Citigroup, UBS accused of rate manipulation in Japan

TOKYO, December 10, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's securities watchdog has urged that the Japanese arms of Citigroup and US be penalised for trying to manipulate the short-term interest rates for interbank trading.

Former staff members at UBS Securities Japan and Citigroup Global Markets Japan had tried to bring unfair benefit to their firms through interest rate manipulation, the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission said Friday.

A British trader with UBS Securities Japan had asked banks participating in the Tokyo interbank offered rate, or Tibor, to offer rates that would help his derivative transactions, the commission said.

The commission said it had evidence of wrongdoing going back to 2007 but did not know when the moves had started.

He also made similar moves related to the London interbank offered rate or Libor, it added.

The rates are the average interest rate that major banks in Tokyo and London charge for interbank lending, and are widely used as benchmark rates for other loans such as corporate borrowing.

The man later moved to Citigroup Global Markets Japan, where he conspired with his superior in similar moves aimed at benefiting their derivative transactions, the commission said.

It was not clear whether they succeeded in influencing the benchmark rates.

The actions were "seriously unjust and malicious and and could undermine the fairness of the markets," the commission said, urging the Financial Services Agency to administratively penalise the two firms.

The traders have either been dismissed or left Citigroup, news reports said.

The commission also pointed out other irregularities at Citigroup Global Markets, including inadequate responses to the attempts to manipulate the Tibor and Libor rates.

Obama says did not 'overpromise' on US economy

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2011 (AFP) - President Barack Obama has said he did not oversell his plan to fix the struggling US economy, insisting the nation's woes had been mounting for 20 years, in comments to CBS News released Friday.

"I didn't overpromise. And I didn't underestimate how tough this was going to be," Obama said, according to excerpts from an interview to be broadcast in full on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" on Sunday.

"I always believed that this was a long-term project. Reversing structural problems in our economy that have been building up for two decades, that was going to take time," after entering office, the president said.

"It was going to take more than a year. It was going to take more than two years. It was going to take more than one term. Probably takes more than one president," Obama said.

Obama, who defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the 2008 election on a promise of "Yes We Can," entered the White House in January 2009 while the US economy was still in recession as a result of the global financial crisis.

During the campaign, Obama had pledged to restore America's economic dominance and gained the upper hand in a tight race after McCain blundered on the economy.

Although the United States exited the recession under Obama's leadership, the American economy has been plagued by high unemployment since, and despite falling last month, joblessness remains stubbornly high at 8.6 percent.

Obama admitted in the interview that Americans "who are struggling right now, they have every reason to be impatient," but likened himself to the captain of a ship "going through really bad storms."

"No matter how well we're steering the ship, if the boat's rocking back and forth and people are getting sick and...they're being buffeted by the winds and the rain," the president said.

"People are going to say, 'You know what? A good captain would have had us in some smooth waters and sunny skies, at this point.' And I don't control the weather," Obama added.

Asked if unemployment could fall to eight percent before the November 2012 presidential election, he replied: "It's possible. But...I'm not in the job of prognosticating on the economy. I'm in the job of putting in place the tools that allow the economy to thrive and Americans to succeed."

Syria wants intl help for 'honourable' exit from crisis

DAMASCUS, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Syria on Friday appealed to the international community as well as Arab countries to help it find an "honourable exit" to the crisis it is facing, notably by stopping the flow of weapons into the country.

"We are appealing to the outside world and our brothers in the Arab world to help Syria (prevent the) channelling (of) weapons" into the country, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi told a news conference in Damascus, speaking in English.

"We want the others, all the others, to support the Syrian evolution, not the armed confrontation in Syria," he said.

"If we all work together we can find an honourable exit to the crisis."

Makdisi convened the news conference to denounce US news network ABC, which this week broadcast an interview with President Bashar al-Assad.

"The network distorted what the president said," Makdisi said.

"It deliberately deformed the president's words... by airing videos (of violence) to incite" action against Syria, the spokesman said.
"That was a deliberate mistake."

Makdisi said ABC had edited the interview Assad gave to veteran journalist Barbara Walters and broadcast only what it wanted the world to hear, leaving out long extracts of what the president said.

"The important thing (was) to show Syria is evil," Makdisi said.

"The battle is political and we know that," he added.

Makdisi stressed that Assad is "appalled and saddened" by the deadly violence that has shaken Syria for nearly nine months.

"The president has promised accountability," he added.

Makdisi also stressed that Assad's regime gave "no clear instructions to use live ammunition" against pro-democracy protesters who have held almost daily protests since mid-March.

Assad denied in the interview with ABC that he ordered the killing of protesters in Syria and said "only a crazy person" would target his own people.

"We don't kill our people," Assad said.

"No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person."

Makdisi said the network played up this quote as part of a concerted effort in the West to give a negative image of Assad.

The foreign ministry spokesman played part of the interview that was aired by ABC as well as another segment of the original tape to show that some of what Assad said had been edited out.

Assad in the interview also disputed UN claims that more than 4,000 people have been killed in Syria in a security force crackdown on dissent since mid-March.

Web security firm Blue Coat acquired for $1.3 bn

WASHINGTON, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Web security company Blue Coat Systems said Friday it is being acquired by a private investment group in a deal worth $1.3 billion.

The investor group led by private equity investment firm Thoma Bravo will pay $25.81 per share in cash to Blue Coat shareholders for each share of common stock they own, a 48 percent premium over Blue Coat's closing price Thursday.

The Sunnyvale, California-based Blue Coat said the transaction has been approved by the company's board of directors.

"As a private company, Blue Coat will be better positioned to innovate at an accelerated rate and achieve a higher level of growth," said Orlando Bravo, managing partner at San Francisco-based Thoma Bravo.

Seth Boro, a Thoma Bravo partner, said "Blue Coat marks the continuation of Thoma Bravo's investment efforts in the security technology industry, and is the firm's fifth security technology platform investment."

Blue Coat said it expects the deal to close in the first quarter of next year.

US senators called last month for an investigation into whether US companies, including Blue Coat, have provided Internet monitoring and censorship technology to Syria, aiding its crackdown on dissent.

A Blue Coat official told AFP in October that Internet filtering equipment sold to Iraq's communications ministry has mysteriously been put to use in Syria and the company does not know how it ended up there.

A bill that would prohibit US exports of technology used for Internet surveillance or censorship was introduced in the US House of Representatives on Thursday.

"US companies should not, knowingly or unwittingly, be providing the technology used by repressive regimes to hunt down and punish human rights activists," said Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey who is behind the Global Online Freedom Act.

The legislation would bar American companies from exporting hardware or software that could be used for online surveillance or censorship to nations that restrict the Internet.

Apple to appeal Motorola patent dispute ruling in Germany

BERLIN, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Apple said Friday it would immediately appeal a German court ruling in favour of rival Motorola in a patent dispute.

"We're going to appeal the court's ruling right away," Apple said in a statement emailed to Dow Jones Newswire. "Holiday shoppers in Germany should have no problem finding the iPad or iPhone they want."

Motorola said in a press release that the court found Apple's European sales company, Ireland-based Apple Sales International, was infringing on a Motorola cellular communications patent used in iPhones and iPads.

The court granted Motorola's requests for an injunction and damages, Motorola said.

In September, a court in Dusseldorf sided with Apple in a dispute against Samsung over the South Korean company's Galaxy tablet, which Apple said was too similar to the iPad.

YouTube buys US-based music rights company

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - YouTube said Friday it has acquired RightsFlow, a New York-based company which manages music rights for songwriters, recording artists, record labels and online music services.

"As new ways of consuming music have emerged, RightsFlow has been at the forefront of solving the complex issues of licensing and royalty payment management," YouTube product manager David King said in a blog post.

