2012/02/11

Anonymous knocks CIA website offline

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2012 (AFP) - The website of the Central Intelligence Agency was inaccessible on Friday after the hacker group Anonymous claimed to have knocked it offline.

"CIA Tango down," a member of Anonymous said on @YourAnonNews, a Twitter feed used by the group. "Tango down" is an expression used by the US Special Forces when they have eliminated an enemy.

Attempts to access the CIA website at cia.gov were unsuccessful.

More than two hours after the initial attack on the site attempts by AFP to reach cia.gov were met with a message saying the Web page was not available.

Asked about the apparent website outage, a CIA spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the problems accessing our web site, and are working to resolve them."

Members of Anonymous also claimed Friday to have hacked the website of Camimex, the Mexican chamber of mines, and posted emails taken from the site online.

Like cia.gov, the camimex.org.mx site was unavailable on Friday.

Anonymous last month briefly knocked the websites of the US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation offline.

Those attacks were in retaliation for the US shutdown of file-sharing site Megaupload.

There was no immediate explanation from Anonymous for the targeting of the CIA site.

In June, an Anonymous-affiliated group, Lulz Security, also temporarily disabled the CIA website.

Most Anonymous cyberattacks are distributed denial of service attacks in which a large number of computers are commanded to simultaneously visit a website, overwhelming its servers.

US issues guidelines to avoid heparin contamination

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - Four years after US drug-maker Baxter International's blood thinner heparin was contaminated in China, causing dozens of deaths, US regulators on Friday issued draft guidelines for safe production.

Heparin, a blood thinner used by millions of patients during kidney dialysis and heart surgery to prevent blood clots, is normally produced from pig intestines.

After reports of allergic reactions to heparin began appearing in November 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration found that a substitute synthetic compound called oversulfated chondroitin sulfate (OSCS) had caused the toxic reactions.

Chinese officials rejected the FDA's conclusions, saying the chemical had nothing to do with the allergies and deaths, but the FDA began testing heparin imports for OSCS in 2008 to assure safety of the drug stocks.

The new guidelines are directed toward companies who use crude heparin to manufacture drugs and medical devices, and aim to "provide additional clarification to questions and inquiries received from industry," an FDA spokeswoman said.

The regulatory agency "continues to monitor and sample incoming heparin," she added.

Manufacturers are urged to test the origin of crude heparin to make sure it comes from pigs, test for OSCS in each shipment before using it, and know who handles the crude heparin along each step of the process.

"Substitution of non-porcine sources of crude heparin raises concerns," said the FDA guidelines, particularly due to the risk of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, infiltrating products.

"The control of the animal origin of crude heparin is critical to ensure the safety of drugs and devices that contain heparin and to protect public health."

The guidelines are subject to a 60-day review and comment period and are not legally enforceable during this period.

Google users warned of threat to smartphone wallets

SAN FRANCISCO, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - Users of Google smartphone wallets were being warned on Friday that there is a way to crack pass codes intended to thwart thieves from going on illicit shopping sprees.

Zvelo Labs researcher Joshua Rubin was featured in a video at the company's website demonstrating software that quickly figures out a Google Wallet personal identification number (PIN), provided the crook has the smartphone.

Rubin said that Google has been alerted to the vulnerability and is moving swiftly to fix it. He has not made his wallet "Cracker" application public.

"Google Wallet allows only five invalid PIN entry attempts before locking the user out," Rubin said in a blog post.

"With this attack, the PIN can be revealed without even a single invalid attempt," he continued. "This completely negates all of the security of this mobile phone payment system."

Google declined an AFP request for comment.

"Once attackers get your PIN, they have full access to any credit card information stored in the app and they can use your phone to make purchases," McAfee security firm researcher Jimmy Shah said in a blog post.

"As a user of Google Wallet, the main security you see is the PIN," McAfee added.

"What makes Wallet easy for you to use now makes it easy for attackers to use; they can now spend your money and credit just as if your phone were an ATM card."

Rubin dismissed the threat of hackers picking Google Wallets remotely, explaining that physical access is needed to get priority access to controls in a process called "rooting."

Security specialists advise Google Wallet users not to "root" smartphones, and to enable security features such as full-disk encryption and screen locks.

Google Wallet is available only on Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus smartphones. Google said it planned to expand the feature to more Android phones.

Google Wallet uses a near field communication (NFC) chip embedded in a phone to allow a user to "tap-and-pay" for purchases at a checkout register equipped with the PayPass system from CitiMasterCard.

Customers can also use a Google Prepaid card to pay for purchases, topping up the Google card with any payment card, and take advantage of Google Offers, the Mountain View, California-based company's online discount coupon program.

In addition to allowing for mobile payments, Google Wallet allows consumers to pay using gift cards and to redeem promotions such as discounts or coupons.

US to raise trade, rights, and Syria with China VP

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2012 (AFP) - The United States said Friday it would raise concerns about trade, human rights and Syria during a closely watched visit by China's likely next leader next week, despite hopes to improve ties.

White House officials said they would seek to send a message to Vice President Xi Jinping that the United States welcomes China's rise, but that Beijing was testing the patience even of supporters of the relationship.

"China needs to recognize that it needs to continue to take steps to live up to the rules of the road that all nations abide by, particularly economically, in order to maintain support for the relationship in the United States," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call.

With elections approaching in November the United States has been pressing China over trade policies seen as unfair, including what lawmakers call a disregard for intellectual property rights and an artificially weak currency.

Human rights groups say that China has also stepped up curbs on dissent, with dozens of government critics detained since last year. Democracy activist Zhu Yufu was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison, his wife said.

Residents say that China has imposed virtual martial law in Tibetan areas, amid a wave of self-immolations to protest Beijing's rule, and has kept tight control of the Uighur minority concentrated in northwestern Xinjiang region.

"It is an area of grave concern for us to witness the increase of tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang," said Danny Russel, President Barack Obama's top adviser on Asia.

"The US has spoken out about it, and we use every opportunity to urge the Chinese officials and leaders to exercise real restraint and to safeguard the human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all of Chinese citizens, including in Tibet," he said.

Russel dismissed fears of human rights groups that the United States would tone down comments to ensure a smooth visit by Xi, who will be welcomed Tuesday at the White House, State Department and Pentagon.

"This is an important part of our agenda and there's no reason that the conversations with Vice President Xi would depart from our longstanding practices," Russel said.

Separately Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called on China to free Zhu, saying that the United States was "deeply concerned" that he was sentenced for subversion over writing a poem.

Xi's visit also comes after China joined Russia in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that would have pressured President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to start a transition and halt what residents say is escalating violence.

"We'll continue to press that with the Chinese because, frankly, it's not, we believe, the right bet to believe that Assad is going to brutalize his people into submission," Rhodes told reporters on a conference call.

"We believe Assad's days are numbered and there needs to be a transition in Syria," he said.

Xi, who is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao next year, will also travel to Iowa and California as part of an effort to show a gentler side of China to an audience outside of Washington.

The 58-year-old vice president visited Iowa in 1985 on his first trip to the United States when he was a low-ranking official. He is said to have enjoyed his experience and will meet former associates in the Mississippi River town of Muscatine.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said Monday that Xi's visit aimed to bridge the "trust deficit" between the Pacific powers.

Myanmar frees monk held for questioning

YANGON, February 11, 2012 (AFP) - Myanmar officials have freed a leading dissident Buddhist monk after a brief detention, his monastery said Saturday, following a call from the United States for his immediate release.

Gambira was taken away by authorities early on Friday and released that night, less than a month after he was freed from a jail term for his leading role in mass anti-government protests in 2007.

He was one of hundreds of political prisoners released in January, cutting short a 68-year jail term imposed for his key role in the 2007 "Saffron Revolution", which was brutally crushed by the former junta.

Since he was freed, Gambira has breached regulations by breaking into monasteries closed by the government after the mass monk-led demonstrations, a government official told AFP Friday on condition of anonymity.

After questioning he was taken to senior monks who reprimanded him for his behaviour, according to the abbot at Maggin monastery in Yangon, where Gambira is staying.

"He was released by authorities last night after the senior monks spoke to him," abbot Einda Ka told AFP.

After he was detained the United States said Myanmar's authorities, who have recently impressed the West with reformist moves, should release Gambira immediately.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that given the "government's stated commitment to reform and democratisation, we call on Burmese authorities to protect the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens, including all of those recently released from detention".

Myanmar's release of about 500 political prisoners since October has been hailed by Western countries, which have long demanded the freeing of such detainees before they would consider lifting sanctions.

A quasi-civilian regime, which came to power in March last year after almost half a century of outright military rule, has surprised critics with its apparent desire to reform and open up to the outside world.

A key sign of change has been the acceptance of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party back into the political mainstream after more than two decades of marginalisation.

The opposition leader, who was released from house arrest soon after a 2010 election and has since been allowed to launch a bid to enter parliament, is running for office in April 1 by-elections.

On Saturday she begins campaigning in the rural constituency near Yangon where she is standing for a seat -- the first time she has been able to directly participate in an election -- and thousands of supporters are expected on the streets.

Observers and the international community are set to closely watch the upcoming polls after widespread criticism and accusations of cheating in 2010, and have called on the government to ensure they are free and fair.

