal authorities last month, said it had pulled its cars and tricycles with specially mounted cameras off the roads.

"We received a letter from Bangalore's commissioner of police and are reviewing it. We will not be collecting any more images for Street View until we speak to the police," a Google spokeswoman told AFP.

"We expect to have any issues sorted out soon."

Street View, which operates in more than 25 countries, has proved hugely popular with users since its launch in the United States in 2007, but it has also run into trouble with several governments concerned about privacy.

In March, France's data privacy regulator fined Google 100,000 euros ($143,500) for collecting private information while compiling photographs for the project.

Last month the company said it would appeal against a Swiss ruling ordering it to ensure that all people and cars pictured on Street View were unrecognisable.

Google has also agreed to delete private emails and passwords mistakenly picked up from wireless networks in Britain by its Street View cars.

Kumar said the Bangalore police were not against the project in principle, but the government would have to decide whether to allow it to proceed.

"The government has to assess the benefits and fallout of such a facility as technology can be misused or abused by anyone," he said.

"We need to study the whole exercise in consultation with our security agencies and take a call on it."

Google has agreed to consider requests from the government and law enforcement agencies to blur or block images in sensitive locations and has said it will blur images on request from property owners.

After the Mumbai attacks in 2008 in which 166 people were killed, a case was lodged in the Bombay High Court calling for Google Earth to be banned amid suggestions that the online satellite imaging was used in the planning of the atrocity.

Indian police were also put on alert after a key plotter of the attacks, US-Pakistani citizen David Headley, confessed to carrying out surveillance of the targets by taking pictures and drawing maps.

Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, told AFP that Street View had more privacy than security implications.

"The first instinct of banning it isn't very constructive. What Google has done is block places of significant security interest," he said.

Italian police crack down on China money transfers

ROME, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Italian police on Tuesday seized 70 Chinese-owned businesses in the textile sector in and around Florence and assets worth 25 million euros in an anti-fraud crackdown.

The operation in central Italy was "a dam on the flow of money from Italy to China", financial police said in a statement, adding that the alleged crimes included fraudulent money transfers and the creation of shell companies.

Police said they have seized 396 bank accounts, 183 vehicles and 76 properties. A total of 500 officers were involved in the operation codenamed "Cian Ba" meaning "river dam" in Chinese and there were raids across Italy.

"Chinese companies operating in the ready-to-wear sector in Prato and leather goods in Florence were accumulating large amounts of cash thanks to black market sales often using counterfeit goods and illegal labour," it said.

The investigation found that business owners were then sending the cash back to China through money transfer agencies in dozens or even hundreds of tranches of 1,999.99 euros each -- under the legal limit per payment of 2,000 euros.

The police said it estimated that 238 million euros (342 million dollars) in revenue were not declared in Italy this way and sent back to China between 2007 and 2009.

"The Chinese government always asks Chinese citizens resident in Italy to integrate better into society and calls for them to respect local laws, customs and traditions," the Chinese embassy to Rome said in a statement.

"We hope that the legitimate rights of Chinese immigrants are protected and guaranteed during these operations," it added.

The main Chinese hub in Italy is Prato where tensions are high between local authorities and the estimated 3,400 small Chinese businesses that have mushroomed there, producing clothes for major brands including Zara and H&M.

Police say the town has become a new Chinese gangland but immigrants defend it as a revitalised hub of Italy's flagging textile industry.

Chinese immigrants began arriving in Prato some 20 years ago, initially working for Italian companies before setting up their own businesses.

There are now officially some 17,000 Chinese residents -- up to 50,000 including undocumented migrants -- out of a population of 188,000 in Prato.

Facebook exposing children to online threats: EU survey

BRUSSELS, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - Social networking sites such as Facebook are not doing enough to protect children from potential dangers such as grooming by paedophiles or online bullying, European authorities said Tuesday.

"Most social networking sites are failing to ensure that minors' profiles are accessible only to their approved contacts by default," said European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes in a statement.

Of 14 tested, just two -- Bebo and MySpace -- ensure the required controls to ensure "potential strangers" cannot gain access.

The authorities in Brussels say the number of minors who use the Internet and subscribe to social networking sites is growing -- currently 77 percent of children aged 13-16 and 38 percent of those aged 9-12.

Kroes said she will urge online social networking site owners to make the changes, warning that "youngsters do not fully understand the consequences of disclosing too much of their personal lives online".

Of particular concern is the practice of tagging people in pictures, which increases the risk for teenagers of "grooming and cyber-bullying", the EU executive said.

The tests, carried out over two months around the turn of year, covered the following websites: Arto, Bebo, Facebook, Giovani.it, Hyves, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Rate.ee, SchulerVZ, IRC Galleria, Tuenti and Zap.lu.

The commission said nine more sites that have also signed up to a self-regulating code will be tested later this year.

An EU survey earlier this year said little more than half of children aged 11-12 knew how to change privacy settings.

EBay sells a piece of papal history

ROME, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - The online auction site eBay, with a plethora of things up for sale, recently put on the block a bit of papal history, the identity card of Albino Luciani, who later became pope John Paul I.

The card issued in 1976 when he was the cardinal of Venice sold for 5,200 euros (7,470 dollars) on eBay, and the money will be used for humanitarian activities, the Italian newspaper Il Gazzettino reported Tuesday.

The identity card was put up for sale on eBay by a member of a religious order who said he wanted to raise money for charity. The identity of the buyer was not released.

John Paul I's tenure in office was very brief. He was elected pope in August 1978 and died the following month.

US, Japan delay Okinawa base plan

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - The United States and Japan acknowledged Tuesday that they would miss a 2014 deadline for a controversial shift of a US base in Okinawa, but stood firmly behind the plan in the face of opposition.