"By combining RightsFlow's expertise and technology with YouTube's platform, we hope to more rapidly and efficiently license music on YouTube, meaning more music for you all to enjoy, and more money for the talented people producing the music," King said.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

King said Google-owned YouTube has invested tens of millions of dollars in content management technology and will "continue to invest in tools that make it easier for copyright owners to manage their content online."

Rights Flow chief executive Patrick Sullivan said in a statement that YouTube "shares in our vision of solving the really challenging problem of copyright management."

"Combined with the worldwide platform and reach of YouTube, we'll now be able to drive awareness, adoption, and licensing success to a much larger audience -- ultimately benefiting users, artists, labels, songwriters, publishers, and the entire global music ecosystem," Sullivan said.

China deploys patrol boats on Mekong: state media

BEIJING, December 10, 2011 (AFP) - China has deployed more than 300 armed police to patrol the Mekong river in boats in collaboration with Myanmar, Thailand and Laos after a deadly attack in October, state-run media said on Saturday.

Two months ago, 13 Chinese sailors were killed on a section of the river south of China's border, raising concerns in Beijing for the safety of crews and cargoes sailing south through an area rife with drug warfare and smuggling.

Citing officials, the official China Daily newspaper said that Chinese police would escort 10 private cargo ships, including the boats that were attacked on October 5 by what is thought to have been a drug gang.

"The special force will serve as the first joint-patrol law enforcement team of the national border defense department, committed to safeguarding the international waterway," said public security deputy minister Meng Hongwei.

The Mekong flows through China's southwestern province of Yunnan into Southeast Asia, serving as a major trade route through several countries including Cambodia and Vietnam.

China reacted angrily to the October attack, sending patrol boats down the Mekong to retrieve 164 stranded Chinese sailors and 28 cargo ships and calling on diplomats from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar to speed up investigations.

Since then, police in Thailand have detained nine soldiers who are suspected of killing the Chinese sailors and are also thought to have links with a Myanmar drug kingpin.

China reports surprisingly strong trade figures

BEIJING, December 10, 2011 (AFP) - The value of China's exports and imports rose in November from the previous month, official data showed Saturday, despite the ongoing turmoil in the country's key markets of Europe and the United States.

China's politically sensitive trade surplus -- a constant bugbear for major trade partners -- narrowed to $14.5 billion in November from $17 billion in October, China's customs office said.

The surprisingly strong data came amid growing concerns over weakness in  the country's vast manufacturing sector, which employs hundreds of millions of people and is a major driver of the world's second largest economy.

China's exports rose 13.8 percent year on year to $174.46 billion in November, up from $157.49 billion in October, the customs agency said in a statement.

Imports expanded 22.1 percent to $159.94 billion in November, up from the $140.46 billion recorded a month earlier, the data showed.

The rise in China's imports and exports outstripped market expectations, Dow Jones newswires reported. Exports were expected to rise 19 percent and imports were expected to rise 10.4 percent, Dow Jones said.

The robust trade data are in contrast with other official figures released on Friday that showed China's economy lost steam in November.

Consumer prices rose at their weakest pace in more than a year and factory  output growth hit its lowest level in more than two years, fuelling pressure on Beijing to further relax credit restrictions to prevent a hard landing.

Analysts have said the weaker-than-expected data will raise concerns that economic woes in Europe and the United States are hurting China's economy and likely embolden policymakers to further open credit valves to spur activity.

But the official Xinhua news agency said China's top leaders had decided at a meeting on Friday to maintain a "prudent monetary policy" in 2012, suggesting they will move cautiously to ease credit restrictions.

Hewlett-Packard makes webOS mobile software public

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Hewlett-Packard said Friday it is making the webOS operating system for mobile devices it acquired from Palm last year available to the open source community.

HP will continue to develop and support webOS, but the software platform will become open source, meaning that developers anywhere can tinker with it as they wish and it will be available for anyone to use free of charge.

"WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable," HP chief executive Meg Whitman said in a release.

"By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices," Whitman said.

Palo Alto, California-based HP announced in August it would stop making smartphones and tablet computers using the webOS software acquired from Palm in a $1.2 billion deal last year.

HP, citing disappointing sales, announced on August 18 it was discontinuing the TouchPad, a tablet computer powered by webOS, just seven weeks after it hit the market.

Two weeks later, HP said it planned one last production run of the TouchPad, which became a hot seller following a price cut from $499 to just $99 and the announcement that it was being abandoned.

TouchPad was the top-selling tablet computer in the United States after Apple's iPad in the first 10 months of the year, market research company NPD Group reported last month.

Netscape co-founder nixes Yahoo! leadership role

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Netscape co-founder turned Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen on Friday shot down reports he was in line to take an executive role at struggling Internet pioneer Yahoo!.

"Over the last several weeks, there have been erroneous reports in the press that my partner Jeff Jordan and/or I might become an operating executive of Yahoo in some capacity," Andreessen said in a post on his personal blog.

"To be crystal clear, neither Jeff, nor I, nor any of our partners at Andreessen Horowitz, are in the running for, or would accept, any operating role at Yahoo, including CEO, acting CEO, chairman, or executive chairman.

"Jeff and I have high regard for Yahoo, but we are fully committed to our day jobs as general partners at Andreessen Horowitz and board members of our portfolio companies," Andreessen said.

Andreessen Horowitz is the Menlo Park, California-based venture capital firm Andreessen launched in July 2009 with Ben Horowitz, former chief executive of Opsware. Jordan is another partner in the firm.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Andreessen Horowitz has joined forces with Microsoft, Silver Lake Partners and others to make a bid for a controlling interest in Yahoo!.

Yahoo! enjoys a huge Web presence and global audience but has struggled recently to build a strongly profitable, growing business.

Yahoo!'s board of directors fired chief executive Carol Bartz in September and launched a strategic review of the company.

China says 'difficulties' with Norway persist

BEIJING, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - China said Friday relations with Norway remained "difficult", a year after downgrading ties with Oslo in response to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

"The difficulties between China and Norway are because the Norwegian government made the wrong decision when the Nobel Peace Committee gave the award to Liu Xiaobo," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

"We hope the Norwegian side will make practical efforts to resume the development of the bilateral relationship," he told reporters.

His remarks came as five Nobel Peace Prize winners launched a campaign to free Liu, saying they feared Beijing was silencing his family and friends and the world would forget his plight.

Liu, the first Chinese citizen to win the Peace Prize, was sentenced to 11 years behind bars in 2009 after authoring Charter 08, a manifesto signed by thousands seeking greater rights in the communist nation.

The decision to award him the Nobel infuriated Beijing, which suspended talks with Oslo on a free trade pact and ordered strict and time-consuming veterinary controls on Norwegian salmon.

In Oslo, the government said it had "taken note" of China's viewpoint but did not announce any concrete measures.

"From Norway's side, we are eager to reestablish a broad cooperation with China in areas where our two countries share common interests," foreign ministry spokesman Frode Overland Andersen told AFP in an email Friday, reiterating the line long toed by Oslo.

"This is in the interest of both countries," he added.

Norway has repeatedly pointed out that while the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who pick the Peace laureate, are appointed by Norway's parliament, they are independent of the government and the legislature.

Hong, who made the comments ahead of Saturday's ceremony for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, did not elaborate on what measures Norway could take to restore ties.

Asked about the alleged illegal treatment of Liu's wife, who is under house arrest and has not been seen in public for a year, Hong insisted her case was being handled in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile a group of Chinese academics on Friday awarded Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin the Confucius Peace Prize, China's version of the Nobel prize, organisers said.

