JFP 6/8: West won't talk to Iran about Syria; 25 on drone strike transparency letter

Just Foreign Policy News, June 8, 2012
West won't talk to Iran about Syria; 25 on K-C letter


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I) Actions and Featured Articles

Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
Twenty-five Members of Congress are pressing the Administration to come clean with Congress and the American people about civilian deaths resulting from drone strikes and about so-called "signature strikes" that target unknown people.
Signers of the Congressional letter include: Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, Rush Holt, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Maurice Hinchey, Charlie Rangel, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Raul Grijalva, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, Lynn Woolsey, Hank Johnson, Luis Gutierrez, Ron Paul, John Lewis, George Miller, Jim McDermott, Yvette Clarke, Peter DeFazio, Peter Welch, Donna Edwards, Jerrold Nadler, Keith Ellison.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1219

Post and share Just Foreign Policy's Haiti cholera counter:
Tracks deaths, cases, and the number of days that have passed since the UN brought cholera to Haiti.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/haiti-cholera-counter

Scholars and Human Rights Organizations Demand End to U.S. Military and Police Aid to Honduras
Over 40 Honduran scholars, with the support of over 300 additional signatories from 29 countries (including over 200 signers from the U.S.) sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton demanding an end to U.S. police and military aid, including training, to Honduras.
http://quotha.net/node/2292

Democracy Now: New Film "5 Broken Cameras" Captures Palestinian Village's Nonviolent Resistance
The new documentary film, "5 Broken Cameras," tells the story of Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who documented the residents of his village Bil'in resisting the Israeli separation wall.
http://www.democracynow.org/2012/6/8/part_2_acclaimed_new_film_5

Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The U.S., Britain and France have rejected UN envoy Kofi Annan's proposal to include Iran in talks to address the crisis in Syria, the Telegraph reports. Annan has suggested forming a "contact group" bringing together Western and Middle Eastern states, as well as Russia and China, in the hope of ending the international rift over Syria and paving the way for Assad's departure. But a row immediately erupted after he proposed to include Iran in the group, justifying the move on the grounds that it was "an important country in the region" whose involvement was key to bringing about a solution to the conflict. Western powers categorically rejected the notion, the Telegraph says.

2) Two U.S. officials said President Obama has ordered a sharp increase in drone strikes in Pakistan in recent months, anticipating Pakistan may soon bar such CIA operations launched from its territory, Bloomberg reports. U.S. officials said they expect Pakistan may order the CIA to vacate the remaining air base from which it flies Predators to target militants in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan's parliament and leaders are now demanding an end to the strikes, calling them a violation of the country's sovereignty.

3) The top American commander in Afghanistan apologized to Afghans on Friday for a coalition airstrike that killed women and children in Logar province earlier in the week, the Washington Post reports. Afghan officials said the bombing killed 18 civilians. "I want you to know that you have my apology and we will do the right thing by the families," Marine Gen. John Allen. NATO troops often make condolence payments to the families of victims in civilian casualty incidents, the Post notes. [Three things that never happen after reports of civilian deaths as a result of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia: no investigation, no apology, no compensation - JFP.]

4) According to the Israel Democracy Institute, fifty-two percent of Jewish Israelis identify with the statement by MK Miri Regev last month that African migrants are "a cancer in the body" of the nation, and over a third condone anti-migrant violence, the Times of Israel reports. Right wing and religious voters were more likely to agree with Regev's statement, the poll found.

5) Documents appear to show that Mexico's biggest television network sold prominent politicians favorable coverage in its flagship news and entertainment shows and used the same programs to smear a popular leftwing leader, the Guardian reports. The documents coincide with the appearance of an energetic protest movement accusing the Televisa network of manipulating its coverage to favor the leading candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. One protester at a recent demonstration carried a placard proclaiming: "Not even my mother manipulates me like Televisa."

6) According to the National Counter Terrorism Center, terrorist attacks killed 17 U.S. civilians last year and 15 the year before, writes Micah Zenko at the Atlantic. Zenko notes that a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. For Americans, this should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions, Zenko writes.

