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Showing posts from January 15, 2014

Syrian rebels renew fight for Aleppo

Syrian rebels battled President Bashar al-Assad's forces in and around the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, seeking to reverse gains made by loyalist forces in the commercial hub over the last two months, activists said. The fighting, by a variety of insurgent groups, happened as France urged moderate rebels to wrest territory back from radical Islamists whose role in the fight to topple Assad poses a dilemma for Western countries concerned that arms shipments could fall into the hands of people it considers terrorists. The 11 Western and Arab countries known as the "Friends of Syria " agreed on Saturday to give urgent military support to the rebels, channeled through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council in a bid to prevent arms getting to Islamist radicals. But radical forces showed they remained formidable on Sunday when the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham brigade detonated a car bomb at a roadblock at an entrance to Aleppo killing at least 12 loyalist soldiers, a

Police remove flagpole at center of Afghan, Taliban row

Police have removed a flagpole from the Taliban's office in Qatar, an official said on Sunday, expunging the last visible sign of official decoration that riled the Afghan government and derailed nascent peace talks. The Taliban was due to hold discussions with U.S. officials in Qatar last Thursday - originally raising hopes the meeting could develop into full-blown negotiations to end Afghanistan's 12-year-old war. But the session was canceled when the Afghan government objected to the fanfare surrounding the militants' opening of an office in the Gulf state, complete with flag and official plaques. Kabul said the regalia gave the mistaken impression the militants - who ruled Afghanistan until they were ousted by the U.S. offensive starting in 2001 - had achieved some measure of global recognition. The flag and a plaque were removed late last week amid frantic diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute. The flagpole was no longer visible at the building on Sunday. &

Analysis: For Obama, a world of Snowden troubles

Since his first day in office, President Barack Obama's foreign policy has rested on outreach: resetting ties with Russia, building a partnership with China and offering a fresh start with antagonistic leaders from Iran to Venezuela. But the global travels on Sunday of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden highlight the limits of that approach. Leaders Obama has wooed - and met recently - were willing to snub the American president. The cocky defiance by so-called "non-state actors" - Snowden himself and the anti-secrecy group, WikiLeaks, completes the picture of a world less willing than ever to bend to U.S. prescriptions of right and wrong. Snowden flew out of Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, early on Sunday after Hong Kong authorities rebuffed a U.S. request to detain him pending extradition to the United States for trial. Snowden has acknowledged leaking details of highly classified NSA surveillance programs. Beijing may mer

Erdogan defends riot police tactics in Turkey protests

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan piled ridicule on activists behind weeks of protests against his government during a rally on Sunday and defended riot police who fired water cannon at crowds in Istanbul a day earlier. Looking out of over a sea of Turkish flags waved by his AK Party faithful in the eastern city of Erzurum, Erdogan praised his supporters and the general public for opposing what he called a plot against his country. "The people saw this game from the start and frustrated it. They (the protesters) thought the people would say nothing. They said we will burn and destroy and do what we want but the people will do nothing," he said. Sunday's mass rally was the fifth which Erdogan has called since protests began in Istanbul in an unprecedented challenge to his 10-year rule. The unrest was triggered when police used force against campaigners opposed to plans to develop Istanbul's Gezi Park, but they quickly turned into a broader show of anger at wh

Syrian rebels renew fight for Aleppo

Syrian rebels battled President Bashar al-Assad's forces in and around the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, seeking to reverse gains made by loyalist forces in the commercial hub over the last two months, activists said. The fighting, by a variety of insurgent groups, happened as France urged moderate rebels to wrest territory back from radical Islamists whose role in the fight to topple Assad poses a dilemma for Western countries concerned that arms shipments could fall into the hands of people it considers terrorists. The 11 Western and Arab countries known as the "Friends of Syria " agreed on Saturday to give urgent military support to the rebels, channeled through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council in a bid to prevent arms getting to Islamist radicals. But radical forces showed they remained formidable on Sunday when the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham brigade detonated a car bomb at a roadblock at an entrance to Aleppo killing at least 12 loyalist soldiers, a