Putin, who was announced the winner of the Chinese prize earlier this year, did not attend Friday's ceremony, so the award was handed over to two Russian exchange students, Qiao Damo, one of the organisers told AFP.

The prize emerged last year, when it was suddenly announced by the academics two days before Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, sparking speculation it was set up with the government's guidance.

The government has since denied any connection with the prize.

Syrian blogger's plea to fight for Internet freedom

THE HAGUE, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - A Syrian blogger who said he was tortured for expressing his opinions called on world governments Friday to step up the fight for Internet freedom, saying it allowed everyone to expose wrongdoing.

Access to social media has helped expose the violent crackdown on dissent in Syria, Amjad Baiazy told a conference hosted by Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal in The Hague.

In the last eight months in Syria "there has been thousands of (pieces of) evidence thanks to social media, not only to show the world, but also Syrians, of the crimes" happening there, Baiazy said.

"This is the main benefit of (Internet freedom). It has turned every citizen into a journalist. Every citizen can use Twitter to broadcast," he added.

Baiazy, now a content editor for Amnesty International, told how he "was arrested and tortured for expressing my opinions," and is awaiting trial for "weakening the national resolve."

He said that when the Syrian regime put down a similar revolt in 1982, ordinary people had no way of telling the world what was happening, and all traces of that uprising were wiped out.

"I urge governments of the world to fight to protect Internet freedom," Baiazy said.

UN rights chief Navi Pillay said last week that more than 4,000 people have been killed in the crackdown over the past eight months, and tens of thousands arrested by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

At least 12,400 people are reported to have fled the country.

Dutch Foreign Minister Rosenthal told conference delegates a coalition of states had been formed to defend Internet freedom.

The coalition released a statement at the end of the conference to say it would share information on violations of free expression and human rights on the Internet.

The grouping comprises 14 states including Austria, Ghana, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States.

"I believe governments can do a lot more. We must ensure an open Internet: free, accessible, dynamic and not subjected to any top-down control," Rosenthal said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gave the keynote address on Thursday night, warned Internet firms to avoid offering "tools of oppression" to authoritarian Middle East regimes trying to crush democracy protests.

Twitter attacks targeted Russian protesters: expert

MOSCOW, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Russian hackers have taken aim at Twitter in recent days to hamper communication between opposition activists as outrage against the conduct of last week's general elections grows, observers say.

Several Internet "bots" have recently been created, which when triggered by a keyword or "hashtag" see fake Twitter accounts send out huge numbers of messages to block the flow of communication between protest organisers, said Maxim Goncharov, a researcher at the Trend Micro computer security company.

The hashtags include Triumfalnaya, the name of a Moscow square where more than 500 people were arrested at an opposition rally Tuesday against the election results, and the Russian word for revolution, Revolyutsiya.

"On Tuesday, there were up to 10 messages per second with the hashtag Triumfalnaya," Goncharov said, with the peak of activity between 4:00 and 5:00 pm Moscow time (1200 and 1300 GMT) -- just hours before the protest was due to start.

This meant that people who used Twitter to search for information on the protest instead found insults about opposition activists or garbled nonsense, explained the Munich-based expert.

He said a pro-Kremlin youth group was most likely behind the campaign, their hacking skills having been used for similar purposes in the past.

"There are different activists round (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin and (President Dmitry) Medvedev, like Nashi," he said, referring to Russia's largest pro-Kremlin youth group.

Another security expert, Brian Krebs, wrote on his blog this week that most of the fake accounts used in the attacks had not been used to post messages "other than those meant to counter the protesters, or to simply fill the hashtag feeds with meaningless garbage."

Krebs also linked many of these Twitter accounts back to a single user, who he has been unable to trace.

Other social media have also been targeted, with protest leader Alexei Navalny complaining on hs blog last month of Internet-based "counterattacks by Kremlin PR people."

"There are a load of bots who spam (generate unsolicited junk email) every mention of 'Navalny'. I can't believe that people pay for that," he wrote.

The Internet has given a new impetus to Russia's opposition movement, with Navalny gaining fame as a whistle-blowing blogger. Accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and a Russian equivalent, V Kontakte, are used to spread information on rallies.

But hacker techniques have been used to wrongfoot the opposition since last week's parliamentary elections, which saw Vladimir Putin's ruling majority sharply reduced.

Russia's only independent election monitor Golos said Friday that its e-mail system was probably hacked -- with a private exchange with the US government printed by a pro-Kremlin Russian website as a consequence.

Spam attacks have also paralysed the websites of independent newspapers and news media since the vote.

And the head of V Kontakte said Friday he had been called in for questioning by prosecutors after he refused to deny access to several opposition groups.

While Medvedev has espoused Twitter, in a hugely embarrassing incident, a technical support person this week accessed his account and retweeted an obscene message about Navalny and his supporters.

The Kremlin later said the guilty party had been sacked.

Russia probes social network chief over protests

MOSCOW, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - The head of one of Russia's most popular social networks said Friday he had been called in for questioning by prosecutors after refusing to deny access to several opposition groups.

V Kontakte (In Contact) chief Pavel Durov -- whose Internet platform has been dubbed the Russian version of Facebook -- posted the request from prosecutors in the company's base Saint Petersburg on his Twitter account.

He also published what he said was a copy of a request from the FSB security service to block the network's access to seven forums used by the opposition to organise rallies against the outcome of disputed December 4 legislative polls.

V Kontakte has refused to shut down the Internet communities and a company spokesman told the Gazeta.ru website that Durov had not yet appeared for questioning or decided what to do next.

Social networks have turned into a powerful weapon for Russian opposition groups in recent weeks amid full state control of the three main television networks.

Opposition groups have used them to post videos of alleged ballot stuffing and other fraud in the elections and also rallied support for some of the biggest rallies against strongman Vladimir Putin in his 12-year rule.

The largest anti-Putin rally to date has been scheduled for Saturday when authorities have allowed up to 30,000 people to gather on a square across the river from the Kremlin at 2:00 pm (1000 GMT).

Google+ rolling out facial recognition feature

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Google is rolling out a feature that lets members of its online social network automatically find themselves in photos posted by friends.

The "Find My Face" feature being added to Google+ over the next several days is opt-in only, meaning people have to make a point to turn it on.

By leaving it to Google+ members to activate the feature, the Internet giant was sidestepping privacy concerns raised when social networking rival Facebook added facial recognition in an opt-out style this year.

"By turning on Find My Face, Google+ can prompt people you know to tag your face when it appears in photos," Google+ photos team engineer Matt Steiner said in a blog post.

"Of course, you have control over which tags you accept or reject," he explained. "We hope this makes tagging your photos much easier."

Google remains undaunted in its bid to create a flourishing online community that can go toe-to-toe with social networking powerhouse Facebook.

The California firm's popular products and services will increasingly be woven into its nascent but fast-growing Google+ social network to make joining irresistible, executives said at an Internet conference here in October.

"We are in an enviable position that we have people who come to Google," Vic Gundotra, vice president in charge of Google+, said at a Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

"We are in this for the long haul... By Christmas you will see Google+ strategy coming together."

Google+ has attracted more than 40 million users since it opened to the public in September, but has a long way to catch up with Facebook's membership of approximately 800 million.

Myanmar still 'true friend' of China: top official

YANGON, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Myanmar's new army-backed government reassured China on Friday that its recent diplomatic overtures to the United States would not affect relations with its traditional ally.

"Myanmar is a good neighbour of China. We are also a true friend," lower house speaker Shwe Mann told Ambassador Li Junhua in Yangon after China donated computers for Myanmar's new parliament.

