SoftBank confident Sprint deal will close in July

SoftBank Corp CEO Masayoshi Son said on Friday he was confident his company's acquisition of Sprint Nextel Corp will be completed in early July after rival bidder Dish Network Corp failed to make a counter move this week.

SoftBank, a Japanese mobile network operator, is heading into the home stretch as it tries to push through Japan's biggest ever acquisition, while aggressive dealmaker Dish has loomed as a potential spoiler with rival offers for Sprint and its Clearwire Corp subsidiary.

 

Son, SoftBank's billionaire founder, said Dish's failure to raise its offer for Sprint before a deadline early this week brought the Japanese company closer to sealing the $21.6 billion deal, but warned that its U.S. rival could make a surprise move before a Sprint shareholders' meeting on June 25.

"We don't know what could happen before the meeting but we took a big step forward after Dish missed the deadline to make a new proposal," Son told an annual shareholders' gathering attended by more than 2,000.

Dish's challenge launched in April had forced SoftBank to consider other options, Son said, including buying No. 4 U.S. mobile carrier T-Mobile US Inc, which is 74 percent owned by Deutsche Telekom AG.

Instead, SoftBank raised its bid last week and bumped up the cash portion, in order to win support from several existing Sprint shareholders who had favored Dish's offer, while reducing its capital injection into the company.

On Friday, Son played down worries that the reduced funding to Sprint might hinder the U.S. company's ability to invest in new network infrastructure, saying the acquisition would allow it to achieve average annual savings of 200 billion yen ($2 billion) over the next four years.

Sprint moved on Thursday to take the upper hand in a separate battle with Dish over control of Clearwire Corp, raising its buyout offer to $5 per share, which it said had helped to win support from a key group of dissident Clearwire shareholders.

SoftBank shareholders applauded at Friday's meeting when Son said Sprint's bid had now won the support of Clearwire, which holds valuable wireless airwaves Sprint needs to update its network.

SoftBank's shares fell 1.8 percent on Friday to 5,360 yen, worse than the Nikkei benchmark's 0.7 percent drop.

SoftBank's shares fell to an eight-month low after it announced its Sprint bid last October, but since the start of this year they have climbed more than 70 percent as optimism mounted over the deal, while the Nikkei is up nearly 25 percent.

Last month SoftBank rose as high as 6,100 yen, its highest since the dot-com bubble burst more than a decade ago.

(Reporting by Mari Saito; Writing by Sophie Knight; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

Electric car maker Tesla unveils 90-second battery pack swap

Tesla Motors Inc on Thursday unveiled a system to swap battery packs in its electric cars in about 90 seconds, a service Chief Executive Elon Musk said will help overcome fears about their driving range.

The automaker will roll out the battery-swapping stations later this year, beginning along the heavily-traveled route between Los Angeles and San Francisco and then in the Washington-to-Boston corridor.

 

"There are some people, they take a lot of convincing," Musk said at an event at Tesla's Los Angeles design studio. "Hopefully this is what convinces people finally that electric cars are the future."

Electric cars have been slow to catch on with consumers because of their high price, limited driving range and lack of a charging infrastructure. Tesla has been working to address some of those issues with fast-charging stations and now with the battery-swapping technology.

A battery pack swap will cost between $60 and $80, about the same as filling up a 15-gallon gas tank, Musk said. Drivers who choose to swap must reclaim their original battery on their return trip or pay the difference in cost for the new pack.

Musk demonstrated two Model S battery pack swaps in the time it took for a car on a screen above the stage to fill up with gas, about four minutes.

The stations will cost about a half a million dollars each to build. They will be located alongside Tesla's fast-charging stations, which take around 30 minutes to charge the car's battery.

Musk told Reuters earlier this week that the battery-replacement network would entail an investment of $50 million to $100 million.

In contrast to several traditional automakers that have rolled out electric vehicles that failed to live up to expectations, Tesla has sold thousands of its luxury electric cars. Investors have embraced the company's strategy and Tesla shares have nearly tripled this year.

The announcement comes a month after Better Place, an electric vehicle company whose business was centered around battery swapping, said it would liquidate.

(Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

Technology unlocks gate to Wimbledon's English garden

Wimbledon, the world's oldest tennis championship, is embracing new technology with an iPad app to appeal to a younger audience.

The app allows users to navigate around the grounds via a photographic map, zooming in on specific courts to get updates on the state of play. They can also get alerts telling them how their favorite players are faring.

The All England Club (AELTC), which stages the tournament on the grass courts of suburban London, is in the position of knowing that demand for tickets far outstrips supply.

But with so many people unable to get tickets, the tournament's online presence has brought it closer to fans around the world, AELTC Commercial Director Mick Desmond said.

 

"If you can't come to Wimbledon, we want to try to make it the next best experience," he told Reuters.

"We try to position Wimbledon as tennis in an English garden but at the same time we want to be at the cutting edge of innovation," he added, speaking before the start of the tournament on Monday.

"It's allowing us to reach a younger audience."

Desmond, a former television executive who joined the AELTC three years ago, said making Wimbledon more accessible online helped to increase its appeal to sponsors and broadcasters.

The launch of the free iPad app follows a push into mobile in 2011 and an overhaul last year of the main Wimbledon website (www.wimbledon.com). The site attracted 17 million users in 2012.

Online features include Live@Wimbledon TV, fronted by former players Annabel Croft and Mats Wilander, which offers seven hours a day of video coverage.

The channel shows individual games but does not provide live streaming of whole matches to avoid undercutting the value of rights sold to broadcasters like the BBC in Britain and ESPN in the United States. It redirects users to the relevant broadcaster if they want full coverage of a particular match.

IBM also offers predictive software to help online fans to gauge the momentum of a match, point by point. For Wimbledon this will be complemented by a monitor of social media sentiment to show who is seen to be gaining the upper hand.

Drones were deployed before the tournament to take videos giving faraway tennis fans a bird's eye-view of the green lawns of Wimbledon, which first staged the tournament in 1877.

Increased revenues have helped Wimbledon to increase prize money this year by 40 percent to 22.6 million pounds ($35 million), with losers in the first round walking away with 23,000 pounds.

Despite the generous prize money, Wimbledon makes a healthy profit. It generated a pre-tax surplus of almost 38 million pounds last year, funds which are reinvested in British tennis. ($1 = 0.6466 British pounds)

(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Spreadtrum gets $1.38 billion buyout offer from China's Tsinghua Holdings

Chinese cellphone chip designer Spreadtrum Communications Inc said it received a $1.38 billion buyout proposal from a unit of government-owned Tsinghua Holdings Co Ltd.

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The offer of $28.50 per American depository share represents a premium of 28 percent to Spreadtrum's Thursday closing price on the Nasdaq.

Spreadtrum said its board is evaluating the proposal.

The company develops chips for smartphones, feature phones and other consumer electronics products, supporting 2G, 3G and 4G wireless communications standards.

 

Spreadtrum, which gets most of its sales from China and Korea, counts HTC Corp and Samsung Electronics among its customers.

Lower-priced smartphones are popular in Asia and are expected to drive growth in the mobile handsets market as the United States reaches saturation.