The 2007 protests that landed Gambira in jail began as small rallies against the rising cost of living but escalated into huge anti-government demonstrations led by crowds of monks.

They posed the biggest challenge to military rule in nearly two decades, leading to a bloody crackdown by the authorities. At least 31 people were killed by security forces while hundreds were beaten and detained.

Imperial China stirs Jason Wu at New York fashion week

NEW YORK, February 11, 2012 (AFP) - Designer Jason Wu brought the mystery of the Forbidden City to New York fashion week on Friday with a fall-winter collection inspired by his Chinese heritage and 1930s Hollywood glamor.

Born in Taiwan and raised in Canada and the United States, 29-year-old Wu famously designed the gown First Lady Michelle Obama wore to the January 2009 balls that accompanied the inauguration of her husband Barack Obama as  president.

But his collection on day two of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week reflected a growing personal interest in his Chinese roots, with a touch of Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express" thrown in for good measure.

He credited a voyage of discovery back to Asia with his father 18 months ago for stirring his imagination.

"I was born Chinese, but I had not been back in my country for so long," he told AFP backstage.

"My dad took me to see an exhibit on the Chinese Qing Dynasty warriors and I was so taken by the subject that I thought it was important for me to go back to my roots," he added.

The result: a collection that wraps up "my answer to what is Chinese."

Unmistakable in Wu's looks as they emerged from huge Oriental palace doors was the slim sleek silhouette of the cheung sam, with stiff half-collars and teardrop necklines, in scarlet, blood red or charcoal black hues.

Four-pocket shirt jackets harked back to the relatively more recent Mao jacket, contributing to Wu's vision of an invincible warrior woman.

"These are different interpretations of China," he said, "all very strong, all very fierce -- we knitted them together like a cinematic experience."

In other shows Friday, Michael and Nicole Colovos for Helmut Lang built upon the label's return to the runway last season with a very urban parade of peaked shoulders and pinched waists -- but it was the boots that had people talking.

Grey, black or floral wedge boots, often boldly thigh-high, stood among in nearly all of the 40 razor-sharp looks the designer couple set out via a mirrored ramp in a converted warehouse in the SoHo section of Manhattan.

Earlier, New Zealand's Rebecca Taylor, a favorite of "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker, made good use of shearling, quilted Bordeaux leather and "beautiful digitalized prints" -- her words -- for her 40-look collection.

"We were looking at a lot of layers, a lot of textures," Taylor told reporters backstage. Her herringbone coats and stovepipe jeans in particular recalled the heyday of 1980s New Wave vintage style.

For evening wear, highlights included python-print halter dresses that Taylor matched with shoes and accessories of her own design, in a well-received show set to the beat of the Skatt Brothers' 1979 dance-floor tune "Walk the Night."

In what's becoming a regular fixture in New York, South Korea's culture ministry and fashion research institute hosted fresh designs from Doho, Lie Sang Bong, Resurrection by Joyoung, Song Jung Wan, and Steve J and Yoni P.

Fans packed the late-morning Concept Korea presentation, although it was hard for a caring soul not to feel for the models who bravely endured a full hour in static poses on terraced platforms in precariously high heels.

Moving on from their floral designs of last season, Steve J and Yoni P came up with a whimsical starburst design that fell into place as easily in sheer lace as it did in knitwear.

"It makes our collection more fun and more young, said Yoni Pai, whose creative partnership with Steve Jong -- forged during their fashion school days in London a decade ago -- has only grown since they married two years ago.

Singapore to extradite four to US over Iraq bombs

SINGAPORE, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - A Singapore judge Friday allowed the extradition to the United States of four Singaporeans accused of illegally selling US-made radio components to Iran that ended up in Iraqi roadside bombs.

The judge ordered the four committed to prison pending an extradition order by Singapore Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is also the foreign minister.

The US government immediately welcomed the decision even though the four electronics company employees, who strongly denied deliberately violating US laws, were given 15 days to contest the judge's ruling.

"This ruling reflects the strong spirit of cooperation between the United States and Singapore in combating transnational crime, including the illicit trade in arms and equipment that can pose significant threats to the United States and the international community," said US Ambassador David Adelman.

A US embassy statement said the four had been charged with violations of American laws relating to fraud involving the "unlawful export from the United States of military antennas and radio frequency modules".

The four suspects were all in the electronics parts distribution business when they were arrested in October and will be tried in a District of Columbia court if extradited.

"I have no doubt they will be accorded a fair trial by the US courts,"  District Court Judge Chia Wee Kiat said.

He said all the court needed was to "consider if there is a prima-facie case" and that this had been established during the hearings.

In court statements in December, Wong Yuh Lan, Lim Yong Nam, Lim Kow Seng and Hia Soo Gan Benson rejected US charges that they had conspired to evade a US trade embargo against Tehran.

They were arrested by Singapore police on US charges of illegally exporting US-made radio equipment to Iran including 6,000 radio modules and 55 antenna parts, some of which were found in bombs targeting coalition forces in Iraq.

The Singapore government turned over the US extradition request to a local court to determine the merits of the case.

"I really did not take part in any conspiracy... and I truly did not know that US origin goods were not allowed into Iran," Wong, the only woman among the four, said in a statement read out in court by her lawyer in December.

Wong, who was an office clerk for a company run by an Iranian who is now at large, said her incarceration during the hearings "has caused untold anguish to me, my family and my young children".

Wong's lawyer Ravinderpal Singh said: "I am going to look at the written judgement and decide on the next course of action with my client."

Hamidul Haq, the counsel for the three other accused, said he will lodge an appeal.

"There is a period of 15 days that Singapore has before extradition can take place," Haq told reporters.

Malaysian police detain Saudi tweeter

KUALA LUMPUR, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - Malaysian authorities Friday said they had detained a young Saudi journalist who fled his country after Twitter comments he made about the Prophet Mohammed triggered calls for his execution.

Hamza Kashgari was taken into custody after flying into Malaysia's main international airport on Thursday, national police spokesman Ramli Yoosuf told AFP.

"Kashgari was detained at the airport upon arrival following a request made to us by Interpol after the Saudi authorities applied for it," he said.

Officials in Interpol's office in Malaysia could not immediately be reached for comment.

The state news agency Bernama said the 23-year-old Kashgari had been detained by Muslim-majority Malaysia "for allegedly insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed".

Last week, on the prophet's birthday, he tweeted: "I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don't understand about you.

"I will not pray for you."

AFP could not immediately confirm where the 23-year-old Kashgari flew in from or whether he was en route to another destination.

A statement released by Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Kashgari was detained in the airport's departure hall but gave no further details.

"The police are now in contact with the Saudi Arabian authorities in order to determine the next steps," the statement said.

As fellow Muslim countries, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have close ties but do not have a formal extradition treaty.

However, a Malaysian home ministry official who asked to remain unidentified said Kashgari could be extradited under other bilateral security agreements.

Malaysia has in the past summarily deported people it considers undesirable.

Kashgari's controversial tweet sparked some 30,000 responses, according to an online service that tracks Twitter postings in the Arab world.

Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a spokeswoman for Malaysian activist group Lawyers for Liberty, said Kashgari was a blogger who had decried the "oppression of women".    "This is again a violation of freedom of expression. He has every right of making comments and so on without being persecuted," she told AFP.

"Malaysia should give asylum to him. But instead they are conspiring with the Saudi government. It's abhorrent."

Kashgari has apologised over the affair but that has not stemmed calls for his head.

A committee of top clerics branded him "an "infidel" and demanded he be tried in an Islamic court, while a Facebook page entitled "The Saudi people demand Hamza Kashgari's execution" has attracted thousands of followers.

The incident has shone a spotlight on the use of freewheeling social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia.

Top Saudi cleric Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh has called Twitter "a great danger not suitable for Muslims" and "a platform for spreading lies and making accusations".

But millions of Saudis, including many government officials, have created Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Germany freezes signing of disputed Internet pact

BERLIN, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - Germany on Friday halted the signing of a controversial international accord billed as a way to beat online piracy that has sparked angry protests, saying it needed more time to consider it.

"The signing has not happened, to give us time to carry out further discussions," a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.

"The federal justice minister in charge of the issue has already signalled her objections this week," added the spokesman.

The ACTA agreement, negotiated between the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, Singapore and the United States, needs all 27 EU countries to ratify the deal.

But countries including Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have already frozen their ratification process.

Earlier Friday, Latvia said it had also decided to hang fire until the position of other countries became clear.

The deal aims to bolster international standards for intellectual property protection, for example by doing more to fight counterfeit medicine and other goods.

But its attempt to attack illegal downloading and Internet file-sharing has prompted the most controversy, amid fears it could curtail online freedoms.

Critics say it gives copyright-holders too much clout, for example allowing them to force the closure of websites without the same level of proof as a court would demand.

An international day of rallies against ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has been scheduled for Saturday.

So-called "hacktivists", including the Anonymous group, have claimed attacks on official websites they see as supporting the deal.

2012/02/10

Chinese snap up Aussie vines in hunt for top drop

POKOLBIN, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - The coal-rich hills of Australia's Hunter Valley have long fed China's steel furnaces but the winemaking region is riding a fresh boom as the Asian power's middle classes toast their new wealth.