"The People's Republic of China gave much advice and assistance to Myanmar when we did not have a regular relationship with the US. 
China also truly stood by Myanmar's side in the international community," added the former general, considered one of the most powerful members of the current regime.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar last week in the highest-level US visit in more than half a century -- a trip seen as part of Washington's efforts to counter China's growing influence in the region.

Myanmar's military-backed leadership has counted on China as its main supporter but many people in Myanmar resent Beijing's strong influence.

President Thein Sein surprised even critics when he recently halted work on an unpopular dam that would primarily benefit China.

China reacted to Clinton's visit by urging the United States to lift its sweeping sanctions on Myanmar, a step that Washington says is premature without further reforms.

"We gladly accept your struggle to have a regular relationship" with the United States, Li Junhua told Shwe Mann.

"We firmly believe that our cooperation will increase further under the leadership of the speaker," he added.

Thein Sein, a former general, visited China in May, two months after taking the helm of a new military-backed government.

Online activists laud social media with changing the world

THE HAGUE, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Social media and online activism is changing global politics, holding governments and their leaders accountable in ways unthinkable before the Internet existed, activists said Friday.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference on Internet freedom in The Hague, two well-known activists from Syria and Thailand said by using social media, ordinary people could now hold political leaders responsible for their actions.

During Syria's violent crackdown on dissidents over the last eight months, "there have been thousands of (pieces of) evidence thanks to social media, not only to show the world, but also Syrians, of the crimes," said Amjad Baiazy of Amnesty International.

 Due to face trial in Damascus on charges of "weakening the national resolve" with his online comments, Baiazy, 30, said the main benefit of social media was it gave everybody the chance to be a journalist.

"It has turned every citizen into a journalist. Every citizen can use Twitter to broadcast," said Baiazy, adding that he was tortured following his arrest on May 21 for comments he made on Facebook and Twitter.

"In that way, it's not just those in the outside world who can see what's going on since the revolt started. People on the ground also started to really know. They can see the crimes, they can see the corruption," he told AFP.

For Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of a news website in Thailand, "social media is changing the power relation between ordinary people, government and politics," she said.

"This means that a normal person, for instance, can send a politician a Tweet (on Twitter) and ask him a question," she said, adding "this is real democracy."

The 44-year-old editor of the popular Prachatai site is currently on trial in Bangkok where she faces a possible 20-year sentence for not removing quickly enough online posts perceived as critical of the monarchy in 2008.

Chiranuch, who is expecting a ruling in her case in March or April, said she believed the growth of social media and the Internet would bring changes within Thailand.

She said she hoped it could lead to an easing of the Asian country's controversial royal insult and computer laws.

"It is important for those people who have to protect the Thai monarchy to understand that sometimes discussion and debate can be healthy. No debate cannot be good for the institution," she said.

The monarchy is a highly sensitive topic in politically turbulent Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest reigning monarch and revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been hospitalised since September 2009.

Chiranuch pointed out that the Thai government had an opportunity to embrace online freedom, rather than opposing it, and not to punish those who voice their opinions by sending them to jail.

"There should be a clear message to politicians. The consequences for (voicing an opinion) should not be a jail term. No-one should be detained because they expressed a point of view," she said.

In a speech earlier to delegates to the Internet conference from more than 20 countries, businesses and non-governmental organisations, Syria's Baiazy called on governments around the world to step up the fight for Internet freedom.

He also called on IT businesses not to sell technology to countries using it to repress Internet freedom, echoing a statement by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the conference's opening on Thursday.

Clinton urged companies not to sell products and services to regimes where they could be used as "tools of oppression."


Yahoo! launches online comedy channel

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Yahoo! is adding a comedy channel to its online line-up, kicking it off with a "CrazyStupidPolitics" show starring Bill Maher live in Silicon Valley in February.

"Bill Maher's special is a groundbreaking event, not only for Yahoo! and Bill but for the Internet as the first ever, live, free broadcast online," said Erin McPherson, head of Yahoo! Video.

Channel offerings will include short videos from Saturday Night Live television show writer Mike O'Brien and others as well as content from partners including online hit Funny or Die.

"I'm excited to be doing something new in bringing a live stand up show to a Web giant like Yahoo!," Maher said in a statement. "It is my goal to make people say 'Oh no he di'int' in every medium on earth."

Take-over target Yahoo! has been trying to transform itself into a platform for personalized, premier digital content since the Internet pioneer was overtaken in the online search arena by Google.

UN experts condemn Malaysia's new public order law

KUALA LUMPUR, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - United Nations human rights experts have denounced a new law in Malaysia that bans street protests, warning it may "arbitrarily and disproportionately" restrict the right to assemble peacefully.

In a joint statement issued in Geneva on Thursday, they cautioned that with the new Peaceful Assembly Bill people in Malaysia may not be able to express their dissent in public spaces without "fear of being detained or sanctioned."

Under the law, that would be enforceable after it gets royal assent, street protests are banned.

It also prohibits non-citizens and citizens under 21 years of age to assemble peacefully.

"Many of these restrictions are not justifiable under international law," said Maina Kiai, the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Another rights expert Margaret Sekaggya said banning people below 21 to assemble was alarming, adding the right to assemble and protest peacefully was an essential safeguard for the defence of human rights.

"Political and social participation through peaceful protests are not only an educational experience for children, youth and students but also an investment for society as a whole," he said.

Frank La Rue, expert on the right to freedom of expression, urged Malaysia to reconsider the adoption of the bill, which would contravene international human rights standards.

"The ability of all individuals to express themselves freely, including in the form of peaceful assemblies, is a litmus test for the level of democracy in any country," he said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has defended the law, saying it is aimed to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly -- which currently can only be held with a police permit -- and accused critics of wanting to "confuse the public."

He has hailed the law as one of his many reforms to allow greater civil liberties -- aimed at gaining back support lost during the 2008 elections. Snap polls are widely expected next year.

Tian Chua, an opposition lawmaker with ex-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice Party, told AFP that the law is expected to come into force early next month.

"The draconian changes undermines democracy in Malaysia because it curtails opposition's ability to garner public support," he said.

Hollywood less forgiving on ageing actresses: Deneuve

SINGAPORE, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - French screen legend Catherine Deneuve said Friday it was easier for ageing European actresses to play leading roles than it is for female stars in Hollywood where younger alternatives get the nod.

"It's easier to be an European actress than an American actress as far as age is concerned," said Deneuve, who was in Singapore for a French film festival.

"I think it's difficult to have a career in the States because (of) the competition and most of all, the appeal for youth is so intense and it's very difficult for an actress to grow older in American cinemas," she added.

But US actresses as well as ones from Britain enjoyed a wider appeal because of their English-language backgrounds, Deneuve said.

"I think actresses that are English-born or American-born are more lucky than other actresses because they can work in different countries without any problem. It's the limit of European actresses," said Deneuve.

Deneuve, who has played leading roles in French hits such as Belle de jour and Indochine, said she enjoyed working on the set of 'Asterix & Obelix: On Her Majesty's Service' with fellow French star Gerard Depardieu.

"He's a wonderful partner. He loves women and he loves actresses, so he's very, very open. He's a very generous partner for women and men as well," she gushed.

"When he's on the set, there is something more. He's very alive and very present, he talks all the time, he always has something to say, always a funny story he has to say."

Depardieu made headlines in August when he was caught short on a Paris to Dublin flight and relieved himself on the cabin floor in front of shocked passengers.

Tablets, e=readers closing book on ink-and-paper era

SAN FRANCISCO, December  9, 2011 (AFP) - Tablet computers and electronic readers promise to eventually close the book on the ink-and-paper era as they transform the way people browse magazines, check news or lose themselves in novels.

"It is only a matter of time before we stop killing trees and all publications become digital," Creative Strategies president and principal analyst Tim Bajarin told AFP.