China has more than 1 billion mobile phone subscribers, with many switching from low-end feature phones to smartphones in the past few years as prices become more affordable with some smartphones selling for less than 1,000 yuan ($160) apiece.

Research firm IDC had forecast that China's smartphone shipments are expected to rise sharply to 460 million by 2017 and will make up nearly all mobile phone sales.

Spreadtrum and other Asian rivals such as Mediatek are improving their technology and are happy to sacrifice profits in exchange for market share in Asia.

Last week, Spreadtrum raised its revenue estimates for the second quarter by $50 million to $270-$278 million citing higher demand from low-cost smartphone makers.

Spreadtrum shares rose 21 percent to $27 in premarket trading.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

France to seek ban on Amazon bundled discounts, free delivery

France's Socialist government aims to introduce a law preventing online retailer Amazon from offering both discounts and free delivery for books in France, the culture minister said, arguing this amounts to unfair competition.

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Aurelie Filippetti said the government was looking for the right time to introduce a ban on the practice, which book sellers say threatens their business model by allowing Amazon to undercut their prices.

 

"I'm in favor of ending the possibility of offering both free delivery and a five percent discount," she told BFM news television on Friday. "We need a law, so we're going to find a legislative window to introduce one."

Amazon in France declined to comment.

Filippetti's remark underscored tensions between the French government and U.S. online firms such as Amazon and Google, which have been criticized for paying too little to the creators of cultural or news content.

France, like other European countries, bans retailers from discounting books more than 5 percent from a sale price set by the publisher. This is to prevent small sellers from being crushed by giant retailers that can absorb bigger discounts.

Guillaume Husson, spokesman for the SLF book retailers' union, said Amazon's practice of bundling a 5 percent discount with free delivery amounted to selling books at a loss, which was impossible for traditional book sellers of any size.

"Today, the competition is unfair... No other book retailer, whether a small or large book or even a chain, can allow itself to lose that much money," he said, referring to Amazon's alleged losses on free delivery.

The SLF union had sued Amazon for unfair competition before a French court, and the case was still being reviewed, he added.

France settled a dispute with Google in February over whether it should pay content providers for linking to news articles, which resulted in the firm creating a 60-million-euro fund to support the press. France made a new push against Google this week, arguing it broke French privacy laws.

Filippetti's comments raised the possibility of a similar public spat with Amazon.

"This is not just in France," she said. "Amazon's behavior, and the risks it poses for the survival of a whole network of book stores and the entire chain of book production, are obvious in Britain and in the United too."

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; editing by Mark Heinrich)

ZTE to churn out more 4G devices

China's ZTE Corp, the world's fifth largest smartphone maker, is aggressively moving into the higher end of the market for mobile gadgets with more 4G shipments.

The Shenzhen-based company has been trying to move away from selling lower end mobile phones, a strategy that has served it well in boosting its global market share, but at the expense of pressuring margins and profitability.

 

It plans to further raise its global profile by sponsoring a U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) team later this year, executives said.

"We're working towards a goal of 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) gadgets making up 40-50 percent of our total consumer devices shipments by 2015. The percentage is quite small now -- about 4 percent," Lv Qianhao, ZTE's head of handset strategy, told reporters in China's southern city of Guangzhou, where 4G LTE trials are being conducted.

ZTE is banking on products such as its Grand Memo phablet -- a cross between a phone and a tablet, and its Grand S smartphone to battle the likes of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Apple Inc that have been dominating the market.

On Friday, ZTE executives showcased its LTE technology to reporters in a mini-van by driving through skyscrapers around a section of Guangzhou city while downloading video clips on its smartphones at speeds that are several ten-fold faster than 3G.

ZTE has been working closely with China Mobile Ltd, the world's largest wireless carrier by subscribers, in 4G trials throughout the country that has more than a billion mobile phone users.

Even though ZTE's flagship telecom equipment business has hit stumbling blocks in entering the U.S. market due to Washington's national security concerns, its mobile phones have been selling quite well, ZTE executives said.

"We have plans to sponsor an NBA team that Chinese consumers will say wow to, but we are still negotiating and nothing has been decided," ZTE spokesman David Dai said.

In the first quarter, ZTE cornered a 9.1 percent market share in global smartphone shipments, ranking behind Samsung, Apple, LG Electronics Inc and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, research firm IDC said.

(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Michael Dell urges shareholders to support his buyout bid

Dell Inc's billionaire founder Michael Dell said he would oppose any leveraged recapitalization of the company and called on stakeholders to vote in favor of his buyout offer, ahead of a shareholder meeting next month.

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Dell argued his case in a presentation filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, saying that keeping any part of the company public while it transformed itself would hurt Dell's stock price.

 

That in turn would threaten customer perception and make it more difficult to keep employees, he said.

If his buyout proposal fails to sway shareholders, he reiterated that he will remain with the company but said he "will also oppose the kind of imprudent leveraged recapitalization that has been suggested by certain other parties."

Activist shareholder Carl Icahn, who says Dell's offer undervalues the company, on Tuesday promised shareholders that the company would buy back up to $16 billion of stock if they joined his campaign to stop the computer maker from going private.

Dell could fund a tender offer for its own shares with debt financing, Icahn said.

Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake want shareholders to accept a $24.4 billion bid, aimed at taking the company private while it transform itself into a technology consultant for large companies, along the lines of International Business Machines Corp.

(Reporting by Nicola Leske; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

Interest hots up for Cupid's casual dating sites

Internet dating site Cupid Plc said a number of potential suitors have expressed interest in its casual dating sites, such as benaughty.com and flirt.com.

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Cupid said last month that it had been approached to sell its casual dating websites and was considering a range of approaches.

Earlier this month, a media report said co-founder Max Polyako was on the verge of bidding 40 million pounds ($61.86 million) for Cupid's casual dating business.

Cupid declined to comment.

The company offers several online dating services depending on whether users are seeking serious relationships or something more casual. It markets to people of different age groups, cultures and social interests, from its mature relationship website loveagain.com to its cheeky girlsdateforfree.com.

 

Cupid also serves its customers through smartphone applications such as cupid.com, which helps users find other single people at nearby locations.

Active users for Cupid's services rose 18 percent to 19.2 million in 2012 from the year earlier. Its major markets are the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland, which contribute over half its profit.

The company said on Friday that it expects higher marketing costs to hit the first half. Marketing expenses are the largest cost for Cupid, which has been looking to build a stronger brand identity for its key products and expand in countries such as India and Brazil.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, for the six months ending June 30 is estimated to be about 2.5 million pounds. Cupid reported adjusted EBITDA of 5.9 million pounds for the same period last year.

Cupid, which faced media allegations earlier this year about the methods it used to encourage people to buy subscriptions, said an independent review of its member database and operating practices was due to be completed by the end of June.

The company said it has also undertaken a separate review by a legal team and implemented several recommendations, including clearer guidelines for customer service staff interactions.