Mining delegations are being replaced by wine enthusiasts as China's upwardly mobile millions get the taste for an expensive drop, and Australia's vintners are turning their efforts towards the lucrative new market.

"Every buyer that I have on my books right now is Chinese nationality, every one," said Cain Beckett, a real estate broker in the Hunter Valley.

"There are parallels with the heady days when everyone was just buying everything and spending cash hand over fist -- that hasn't happened for 10 or 15 years so it's interesting times."

Beckett sold eight vineyards to Chinese investors in the latter months of 2011, some of which had been on the market since the global financial crisis and went for Aus$120,000 (US$129,000) above asking price as buyers haggled.

The wine is destined for hotels, restaurants and bottle shops across China.

Times have been tough in the renowned winemaking district about 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Sydney and Beckett said selling "eight of those at a time is pretty shocking, it's blown us away".

"We would have averaged less than one a month over the last year so it's a pretty big trend," he told AFP.

China is Australia's fourth-largest wine market and the value of exports to the Asian giant has exploded in recent years, from a little over Aus$100 million in 2008 to more than Aus$250 million in 2011.

Australia is second only to France in terms of wine exports to China by both volume and value.

Lucy Anderson, Asia director for the government-backed industry group Wine Australia, said overall consumption was increasing but growth was especially notable at "higher price points" as tastes matured.

"I think the Chinese wine market is incredibly complex, however, I would describe it as rapidly developing, not emerging," Anderson said.

Major winemaker Tyrell's said China had gone from accounting for two percent of its business five years ago to "around 35 percent and growing", mostly involving the wholesale of its wine under private Chinese labels.

Tyrell's was working closely with a Chinese company that had just purchased one of the Hunter vineyards and international manager Grant Bellve said the rush of foreign buyers had been a blessing for the local industry.

"If they didn't purchase where would those wineries be? Would the banks own them?" said Bellve.

He added that while the Chinese buyers can afford to buy the wineries, they still needed Australian production expertise.

"Most of (the Chinese buyers) have money that you and I would only dream about. If they do buy wineries then they need the expertise, (and) it allows you to get potential new distribution through unbelievable channels."

Bellve said it was too early to say whether Chinese ownership of Australian vineyards would be a permanent trend or how positive it would be for the industry in the long-term.

"I think they like to have somewhere that they can bring their customers to rather than saying 'this is a winery that produces for us'. They can put their flag up," he said.

"The biggest thing... is to get them to understand that wine is not a commodity, it's an agriculture. They think it's like a production line, and that's the key thing I think in getting them to understand the business."

Neil McGuigan, from premier label McGuigan's, said the purchases to date of a few small wineries in the Hunter were for hobby or status purposes and "not a game-changer for the Australian wine industry".

But he said some in the industry believed vineyard purchases were part of a larger long-term plan and warned against "export(ing) our knowledge and all our 200 years of making wine without something coming back our way".

"It's about getting land in Australia, it's about getting water. I think the Chinese are looking more than 10 years out," he said.

"They may be saying to themselves 'wine for the next 10 years and then at least we're in Australia, at least we're in a fantastic climate, we've got water, we've got land -- who knows where it could go from there?'."

Like Bellve, McGuigan saw consumer education -- getting "people from (drinking) Coca-Cola onto wine" -- and greater access to Chinese distribution networks as key.

"The French are here, the Americans are here, the New Zealanders are here, there are a lot of countries in here already so why not the Chinese?" he said of the Hunter Valley.

"As long as the wine that is made is good quality wine and the reputation of Australian wine is protected... what's the downside?"

Australian newspaper circulation slides 4%

SYDNEY, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - Australian newspaper circulation slid four percent in the last quarter of 2011 compared with the same period the previous year, figures released Friday showed, amid hopes the decline has stabilised.

Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures showed the fall in sales over 2011 compared to 2010 was relatively steady and had not dropped off more steeply as the year progressed, industry group The Newspaper Works said.

"The easing in printed newspaper sales in the latest quarter shows the decline has stabilised," chief Tony Hale said.

Hale said the figures also did not include the numbers of those increasingly seeking their information from digital formats.

"The print circulation results were within expectations and reflected the ongoing softness in retail conditions," he said.

"Put simply, the ABC printed newspaper figures do not paint a complete picture of newspaper consumption among Australians, who were turning to digital platforms in growing numbers."

The quality newspaper group Fairfax suffered an 11.9 percent decline in the Monday to Friday circulation of its Sydney Morning Herald for the December quarter while Melbourne's The Age dropped 6.0 percent for its weekday editions.

However, Fairfax said it had experienced 26 percent growth in its audience across print and digital platforms over the past five years.

The bright spot for print was in national papers, with Rupert Murdoch's flagship The Australian growing readership for both its weekday and weekend circulation -- 3.5 percent and 1.6 percent respectively.

Fairfax's national business tabloid the Australian Financial Review's weekend edition was also up 3.7 percent, but its weekday edition dropped 3.3 percent.

Japan scientist makes 'Avatar' robot

YOKOHAMA, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - A Japanese-developed robot that mimics the movements of its human controller is bringing the Hollywood blockbuster "Avatar" one step closer to reality.

Users of the TELESAR V don special equipment that allows them not only to direct the actions of a remote machine, but also to see, hear and feel the same things as their doppelganger android.

"When I put on the devices and move my body, I see my hands having turned into the robot hands. When I move my head, I get a different view from the one I had before," said researcher Sho Kamuro.

"It's a strange experience that makes you wonder if you've really become a robot," he told AFP.

Professor Susumu Tachi, who specialises in engineering and virtual reality at Keio University's Graduate School of Media Design, said systems attached to the operator's headgear, vest and gloves send detailed instructions to the robot, which then mimics the user's every move.

At the same time, an array of sensors on the android relays a stream of information which is converted into sensations for the user.

The thin polyester gloves the operator wears are lined with semiconductors and tiny motors to allow the user to "feel" what the mechanical hands are touching -- a smooth or a bumpy surface as well as heat and cold.

The robot's "eyes" are actually cameras capturing images that appear on tiny video screens in front of the user's eyes, allowing them to see in three dimensions.

Microphones on the robot pick up sounds, while its speakers allow the operator to make his voice heard by those near the machine.

The TELESAR -- TELexistence Surrogate Anthropomorphic Robot -- is still a far cry from the futuristic creations of James Cameron's "Avatar", where US soldiers are able to remotely control the genetically engineered bodies of an extra-terrestrial race they wish to subdue.

But, says Tachi, it could have much more immediate -- and benign -- applications, such as working in high-risk environments, for example the inside of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, though it is early days.

"I think further research and development could enable this to go into areas too dangerous for humans and do jobs that require human skills," he said.

Japan's famously advanced robot technology was found wanting during the crisis at Fukushima, where foreign expertise had to be called on for the machines that went inside reactor buildings as nuclear meltdowns began.

Tachi said a "safety myth" had grown up around atomic technology, preventing research on the kind of machines that could help in the wake of a disaster.

But he said his kind of robot technology could help with the long and difficult task of decommissioning reactors at Fukushima -- a process that could take three decades.

A remote-controlled android that allows its user to experience what is happening far away may have more than just industrial applications, he added.

"This could be used to talk with your grandpa or grandma living in a remote place and deepen communications," he said.

US visit marks 11th-hour test for China's heir apparent

BEIJING, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - China's Xi Jinping has travelled extensively in the last two years, but next week's US visit will be a high-profile test for the man who is all but certain to be the next leader of the Asian power.

Analysts said vice-president Xi's every move would be closely scrutinised during the trip, which will include talks with US President Barack Obama and a speech in Washington before he heads on to Iowa and Los Angeles.

The visit "must place Xi Jinping in the position of statesman and confirm his ability to express himself on international affairs," said Francois Godement, head of strategy for the Asia Centre in Paris.

"But it is also a test... his views are not very well known," he said of the often impassive 58-year-old. "He will be judged on his communication skills, and his ability to reveal some of his character."

Observers will be watching to see whether Xi follows the lead of Hu, who remains as enigmatic now as he was when he took on the role a decade ago, said Godement.

Barring a last-minute coup-de-theatre, Xi will take over from President Hu Jintao as leader of China's ruling Communist party at the 18th congress to be held in October, and as head of state in March 2013.

Michel Bonnin, head of the Franco-Chinese department of the Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the US visit was "part of the preparations for handing over the baton."

"It's one of the final stages," said Bonnin, an expert on China's Communist party. "He must not make any 11th-hour mistakes."

But Bonnin stressed that Xi's background meant he was much more at ease outside China than Hu. "Hu was a product of the (Communist youth) league, while Xi is a princeling," he said.

China's princelings are those leaders whose family lineage has played a part in their success -- Xi's father was Xi Zhongxun, a communist guerrilla who fought alongside Mao Zedong.

Bonnin said Xi belonged to a generation of Communist leaders groomed for power since the 1980s who had "knowledge of and links to the outside world", and that the vice-president would be comfortable speaking English.

Xi already has links with the United States, where his daughter is studying at Harvard University under an assumed name to protect her anonymity.