Online retail giant Amazon made electronic readers mainstream with Kindle devices and Apple ignited insatiable demand for tablets ideal for devouring online content ranging from films to magazines and books.

The combined momentum of e-readers and tablets will push annual revenue from digital books to $9.7 billion by the year 2016, more than tripling the $3.2 billion tally expected this year, according to a Juniper Research report.

Readers are showing increased loyalty to digital books, according to the US Book Industry Study Group (BISG).

Nearly half of print book buyers who also got digital works said they would skip getting an ink-and-paper release by a favorite author if an electronic version could be had within three months, a BISG survey showed.

"The e-book market is developing very fast, with consumer attitudes and behaviors changing over the course of months, rather than years," said BISG deputy executive director Angela Bole.

Concerns about e-book reading are diminishing, with people mainly wishing for lower device prices, according to the survey.

Owning e-readers tended to ramp up the amount of money people spent on titles in what BISG described as a promising sign for publishers.

Major US book seller Barnes & Noble responded to the trend by launching an e-reader, the Nook, and other chains are picking up on the strategy, according to Juniper.

"I'm among those who believe that the new e-book craze expands a person's interest in reading overall," said Gartner analyst Allen Weiner.

"When you can get someone excited about reading in any way, you turn on the reading ignition and it leads to all content," Weiner said, adding that ink-and-paper works will continue to hold a place in the mix.

Bajarin believes it will be at least a decade before print is obsolete.

"For one thing, there is a generation of people above 45 who grew up with this reading format and for many this will remain the most comfortable way for them to consume content for quite a while," he said.

"However, younger generations are already moving rapidly to digital representations of publications and, over time, they will be using e-books and tablets to consume all of their publications."

Weiner expected hardback or paperback books to be preferred in some situations, such as home reading, even as digital dominates publishing.

"I think it is a myth that it is going to kill the print book business," Weiner said.

"Will it force publishers to think differently?" he asked rhetorically. "Absolutely, but it doesn't spell the demise of print (book) publishing."

Newspapers and magazines, however, should read the digital writing on the wall, according to analysts.

"Newspapers and magazines have different issues," Weiner said.

"Print will wind up extinct for newspapers, while magazines will need to figure out the balance between print and digital," he contended.

Newspapers spend lots of money printing and distributing daily editions that can't be kept as fresh as stories on the Internet.

Meanwhile, advertising has been moving online where audiences can be better targeted and advertisers pay when people actually click on ads.

This year media colossus News Corp. launched an iPad only publication, The Daily, as newspapers big and small improved mobile websites and invested in applications to get their publications on tablets.

Struggling Internet pioneer Yahoo! has been recreating itself as a platform for "premier digital content" and in November it launched a Livestand news magazine tailored for the iPad.

Livestand weaves video, pictures and text in easily navigated presentations in a challenge to popular iPad social magazine application Flipboard.

Time Inc. last month brought in digital advertising veteran Laura Lang to run what is the largest magazine publisher in the United States.

"Magazines are still figuring it out," Weiner said of adapting to the smart tablet age. "I think they are in evolution."

As if online competition weren't enough for the print magazine business, the US Postal Service is proposing to do away with weekend deliveries in a move that could make weeklies seem like even older news by the time they arrive.

Google unveils magazine reading application

SAN FRANCISCO, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - Google on Thursday released a magazine reading application for smartphones or tablet computers powered by Android or Apple software.

The California Internet titan worked with more than 150 publishing partners for the US launch of "Google Currents," which is also integrated with the Google+ online social network challenging Facebook.

"Content is optimized for smartphones and tablets, allowing you to intuitively navigate between words, pictures and video on large and small screens alike, even if you're offline," product manager Mussie Shore and technical lead Sami Shalabi said in a blog post.

People were invited to download the application and subscribe for free to publications which include Forbes, The Atlantic, ABC News, The Guardian, and Al-Jazeera English.

"Great content needs a great audience, which is why Google Currents is integrated with Google+ so users can share articles or videos they've enjoyed with their circles," Shore and Shalabi wrote.

The Flipboard-style magazine application was released the same day that Google meshed its popular free Gmail service with its nascent social network.

"We want to bring you a great experience across all Google products which, for Gmail and Contacts, means understanding what you care about and delivering it instantly," engineering director Mark Striebeck said in a blog post.

"If you use Google+, you can now grow your circles, filter emails and contacts by circles, keep all your contact information up-to-date automatically and share photos to Google+, all right from Gmail and Contacts," he said.

Internet domain name expansion comes under fire

WASHINGTON, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - A plan to expand the number of Internet domain names came under fire in the US Congress on Thursday, a day after the head of the Federal Trade Commission said it could potentially be a "disaster."

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global body which manages the Domain Name System that forms the technical backbone of the Web, will begin taking applications in January for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), the suffixes such as .com, .net or .org.

ICANN's plan would allow for the creation of hundreds of new gTLDs, letting companies such as Apple, Toyota and BMW, for example, apply for domain names ending in .apple, .toyota or .bmw.

Esther Dyson, a former ICANN chairman, told a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee the expansion of gTLDs was unnecessary and would lead to a "profusion of domain names" that would only serve to confuse Internet users.

"Creating a whole set of redundant names isn't useful," Dyson said.

"This whole idea is fundamentally misguided," she said. "I hope ICANN will go back and reconsider."

Daniel Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers, said ICANN's plan is "fundamentally flawed."

"Companies are going to have to buy their name back to protect themselves," Jaffe said. "Even big companies will be facing very large expenses."

Angela Williams, general counsel for the YMCA, said the new gTLD program will impose excessive costs on non-profit organizations like her youth group.

"The new gTLD program compromises use of the Internet by increasing the risk of fraud, cybersquatting, and trademark infringement and by significantly escalating the cost to protect against such unlawful activities," she said.

"The ultimate cost in proceeding through the entire application process alone could reach several hundred thousands of dollars," Williams said.
ICANN plans to charge a $185,000 application fee for a new gTLD.

The criticism of the gTLD expansion came a day after Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, expressed concern about the plan during testimony before another congressional committee.

"We are very, very concerned that this roll out of new gTLDs has the potential to be a disaster for consumers and for businesses," he said.

"Businesses will have to defensively register all of their names," Leibowitz said. "Our sense is it's burdensome to businesses. We see enormous cost here to consumers and businesses and not a lot of benefit."

ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee, said ICANN takes Leibowitz's comments "very, very seriously" but staunchly defended the planned domain name expansion.

"It is the product of well thought out, thoroughly debated policies that are designed to benefit the billions of Internet users through increased competition, choice and innovation," Pritz said.

He said the planned expansion was the result of a six-year consultation by a wide variety of stake-holders and opposition to the plan was a "PR campaign driven by industry groups" using "revisionist history."

"They are now forum shopping and asking Congress to give them another bite at the apple," he said.

ICANN, a California-based non-profit corporation, approved the expansion of gTLDs in June. While applications for new domain names are being accepted in January the first new gTLDs are not expected until next year.

Twitter revamps to connect the world

SAN FRANCISCO, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - Twitter on Thursday began rolling out overhauled pages crafted to boost the appeal of the message-sharing service to worldwide users.

"At the very core there are fewer places you have to click and less you have to learn," Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey said as he and other executives unveiled the changes at the flourishing startup's new San Francisco offices.

"We've done a lot of user testing and it has proven to be much simpler," he added.

Overhauled navigation features take advantage of the fact that Twitter symbols such as @ and # are making their way into common culture, showing up anywhere from text messages to advertising billboards and television.

Twitter designed Connect navigation tools that essentially turn those symbols into new age URLs, web addresses, to let people find all posts or other information being fired off about topics.