Shares in the company were down 3 percent at 66.8 pence at 0954 GMT on Friday on the London Stock Exchange. They have lost roughly two-thirds of their value so far this year. ($1 = 0.6466 British pounds)

(Reporting by Tasim Zahid in Bangalore, Writing by Brenton Cordeiro,; Editing by Supriya Kurane)

(This story corrects to remove reference to "crazy blind date" smartphone application in paragraph 6, a product from OKCupid, an unrelated firm)

EU blocks German plan for higher fixed phone rates

The European Commission blocked plans by Germany on Friday to raise the fees alternative telecommunications operators charge each other to connect fixed-line phone calls.

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The German telecoms regulator (BNetzA) proposed raising these call termination fees to three times the average rates in many parts of Europe to compensate for steadily declining revenues in the sector. There are over 50 alternative operators in Germany.

But the Commission, which opposed similar fee proposals for Deutsche Telekom early this year, is seeking to harmonize such rates across Europe.

"It is important for building up a real single market that both operators and consumers face termination rates in Germany that are in line with those in other EU Member States," the EU Commissioner for telecoms Neelie Kroes said on Friday.

The commission did not name any alternative operators in its decision but there are over 50 in the German market including EWE Tel GmbH and 1&1 Internet AG.

 

The German regulator had said it planned to raise rates to 0.0036 euros per minute at peak times and 0.0025 euros per minute at off-peak times.

These figures are the same as the rates BNetzA proposed for Deutsche Telekom. Operators following the Commission's stance charge on average 0.001 euros per minute.

The German regulator and the EU will now negotiate for a three-month period to seek a compromise, the Commission said. In the meantime implementation of the proposed rates is suspended.

(Reporting By Claire Davenport; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Fund manager gets 11 years for Facebook, Groupon shares scam

Former fund manager John Mattera was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Friday, after pleading guilty of defrauding investors of $13 million with a story that he put their money in Facebook Inc and Groupon Inc shares before the companies went public.

U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan said the sentence, at the high end of what prosecutors requested, was warranted because Mattera devastated his clients' savings, and also because of four prior convictions related to fraud and theft. Mattera had requested a sentence of less than four years.

"You hurt a lot of people in a very serious way," Sullivan said, after delivering the sentence. "You've left a lot of wreckage in your path."

Mattera, 51, former chairman of the advisory board for mutual fund Praetorian Global Fund Ltd, pleaded guilty in October to charges of securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud in connection with the scheme.

He admitted transferring $11 million from investors into an escrow account instead of safeguarding it ahead of the highly anticipated initial public offerings.

 

He also admitted taking $2 million more from investors who thought he was investing in Facebook and Groupon while they were still private. Instead, prosecutors said Mattera spent nearly $4 million of it on luxury cars, jewelry, personal taxes and a lawsuit settlement.

Mattera had two Rolls Royces and a Ferrari when he was arrested, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Ingoglia said.

"It's just blatant fraud," Ingoglia said.

As part of his plea, Mattera agreed to pay restitution to the defrauded investors and forfeit $11.8 million.

One investor, Marisa Light Cain, 51, lashed out at Mattera in court on Friday. She said she lost $100,000 in the scheme after going through a difficult divorce, and Mattera's sophisticated deception included a fake audit letter from KPMG and a full prospectus.

"I want to let Mr. Mattera know that I lost my life savings," Cain said. "I want you to know that I have a son out there who will not be educated in college as he should be" because of the fraud.

Cain said Mattera's 11-year sentence was of little solace. "I don't think it's long enough, personally," she said after the hearing.

"I'm very sorry to all the victims," Mattera told Sullivan before the judge sentenced him. "I'm very sorry to my family."

The sentence was substantially larger than several insider trading-related sentencings Sullivan has handed down in recent months. He sentenced two former hedge fund managers, Todd Newman and Anthony Chiasson, for example, to 4-1/2 and 6-1/2 years in prison, respectively.

Sullivan said Mattera got the longer sentence because of his lengthy criminal background. Mattera failed to seize multiple opportunities to turn his life around, Sullivan said.

"These crimes are just so selfish," Sullivan said. "This is money that people took years and years to save, and it was squandered."

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The case is USA v John Mattera, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-00127.

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(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by David Gregorio)

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U.S. decision delayed on easing gadget use on airplanes

A Federal Aviation Administration advisory panel weighing whether to ease restrictions on in-flight use of personal technology devices like e-readers has delayed its recommendations by two months until late September, the FAA said on Friday.

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The Wall Street Journal, citing industry officials and a draft copy of the panel's report, said on Friday that the group will recommend relaxing restrictions on electronic gadgets.

The advisory panel was supposed to finish its work by July 31 but was granted a two-month extension to continue examining whether the use of electronic and WiFi enabled devices, such as iPods, laptops, e-readers and other gadgets, would be safe to use through takeoff and landing and at altitudes under 10,000 feet.

The panel is not examining any change in the use of cell phones in flight, which is banned by the Federal Communications Commission.

 

The FAA said it recognizes that consumers are intensely interested in the use of personal electronics on aircraft.

"Basically the panel is looking at a range of portable electronic devices, including computers and portable cameras," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said. "What the panel was not charged with was the use of voice communications."

Airlines have long told travelers not to use iPods, music players, laptops and other gadgets during takeoffs and landings.

NBC News reported that the recommendations are likely to call for allowing passengers to use devices such as electronic readers throughout a flight, and that FAA officials are likely to adopt the change.

Current restrictions grew out of concerns they may pose a safety hazard by interfering with radio frequencies and disrupting aircraft systems. The Wall Street Journal said the draft report says aircraft are now more tolerant of interference and the personal devices emit weaker signals.

"Wireless devices and cell phones should be seen in two different categories because cell phones use higher radio frequency and have a much higher potential of interfering with airplane instruments," said Daniel Stancil, the department head of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh who has extensively researched passenger use of electronics on planes.

Getting more time with technology while traveling sounded "great" to frequent airline passenger Ike Bethel, 34, of Fairfax, Virginia.

"It would make flying 100 percent better. Now just add the charging stations," he said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Victoria Cavaliere in New York; Editing by Eric Beech and Tim Dobbyn)

Tokyo court says Samsung infringed Apple 'bounce-back' patent

A Tokyo court ruled on Friday that Samsung Electronics Co Ltd had infringed rival Apple Inc's patent for a so-called bounce-back feature on earlier models of its popular smartphones.

Samsung and Apple, the world's top two smartphone makers, are fighting patent disputes across the globe as they compete to dominate the lucrative mobile market and win customers with their latest gadgets.

 

Apple claimed that Samsung had copied the feature, in which icons on its smartphones and tablets quiver back when users scroll to the end of an electronic document. Samsung has already changed its interface on recent models to show a blue line at the end of documents.

The Japanese court's decision comes after the U.S. Patent and Trademark office judged earlier this year that Apple's bounce-back patent was invalid, allowing older Samsung models that had a similar feature to remain on sale.

However, the U.S. agency subsequently decided that several aspects of the bounce-back feature were actually patentable, according to documents filed by Apple in U.S. court last week.

(Additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Richard Chang)

Apple CEO's stock grant now subject to share performance

Apple Inc> Chief Executive Tim Cook's one-time stock award worth over $413 million as of Friday is now partly subject to the performance of the shares, a move that followed discussions with the company's largest shareholders.