He made friends in Iowa when he travelled there in 1985 as a low-ranking official, and he will return to the state after holding talks in Washington.

Xi's main mentor was not Hu Jintao, but China's former president Jiang Zemin, who Godement said was "indisputably the Chinese leader who did the most for Sino-US relations."

Nonetheless, China's likely next president will face several potential pitfalls during his US trip.

Among them are Beijing's decision -- sharply criticised by Washington -- to veto a UN resolution criticising Syria for its bloody crackdown on protests, and a spate of self-immolations in China's Tibetan areas.

Trade tensions between the two countries have increased in recent months, while anti-China sentiment has risen, fuelled by negative campaigning in the run-up to US elections.

But Bonnin said Xi's "skillful and cautious" approach would go a long way to helping the trip pass off smoothly.

Xi would not go out of his way to "clearly differentiate himself from Hu Jintao" -- at least not until he is in power -- Bonnin added.

"He will aim for a cautious approach, he could still incur losses," said one Western diplomat who asked not to be named, referring to the current fight for places in the Politburo, the heart of power in Beijing.

In recent years, Xi's travels have taken in Australia, Chile, Italy, Russia, Angola, South Africa, Singapore and Thailand.

His trips have been largely free of incident -- with one notable exception in Mexico in 2009, when he delivered a surprise diatribe against foreigners "with full bellies" who "have nothing better to do than to point fingers" at China.

Police chief defection rumours spark China intrigue

BEIJING, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - A former Chinese police chief rumoured to have tried to defect visited a US consulate, it was confirmed Thursday, fuelling a political intrigue analysts say may signal a power struggle in China.

The speculation about Wang Lijun, who has close links to a high-profile contender to join China's top decision-making body, comes at a crucial time with a once-in-a-decade leadership transition set to start later this year.

The US embassy in Beijing confirmed Wang's visit to the consulate in Chengdu but declined to comment on the rumours he had sought asylum, saying only that he had gone there for a meeting and left "of his own volition".

China's official Xinhua news agency said authorities were "investigating the incident in which Chongqing Vice Mayor Wang Lijun entered the US consulate in southwest China and remained there for one day".

Analysts said the confirmation of the visit would further fuel speculation surrounding Wang and his boss, Chongqing's colourful but controversial Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai.

They said it may hamper Bo's chances of promotion to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, when seven members, including President Hu Jintao, step down later this year.

As Bo's deputy, Wang -- whose current whereabouts are unknown -- won a reputation for graft-busting with a campaign to rid the southwestern city of corruption in which dozens of officials were arrested.

But Chongqing authorities removed him as police chief last week before announcing Wednesday he was on leave, receiving "vacation-style treatment" for stress and over-work.

"Wang's dismissal is most likely the result of high-level in-fighting," Willy Lam, a leading China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

"Bo's chances for the (Politburo appointment) have been adversely affected. It's long-standing 'organisational principle' of the CCP (Communist Party) that a region's No. 1 has to take political responsibility for the misdemeanours of his subordinates."

Sick leave is a term often used as a euphemism for a political purge in China's murky one-party communist system.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to comment Thursday on Wang's visit to the US consulate, only telling reporters the issue had been resolved "relatively smoothly".

The Chongqing government refused comment on the visit, which came ahead of a planned trip to the United States next week by Xi Jinping, China's vice president and likely successor to President Hu Jintao.

But there was feverish speculation about Wang's motives -- and his current whereabouts -- on China's popular microblogs.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said a government statement on Wang's illness was forwarded online 30,000 times within an hour of being posted, reflecting intense interest in the nation's high-level internal politics.

Even before state media reported Wang's visit to the consulate, the information was widely circulating on microblogs Thursday, a day after Internet censors blocked searches and content containing Wang's name.

Rumours that Wang was seeking political asylum appear to have been stoked by reports that scores of police vehicles descended on the consulate on Tuesday evening.

As Bo's right-hand man, Wang, 52, an ethnic Mongolian, gained national fame while toppling former city deputy police chief Wen Qiang in a massive crime crackdown. Wen was executed in 2010.

Known as a "princeling" due to his father's revolutionary legacy, Bo has encountered opposition from those who are against nepotism and hereditary rights in China's political system.

Bo's crackdown on corruption and organised crime in Chongqing was widely popular, although responses to his campaign to instill "red" or communist-style patriotism in the municipality were mixed.

On Thursday, the Chongqing Daily, the city's official newspaper, championed the crackdown on the mafia, saying nearly 97 percent of the city's residents said they "had a sense of safety" and "no longer feared going out".

"Bo is seen as a Machiavellian figure who is willing to risk anything to achieve his goals," Lam said.

"His high-profile campaign to sing red songs and crack down on triads are regarded as cynical ploys to boost his own political standing."


Apple to debut 'iPad 3' in March: report

SAN FRANCISCO, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Apple will unveil a new version of its market-ruling iPad table computer in March, according to a report in Dow Jones-owned technology blog All Things D.

The latest in an ongoing stream of Apple rumors cited unnamed sources as saying that an "iPad 3" will make its debut at an event the California company will host in San Francisco in the first week of March.

The next-generation iPad will be shaped like the current model, but run on a faster computer chip and have improved graphics on par with those seen in Apple's coveted iPhones, according to the blog.

Thomson Reuters posts loss on $3 bn writedown

NEW YORK, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Thomson Reuters posted a fourth-quarter loss on Thursday as the financial news and information provider took a $3 billion writedown on its financial services business.

Thomson Reuters, which is incorporated in Canada and has its headquarters in New York, reported a loss of $2.57 billion for the quarter compared to a profit of $224 million during the same quarter a year ago.

Leaving aside the $3 billion writedown, earnings per share of 54 cents were better than the 37 cents per share of a year ago, though slightly below the 56 cents per share forecast by Wall Street analysts.

Thomson Reuters said its fourth-quarter results also included a $50 million charge related to the reorganization of its former Markets division, which has been hurt by the financial crisis and competing products.

Revenue grew three percent in the quarter to $3.58 billion. For the year, Thomson Reuters saw revenue increase six percent to $13.81 billion.

"Our results once again proved the resilience of our business," said James Smith, who took over as chief executive of Thomson Reuters on January 1 from Tom Glocer.

"The units in the former Professional division continued to perform well and we made significant strides in kick-starting the growth engine in our former Markets division," Smith said.

Thomson Reuters' Professional division provides legal, tax and accounting, health care and science products and has been performing better recently than the Markets division, which supplies financial and other products.

Thomson Reuters announced a reorganization in September that involves merging its Markets division and Professional division.

Smith said Thomson Reuters would be focused in 2012 "on a series of product launches and service improvements across all our key customer groups."

Revenue grew nine percent in the Professional division in the fourth quarter to $1.5 billion and increased by two percent at the Markets division to $1.86 billion.

Media revenue was up one percent at $87 million.

Thomson Reuters shares were down 0.58 percent at $27.61 in early afternoon trading on Wall Street.

Petitions protest Apple working conditions in China

NEW YORK, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Petitions denouncing working conditions at Chinese factories making Apple gadgets were delivered to the California firm's new Grand Central Station store on Thursday.

"Our goal is to create a dialogue with Apple," said Sarah Ryan of the activist organization Change.org, which along with other groups called for protests Thursday at Apple stores in New York, London and other major cities.

"We want to work with them to improve their working conditions," Ryan said.

A Change.org petition attracted 200,000 signatures while another from SumOfUs.org gathered 57,000.

They were delivered to employees of Apple's Grand Central Store, which opened on December 9. "They were very polite," Ryan said. "They accepted the box. Everything went well."

The New York Times reported last month that workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices at factories in China "often labor in harsh conditions" and work "excessive overtime."

The newspaper said two explosions at iPad factories last year killed four people and injured 77.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook responded last month to media reports alleging harsh working conditions in China.

In an email to Apple staff obtained by the 9to5mac.com website, Cook said Apple was inspecting more factories and opening up its supply chain for independent evaluations by the Fair Labor Association.

"Every year we inspect more factories, raising the bar for our partners and going deeper into the supply chain," Cook said. "We've made a great deal of progress and improved conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers.

"We know of no one in our industry doing as much as we are, in as many places, touching as many people," he said.

"We are attacking problems aggressively with the help of the world's foremost authorities on safety, the environment, and fair labor," he said.

Biden meets Chinese activists ahead of VP visit

WASHINGTON, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - US Vice President Joe Biden called for China to address a "deterioration" of its human rights record as he met activists ahead of a key visit by his Chinese counterpart, the White House said Thursday.

Biden -- the host for next week's visit by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely tipped to be the Asian power's next leader -- met jointly Wednesday with four advocates for human rights.

In the meeting, Biden and the activists "discussed the deterioration of China's human rights situation, prospects for reform and recommendations for US policy," a White House statement said.

"The vice president underscored the administration's belief in the universality of human rights and its commitment to human rights as a fundamental part of our foreign policy," it said.

"He reiterated his view that greater openness and protection of universal rights is the best way to promote innovation, prosperity and stability in all countries, including China," it said.

US-based activists widely criticized President Barack Obama's administration when it took office in 2009 for what they saw as a downplaying of human rights concerns as it sought cooperation with Beijing.