Bahrain
7) Tens of thousands of protesters staged the biggest anti-government demonstrations in weeks in Bahrain, AP reports. Opposition groups called for major rallies after a prominent rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was placed back in detention earlier this week on fresh charges linked to his social media posts. A defense lawyer said a court hearing is planned next week for an 11-year-old boy detained for allegedly taking part in the anti-government protests; the sixth-grader was arrested last month and took his school exams behind bars.

Colombia
8) A Colombian research group said more than 11,000 Colombian politicians, state officials, businessmen and citizens are facing accusations of being accomplices to paramilitary groups, writes Colombia Reports.

Argentina
9) Ted Olsen, former George W. Bush solicitor general, testified yesterday for Republican heavy-hitter Paul Singer at a House financial services committee hearing on "the need to protect investors from the government," the New York Post reports. But neither Singer, nor his firm's name Elliott Management, was ever mentioned. Olsen was billed as a representative for the American Task Force Argentina, a lobbying group that is mainly financed by Singer. His firm has been battling Argentina in the courts for years to get the country to pay its debt to him. Elliott is a $20 billion hedge fund that is known as a "holdout creditor" for taking busted countries to court in order to profit handsomely on debt it purchases for pennies on the dollar.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Syria: West rebuffs proposal to work with Iran to solve crisis
Efforts to forge a united international response to the Syria crisis have been dealt a double blow as the West rebuffed a proposal to work with Iran and Russia rejected a new US peace initiative.
Adrian Blomfield, Telgraph (UK), 7:18PM BST 08 Jun 2012
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9320576/Syria-West-rebuffs-proposal-to-work-with-Iran-to-solve-crisis.html

With violence escalating in the wake of this week's massacre of 78 Sunni villagers near the city of Hama, Kofi Annan, the international envoy to Syria met Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to try to salvage his disintegrating ceasefire plan.
[...]
The latest killings have galvanised Western powers into launching a fresh attempt to save Syria sliding into sectarian war between the country's Sunni majority and the president's Alawite Shia sect.

Britain, France and the United States said they were working to introduce a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the Syrian government that would be binding for all member states.

Previous such attempts have been blocked by Russia and China.

At the same time, Mr Annan has responded to Western warning that they were close to writing off his plan, which came into force in April, by acknowledging the need for major modifications to save it from total failure.

He has suggested forming a "contact group" bringing together Western and Middle Eastern states, as well as Russia and China, in the hope of ending the international rift over Syria and paving the way for Mr Assad's departure.

But a row immediately erupted after he proposed to include Iran in the group, justifying the move on the grounds that it was "an important country in the region" whose involvement was key to bringing about a solution to the conflict.

Western powers categorically rejected the notion, with Mrs Clinton accusing Iran of "helping to stage-manage the repression" in Syria in order to prop up Mr Assad, a fellow Shia and a key ally of Iran. Britain and France were similarly vocal in their opposition.

"Iran is a country which is supporting some of the unacceptable violence and supporting the Syrian regime in what it's doing to the Syrian people," Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East, said.

Mrs Clinton suffered a major setback of her own as Russia rebuffed her pleas to support a regime change in Damascus.
[...]

2) Obama Increases Pakistan Drone Strikes As Relations Sour
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Bloomberg, Jun 7, 2012 9:58 PM CT
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-08/obama-increases-pakistan-drone-strikes-as-relations-sour.html

President Barack Obama has ordered a sharp increase in drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan in recent months, anticipating Pakistan may soon bar such CIA operations launched from its territory, two U.S. officials said.
[...]
U.S. officials, who spoke yesterday on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified intelligence, said they expect Pakistan may order the CIA to vacate the remaining air base from which it flies Predators to target militants sheltered in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The U.S. has conducted drone attacks since 2004 with the tacit approval of authorities in Islamabad. Pakistan's parliament and leaders are now demanding an end to the strikes, calling them a violation of the country's sovereignty.
[...]