Cook, who has presided over a 42 percent drop in Apple's share price since it touched a high of $705 in September, approached the board to impose a performance criteria on his yet-to-be-vested stocks, according to a filing on Friday.

 

Under the new system, part of Cook's grant is subject to "Total Shareholder Return", a measure of Apple's stock performance and dividends based on public Standard & Poor's data.

The company's board had in January of 2012 granted Cook one million restricted stock units (RSUs) to signal its confidence in Cook after Steve Jobs turned over the helm of the iPhone and iPad maker to his long-time lieutenant in August of 2011.

"In outreach discussions this year with many of our largest shareholders, we heard that they believe it is appropriate to attach performance criteria to a portion of our future executive stock awards that have been entirely time-based in the past," the filing said.

Apple, beginning Friday, is also including a performance element in new stock awards to all top executives.

Shares of Apple, once among the most desirable of portfolio holdings, fell out of favor abruptly last September on growing uncertainty about the company's ability to fend off unprecedented competition from deep-pocketed rivals such as Samsung Electronics, Amazon.com and Google Inc.

Under Cook, the company has gone through one of its longest recent product droughts, with no new devices. The last device launched was the iPad mini last October, the first all-new product under Cook.

Cook's stock award was previously based on a pre-determined time-based vesting schedule of 10 years. Now of the 1 million, a block of 100,000 shares each will vest in 2016 and 2021.

The rest of the 800,000 shares will vest equally every year, over 10 years and will be subject to the performance criteria.

Half of the 800,000 is subject to the performance of Apple shares. The other half will vest on an annual basis as long as Cook remains with Apple.

Apple said in its filing Total Shareholder Return for a period of time is based on the change in its stock price during that period, taking into account any dividends paid, which are assumed to be reinvested in the stock.

(Reporting By Poornima Gupta; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Facebook admits year-long data breach exposed 6 million users

Facebook Inc has inadvertently exposed 6 million users' phone numbers and email addresses to unauthorized viewers over the past year, the world's largest social networking company disclosed late Friday.

Facebook blamed the data leaks, which began in 2012, on a technical glitch in its massive archive of contact information collected from its 1.1 billion users worldwide. As a result of the glitch, Facebook users who downloaded contact data for their list of friends obtained additional information that they were not supposed to have.

 

Facebook's security team was alerted to the bug last week and fixed it within 24 hours. But Facebook did not publicly acknowledge the bug until Friday afternoon, when it published an "important message" on its blog explaining the issue.

A Facebook spokesman said the delay was due to company procedure stipulating that regulators and affected users be notified before making a public announcement.

"We currently have no evidence that this bug has been exploited maliciously and we have not received complaints from users or seen anomalous behavior on the tool or site to suggest wrongdoing," Facebook said on its blog.

While the privacy breach was limited, "it's still something we're upset and embarrassed by, and we'll work doubly hard to make sure nothing like this happens again," it added.

The breach follows recent disclosures that several consumer Internet companies turned over troves of user data to a large-scale electronic surveillance program run by U.S. intelligence.

The companies include Facebook, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc and Yahoo Inc.

The companies, led by Facebook, successfully negotiated with the U.S. government last week to reveal the approximate number of user information requests that each company had received, including secret national security orders.

(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Richard Chang)

Jefferies readies loans for Icahn's Dell bid: sources

Jefferies & Co will provide $5.2 billion in term loans to back Carl Icahn's bid for computer manufacturer Dell Inc, sources told Thomson Reuters LPC.

The funding will be launched on Monday at a 4:00 p.m. lender call that the billionaire investor is expected to join, the sources said.

 

The $5.2 billion is split between a $2.2 billion six-year term loan B-1 and a $3 billion three-year term loan B-2. The six-year tranche will have standard 1 percent amortization, while the shorter-dated tranche amortizes at 10 percent, they said.

Icahn declined to comment on details of the term loans on Friday.

As previously reported, initial price guidance in May was in the LIB+350 area, subject to change due to market conditions.

Earlier this week, Icahn repeated his interest in owning Dell, saying in a telephone interview with Thomson Reuters LPC on Tuesday that he was moving forward with his plans to line up $5.2 billion in credit facilities. His comments echoed statements he made earlier that day in an open letter to Dell shareholders.

"Nothing has changed regarding the financing," Icahn said in the interview. "We expect to have $5.2 billion in the next couple of weeks. Our investment bank is already committing $1.6 billion and my affiliates and I would provide $2 billion, if necessary."

Icahn's letter to Dell's shareholders came on the heels of a series of reports that Icahn could exit the Dell race after struggling to raise the $5.2 billion in debt he needed to back a leveraged recapitalization he proposed to Dell's board on May 9.

In May, Icahn and Southeastern Asset Management initiated talks with banks and asset managers to line up financing to back a leveraged recapitalization of Dell as an alternative to an existing buyout offer led by Dell and Silver Lake Partners for $13.65 a share, or $24.4 billion. Jefferies has already committed $1.6 billion.

FUNDING SEEN READY BEFORE JULY 18 VOTE

Icahn is expected to have the financing lined up for a July 18 shareholder vote on the Silver Lake bid.

Icahn is offering a new path for shareholders. Under the May 9 leveraged recapitalization plan, Icahn proposed giving shareholders the option of receiving either a distribution of $12 per share in cash or $12 per share in stock valued at $1.65 per share. Now, Icahn is asking that Dell shareholders agree to a tender offer for 1.1 billion shares at $14 apiece in a stock buyback.

Icahn and Southeastern, which together own about 13 percent of Dell stock, argue the Dell and Silver Lake offer of $13.65 undervalues the company and that the recent numbers reported by Dell are understated.

"Despite the company using scare tactics concerning the company's health, you cannot get away from the fact that their own consulting firm, BCG, believes the company would earn $3.3 billion for 2014," Icahn said in the interview on Tuesday. "This means the 670 million shares left outstanding after our tender will earn $3.72 per share."

Dell's proposed take-private sale price has undergone several iterations starting at $11.22 to $12.16 per share, a pricing proposed by Silver Lake in October during the early stages of the take-private conversations.

In the letter, Icahn revealed he is now Dell's second-largest shareholder after Michael Dell, after he purchased half of Southeastern's Dell shares for $13.52 apiece. That brings Icahn's total ownership to 152 million shares, or 9 percent of the company's shares.

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Dell shares closed on Friday down 0.1 percent at $13.35.

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(Reporting By Leela Parker, Michelle Sierra; Editing by Lynn Adler and Andre Grenon)

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Oracle's Ellison may be interested in second Hawaiian airline

Billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison may be interested in acquiring a second Hawaii airline after he bought most of the tropical island of Lanai last year.

Island Air, a Honolulu-based carrier with a handful of island-hopping planes that Ellison bought in February, confirmed discussions between Island and Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group, the parent company of Hawaii's interisland go! Airlines.

 

"We are committed to building a strong regional airline and part of that process is exploring all options including discussions with Mesa Air," Island Air Chief Executive Officer Paul Casey said in a one-sentence statement.