The administration has insisted that human rights are a major US priority. Obama held a similar meeting with activists before a state visit last year to Washington by President Hu Jintao.

The White House said Biden met Li Xiaorong, a founding member of the group Human Rights in China; Benjamin Liebman, a Columbia University expert on China's legal system; Zha Jianying, an expert on Chinese media and pop culture, and Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Sophie Richardson, who oversees Human Rights Watch's work on China, said that the Obama administration should meet not just with scholars but with former political prisoners from China.

"We're perfectly happy to give our views, but as a symbolic gesture to underscore that you're serious about hearing independent voices from China, the president should meet -- and be seen to be meeting -- with these other kinds of people as well," Richardson said.

Richardson said Obama should consider meeting Yu Jie, a prominent dissident writer who recently fled to the United States, and Rebiya Kadeer, a formerly jailed leader of China's Uighur minority who lives in exile in Washington.

Former president George W. Bush met with Kadeer and other prominent dissidents including Wei Jingsheng and Harry Wu shortly before he visited Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.

China last year carried out one of its biggest clampdowns on dissent in years, detaining numerous activists amid a wave of protests in the Arab world against authoritarian leaders.

Human rights groups say Chinese authorities recently have put some Tibetan areas under virtual martial law after a series of self-immolations, mostly by monks, to protest rights conditions in the largely Buddhist region.

Walter Lohman, the director of the Asian studies center at the conservative Heritage Foundation, suspected that Biden may have met with activists in hopes of easing pressure to bring up human rights with Xi.

"It's actually a way to take the issue off the table, not a way to put it on the table," Lohman said. "He talks to them, he gets it out of his system, and then he can talk about it in the broadest strokes when he's with Xi Jinping."

Obama and Biden will welcome Xi to the White House on Tuesday. The Chinese heir apparent will also visit Iowa and California on a trip that the US administration hopes will encourage cooperation between the Pacific powers.

Li, Liebman and Zha did not respond to requests for comment on their meeting with Biden. Li, in an article in The New York Review of Books after her talks with Obama last year, called on the United States to hold China to account over its "rhetorical commitments" on human rights.

"If the Chinese government is called upon to observe the constitutional and legal commitments that it has made to its own citizens -- some of which are inscribed in international protocols -- it can hardly claim 'interference,'" she wrote.

First Google hire leaving for online academy

SAN FRANCISCO, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - The first person hired by Google's founders is leaving the Internet giant to devote himself to an innovative online education website called Khan Academy.

Google on Thursday confirmed that Craig Silverstein is departing the California company he helped Larry Page and Sergey Brin build into the world's most popular search engine.

"Craig's been with Google since the early days," Google said in an emailed response to an AFP inquiry.

"He was instrumental in the development of search and made numerous contributions to Google over the years.

"We wish him all the best at the Khan academy and know that he will do great things to help them promote education around the world," Google said.

Silverstein was "Googler number 3," joining graduate students Brin and Page about 14 years ago after they launched the service in a Stanford University dorm room.

The engineer planned to join Salman Khan at the nonprofit Khan Academy, which provides online video classes. Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are listed among the academy backers.

Google to make home entertainment system: report

SAN FRANCISCO, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Google will mirror Apple's winning hardware-software formula with an Android-powered entertainment system that wirelessly streams content through homes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The Journal cited unnamed sources as saying Google will take the unprecedented step of stamping its own brand on the home-entertainment system, which was expected to debut this year.

Google, which announced in August it is buying US smartphone maker Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion in cash, told AFP it would not comment on "rumor and speculation."

The California-based technology firm has openly shared a vision of its open-source Android software being used to power a wide array of devices aside from smartphones and tablets.

Google also operates an Internet music service along with video-sharing website YouTube, both of which have potential to provide digital content to home entertainment systems.

Apple has proven the money-making power of combining devices, software and digital entertainment material in its iPad, iPhone, and iPod devices.

Japan anti-base mayor critical of new US deal

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - A mayor who has fought to close a flashpoint US base on Japan's Okinawa island voiced opposition Thursday to a deal that could see thousands of US troops leaving, saying his core concern remained.

The United States and Japan said Wednesday that they were "delinking" a package that tied the departure of soldiers from Okinawa to progress in a long-running row over the Futenma Marine base on the subtropical island.

Under a 2006 deal reached after years of talks, some 8,000 Marines would leave Okinawa for Guam and Futenma -- located in the densely populated city of Ginowan -- would be shifted to a quieter coastline in Nago city.

But the plan made little headway as some Japanese politicians and activists pressed for a greater pullout of US troops and many residents of Nago resisted playing host to the relocated Marine base.

Nago's Mayor Susumu Inamine, on a visit to Washington to explain his criticism of the Futenma relocation, said that the latest statement between the two governments has not changed his view.

"I think that the relocation of the Marines to Guam and other parts of the world would mitigate our burden to some extent," Inamine told a news conference.

"However, we are concerned that it may lead to the permanent existence of Futenma. We should not allow this to happen because we have been working on this issue for the past 16 years," he said.

Inamine, who held meetings at the State Department, Pentagon and Congress, said that he found sympathy from some lawmakers as they are looking for ways to cut spending by the US government.

The United States stations some 47,000 troops in Japan under an alliance reached after World War II, when Tokyo was forced to renounce the right to wage war.

While few Japanese seek a complete withdrawal of US forces, many local residents resent the noise from bases and complain of the risk of accidents and crime associated with a large presence of young soldiers.

According to Japanese press reports, the United States now plans to shift 4,700 Marines from Okinawa to Guam with another 3,300 to be located around locations such as Hawaii, the Philippines and possibly mainland Japan.

US officials have declined to speak of specific numbers, saying it is premature.

Despite plans for budget cuts, the US military has kept a priority on maintaining strength in Asia as China rapidly expands its armed forces. Okinawa lies strategically close to Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing.

LinkedIn profit climbs on doubled revenue

SAN FRANCISCO, February 10, 2012 (AFP) - LinkedIn on Thursday saw its stock price surge after reporting that revenue doubled in the recently-ended quarter, pumping up profits at the career-oriented online social network.

LinkedIn took in $167.7 million in revenue in the quarter ended December 31 in a 105 percent increase from the same period a year earlier.

Profit for the quarter was $6.9 million dollars compared with the $5.3 million in profit the company made in the same three-month period in 2010.

"(The fourth quarter) once again exceeded our expectations for member engagement and business growth," said LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner.

"It was a fitting end to a memorable year in which we reinforced our position as the pre-eminent professional network on the web."

LinkedIn's stock price jumped more than eight percent to $82.78 a share in trading that followed release of the earnings figures.

LinkedIn brings together people online to cultivate and manage their careers and business networks.

It boasts more than 135 million members in over 200 countries and territories, and recently opened a research and development center in India.

The California company launched in 2003 and made its stock market debut in May of last year to raise the money to fuel expansion.

"We believe continued focus on our members and technology infrastructure positions us well for accelerated product innovation in 2012," Weiner said.

Sidelined police chief sparks China leadership intrigue

BEIJING, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - The United States said Thursday a former Chinese police chief rumoured to have tried to defect had visited one of its consulates, fuelling a political intrigue analysts say may signal a power struggle in China.

The speculation about Wang Lijun, who has close links to a high-profile contender to join China's top decision-making body, comes at a crucial time with a once-in-a-decade leadership transition set to start later this year.

The US embassy in Beijing declined to comment on the rumours that Wang had sought asylum, saying only that he had gone to the consulate in Chengdu for a meeting and left "of his own volition".

But analysts said confirmation of the visit would further fuel the speculation surrounding Wang and his boss, Chongqing's colourful but controversial Communist Party secretary Bo Xilai.

They said it may hamper Bo's chances of promotion to the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, when seven members, including President Hu Jintao, step down later this year.

As Bo's deputy, Wang -- whose current whereabouts are unknown -- won a reputation for graft-busting with a campaign to rid the southwestern city of corruption in which dozens of officials were arrested.

But Chongqing authorities removed him as police chief last week before announcing Wednesday he was on leave, receiving "vacation-style treatment" for stress and over-work.

"Wang's dismissal is most likely the result of high-level in-fighting," Willy Lam, a leading China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told AFP.

"Bo's chances for the (Politburo appointment) have been adversely affected. It's long-standing 'organisational principle' of the CCP (Communist Party) that a region's No. 1 has to take political responsibility for the misdemeanors of his subordinates."

Sick leave is a term often used as a euphemism for a political purge in China's murky one-party communist system.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to comment Thursday on Wang's visit to the US consulate, only telling reporters the issue had been resolved "relatively smoothly."

The Chongqing government refused comment on the visit, which came ahead of a planned trip to the United States next week by Xi Jinping, China's vice president and likely successor to President Hu Jintao.

But there was feverish speculation about Wang's motives -- and his current whereabouts -- on China's popular microblogs.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said a government statement on Wang's illness was forwarded online 30,000 times within an hour of being posted, reflecting intense interest in the nation's high-level internal politics.

While state media has not reported Wang's visit to the US consulate, the information was widely circulating on microblogs Thursday, a day after Internet censors blocked searches and content containing Wang's name.