"The @ symbol has become the new URL; the fastest way to connect with anyone in the world," Dorsey said.

Twitter is also expanding profile pages, letting users tell more about themselves or, in the case of companies, their brands.

Dorsey said that revenue from "promoted tweet" style ads has been steadily growing and the startup is testing a self-service advertising system that should launch early next year.

The overhaul includes a new Timeline that brings together all Twitter chatter or content related to a particular "tweet," or succinct text message of no more than 140 characters.

"There is a universe within every tweet," said Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo. "The 140 characters are a caption associated with a rich canvas that could be a song, a video, a photo or more."

The new Twitter design was described as a platform on which the service will build to reinforce its effort to "reach every person on the planet."

"Of course tweeting is still front and center," Dorsey said. "Any time you have something to tell the world you can do it instantly."

Study links tropical cyclones to earthquakes

SAN FRANCISCO, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - US researchers said Thursday they have found evidence that tropical cyclones in Haiti and Taiwan were followed by earthquakes, suggesting that heavy rains and landslides may unleash temblors.

"Very wet rain events are the trigger," said University of Miami scientist Shimon Wdowinski, an associate research professor of marine geology and geophysics.

"The heavy rain induces thousands of landslides and severe erosion, which removes ground material from the Earth's surface, releasing the stress load and encouraging movement along faults."

Wdowinski and a colleague from Florida International University analyzed data from major earthquakes -- magnitude six and higher -- in Taiwan and Haiti over the past 50 years and found that large quakes tended to follow within four years of a very wet tropical cyclone season.

In some recent cases, quakes happened sooner, such as in 2009 when Typhoon Morakot in Taiwan was followed the same year by a magnitude 6.2 quake and another 6.4 quake in 2010.

Morakot killed 614 people and left 75 missing, burying entire villages and dumping a record three meters (120 inches) of rain in what is considered one of the island's worst natural disasters.

Typhoon Herb hit in 1996, killing hundreds in China and Taiwan, and was followed two years later by a 6.2 earthquake, and then a 7.6 earthquake in 1999.

After 1969's Typhoon Flossie was followed three years later by a magnitude 6.2 quake in 1972, the researchers said.

The team also looked at the 2010 magnitude seven earthquake in Haiti and found it came a year and a half after two hurricanes and two tropical storms drenched the island nation within 25 days.

The quake hit in January last year and leveled the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 225,000 people and leaving one in seven homeless. An ensuing cholera epidemic left over 5,000 people dead.

The researchers said their theory is that the heavy rains and landslide shift enough weight away from the surface load above the fault that a quake is triggered.

"The reduced load unclamp the faults, which can promote an earthquake," said Wdowinski.

The hypothesis only fits areas where there are fault lines on an incline, such as mountainous regions where the waters would push the land significantly far away from cracks deep in the Earth's bedrock.

The researchers plan further study of weather conditions in the Philippines and Japan to see if the same links can be observed.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Society in San Francisco.

France eyes bigger Asian movie audience: film body

SINGAPORE, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - A Paris-based body tasked with promoting French films said Thursday it wants to expand France's share of the huge Asian movie market where Hollywood productions clearly dominate at the box office.

The film body uniFrance said it intends to beef up the distribution and marketing channels in the region so that Asians will be more familiar with French movies, its actors and actresses.

The move to expand its share of the Asia movie audience is a reflection of the region's growing economic prosperity, said Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, the president of uniFrance.

"We feel that in this region which is expanding very rapidly, we have to be more present and have more physical links with the distributors, physical links of the French artistes, directors, actors with the public here," he told AFP.

It will not be easy to match up to Hollywood's vast marketing and distribution channels but Clermont-Tonnerre said this is an area that the French film industry needs to work on.

"The weakness of European cinema is that we don't have the huge machine of promotion, of distribution that the major (US) companies have. They have people in all parts of the world promoting their films," he said.

"The dominance of the American cinema is dominance of their distribution network and we are far from having the same power so we are obliged to work within our means, which are much smaller."

French films currently make up one percent of the Asian market excluding China -- where strict quotas for foreign films are in place -- and India, where Bollywood shows reign supreme.

Hollywood flicks largely dominate cinemas in other Asian countries.

"Our market share here is very small, is around one percent... but if we were able to reach one and a half percent we already would be happy," said Clermont-Tonnerre who was in Singapore for a French film festival.

"(This is) opposite to the average number around the world, where we are regularly between two and four percent. So it means that we still have to improve our positions here."

French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who was also in town for the French film festival, said it would not be easy to overcome Hollywood whose animation and action-packed flicks regularly top box offices around Asia.

"Hollywood has it all. We have to face that. It's not a war or anything but they won and they won for a long time... A market like this, that is so Hollywood, it's probably way more difficult to penetrate," he told AFP.

But Paquet-Brenner -- director of the critically acclaimed "Sarah's Key" -- said language still presented the biggest challenge for the French movie industry in Asia.

"The obstacle is language. People are so used to Hollywood movies, so they're used to the actors, they're used to the language," he said.
"People are used to it and you have to sometimes break this pattern and show people that something else exists."

Tan Bee Thiam, film lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, said the French need to step up their marketing efforts in the region if they want more Asians to watch their movies.

"I think a lot of what would be needed is marketing, where you get the stars over, where you sell and promote and publicize. It is always that versus the Hollywood marketing muscle," he told AFP.

"So I think if they are able to do so and they have the budget to do that kind of work, they are already making very charming films which should not be hard at all to connect."

Tan, who is also a well-known local filmmaker and critic, said he would like to see more "popular, mainstream" films from France instead of "artistic films" commonly screened at film festivals that attract a much smaller niche audience.

"There have been popular films from France, from Germany and other places that are more slick... that are fronted with beautiful actors. So I think we sometimes don't see enough of what is popular and what is mainstream from those countries," he said.


Malaysia investigates Alstom bribery allegations

KUALA LUMPUR, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysia's anti-graft watchdog on Thursday said it had launched a probe into bribery allegations against French industrial group Alstom that have already drawn a hefty fine by Swiss authorities.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said in a statement it had "initiated an investigation" but would release no further information for now to prevent "speculation and wrong perceptions of the parties concerned".

"The MACC wishes to stress that all allegations of corruption will be seriously looked into and the commission will investigate without fear or favour," it added.

The statement was an apparent response to recent local media reports that said agency investigators last week visited the offices of a Malaysian power plant company, Teknologi Tenaga Perlis Consortium (TTPC), over the scandal.

The reports said authorities were acting on suspicions that a former TTPC official took bribes from Alstom to gain a contract for the construction of a power plant in northwestern Malaysia in the 1990s.

The Swiss attorney general's office last month ordered a unit of Alstom to pay 31 million euros ($42 million) in fines over allegations that it offered bribes and kickbacks in Malaysia, Latvia and Tunisia.

The bribes were allegedly offered to middlemen and officials with the aim of securing government contracts to build power plants.

A statement sent to AFP by Alstom's office in Malaysia this week denied any "systematic bribery" in the company's operations, saying it was "a victim of the misconduct of its employees", but declined to give further specifics.

Anti-corruption group Transparency International on Wednesday publicly called on the MACC to look into the Malaysian bribery allegations.

Transparency International said in an annual ranking of the least corrupt countries released earlier this month that Malaysia had slipped nearly 30 spots over the past decade and now ranked 60th out of 183 countries.

It cited irregularities in awarding bids for large projects and cozy relations between the country's corporate and political spheres.

Luxury watch superstore to target Chinese in Paris: report

PARIS, December  8, 2011 (AFP) - Luxury Swiss retail giant Richemont, owner of such brands as Cartier, Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre, is to open the world's largest shop for luxury watches in Paris, a trade journal said Thursday.