Honolulu's Star-Advertiser newspaper reported on Thursday that Ellison was arranging to take control of go! Airlines, citing an unnamed source familiar with the deal.

Mesa CEO Jonathan Ornstein was not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman said the airline flies 40 flights a day in Hawaii using a fleet of five 50-seat CRJ-200 jets.

Oracle declined to comment.

Hawaii aviation historian Peter Forman said a deal for Island Air to purchase go! would not only secure more flights for Ellison's island of Lanai, but also could indicate that Ellison intends to become a player in the Hawaiian airline market.

Many industry observers have expected another airline to enter Hawaii to compete with Hawaiian Airlines for the tourist- rich interisland market. Combining go! and Island Air would give Ellison critical mass and a platform from which to compete.

"He's gaining the recognition that he is serious about becoming the second interisland airline in Hawaii. There has been a vacuum for serious competition to Hawaiian (Airlines)," Forman said.

In March 2013, Forbes Magazine listed Ellison, 68, as the world's fifth richest man, and the third richest American, with a net worth of $43 billion.

Ellison bought 98 percent of the 141-square-mile (365-square-km) island of Lanai, Hawaii's sixth-largest island, from billionaire David Murdock in June for an undisclosed price. He said he intended to turn the island into a "laboratory" for green living.

Ellison's Lanai holdings include two resorts and golf courses, a variety of commercial and residential structures, as well as vast acres of undeveloped former pineapple land. The island has roughly 3,000 residents.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)

Pentagon flash drive ban has many exceptions

The Pentagon has granted many exceptions, possibly numbering in the thousands, to allow staff members who administer secure computer networks to use flash drives and other portable storage devices, department spokesmen say.

The exceptions to policies barring the use of such devices could make it easier for rogue employees to remove sensitive documents. But officials say waivers go to people who update software and run helpdesk services for the Pentagon's vast computer network and are needed to run the system efficiently.

 

The U.S. government's handling of sensitive documents has come under scrutiny since Edward Snowden, a systems administrator for a contractor with the National Security Administration, copied classified materials at a Hawaii installation and leaked them to the news media.

Snowden used a simple flash drive to store the materials, according to a government source close to the investigation.

Storage devices have been a concern at the Defense Department since the 2008 Buckshot Yankee incident, in which a malicious software worm known as agent.btz was uploaded to military networks by a thumb drive.

Then-Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn declassified the incident in 2010 and U.S. Cyber Command, which was established in the wake of Buckshot Yankee, banned the devices.

About that same time, according to prosecutors, Private Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, copied thousands of documents onto CDs and a digital camera card and leaked them to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Since then, the Pentagon has bolstered efforts to prevent removal of classified data, Lieutenant Colonel James Gregory said. The department is in 100 percent compliance with directives to disable or tightly control use of removable media devices on the Pentagon's secure network, he said.

That means most users have restricted profiles and their computers do not recognize flash drives and other devices, like BlackBerrys, that may be plugged into USB ports, Pentagon spokesmen say.

The different military branches also have established programs to control and track personnel authorized to download data from the secure network, they say. Automatic systems instantly report if someone connects an unauthorized device, or inappropriately uses credentials for accessing the system.

While use of flash drives is largely barred, exceptions are granted to systems administrators who install software and manage helpdesk services for the department's millions of computers and nearly 600,000 mobile devices in some 15,000 networked groups.

Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart, a Pentagon spokesman, said the department was unable to specify how many exceptions had been given because authority is delegated to smaller units within the service and is not tracked at the department level.

Given the size of the system, it could be in the thousands, he said.

Steven Bucci, a former Pentagon official and now a cyber security expert for the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank, said a computer network the size of the Pentagon's needed a large number of administrators at different levels to run efficiently.

Concentrating access and control in the hands of a small number of people could create even bigger risks if one of the trusted few decided to divulge information, he added, because they would have been exposed to a wider array of information.

"There is a certain point where you have to start trusting people and that becomes a very imperfect system," he said. "If you have a malicious insider - someone who has the authority to do stuff but then decides to violate the rules - you've got a problem, and there's ... very little you can do to stop that."

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Decisions on who gets waivers are made by colonels or generals who have been granted that authority for their installations, brigades or other units, Pentagon officials said.

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The Pentagon declined to comment on Snowden's case, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.

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Bucci said that after the Manning case, the Pentagon tightened network security about as far as it could.

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"What it comes down to then is the leadership, trying to watch your people, listen for those signals," he said. "But, heck, I mean even if you've got the best, most competent leaders and supervisors in the world, sometimes you're still going to miss those people."

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(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Claudia Parsons)

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Make or break moment for Myanmar reforms in opaque telecoms sector

Companies awarded telecommunications licenses in Myanmar this week will need to spend billions of dollars rolling out networks across a country that has yet to pass a law to govern the sector and where opaque, state-owned enterprises will remain players.

The process is being watched closely as a test case for reform in Myanmar, although the risks did not stop 90 international firms and groups from joining the initial phase.

Faced with big investments and uncertain returns however, Vodafone Group Plc and China Mobile Ltd dropped their joint bid for a license, saying it did not meet their "internal investment criteria." The remaining 11 short-listed contenders include Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, KDDI Corp and Telenor ASA.

 

"Nobody has any experience or any idea how the government is going to regulate the sector," said Edwin Vanderbruggen of Yangon-based law firm VDB Loi, which advises telecom companies hoping to do business here.

After decades of isolation and economic mismanagement under the military, mobile phone penetration in Myanmar is put at 4 to 9 percent of its 60 million people, lower even than North Korea.

The government of President Thein Sein has pushed through a series of political and economic reforms since 2011, and the award of mobile licenses on June 27 should bring a leap forward in digital technology that could speed up economic development.

Vanderbruggen said potential foreign investors in other sectors are watching the process closely. "We really have a make-or-break moment for Myanmar," he said.

One bad omen for the whole process though is a telecoms bill stuck in parliament.

"The absence of the law being passed or a clear timetable for its introduction adds considerably to uncertainty to those participating in the current bid round, particularly as it is unclear if there are particular issues with the draft that are causing the delay," said Marae Ciantar, a Singapore-based lawyer with law firm Allens.

Human Rights Watch warned the draft bill incorporated proposals drawn up under the junta that violate freedom of expression.

A confidential tender invitation obtained by Reuters says firms might be required to restrict or intercept communications or let the government "utilize telecommunications equipment" during any public emergency, which was not defined.

The government plans to create a new regulator by 2015 and will transform the current one, Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT), into a majority state-owned company.

The two international telecom companies that win licenses will find themselves competing against incumbents that plan joint ventures to raise capital and expand their networks.

The sector is dominated by MPT, whose SIM cards went for as much as $7,000 when they were introduced a decade and a half ago and still cost more than $200 today.

Two other companies have much smaller networks: Yatanarpon, which is majority government-owned and primarily an Internet service provider until now, and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a labyrinthine, army-owned holding company.

The future role of MEC is far from clear. A latecomer into the telecoms market, it began selling cut-rate SIM cards on April 25. The military conglomerate is tax-exempt and even its board of directors is shrouded in mystery.