Rumours that Wang was seeking political asylum appear to have been stoked by reports that scores of police vehicles descended on the consulate on Tuesday evening.

As Bo's right-hand man, Wang, 52, an ethnic Mongolian, gained national fame while toppling former city deputy police chief Wen Qiang in a massive crime crackdown. Wen was executed in 2010.

Known as a "princeling" due to his father's revolutionary legacy, Bo has encountered opposition from those who are against nepotism and hereditary rights in China's political system.

Bo's crackdown on corruption and organised crime in Chongqing was widely popular, although responses to his campaign to instill "red" or communist-style patriotism in the municipality were mixed.

On Thursday, the Chongqing Daily, the city's official newspaper, championed the crackdown on the mafia, saying nearly 97 percent of the city's residents said they "had a sense of safety" and "no longer feared going out".

"Bo is seen as a Machiavellian figure who is willing to risk anything to achieve his goals," Lam said.

"His high-profile campaign to sing red songs and crack down on triads are regarded as cynical ploys to boost his own political standing."

Oracle buys "human capital" firm in $1.9 billion deal

SAN FRANCISCO, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Oracle on Thursday announced a $1.9-billion deal to buy Internet-based "human capital" management firm Taleo Corporation.

"Human capital management has become a strategic initiative for organizations," Oracle development executive vice president Thomas Kurian said in a release.

"Taleo's industry leading talent management cloud is an important addition to the Oracle Public Cloud."

Taleo's online "management cloud" is designed to help company's attract, develop, motivate and retail talented workers, according to Oracle.

Taleo was to be woven into Oracle Internet "cloud" services and pitched as a tool for company's to manage human resources and employee careers.

The board of directors at Taleo, located near Oracle's headquarters in Northern California, has approved the deal which must win the support of stockholders.

"Taleo's integrated cloud-based talent management solutions optimize how organizations hire, manage, develop and reward their employees and gives companies the intelligence needed to capitalize on their most critical asset -- their people," said company chief executive Michael Gregoire.

"Joining forces with Oracle gives us the opportunity to better serve our customers."

2012/02/09

Singapore warns US on anti-China rhetoric - 2ndlead

WASHINGTON, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Singapore on Wednesday urged the United States to be careful in comments on China, warning that suggestions of a strategy to contain the rising power could cause strife in Asia.

On a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam voiced confidence that the State Department accepted the need for cooperation with China but said that US domestic politics "resulted in some anti-China rhetoric."

"We in Singapore understand that some of this is inevitable in an election year. But Americans should not underestimate the extent to which such rhetoric can spark reaction which can create a new and unintended reality for the region," he said.

Singapore is a close partner of Washington and home to a key US military logistical base. But the city-state is highly dependent on trade and has sought smooth commercial relations with Asia's major economic powers such as China, Japan and India.

"It's quite untenable -- quite absurd -- to speak in terms of containment of China. That's a country with 1.3 billion people," Shanmugam told a conference on Singapore at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China "is determined to progress in all fields and take its rightful place in the community of nations. It will succeed in that venture," he said.

The United States, while looking to trim spending on its giant military to tame a soaring debt, has set a priority on Asia as rapid economic growth and the rise of China look set to reshape the region.

The US military has sought closer cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, which have accused China of increasingly bellicose actions to assert control over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Shanmugam said that the United States should also look at other ways of engagement in Asia such as pressing ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an emerging trade pact that involves at least nine countries.

It is "a mistake to focus only on the US military presence in the region, to the exclusion of other dimensions of US policy," he said.

President Barack Obama's administration has repeatedly said that it welcomes the rise of China and will try to find areas for cooperation.

Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of a US visit by his counterpart Xi Jinping, called in a statement Wednesday for the two powers to work together on "practical issues."

Addressing the same conference as Shanmugam, senior US diplomat Kurt Campbell agreed it was "very important we're careful about our rhetoric" and said that the United States wanted a relationship with China "based on the well-being" of both countries.

"Every country in Asia right now wants a better relationship with China. That's natural and any American strategy in the region has to be based on that fundamental recognition," said Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia.

"It is also the case that every country in Asia, I believe, also wants a better relationship with the United States," he said.

Shanmugam did not cite examples of "anti-China" comments in the United States, but a number of US lawmakers have raised fears about Beijing's rise.

At a congressional hearing Tuesday, Representative Dana Rohrabacher called for the United States to ramp up support for the Philippines to help the democratic US ally assert its claims in maritime disputes with China.

"We need to stand as aggressively and as solidly with the Filipino government in their confronting an aggressive, arrogant China -- expansionist China -- as we have stood with them against radical Islam," said Rohrabacher, a Republican from California.

Economic disputes with China have also come to the forefront.

In a recent television commercial that outraged Asian American groups, Representative Pete Hoekstra -- a Republican seeking a Senate seat in Michigan -- attacked his opponent with an advertisement criticizing US debt to China.

In the advertisement, a young Asian woman -- in a setting that looked more like Vietnam than China -- said in broken English, "Your economy get very weak; ours get very good."

Washington Post offering buyout to news staff

WASHINGTON, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - The Washington Post announced a voluntary buyout for some newsroom staff on Wednesday, citing the difficult economic climate for the newspaper industry.

"Our objective is a limited staff reduction that won't affect the quality, ambition or authority of our journalism," Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli said in a memo to Post employees.

"We believe this is possible, given the changes in how we work and the great successes we have had building our digital readership lately," Brauchli said in the memo obtained by AFP.

The voluntary buyout offer will not be extended to all departments of the newsroom and will be capped "in order to moderate the impact and preserve our competitiveness in core coverage areas," he said.

"We may turn down some volunteers if we feel their departure would impair our journalism," Brauchli said. "That said, it is important that we achieve real savings."

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

The buyout offer is the fifth at the Post in recent years.

The management memo did not set a target for the number of departures but the newspaper's ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, said on his Twitter feed it would be capped at 48 people, or around eight percent of the newsroom staff of 600.

"Any measure like this is difficult," Brauchli said. "But we believe this approach is a sensible and effective way of addressing the economic forces affecting our industry."

"The Post's newsroom remains formidable, and we will continue making tactical hires so that even as we get smaller, we get stronger," he said.

Reporting its third-quarter earnings in November, the Post Co. said print advertising revenue at the newspaper plunged 20 percent to $57.6 million and was down 13 percent overall for the first nine months of 2011.

Online revenue from WashingtonPost.com and Slate.com fell 14 percent to $23.3 million in the quarter and was seven percent lower for the first nine months of 2011.

Average daily circulation of The Washington Post was 518,700 during the first nine months of the year and average Sunday circulation was 736,800.

Post Co. shares were up 1.04 percent at $387.30 on Wall Street on Wednesday.

Huffington Post targets Quebec with French site

MONTREAL, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - The Huffington Post launched a French-language edition on Wednesday targeting Canada's Quebec province -- the fourth foreign version of the popular news and opinion website.

Le Huffington Post Quebec joins the flagship US site and editions in Britain, France and one aimed at English-speaking Canada.

Quebec has a population of just eight million but Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington said its unique culture raises the need for a site distint from The Huffington Post Canada.

"We want to be present in all of Canada," Huffington said in an interview with AFP.

"Quebec is a very important part of Canada and has its own character, its own culture, its own institutions and we want to capture that through a dedicated site," she said.

Le Huffington Post Quebec is based in a tiny office on the 24th floor of a downtown Montreal skyscraper looking over snow-capped Mount Royal.

The team of four full-time and three part-time journalists and stringers is competing with local heavyweights LaPresse.ca and Canoe.ca, owned respectively by Power Corp. and Quebecor, and public broadcaster Radio-Canada.

The established trio have a firm grip on online readers in the province but Huffington Post Quebec chief editor Patrick White said "there is room for us."

The Huffington Post Quebec will include articles produced for its France website, said White, who previously worked for Thomson Reuters and Quebecor, and showcase the "best of the Web," providing breaking news and 120 blogs.

Its launch has not been problem-free.

Last month, a dozen well-known personalities in Quebec who had agreed to blog for the Huffington Post suddenly withdrew amid controversy over the fact that they would not be paid for their contributions.

"They want to exploit local talent without paying for it," complained Simon Jodoin, who is in charge of blogs at the weekly culture website Voir.ca.

Voir.ca boosted its own offerings by recruiting three dozen more bloggers and agreeing to pay them a modest $5 for every 1,000 page views.

A popular blog post on Voir.ca may attract up to 10,000 views, Jodoin said, earning its author $50.

The Huffington Post earns money in the United States from advertising linked to the number of visitors and page views and while that may be profitable in a country of over 300 million some are wondering if it can work in little Quebec.

"They (The Huffington Post) have a small editorial team and the rest is provided by volunteers," said Daniel Giroux, a media expert at Laval University in Quebec City.

"I don't expect it to be profitable for the first two or three years, but we might be surprised," he said.

The Huffington Post was launched by Huffington, a Greek-American author and columnist, in May 2006 and sold to AOL last February for $315 million.

Huffington, in a roundtable with journalists, said Wednesday that next up is an Italian version of The Huffington Post and she is in talks to create news portals in Germany, Brazil and Japan, as well as maybe her homeland, Greece.