Richemont declined to comment on the report in the usually well-informed Business Montres which quoted an internal memo saying a three-storey 2,200 square metre (24,000 square foot) shop would open early 2013.

The shop would take over the premises of the landmark Old England shop near the Place Vendome, famous for its luxury watch shops and hugely popular with Middle Eastern and Asian tourists, in particular Chinese.

France's La Tribune daily said Richemont would pay 70 million euros ($94 million) for the site.

Swiss luxury watch distributor Bucherer would run the new shop, with Richemont stumping up the cash.

"Watch-lovers will find a top-level selection of famous and prestigious watches, in an exclusive atmosphere," Bucherer's management was quoted as saying in the memo dated November 30.

Cartier boss Bernard Fornas told Les Echos financial daily that the new site would make it easier to receive coachloads of tourists.

The shop would also be close to the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores, favourite haunts of Chinese tourists who spend an average 1,400 euros a day shopping in Paris, duty free group Global Blue said.

Chinese tourists spend hundreds of millions of euros a year in France, and the number of Asian visitors continues to rise steeply.

An analyst who asked not to be named noted that Paris currently had no luxury flagship shop and that the proposed new location was "very strategic."

Business Montres said that the Paris watch market would undergo major changes, with the rise of big shops forcing the closure of many small retailers.

Facebook fixes photo privacy bug

WASHINGTON, December  7, 2011 (AFP) - Facebook has fixed a bug that allowed the viewing of some private photographs of other members and which was reportedly used to access personal pictures of founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The bug involved Facebook's system of reporting inappropriate images on the social network.

By reporting a member's profile picture as inappropriate a user was asked whether they had other photographs to report, providing access to other private pictures.

The glitch was first revealed in a bodybuilding forum at bodybuilding.com.

"We discovered a bug in one of our reporting flows that allows people to report multiple instances of inappropriate content simultaneously," Facebook said in a statement.

"The bug allowed anyone to view a limited number of another user's most recently uploaded photos irrespective of the privacy settings for these photos," it said.

"This was the result of one of our recent code pushes and was live for a limited period of time," Facebook said.

"Upon discovering the bug, we immediately disabled the system, and will only return functionality once we can confirm the bug has been fixed," it said.

An unidentified Facebook user who exploited the bug posted 14 pictures of Zuckerberg to the image-sharing website Imgur along with the comment: "It's time to fix those security flaws Facebook..."

The user claimed they were taken from Zuckerberg's Facebook page although a number of the pictures have previously been released publicly.

Facebook, which has more than 800 million members, agreed in a deal with the US Federal Trade Commission last week to tighten its privacy policies and submit to external audits in order to settle charges that it abused users' personal data.

In its statement about the photo bug, Facebook said "the privacy of our user's data is a top priority for us, and we invest significant resources in protecting our site and the people who use it."


Protests, what protests? Russian TV ignores rallies

MOSCOW, December  7, 2011 (AFP) - Russian state-run television news channels on Wednesday turned a blind eye to post-election protests in Moscow and other cities, leaving Internet sites as the only source of blow-by-blow coverage.

On Tuesday evening, as police arrested at least 300 people in a central Moscow square, the country's main news show turned to Angelina Jolie's directorial debut and a Russian woman arrested abroad for faking a $100 bill.

State rolling news channel Rossiya 24 even covered reindeer tagging in the remote northern Yamala region.

Neither made any mention of opposition supporters holding the second mass rally in two days contesting the results of Sunday's parliamentary polls, marked by riot police detaining at least 300 people, according to police.

State-controlled Channel One's newsreader Yekaterina Andreyeva did cover rallies in Moscow, but only official flag-waving ones held by pro-Kremlin youth groups.

"I can't remember a more total news blackout in recent times," television reviewer Arina Borodina told Kommersant FM radio station.

The radio station's political correspondent Stanislav Kucher angrily denounced journalists at state channels in remarks on the station's website.

"You are hiding information from millions of people...," he told them. "In these days you are disgracing yourselves and your profession."

Channel One's noon show on Wednesday led on an aeroplane that overshot a runway as it landed. No one was injured.

It also showed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin discussing plans to extend Moscow's Pushkin Museum and an item on radioactive Japanese baby food.

The show did air footage of rioters flinging firebombs and helmeted riot police -- but that item was filmed in Athens, not in Moscow.

NTV, owned by a subsidiary of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, ran an item on Tuesday about a rally by "thousands of (pro-Kremlin) Nashi activists, rejoicing at the victory of United Russia".

On Wednesday it ran stories on Israel and Greece as well as Putin striding into the central electoral commission to register his candidacy in March's presidential poll.

But its website did run stories about the protests.

Even state news organisations offered more coverage than the television stations. RIA Novosti news agency won praise for running live coverage of the protest on its website.

A major source of coverage was from new and independent Internet television channel Dozhd (Rain).

The channel had a correspondent at the scene from the start of the protest on Tuesday and ran live footage.

But a spokeswoman for the channel on Wednesday confirmed to AFP that it had received a request from the state media watchdog, although not an official document, requesting recordings of its programming of the last two days.

Asked if this was because of the coverage of riots, she said, "I don't know."

"It's usual, it happens," she said, although she said that Dozhd had never been in this situation before.

The watchdog has powers to withdraw media's licences after issuing two official warnings. Its spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The channel's reporter Karine Orlova on Tuesday highlighted brutality by riot police.

"Five riot police are just grabbing a single person, dragging and shoving him in," she said. "They just seem to have an order to detain a certain number of people."

She also visited one of the same official United Russia rallies that Channel One had touched on, but had a very different take on it.

"There's very few people," she said. "They were bussed in from Smolensk and Bryansk... they really have no idea what they're doing here."

Singapore announces measures to cool property market

SINGAPORE, December  7, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore on Wednesday announced another slew of measures to cool the property market after earlier moves failed to dampen price rises.

Under the new rules that will take effect Thursday, buyers acquiring private residential properties will have to pay additional stamp duty of 3-10 percent, the government said in a statement.

The Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) will be calculated based on the purchase price or market value of the property, depending on which is higher.

Foreign buyers and companies will have to pay an ABSD of 10 percent while permanent residents acquiring a second and subsequent property will pay an additional three percent, the statement said.

Singaporeans who already own two properties and are planning to buy more will also be subjected to an additional three percent stamp duty, it added.

"The additional buyer's stamp duty should help cool investment demand, and avoid the prospect of a major, destabilising correction further down the road," said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who also heads the finance ministry.

Private property prices have continued to rise despite strong measures introduced by the government in the last few years to quell speculation in the real estate market.

Prices of private residential properties are currently 13 percent above the peak of the second quarter of 1996 and 16 percent higher than the last peak seen in the second quarter of 2008, the government said in the statement.

"Even with the current economic uncertainties, the demand for private residential property remains firm," the government said.

"The government will continue to monitor the property market and adjust our property policies in step with changes in the market and the economy."

Microsoft to open "app store" in February

SAN FRANCISCO, December  7, 2011 (AFP) - Microsoft on Tuesday began wooing developers for a February opening of its first "app store" for computers powered by the US technology giant's Windows software.

The Windows Store will open in late February when Microsoft releases a test version of its next-generation Windows 8 operating system.
It will take on Apple and Google in the booming market of fun, hip or functional programs built for smartphones, tablets, or computers.

"I think we are going to do great," Windows Web Services vice president Antoine Leblond said as he gave developers and press a preview of the store in a San Francisco art gallery.

"The reach of Windows is absolutely huge and can't be matched," he continued, noting that the Microsoft operating system powers more than a half billion computers around the world.