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Meanwhile, Japan's KDDI is in partnership with Myanmar Information and Communication Technology Development Corp, a local consortium that includes a company founded by Deputy Minister of Communications and Information Technology Thaung Tin.

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"For perceptions of impartiality, fairness and a level playing field, it is highly undesirable for government officials to have personal commercial interests in the sectors which they regulate," said Ciantar of law firm Allens.

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Vanderbruggen of the law firm VDB Loi added some companies that expressed interest in the international licenses might really be aiming to work with those domestic operators, becoming partners and helping them expand their networks. Newcomers have to start from scratch and Vanderbruggen estimated an operator could spend $2 billion rolling out a network.

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(This story corrects the year in the sixth paragraph to 2011)

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(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Alan Raybould, Matt Driskill and Michael Perry)

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Bubba Watson keeps share of lead at Travelers

Bubba Watson retained a share of the lead after the third round of the Travelers Championship on Saturday despite dropping three shots in the last six holes.

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The American, chasing his first PGA Tour win since he captured last year's Masters, stumbled with bogeys at the 13th, 15th and 17th holes to finish with a round of even-par 70.

Watson will go into the final round at 10-under par, tied for the lead with his countryman Charley Hoffman and Canadian Graham DeLaet, on a heavily congested leaderboard that included England's newly-crowned U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.

 

"I hit some shots today that were really good, some quality shots but got a couple bad breaks here and there but that's golf," Watson told reporters.

"At the end of the day I still have a chance on Sunday and that's what we are always looking for on the weeks we are playing."

Hoffman, who opened the tournament with a stunning 61 but fell back with a second round 73, carded a 66 while DeLaet signed for a 65, matching the best round of the day, as he chases his maiden PGA Tour win.

American Chris Stroud (66) and Australian Nick O'Hern (68) were tied for fourth, just one shot off the lead, while American Ken Duke was alone in sixth after a 65.

Justin Rose was among a bunch of players in the next group at minus seven, after he shot a second successive 68. At the end of the day, 18 players were within four strokes of the lead, setting the stage for a grandstand finish.

Watson, who won his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 Travelers, came out fast with three birdies in his first six holes, before running into trouble in the stretch and getting distracted by spectators.

"I'm sitting here with another chance to win," Watson said.

"It would be my fifth win and I never thought a guy from Bagdad Florida named Bubba would have a chance for five wins on tour.

"The golf course sets up so well for me. I love the tee shots, there are a lot of cut shots, which I love to do off the tee. I got a lot of wedges and short irons here and I can make putts sometimes so it's good."

Hoffman produced five birdies and a lone bogey to stay in contention 12 months after he blew his chance of winning the same tournament.

He held the lead with two holes to play last year when he made a double bogey then a bogey to hand victory to Australia's Marc Leishman, who remained in the hunt to defend his title after finishing Saturday's third round at six-under.

DeLaet, 31, had six birdies, including four in a row, and just one bogey.

(Reporting by Ben Everill in Los Angeles; editing by Julian Linden)

Rollins equals fourth-fastest hurdles time

Brianna Rollins equaled the fourth fastest 100 metres hurdles ever run as she clocked a stunning 12.26 seconds at the U.S. world championship trials on Saturday at Des Moines, Iowa.

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Finally catching an allowable wind, the 21-year-old U.S. collegiate record holder sent a strong message to Australian Olympic and world champion Sally Pearson with the fastest time since 1992.

Only Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova, whose 1988 world record is 12.21 seconds, and compatriot Ginka Zagorcheva, the former record holder, have run faster. Donkova has done so twice.

 

"I just feel so overwhelmed, so emotional. It is so amazing," said Rollins, who previous best was 12.39 seconds at the U.S. collegiate championships.

The time, run with an aiding wind of 1.2 seconds, exceeded Pearson's 2011 world championship best of 12.28 seconds and three times world champion Gail Devers' American record of 12.33 seconds.

"Looks like I am bringing my A++ game to worlds this year," Pearson tweeted after the stunning run.

Can Rollins, who recently turned professional, break the world record?

"I don't know. We'll see," said the former Clemson University student, whose best before this season was 12.70 seconds.

Lured to athletics as a teenager "because someone told me I was fast," Rollins selected the hurdles "because I thought it was interesting and fun to do."

Runner-up Queen Harrison (12.43 seconds), third-place finisher Nia Ali (12.48) and Beijing Olympic winner Dawn Harper, who has a wild card entry, also made the American team for the Aug 10-18 world championships in Moscow.

TOP MARKS

There were season-leading performances in the men's 400 metres hurdles and women's high jump finals on a hot and windy day.

Olympic silver medalist Michael Tinsley became the first man to dip under 48 seconds in the 400 hurdles this season, running 47.96 seconds, and Brigetta Barrett, the London high jump runner-up, cleared 2.04 metres (6 feet, 8.25 inches).

Former world champions Kerron Clement (48.06) and Bershawn Jackson (48.09) joined Tinsley on the U.S. team for Moscow.

Teenage sensation Mary Cain, just 17, also made the team, finishing second to teammate Treniere Moser with a gutsy run in a slow women's 1,500 metres.

Beijing gold medalist LaShawn Merritt dominated the men's 400 metres final, winning in 44.21 seconds, but London women's winner Sanya Richards-Ross was a casualty of the cut-throat trials, missing out on a place in the individual 400m.

Running in sneakers to lessen the pain from recent big toe surgery, the American record holder finished sixth in 51.92 seconds. Natasha Hastings won the race in 49.94.

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World record holder Ashton Eaton played it safe but still won the decathlon with 8,291 points.

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GAY GOES FOR DOUBLE

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Tyson Gay, going for a sprint double, easily advanced in 200 metres qualifying, running a wind-assisted 20.14 seconds just hours after claiming Friday's 100 metres title in a world-leading 9.75 seconds.

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Olympic champions Aries Merritt and Allyson Felix also moved through qualifying but London gold medalist Brittney Reese fouled three times in the women's long jump final and will use a wild card spot to compete in Moscow.

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World record holder Merritt clocked a wind-assisted 13.25 seconds in his first 110 metres hurdles since a May injury.

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Felix was fifth fastest in the women's 200 in 22.44, also wind-assisted.

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Three-times national champion David Oliver looked especially sharp in the hurdles, clocking a wind-assisted 13.14 seconds.

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(Edited by Julian Linden)

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Scherzer makes it perfect 11 as Tigers beat Red Sox

Max Scherzer became the first Detroit pitcher in 104 years to open the season with 11 victories as the Tigers destroyed the Boston Red Sox 10-3 in a battle of American League division leaders on Saturday.

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Scherzer (11-0) tied George Mullins' start to the 1909 season for the franchise record and also matched the best start to a season since Roger Clemens in 1997 with Toronto.

Victor Martinez belted a grand slam and had five RBIs to give Scherzer the run support he needed as the AL Central Tigers improved to 41-32 while the AL East Red Sox fell to 45-32.

Arizona's Jason Kubel hit a walk off two-run single to give the Diamondbacks a 4-3 win over Cincinnati, maintaining their place atop the National League West.