In a joint statement after top-level talks, the Pacific allies said that the relocation "will not meet the previous targeted date of 2014" but renewed their commitment to complete the project "at the earliest possible date."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, meeting with their Japanese counterparts, also reconfirmed plans to move 8,000 Marines and some 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to the US territory of Guam.

Under the 2006 plan between the two governments, the United States planned to shut the flashpoint Futenma base in Okinawa which has long been a source of grievance as it lies in a crowded urban area.

But a number of activists on Okinawa demanded that the base be removed entirely from the island, the often reluctant host to half of the 47,000 US troops based in Japan under a post-World War II treaty.

Three US senators recently moved to force the Pentagon to consider a new option, saying that the current plan is too costly and politically unrealistic as Japan grapples with the aftermath of its massive earthquake.

British teen arrested over CIA, US Senate hacking

LONDON, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - British police working with the FBI arrested a 19-year-old man over attacks by a hacker group on businesses and government agencies including the CIA, US Senate and Sony, Scotland Yard said Tuesday.

The man, named in reports as Ryan Cleary, was detained on Monday at a house in the suburban town of Wickford in Essex, southeast England, in connection with a month-long global rampage by the Lulz Security group.

He was being questioned Tuesday at a central London police station.

"Yes, the arrest is in connection with the Lulz Security attacks. We believe this to be a significant arrest," a police source confirmed to AFP on condition of anonymity.

But the group played down the arrest in a posting on its official Twitter account. It has announced previous hacking attacks on the same account that turned out to be genuine.

"Seems the glorious leader of LulzSec got arrested, it's all over now... wait... we're all still here! Which poor bastard did they take down," said the posting.

In a statement, Scotland Yard said its specialist cyber-crime team had arrested the man in a "pre-planned intelligence-led operation" on suspicion of computer misuse and fraud offences.

"The arrest follows an investigation into network intrusions and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against a number of international businesses and intelligence agencies by what is believed to be the same hacking group," it said.

DDoS attacks overwhelm websites with traffic, making them sluggish or unresponsive.

"Searches at a residential address in Wickford, Essex, following the arrest last night have led to the examination of a significant amount of material. These forensic examinations remain ongoing," the statement said.

British police had been "working in cooperation with the FBI" in the run-up to the arrest, it added.

The latest in a series of hacking groups to gain public prominence, Lulz knocked out the CIA's public website, cia.gov, for about two hours last week using a DDoS attack and also hacked into the US Senate's public website.

The group has also released tens of thousands of user names and passwords stolen from Sony and other sites, and on Monday Lulz targeted the website of Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency.

British authorities said Tuesday they were investigating whether information from the country's 2011 national census had been hacked.

"We are aware of the suggestion that census data has been accessed. We are working with our security advisers and contractors to establish whether there is any substance to this," the Office of National Statistics said in a statement.

But Lulz later said on Twitter that it was not responsible, adding that it had itself been the victim of a hoax statement.

In an online manifesto posted last week, Lulz -- whose name is a derivative of the text shorthand for LOL, or "laugh out loud" -- said they were staging the attacks for their own entertainment.

"You find it funny to watch havoc unfold, and we find it funny to cause it," it said.

"For the past month and a bit, we've been causing mayhem and chaos throughout the Internet, attacking several targets including PBS, Sony, Fox, porn websites, FBI, CIA, the US government, Sony some more, online gaming servers," Lulz said.

Lulz last week denied reports that it was in conflict with the hacker group Anonymous, which gained notoriety last year with cyberattacks in support of controversial whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

Anonymous in May posted Ryan Cleary's personal details on the Internet after accusing him of trying to hack into its chatrooms.

2011/06/21

First China aircraft carrier sea trial 'next week'

HONG KONG, June 21, 2011 (AFP) - China's first aircraft carrier -- a remodelled Soviet-era vessel -- will go on sea trials next week, a report said Tuesday, amid escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

China's top military official reportedly confirmed earlier this month that Beijing is building a huge aircraft carrier, the first acknowledgement of the ship's existence from China's secretive defence programme.

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, which broke the story of the vessel's confirmation, quoted unnamed military sources saying the carrier will go on sea trials on July 1 but will not be officially launched until October.

The sources said the test has been expedited in view of rising tensions in the South China Sea -- home to two potentially oil-rich archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratlys -- in recent weeks.

China's military "hopes it will show the strength of the Chinese maritime forces to deter other nations which are eyeing the South China Sea in order to calm tensions," the sources said.

They added that the sea trial date was also picked to mark the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, but noted that factors such as weather could affect the planned test run.

China's military did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

Tensions between Beijing and other rival claimants to the strategically vital South China Sea have heightened recently.

The Philippines and Vietnam in particular have expressed alarm at what they say are increasingly aggressive actions by China in the disputed waters, but Beijing has insisted it is committed to resolving the issue peacefully.

Chinese officials have previously said its first aircraft carrier would not pose a threat to other nations, in accordance with Beijing's defensive military strategy.

The Chinese aircraft carrier plan was confirmed when the chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, Chen Bingde confirmed the ship's existence in an interview with the Hong Kong paper.

He said the 300 metre (990-foot) former Soviet carrier, originally called the Varyag, was being overhauled. The ship is currently based in the northeast port of Dalian.

An expert on China's military has reportedly said the carrier would be used for training and as a model for a future indigenously-built ship.

The Varyag was originally built for the Soviet navy but construction was interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The PLA -- the largest army in the world -- is hugely secretive about its defence programmes, which benefit from a large military budget boosted by the nation's runaway economic growth.