Scattered, smaller protests continue in dozens of Brazilian cities

Scattered protests took place in dozens of Brazilian cities on Saturday, although fewer people took to the streets in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, where vandalism and clashes with police have rocked the country in recent days. Demonstrators, a mainstay outside stadiums as Brazil hosts an international soccer tournament, largely steered clear of a Brazil- Italy match in the northeastern city of Salvador - a relief for fans who have had to dodge clashes between protesters and police at several games over the past week. But tensions flared outside another game between Mexico and Japan in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte, where riot police fired tear gas at protesters after they overstepped a perimeter and moved toward the stadium. The game proceeded without further incidents. Other gatherings around the country unfolded mostly peacefully, with an estimated 30,000 protesters marching on Sao Paulo's main avenue against a bill in Congress that would limit the pow

Analysis: Another China central bank worry; companies push into lending

Chinese companies are getting more creative in the business of money lending as they struggle to keep profits ticking over in a cooling economy, raising concerns they are adding to the mountain of debt risks building in the world's No.2 economy. _0"> Big state companies in industries struggling with over-capacity but with easy access to credit are borrowing funds, not to invest in their business but to lend to smaller firms sometimes at several times the official interest rate, part of an informal lending market in China that authorities are taking aim at. China's central bank increased pressure on banks to rein in such informal lending and speculative trading last week in money markets, letting short-term interest rates spike to extraordinary levels. In the $3.7 trillion so-called shadow banking market, the fastest growing area is in so-called entrusted loans, which are arranged by banks on the companies' behalf, and in bankers' acceptance notes, tradable

When the Ben and Beijing party comes to an end

Through the dark days of the financial crisis, and the grey days of the halting recovery that have followed, investors have always been able to count on backing from two sources - Ben Bernanke and Beijing. They have provided stimulus, mainly by pumping funds into the U.S. and Chinese economies in various ways, when other pillars of support had become unreliable. That helps to explain why global financial markets took such a beating last week when both signaled that they are getting tired of being leant on so heavily. Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, set a timetable at last week's Fed meeting for the central bank to reduce the size of its bond buying program with a view to ending it by the middle of next year. Meanwhile, his counterparts at the People's Bank of China (PBOC) engineered a cash crunch as a warning to overextended banks - and this from a central bank that has previously always provided liquidity when cash conditions tightened. A lot will n

Analysis: Electing the EU Commission chief - a dumb bright idea?

It seemed like a bright idea at the time. By linking the choice of president of the executive European Commission to the European Parliament elections in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, EU leaders hoped to reverse rising abstentionism and overcome Europe's widely bemoaned "democratic deficit". If voters around the soon-to-be-28-nation European Union were given a real policy choice personified by a single candidate, they would identify more easily with "Europe" and vote in greater numbers, the theory went. That in turn would give greater legitimacy to the European Commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws but which critics often denigrate as unelected and undemocratic. "For the first time these could be genuine 'European' elections, the outcome of which will shape European politics for at least the next five years," said Simon Hix, professor of European governance at the London School of Economics. "It will be the first time we, as Eur

White House expects Russia to look at all options to expel Snowden back to U.S.

The White House on Monday said it expects the Russian government to "look at all options available" to expel former government contractor Edward Snowden back to the United States to face espionage charges. _0"> The White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the United States also registered strong objections to authorities in Hong Kong and China through diplomatic channels at the decision to let Snowden flee. And "noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations," Hayden said. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

South Africans resigned over 'critical' Mandela

South Africans adopted a mood of sombre resignation on Monday to the inevitability of saying goodbye to former president Nelson Mandela after the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader's condition in hospital deteriorated to critical. Madiba, as he is affectionately known, is revered among most of South Africa's 53 million people as the architect of the 1994 transition to multi-racial democracy after three centuries of white domination. However, his latest hospitalization - his fourth in six months - has reinforced a realization that the father of the post-apartheid "Rainbow Nation" will not be around for ever. President Jacob Zuma, who visited Mandela late on Sunday with African National Congress (ANC) Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, reflected the national mood when he told a news conference that Mandela remained critical. "All of us in the country must accept that Madiba is now old. As he ages, his health will trouble him," Zuma said, declining to give