 

Jay Bruce pounded two home runs but it was not enough for the Reds who fell to 44-32 while the Diamondbacks have now won four successive games to improve to 41-33.

In inter-league play the Texas Rangers (42-32) were too good for the St. Louis Cardinals (47-27), winning 4-2 with the help of a Nelson Cruz two-run homer.

Toronto continued their purple patch of form with their 10th successive win as Jose Bautista belted a two-run homer with two-outs in the bottom of the eighth to help the Blue Jays (37-36) to a 4-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles (42-33).

The last time the Blue Jays won 10 successive games was in 2008 with the latest win lifting them from last place in the American League East and just six games from the division lead.

Kevin Frandsen produced his first career walk off home run, sending the ball into the left field seats to lead off the bottom of the ninth that gave the Philadelphia Phillies an 8-7 win over the New York Mets.

It was sweet relief for the Phillies (36-39) who almost squandered a 7-1 advantage when the Mets scored four runs in the seventh and two more in the ninth but ultimately prevailed.

The New York Yankees turned a two-run deficit into a two run lead in the seventh inning to prevail 7-5 over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rookie Wil Myers had produced his first home run, a grand slam, in the sixth to give the Rays (38-37) a cushion but Vernon Wells delivered with a three-run double in the seventh to help the Yankees (41-33) to the win.

Milwaukee (31-42) upset NL East leaders Atlanta (43-33) for the second successive day, duplicating their 2-0 shutout from Friday while San Francisco (38-36) needed 11 innings to avoid being beaten by lowly Miami (24-50) for a second successive game with a 2-1 win.

(Reporting By Ben Everill in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Bad lighting causes Parchment injury in Jamaica

Olympic bronze medalist Hansle Parchment was forced out of the Jamaican national championships after he twisted his ankle due to inadequate lighting during the warmups for the 110 meters hurdles final on Saturday.

Parchment, who has run the world's leading time this year of 13.05 seconds, trod on a hurdle in the warmup area shortly before the final, which was won by Andrew Riley.

"He was warming up and twisted his left ankle on one hurdle, which was lying around," Parchment's coach Fitz Coleman told Reuters. "The lighting could have been better at the warmup track."

 

The Jamaican championships are doubling as selection trials for the Caribbean country's squad for the world championships in Moscow from Aug 10-18.

The 23-year-old Parchment could still be included for Moscow as the Jamaican athletics' federation rules allow him a wild card selection if he remains in the top three in the world.

"I'm happy to win, but it was really disappointing not to have someone as fast as Parchment in the race because he hurt his ankle during warmup," Riley said after he clocked 13.33 to win the title ahead of Dwight Thomas (13.45).

"Having limited lights before a big hurdles final in the warmup area was really not good."

Double Olympic 100 meters champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made easy progress to Sunday's final of the women's 200 meters with the fastest time in all three semi-finals.

Fraser-Pryce, who holds a wild card entry to the 100 in Russia, cruised to 22.64 seconds in the first semi-final, while Beijing Olympics 100 silver medalist Sherone Simpson won the second in 22.85. Anniesha McLaughlin won the third in 22.88.

In the men's' 200, 2011 world championships finalist Nickel Ashmeade clocked a brisk 20.07 seconds to lead Olympic bronze medalist Warren Weir 20.27 into Sunday's final.

World and Olympic champion Usain Bolt has a wild card entry into the event in Russia.

American collegiate (NCAA) 800 meters champion Natoya Goule became just the second Jamaican female to qualify for the world championships in the event.

Goule lead from start to finish to clock a career best one minute, 59.93 seconds to win the event in the absence of national record holder Kenia Sinclair.

"I was concentrating on making the "A" qualifying standard, so when I came through the first lap in 58.1 seconds I knew I was on target to dip below two minutes for the first time," Goule said.

"That was the pre-race strategy given to me by my coach and it worked."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Blackhawks one win from the Cup but pay the price

The Chicago Blackhawks moved to within a win of clinching the Stanley Cup on Saturday beating the Boston Bruins 3-1 in a bone-jarring contest that cost both team key players.

The best-of-seven series now shifts to Boston for Game Six on Monday with the Blackhawks holding a 3-2 lead and the Bruins needing a victory to extend the series.

 

"It's do or die," Boston coach Claude Julien told reporters. "Right now our goal is to create a Game Seven and to create a Game Seven you've got to win Game Six.

"It's as simple as that.

"There is no panic. You're not going to push us away that easily."

After a rollicking 6-5 shootout in Game Four, the teams returned to the close-checking, punishing style seen earlier in the series and both team's paid the price.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston's leading scorer with four goals, exited early in the second period and was later taken to hospital with an unspecified injury.

The Blackhawks were not immune from the wreckage with captain Jonathan Toews, who assisted on Chicago's first two goals, not playing the third period after taking a thundering hit from Bruins Johnny Boychuk as he cut across the Boston goalmouth.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville would not elaborate on the injury describing the problem as an "upper-body injury" but said he was hopeful his captain could play in Boston

"It's been a war. It's been a battle," said Quenneville. "It's every game, every shift you're fighting.

"You look at every minute from Game One to where we're at today, it's been an amazing series and relentless hockey and I commend the guys on both teams for leaving it out on the ice."

The injuries overshadowed brilliant efforts from Chicago forward Patrick Kane and netminder Corey Crawford, who had been criticized for his shaky play in Game Four.

Searching for more scoring Quenneville had reshuffled his lines for Game Four reuniting Toews and Kane with Bryan Bickell and the trio produced instant chemistry scoring twice.

The line continued to produce magic on Saturday with an opportunistic Kane notching the first two goals.

"Sometimes you catch some breaks," said Kane. "I think I was in the right spot at the right time tonight on both goals.

"Playing with Johnny and Bicks, they create a lot of space and I've been taking advantage of the space they do make.

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"I think everyone wants to be that guy in big-time games and I've been lucky enough in a couple to step up."

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Boston came out playing with desperation in the third period and pulled one back when Zdeno Chara blasted a shot from the left faceoff circle past Crawford.

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But that would be the only puck to get past Crawford as Dave Bolland ended the threat of overtime scoring into an empty net with 14 seconds to play.

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"I'm not really listening to it (criticism). I have a job to do," said Crawford. "Whatever is being said doesn't really affect what I'm going to do on the ice.

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"It's going to be another tough game, and we've got to prepare ourselves to play that tough game again."

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(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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Blackhawks' Kane, small in stature but big in the clutch

Patrick Kane is among the smallest players on the ice but the speedy forward continues to rise to the occasion at the game's biggest moments.

Just under six feet tall (1.83m), the 24-year-old Blackhawks playmaker has a knack for important goals and on Saturday scored twice in Chicago's 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals.

 

Kane also scored the game winner in overtime in the Cup-clinching game three years ago and his teammates hope his hot streak continues as the series heads back to Boston for Game Six.

"He keeps showing up in big games. The Olympics, the Stanley Cup playoffs, you name it. He likes to score on those big stages and he did again tonight," said teammate Patrick Sharp.