Independent developers understandably devote their limited resources to making programs for platforms that promise the most potential customers, and Windows would outshine Apple gadgets and Google Android devices in that regard.

"There are more Windows PCs (personal computers) than there are cars on the planet," Leblond said. "The number is staggering."

However, Windows has a meager presence when it comes to smartphones and tablets, where third-party applications such as games are typically bought.

Applications written for the Windows Store platform will work on any devices powered by the Microsoft software, meaning programs could be downloaded to smartphones or tablet computers as they hit market.

Microsoft declined to discuss reports that tablets based on Windows 8 are in development.

Windows Store was pitched as a welcoming option to Apple App Store, which puts applications through a strict and sometimes enigmatic vetting process before approving them for virtual shelves.

"Today, one of the most frustrating things for building apps are the constraints on way you can do and what you can sell," Leblond said.

Apple requires applications for iOS devices to conduct financial transactions such as subscriptions or sales in-house, with the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Macintosh computer maker taking 30 percent of the revenue.

Windows Store platform will have mechanisms for in-app purchases, but developers will be free to choose methods of handling financial transactions, according to Leblond. "Developers create apps to put in Apple's App Store only to have Apple stand between them and the customer while taking 30 percent," he added.

"We won't get in the way of your app and your business model," Leblond said.

Microsoft demonstrated Windows applications from the renowned British newspaper The Daily Telegraph and from online auction titan eBay that handled payments or subscriptions with their own tools.

"That is not an app you could have on the iPad," Leblond said, referring to the Daily Telegraph program. "Apple would sit between them and their subscribers and take a 30 percent cut; we won't do that."

Windows Store will let developers set their own prices for applications in a range from $1.49 to $999.99 "because a thousand bucks is just too much for an app," he added.

The virtual shop will also support free applications that make their money from advertising.

Microsoft will take 30 percent of the revenue from application sales. After selling $25,000 worth of an application, the developers share climbs to 80 percent. Developers get to keep all the money from in-application transactions.

Leblond calculated that recovering the $50,000 cost of developing a typical small application would require .01 percent of Windows computer owners buying the software.

"That is nothing," he said. "That is easily done."

Windows Store will feature only free applications when it opens in February. Information for developers was available online at dev.windows.com.

India to ban 'offensive' Internet material

NEW DELHI, December  6, 2011 (AFP) - India on Tuesday vowed to ban offensive material from the Internet after Facebook, Google and other major firms told the government they were unable to screen content before it was posted.

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said talks with the Internet giants had failed to come up with a solution following complaints that he had lodged three months ago over "unacceptable" images.

"My aim is that insulting material never gets uploaded," Sibal told reporters in New Delhi. "We will evolve guidelines and mechanisms to deal with the issue.

"They will have to give us the data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it."

Sibal said the government supported free speech and was against censorship but that some material on the Internet was so offensive that no one would find it acceptable.

He said he had shown some of the worst images to the Internet companies, who had said they could not control all distribution.

"Three months back we saw that Google, Yahoo!, Facebook had images which could be an insult to Indians, especially religious-minded people," Sibal said.

"We told them to find a way that such insulting images are not uploaded. We gave them some time... but there was no response."

Sibal said the firms had shown that their "intention was not to cooperate" and that they had explained they were only "platforms" on which people could display material.

"I feel that this in principle was not correct but it is very clear that we will not allow such insults to happen. We are thinking and will take the next step," he said. "We will not allow our cultural ethos to be hurt."

Facebook, which has 25 million users in India, released a statement saying it "recognised the government's interest in minimising the amount of abusive content" online and would continue to communicate over the issue.

Google confirmed Monday's meeting with Sibal but made no further comment, while Yahoo! and Microsoft were not immediately available.
Sibal showed some of the offending material to journalists, including fake images of naked politicians and religious figures.

He added that "sometimes when asked for data in respect to terrorists... there is hesitation (by Internet companies) to provide that data."

The Hindustan Times on Tuesday said the Internet companies had rejected Sibal's appeal for screening, saying a huge volume of information was uploaded on to the Internet and that they were not responsible for judging its content.

The paper added that Sibal had earlier complained about a site that targeted Sonia Gandhi, the influential president of the ruling Congress party.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the government was only acting "in respect of absolutely illegal, defamatory, pornographic or other similar kind of material".

BlackBerry maker RIM has been embroiled in a similar wrangle with India over access to encrypted email and instant message services that the government says could be used by extremists to plot attacks.

India has more than 110 million Internet users out of a population of 1.2 billion, according to latest research, with the figure likely to jump to 600 million in the next five years.

Sibal's call for Internet screening quickly attracted a storm of criticism on Twitter, with many users expressing anger over any attempt to restrict usage.

Russia bloggers hail success of 'Facebook rally'

MOSCOW, December  6, 2011 (AFP) - Russian bloggers on Tuesday hailed the success of a rarely-seen "Facebook rally" where thousands protested against elections won by Vladimir Putin's ruling party and warned of more demonstrations to come.

Several thousand mostly young demonstrators braved freezing rain late Monday to show their frustrations over weekend legislative elections that handed a narrow victory to the Russian prime minister's party despite claims of fraud.

The event never made it on the state TV news but was debated across Russia's rapidly spreading Internet as bloggers swapped news of arrests and posted videos of election violations.

"The Facebook revolution," said the private Dozhd (Rain) television that broadcasts mainly through the Internet and was one of the few Russian channels to closely follow the protests.

"Nothing like this has ever happened before," journalist Sergei Parkhomenko told the website. "This all started with a few posts on Facebook and (blogging platform) LiveJournal."

Those detained in Monday's protest included the whistleblower Alexei Navalny -- a growing Internet celebrity whose arrest was confirmed by his wife on his blog and quickly drew more than 2,500 comments.

News that fellow organiser Ilya Yashin had been handed a 15-day jail sentence for disobeying police orders prompted one blogger to comment: "That means there will definitely be more protests."

Monday's anti-Kremlin demonstration was one of the largest witnessed in Moscow in years and included many who admitted to have never before joined opposition calls to come out on the streets.

"The most important outcome of yesterday's rally is that it not only drew people who usually come out to such events, but also those who never attend them," wrote LiveJournal's most followed Russian blogger drugoi (other).

"That is what people in the crowd were saying -- we are not for your Solidarity (opposition movement), we are against Putin and his United Russia."

Much of the criticism against the authorities was laced with the bitter humour that characterised popular culture in the strictest of Soviet times.

"The falsifications passed smoothly," one popular Internet joke read. "No voting reported amid the violations."

Another featured a photo showing a broadly grinning President Dmitry Medvedev shaking hands with the bearded head of the Russian election commission Vladimir Churov.

"Thank you grandpa for the victory!" read the caption in a play on a famous Russian poster honouring World War II veterans.

Even a message from Medvedev thanking Russians for their support drew insults on his official Twitter account.

"What support? No one supported you ... except for Churov and his magic maths," wrote opposition blogger Roman Dobrokhotov. "Are you not ashamed?" wrote another blogger.

Medvedev met Churov again on Tuesday to receive the latest vote count. He declared that Internet footage showing ballot box stuffing and the use of erasable ink pens was inconclusive and possibly even a "provocation".

"I watched five clips and they are all muddled," Medvedev told the election chief.

"Something is happening and it's all sorts of shouting and insinuations being made. ... Making conclusion about the vote's fairness based on this type of proof is unfair."

Analysts said the authorities were becoming increasingly sensitive to the Internet's role in politics because it provided Russians with one of the few uncensored outlets of mass communication.

"The Internet played a very important and possibly decisive role in changing people's attitudes toward elections," said independent political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.

"The number of actual violations may not have grown, but people's response to them was much stronger."