Softbank closer to acquiring Sprint after Dish abandons bid for now

Japan's SoftBank Corp ( id="symbol_9984.T_0"> 9984.T ) cleared a major hurdle in its attempt to buy U.S. wireless provider Sprint Nextel Corp ( id="symbol_S.N S.N ), as rival bidder Dish Network Corp ( id="symbol_DISH.O DISH.O ) declined to make a new offer after SoftBank sweetened its own bid last week. _1"> SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is now a step closer to sealing the largest overseas acquisition by a Japanese company in history, after winning support from a key shareholder by raising SoftBank's offer to $21.6 billion from $20.1 billion last week. _2"> Son, a rare risk-taker in a cautious Japanese corporate environment, has been determined to thwart a rival bid from Dish - led by Chairman Charlie Ergen, known for aggressive takeover attempts - in an effort to break into the U.S. market. "We look forward to receiving the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and shareholder approvals which will allow us to close i

Apple warns of "chilling effect" as antitrust trial ends

Apple Inc, on trial for allegedly colluding to raise the price of e-books, said on Thursday an adverse ruling would have a "chilling effect" on how businesses investigate new markets. If Apple was found guilty, it would "send shudders through the business community" by condemning the ordinary negotiations that companies undertake to enter new markets, the company's lawyer, Orin Snyder, said on the last day of the trial. "We submit a ruling against Apple on this record sets a dangerous precedent," Snyder said. The U.S. Justice Department accuses Apple of conspiring with U.S. publishers beginning in late 2009 to increase the price of e-books in an effort to undercut the pricing established by then-dominant Amazon.com Inc. The publishers have settled with the government. Throughout closing arguments Thursday, Apple found itself fighting back against tough questioning by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote. At one point on Thursday, Cote asked if it was

Sprint raises Clearwire bid, wins key investor support

Sprint Nextel Corp raised its buyout offer for Clearwire Corp to $5 per share on Thursday and announced support from a key group of dissident shareholders, likely ending a bitter battle with rival suitor Dish Network Corp. Sprint, currently Clearwire's majority shareholder, has been fighting publicly with Dish over Clearwire since January as both companies want Clearwire's vast trove of valuable wireless airwaves to help them compete in wireless services. Clearwire put its support behind the latest offer, representing the second major blow in a matter of days against Dish Chairman and founder Charlie Ergen, who wants to expand his satellite TV company into the wireless market. Earlier this week Ergen had to back out, at least for now, from a battle with Japan's SoftBank Corp to buy Sprint itself. Dish declined comment on the new Clearwire offer. Several analysts said they now expect Sprint to prevail. "We believe Clearwire shareholders will approve the $5 offer

Sprint raises Clearwire bid, wins key investor support

Sprint Nextel Corp raised its buyout offer for Clearwire Corp to $5 per share on Thursday and announced support from a key group of dissident shareholders, likely ending a bitter battle with rival suitor Dish Network Corp. Sprint, currently Clearwire's majority shareholder, has been fighting publicly with Dish over Clearwire since January as both companies want Clearwire's vast trove of valuable wireless airwaves to help them compete in wireless services. Clearwire put its support behind the latest offer, representing the second major blow in a matter of days against Dish Chairman and founder Charlie Ergen, who wants to expand his satellite TV company into the wireless market. Earlier this week Ergen had to back out, at least for now, from a battle with Japan's SoftBank Corp to buy Sprint itself. Dish declined comment on the new Clearwire offer. Several analysts said they now expect Sprint to prevail. "We believe Clearwire shareholders will approve the $5 offe

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 sharehold

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-g

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 th

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. _0"> 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 wit

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. _0"> 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,

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 tabl

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. _0"> 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 hi

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. _0"> 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

Yahoo's Mayer shines spotlight on video

As Marissa Mayer approaches her one-year anniversary as chief executive of Yahoo, she's hewing closely to the struggling Web portal's traditional advertising model--and eyeing more video programming of every stripe as central to the strategy. "We're working on various methods in terms of how we can increase our video views, and watching," Mayer said at the Reuters Global Technology Summit on Thursday. "It's clear to me that our video business is something that's growing a lot. It's something that we'd like to accelerate." Yahoo is currently bidding to acquire Hulu, the online hub for TV programming owned by Walt Disney Co and News Corp, sources with knowledge of the situation have told Reuters. Mayer would not comment on the bid for Hulu. The Web pioneer was looking at buying French video site DailyMotion but had to abandon the effort after objections from the French government. Yahoo also has a growing menu of original video pro

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. _0"> 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.