US charges people, firms in plot to spy on DuPont

WASHINGTON, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - US authorities Wednesday unveiled charges against five people and five companies in an espionage scheme aimed at stealing trade secrets for Chinese-controlled firms from US chemical giant DuPont.

A grand jury indictment unsealed in San Francisco contains charges in a "long-running effort to obtain US trade secrets for the benefit of companies controlled by the government of the People's Republic of China," the Justice Department said.

In the latest in a series of industrial espionage cases, the indictment said the Beijing government had "identified as a priority" the development of chloride-route titanium dioxide, or TiO2, which is a valuable white pigment used in paint, plastics and paper.

"The theft of America's trade secrets for the benefit of China and other nations poses a substantial and continuing threat to our economic and national security, and we are committed to holding accountable anyone who robs American businesses of their hard-earned research," said Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney general for national security.

Among those charged was the Pangang Group Company Ltd., a state-owned enterprise in Sichuan Province, and three subsidiaries, and USA Performance Technology Inc., a California-based engineering consulting company.

According to the indictment, USA Performance Technology entered into a contract worth more than $20 million to convey TiO2 trade secret technology to Pangang Group companies.

The scheme conducted over several years helped develop large-scale TiO2 production capability in China, including a planned 100,000-ton capacity factory at Chongqing, the Justice Department said.

The individuals charged included Singapore-born Walter Lian-Heen Liew, also known as "Liu Yuanxuan," 54, a naturalized US citizen and co-owner of USAPTI, along with his wife and Chinese-born co-owner Christina Hong Qiao Liew, known as "Qiao Hong," 49.

Also charged was Chinese national and Pangang executive Hou Shengdong, 42; former DuPont engineer Robert Maegerle, 76; and another former DuPont employee, Tze Chao, 77.

Walter Liew was arrested in August and has been detained as a flight risk, officials said. His wife was arrested at the same time and was released under travel restrictions and electronic monitoring.

Maegerle was arrested Wednesday in Delaware and Chao was served with a summons to appear in court March 1. A warrant has been issued for Hou's arrest, officials said.

According to the indictment, China was a major importer of the chemical and DuPont was unwilling to sell its technology to Chinese firms.

DuPont invented the chemical in the late 1940s and since then has invested heavily in research and development to improve that production process. The global titanium dioxide market has been valued at roughly $12 billion, and DuPont has the largest share of that market, officials said.

The chloride-route process is more efficient and cleaner than the sulfate-route process prevalent in China.

The FBI opened an investigation after DuPont reported that its TiO2 trade secrets had been misappropriated.

In a separate industrial espionage case, a Chinese scientist was sentenced in December to more than seven years in prison for stealing secrets on organic insecticides from Dow AgroSciences, where he worked from 2003-2008.

News Corp. quarterly net profit up 65%

NEW YORK, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - News Corp. posted a sharp rise in quarterly net profit Wednesday as strong television and film growth offset declines in publishing and an $87 million charge related to the phone-hacking scandal in Britain.

News Corp., which owns the Fox television networks and 20th Century Fox movie studio in addition to newspapers in Australia, Britain and the United States, said net profit rose 65 percent in the second quarter of its fiscal year to $1.06 billion.

Revenue at Rupert Murdoch's media and entertainment empire was up two percent in the quarter over the same quarter a year ago to $8.98 billion.

Earnings per share of 39 cents were better than the 34 cents per share expected by Wall Street analysts.

"I am particularly pleased with the success of our business strategies in spite of the uncertain economic conditions that we continue to face," Murdoch, News Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

"News Corporation's commitment to delivering value to our stockholders is unwavering and we will continue to focus on generating superior shareholder returns," Murdoch said.

News Corp. said its second-quarter results included an $87 million charge related to the costs of the ongoing investigations stemming from phone-hacking at the now-shuttered News of the World.

News Corp. executives said on a conference call with financial analysts and reporters that most of the charge was related to legal fees and not settlements with phone-hacking victims.

"In our publishing segment this is clearly a tough year as we're seeking significant year-over-year declines in the UK papers (and) the Australian papers," News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey said.

Carey said he expected the British publishing segment to be down more than $150 million for the full fiscal year, mostly as a result of lost revenue from the closure of The News of the World.

"In the UK, the impact from the closure of The News of the World has been exacerbated by a very tough economy but as we've said many times we're committed to making things right in the UK," Carey said.

"In Australia, the economy has also severely impacted our business," he added.

News Corp. said operating income at its cable network programming division rose to $882 million in the quarter from $735 million a year ago.

Operating income for the film division grew to $393 from $189 million a year ago.

Operating income from publishing fell to $218 million from $380 million a year ago.

News Corp. shares were down 1.89 percent at $19.25 in after-hours electronic trading.

Groupon fails to turn profit as revenue grows

SAN FRANCISCO, February  9, 2012 (AFP) - Daily deals site Groupon on Wednesday issued its first earnings report as a publicly traded company, saying it failed to turn a profit despite revenue nearly tripling from a year earlier.

Groupon's stock price plunged more than 14 percent to $21 a share in after-hours trading that followed release of the earnings figures, which disappointed investors who had expected the young company to show a profit.

"Groupon had a strong fourth quarter and we finished 2011 having helped 250,000 local merchants across 47 countries grow their businesses while saving Groupon customers billions of dollars," said chief executive Andrew Mason.

"We will continue to invest in new services and tools that help our merchant partners be more successful and drive local commerce around the world," the Chicago-based company's co-founder added.

Groupon revenue climbed to $506.5 million, a 194 percent increase from the same quarter a year earlier.

The company had a net loss of $42.7 million as compared with a $378.6 million loss in the final three months of 2010. Groupon trimmed about $100 million from its loss figure in the prior quarter to end the year $350.85 million in the red.

Groupon said the profit miss resulted from an unexpectedly high overseas tax rate prompted by the opening of an international headquarters in Switzerland.

Investor chagrin was heightened by a forecast that Groupon revenue in the current quarter would rise only slightly in a possible sign that the daily deal craze may be ebbing.

Groupon shares were listed on the Nasdaq at $20 on November 4 in a blockbuster public offering that raised a whopping $700 million and triggered fears that investors may be foolishly overvaluing hot Internet startups.

Shares of the company soared as high as $31.14 on the first day of trading but they have lost ground since then.

Groupon, which rejected a $6 billion takeover offer from Google a year ago, has enjoyed phenomenal growth since its founding in 2008 but has been dogged by questions about its business model and accounting methods.

Groupon chief financial officer Jason Child predicted that the company would be profitable in all regions of operation "in the next year or two."

He said there were plans to roll the service out soon in more parts of Britain and the United States.

Groupon has more than a billion dollars in its coffers, due in large part to the success of the initial public offering, according to Child.

Mason opened an earnings call with analysts by saying Groupon had a "phenomenal year" and that "we are on the cusp of a sea change" in which technology will transform the way local commerce is conducted.

He touted the successes of a Christmas-themed promotion and said that more occasion-themed deals were in store. He added that an alliance with Expedia to offer travel deals under the banner of Groupon Getaways has been a hit.

"One thing that shocked us was the high percentage of purchases that came from mobile devices the weekend we launched Groupon Getaways," Mason said during the earnings call.

Groupon recently opened a Silicon Valley office and planned to "snap up" engineering talent as it invests in technology, according to the executives.

Mason closed his first quarterly earnings call with "This was a lot of fun; we look forward to many more of these."

Amazon strikes video deal with Viacom

WASHINGTON, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - Amazon announced a deal with entertainment giant Viacom on Wednesday, building up its arsenal of television shows as it takes on video streaming market leader Netflix.

The licensing agreement with Viacom will give Amazon Prime members access to TV shows from MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, TV Land, Spike, VH1, BET, CMT and Logo, Amazon said in a statement.

The Seattle, Washington-based online retail giant said the Viacom deal takes the total number of videos available to Amazon Prime members to 15,000.

For $79 a year, Amazon Prime members receive free two-day shipping and unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows. Amazon has been giving away a free month of Amazon Prime to buyers of its new tablet computer, the Kindle Fire.

Amazon said the Viacom offering will include MTV shows The Hills and Jersey Shore, Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show and The Sarah Silverman Program and Nickelodeon's iCarly, Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.

The agreement does not include Hollywood movies from Viacom's Paramount Pictures, which has a deal with Netflix, or popular Comedy Central shows such as The Colbert Report or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

"We are constantly working to improve the service by adding the shows that our customers enjoy the most," said Brad Beale, director of video content acquisition for Amazon.

"This deal with Viacom brings Prime customers and Kindle Fire users thousands of comedies, kids' shows, reality TV and much more from some of the best cable networks available," Beale said.

Other Amazon content partners include CBS, Fox, PBS, NBCUniversal, Sony, Warner Bros and Disney-ABC Television.

The Amazon-Viacom announcement comes two days after US telecom giant Verizon said it is teaming up with Coinstar, which operates Redbox movie rental kiosks, to launch a subscription video service later this year.

Verizon and Coinstar said Monday they had formed a joint venture that will add an online streaming option to the 35,400 Redbox vending machines located in grocery stores, McDonald's restaurants and other sites.