From Buffalo, New York, the baby-faced Kane is known for his slick stick handling, crisp passing and highlight-reel plays.

"He's got a string on the puck," said line mate Bryan Bickell, who had the primary assist on Kane's game winner on Saturday.

Kane also has a habit for scoring a lot of goals closely together. His second career playoff hat-trick in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals helped his team beat the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

His goals on Saturday were of the more opportunistic variety, scooping up loose pucks near the net and twisting them past Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask.

"He's scored a couple of big goals hanging around the net. That's what we need is guys going to the net and picking up those rebound goals," said Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith.

Coach Joel Quenneville shuffled his forward line combinations after a poor Game Three, pairing Kane with Jonathan Toews and bruising winger Bryan Bickell, and the formula has paid dividends with four goals in two games.

Kane has three of those goals, leaving the Blackhawks a win away from their second NHL championship in four seasons.

"Kaner has got high-end skill. He's dangerous with the puck, his anticipation without it offensively is high end," Quenneville said.

"Guys that have that kind of innate skill of scoring and being a top player, they anticipate like the rest of us would like to."

(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Serena apologizes to Sharapova over boyfriend barb

Serena Williams launched a charm offensive on Sunday as she sought to broker a truce with Maria Sharapova and calm the storm surrounding comments she made about a rape victim.

On the eve of Wimbledon, where she is defending champion, the pre-tournament focus has been on an interview she gave to Rolling Stone magazine that touched on a high-profile teenage rape case in Ohio and brought her into conflict with her Russian rival Sharapova.

The piece included an account of a private conversation between Serena and her sister Venus that the reporter interpreted as an attack on Sharapova's relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov.

Sharapova, soundly beaten by Serena in the French Open final earlier this month, hit back on Saturday telling the world number one to keep her nose out of other people's business, adding an edge to the women's competition at the grasscourt slam.

"I made it a point to reach out to Maria because she was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter," a smiling Williams told reporters.

 

"I personally talked to Maria at the player party, incidentally. I said, look, I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I'm very sorry for this whole situation...

"I'm the first person to reach out to individuals and people if I feel that something may have hurt them or something may have been misconstrued."

The controversial interview quoted Serena as talking about a "a top-five player who is now in love".

It added: "She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' - it's so boring. She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it'."

While Serena did not deny making the comments, she was clearly angry that her private words had ended up in print.

"I've been spoiled dealing with professionalism here in the tennis world. I'm used to dealing with professional reporters... not writing or commenting on a private conversation that I may have or listening in or eavesdropping and then reporting on it.

"I was involved in a private conversation that he even wrote in the article that he said he was listening to. I take full blame and responsibility for that because I've been in the business for years and years and I should always in a way have my guard up."

Williams was in a relaxed mood ahead of making her Wimbledon bow against Luxembourg's Mandy Minella on Tuesday, blowing air-kisses with golfer Rory McIlroy as she waited in the wings to greet reporters.

A light-hearted chat about her prospects of surpassing Venus and winning a sixth Wimbledon title, however gave way after just five gentle questions.

The subject turned to her comments in the same Rolling Stone interview when she appeared to assign blame to a 16-year-old rape victim for being drunk.

She reiterated her earlier apology and said she had been in close contact with the victim's family.

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"It's really important before you make certain comments to have a full list, have all the information, all the facts," she added.

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"I reached out to the family immediately once the article came out, and I had a really productive, sincere conversation with the mother and the daughter. We came to a wonderful understanding, and we're constantly in contact...

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"I take full responsibility. I definitely wanted to apologize to the family. They've been through so much. In talking to them and learning the whole story, you just learn how strong the young girl is, how strong she's been able to make me through this process, which I think is incredible."

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(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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Danish driver Simonsen dies at Le Mans

Motorsport mourned Danish driver Allan Simonsen after his fatal crash at the Le Mans 24 Hours sportscar race on Saturday.

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He was the first driver to die in the race for 27 years and the 22nd fatality linked to it since the first running on public roads near the cathedral city in western France 90 years ago.

The 34-year-old, driving an Aston Martin, spun into the barriers at Tertre Rouge on lap three after just 10 minutes of an endurance race famed the world over for its glamour and danger.

"In a serious condition, Allan Simonsen was transferred immediately to the Circuit Medical Centre where he died soon after due to his injuries," organizers said in a statement on the official website (www.24h-lemans.com).

 

Simonsen, one of the world's more experienced endurance drivers at the La Sarthe circuit, was competing in the GTE Am class for production-based sportscars which are slower than the LMP1 and LMP2 prototype categories.

Media reports said he was conscious and talking to doctors immediately after the accident, which led to a 58 minute safety car period to allow the destroyed barriers to be repaired.

Simonsen was attended at the scene of the crash by staff from the Automobile Club de l'Ouest's (ACO) medical service who transferred him to the Circuit Medical Centre where he died.

Aston Martin team chief David Richards said Simonsen's family had asked the team to carry on in the event before they returned to Copenhagen.

"Incidents like this are very rare but when they happen you have to make decisions based on a number of factors - in this case the wishes of the family were paramount," he said in a statement.

"We spoke with Allan's family who were insistent that we continued to compete.

"The team is of course deeply saddened by the loss of one of our drivers. However, we are as focused as ever to win this race (in the GTE Am class) but we are now racing to win for Allan."

DRIVER TRIBUTES

Simonsen had taken part in seven Le Mans 24 Hours events and was respected by the tight-knit motorsport community.

McLaren Formula One drivers Jenson Button and Sergio Perez, Le Mans winner Alex Wurz - competing in this year's race for Toyota - and others sent messages of condolences on social network Twitter.

"He was a world class GT driver," said 1990 Le Mans winner Martin Brundle.

"For many in endurance racing, Allan was above all a good friend who displayed his passion for racing on and off the track. His loss will be felt by the FIA, the ACO and the greater motorsport family," said International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Jean Todt and ACO President Pierre Fillon in a joint statement.

The Dane's co-drivers in the car, numbered 95, were compatriots Christoffer Nygaard and Kristian Poulsen.

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Organisers said the exact reasons for the accident were still being determined.

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Simonsen had told reporters on Friday that he was looking forward to the race with great anticipation.

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"Just being at Le Mans and to be allowed to drive the car on the track is incredibly special," he said. "It's the biggest race for us.

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"It's the one we most look forward to. It's also difficult because there are so many excellent drivers from all over the world - it's a huge challenge."

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Simonsen's death is the first driver fatality at Le Mans since Frenchman Sebastien Enjolras was killed during pre-qualifying in 1997 and the first during the race since Austrian Jo Gartner died in 1986.

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Le Mans, a race immortalised in a 1971 Hollywood movie starring the late Steve McQueen, is one of motor sport's great races along with the Indianapolis 500 and Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.

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It also has a tragic past, with at least 80 spectators estimated killed and many more injured in 1955 when Frenchman Pierre Levegh's Mercedes flew into the crowd in motor racing's deadliest disaster.

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(Reporting by Alan Baldwin and Tim Collings; editing by Mark Meadows and Ken Ferris)

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