The Los Gatos, California-based Netflix, which offers online streaming and DVD delivery by mail, had 24.4 million US subscribers at the end of December, up from 23.8 million at the end of the previous quarter.

Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings, in a letter to shareholders last month, said he expects Amazon to eventually launch "their video subscription offering as a standalone service at a price less than ours."

But Hastings said Amazon and another online video rival, Hulu -- a joint venture between News Corp., Disney and NBC Universal -- offer only a "fraction of our content" and their total viewing hours are "less than 10 percent of ours."

Amazon shares were up 0.59 percent at $185.27 in early trading on Wall Street. Netflix shares were down 1.21 percent at $126.33 and Viacom shares were 0.98 percent higher at $54.81.

Singapore warns US on anti-China rhetoric

WASHINGTON, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - Singapore on Wednesday urged the United States to be careful in comments on China, warning that suggestions of a strategy to contain the rising power could cause strife in Asia.

On a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam voiced confidence that the State Department accepted the need for cooperation with China but said that US commentary too often cast Asian politics in "win/lose sporting terms."

"Domestic pressures in the US and the demands of elections have resulted in some anti-China rhetoric in domestic debates," Shanmugam told a conference on Singapore at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"We in Singapore understand that some of this is inevitable in an election year. But Americans should not underestimate the extent to which such rhetoric can spark reaction which can create a new and unintended reality for the region," he said.

Singapore is a close partner of Washington and home to a key US military logistical base. But the city-state is highly dependent on trade and has sought smooth commercial relations with Asia's major economic powers such as China, Japan and India.

"It's quite untenable -- quite absurd -- to speak in terms of containment of China. That's a country with 1.3 billion people," Shanmugam said.
"It is determined to progress in all fields and take its rightful place in the community of nations. It will succeed in that venture," he said.

The United States, while looking to trim spending on its giant military to tame a soaring debt, has set a priority on Asia as rapid economic growth and the rise of China look set to reshape the region.

The US military has sought closer cooperation with the Philippines and Vietnam, which have accused China of increasingly bellicose actions to assert control over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Shanmugan said that the United States should also look at other ways of engagement in Asia such as pressing ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an emerging trade pact that involves at least nine countries.

It is "a mistake to focus only on the US military presence in the region, to the exclusion of other dimensions of US policy," he said.

2012/02/08

Celebrities settle claims over UK tabloid hacking

LONDON, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - Former footballer Paul Gascoigne and comic actor Steve Coogan were among high-profile British figures paid damages Wednesday by Rupert Murdoch's newspaper group over phone hacking.

Coogan settled his claim for £40,000 ($63,000, 48,000 euros), while Ex-England star Gascoigne received £68,000, judge Geoffrey Vos was told at a High Court hearing in London.

Others who settled included Alastair Campbell, who was former prime minister Tony Blair's media chief, and outspoken politician George Galloway, who received £25,000.

Details of the 15 settlements came at a pre-trial review ahead of a February 13 hearing.

It follows last month's settlement of 37 claims against News International subsidiary News Group Newspapers, publisher of the now defunct News of the World tabloid.

Some 60 cases were launched against NGN.

The 15 settlements in this wave also included football agents, a friend of former interior minister David Blunkett, a friend of Gascoigne, and Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in Britain's coalition government.

The outstanding cases include footballer Ryan Giggs, singer Charlotte Church and former royal butler Paul Burrell.

The High Court heard that former Newcastle, Tottenham, Rangers and Lazio star Gascoigne suffered "mental harm and distress" after his phone messages were hacked by News of the World.

"Mr Gascoigne was worried that the information was being obtained by bugging or tapping his telephone conversations, as a result of which he was accused of being paranoid," said a statement from his lawyer.

"In addition, Mr Gascoigne was worried that the information was being given to the News of the World by his friends of family, as a result of which he fell out with several of his friends and family."

Coogan, speaking outside the High Court, said: "I am pleased that after two years of argument and denials, News International has finally agreed to settle my case against it for hacking my voicemails.

"It has been a very stressful and time-consuming experience.

"This has never been about money. Like other people who sued, I was determined to do my part to show the depths to which the press can sink in pursuit of private information."

China hit by another Tibetan self-immolation: rights group

BEIJING, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - Another Tibetan has set himself on fire in restive southwest China, a rights group said Wednesday, in the latest violentprotest against Beijing's rule.

This brings to at least 20 the number of people who have set themselves alight in the past year in protest against what they see as repressive policies in Tibetan-inhabited areas, which were hit by deadly unrest last month.

In the latest incident on Wednesday, a Tibetan man set himself on fire at a primary school in Aba town in Sichuan province -- where most of the violent protests have taken place -- and shouted slogans against the Chinese government, said Kate Saunders, London-based spokeswoman for International Campaign for Tibet.

The man, who appeared to be a monk, was taken away by soldiers and police and his condition and whereabouts were not known, said Saunders, citing exiled monks with sources in the area.

At least two people were killed last month in clashes between police and locals in the southwestern province of Sichuan, which has big populations of ethnic Tibetans, many of whom complain of oppression under Chinese rule.

The unrest in Sichuan -- which borders the Tibet autonomous region -- comes at a time of rising tensions in Tibetan-inhabited areas, where rights groups previously said at least 19 monks and nuns have set themselves alight in less than a year.

Beijing on Tuesday vowed to "resolutely crack down" on any attempts to instigate violence in Tibetan-inhabited areas as local authorities launched a huge clampdown, increasing surveillance of monasteries and setting up more road blocks.

China has accused overseas organisations pro independence for Tibet of distorting facts about what has happened in Sichuan, and has blamed the Dalai Lama -- Tibet's exiled spiritual leader -- of fomenting Tibetan unrest.

Tibetans have long chafed at China's rule over the vast Tibetan plateau, accusing Beijing of curbing religious freedoms and eroding their culture and language, and these tensions have intensified over the past year.

But Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion.

Yahoo! shakes up board to give firm new life

SAN FRANCISCO, February  8, 2012 (AFP) - Yahoo! on Tuesday announced a boardroom shakeup to breath fresh life into a pioneering Internet firm that has been struggling to re-invent itself and appease disappointed investors.

Yahoo! chairman Roy Bostock announced that he will step down from the board along with three other longtime directors, clearing an old guard from the path of new chief executive Scott Thompson.

Yahoo! has been struggling to transform itself from a stalled Internet search engine to a "premier digital media company" since being eclipsed by online powerhouse Google.

The boardroom house cleaning comes scant weeks after Jerry Yang, who co-founded Yahoo! nearly 17 years ago and had an ill-fated stint as chief executive, resigned from all of his positions with the California-based firm.

Yang, 43, one of the original dotcom billionaires, had been on the boards of Yahoo!, Yahoo! Japan and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Yang served as chief executive of Yahoo! from June 2007 to January 2009, during which time he and Bostock notably turned down a $47 billion takeover bid from Microsoft, earning the ire of many shareholders.

Bostock and Yang have been the targets of stockholder anger as Yahoo!'s stock price sank to about half of what it was when company leaders snubbed Microsoft's generous buyout bid.

Yang ceded the Yahoo! helm to former Autodesk executive Carol Bartz, whose efforts to turn the company around were cut short when she was fired in September by the board, which she described as "doofuses" after being ousted.

Bostock said on Tuesday that he had decided not to stand for re-election at Yahoo!'s next shareholders meeting, along with board members Vyomesh Joshi, Arthur Kern and Gary Wilson.

He said the board elected two independent directors: Alfred Amoroso, former president and chief executive of Rovi Corp., and Maynard Webb, a former chief operating officer at eBay.

Bostock said a strategic review of Yahoo! has made "significant progress" and has included "a wide range of discussions with potential partners.

"We have engaged with potential investors and reviewed proposals concerning an equity investment in the company, although at this time there have not been any proposals which have been deemed by the committee to be attractive to our shareholders," he said.

Bostock, in a letter to shareholders, said Yahoo! was in "active discussions" with its partners in Asia on restructuring its holdings in the Alibaba Group and Yahoo! Japan.

"While we continue to devote significant resources to these discussions, we are not in a position at this time to provide further detail or to provide assurance that any transaction will be achieved," he said.

Yahoo! shares were virtually unchanged at $15.87 in after-hours trading that followed the release of Bostock's letter.

Since Bartz stepped down as chief executive, Yahoo!'s board has reportedly been looking at selling all or part of the company and Yang was seen as a fierce opponent of a breakup.

Microsoft has reportedly been collaborating with private investors to assemble another multi-billion-dollar offer for Yahoo!.

At least nine private equity firms are also reported to be eyeing Yahoo! and its global audience of 700 million monthly visitors to the company's various websites, including Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Sports.

Chinese online commerce titan Alibaba is 43 percent owned by Yahoo! and Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma has a long-standing offer to buy all or part of the company.

Once seen as the Internet's leading light, Yahoo! has struggled to build a strongly profitable, growing business out of its huge Web presence and global audience.

Yahoo! has popular websites but has been losing advertising business to search giant Google, social networking king Facebook and specialized websites.

Yahoo!'s revenue and net profit dropped in the fourth quarter of 2011, capping off its third straight year of declining results.