3) Gen. John Allen apologizes for civilians killed in airstrike in Afghanistan
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Friday, June 8, 10:11 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/gen-allen-apologizes-for-civilians-killed-in-airstrike-in-afghanistan/2012/06/08/gJQA6JukNV_story.html

Kabul - The top American commander in Afghanistan apologized to Afghans on Friday for a coalition airstrike that killed women and children in Logar province earlier in the week.

Marine Gen. John Allen flew to Logar province, just south of Kabul, to meet with villagers and offer his condolences for the bombing Wednesday that Afghan officials said killed 18 civilians. The airstrike was called in by U.S. troops after they came under fire while pursuing a Taliban fighter in a village in the Baraki Barak district.

"I know that no apology can bring back the lives of the children or the people who perished in this tragedy and this accident, but I want you to know that you have my apology and we will do the right thing by the families," Allen told the Afghans, according to the Associated Press. NATO troops often make condolence payments to the families of victims in civilian casualty incidents.

Allen told an Associated Press reporter traveling with him that the troops did not know there were civilians inside the house at the time of the airstrike.

"They were taken under fire. A hand grenade was thrown. Three of our people were wounded. We called for the people who were shooting to come out, and then the situation became more grave, and innocent people were killed," he told the AP.

"Our weapons killed these people," Allen said.

The house that came under fire reportedly was full of civilians who had attended a wedding the night before. An Afghan doctor who examined the bodies told the AP that a group of Taliban fighters were taking cover among the members of the wedding party and that four women, two elderly men, three teenage boys and nine young children were among the dead.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said that the insurgents who were firing refused a call by coalition and Afghan troops to stop and come outside and that "things escalated" until the troops called in air support. He said a NATO investigation was still underway.

After reports of civilian deaths emerged, President Hamid Karzai called a relative of the victims and cut short a trip to China, where he was participating in a summit in Shanghai.

"NATO operations that inflict human and material losses to civilians can in no way be justifiable, acceptable and tolerable," Karzai said in a statement Thursday while Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was visiting Kabul. Karzai has voiced concerns about the war's collateral damage for years.
[...]

4) Most Israeli Jews agree: African migrants are 'a cancer'
Peace Index finds 33% condone anti-migrant violence, establishes a direct correlation between racist attitudes and religiosity
Times of Israel, June 7, 2012, 10:20 pm
http://www.timesofisrael.com/most-israeli-jews-agree-africans-are-a-cancer/

Fifty-two percent of Jewish Israelis identify with the statement by MK Miri Regev last month that African migrants are "a cancer in the body" of the nation, and over a third condone anti-migrant violence, according to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) Peace Index for May 2012.

Broken down by political and religious affiliation, the monthly index's findings reveal that among Jews there is a direct correlation between right-wing political affiliation and a racist attitude toward migrants. Thus, 86 percent of Shas voters and 66 percent of Likud voters polled expressed identification with Regev's controversial statement, as opposed to 32 percent of Labor voters and four percent of Meretz voters.

The degree of religiosity attested to by respondents also accounted for a large disparity in the findings, with 81.5% and 66% of self-described ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox, respectively, agreeing with Regev's statement, as opposed to 38% of secular Israelis.

Only 19% of Arab respondents agreed that the migrants were "a cancer."

The poll also found that 33.5 percent of Jews and 23 percent of Arabs identified with recent acts of violence against African migrants perpetrated by demonstrators and residents of South Tel Aviv. According to the IDI this was "very surprising, considering that most people do not tend to openly report sympathy for acts that are broadly condemned by society."

The Peace Index also gauged respondents' opinions of foreign workers from various countries and found that workers from Africa were a larger source of concern for Israeli Jews than were workers from other continents. Thus, while between 30 and 40 percent of Jewish respondents were moderately or greatly disturbed by the presence of non-African foreign workers, that figure climbed to 56.7 when it came to workers from Ghana and Nigeria and 65.2 for Sudanese and Eritrean job seekers.

The report termed the findings "troubling" and "surprising," especially considering the fact that 79.5 percent of respondents said that "where they live there are only a few, very few, or no" refugees or migrant workers.
[...]

5) Computer files link TV dirty tricks to favourite for Mexico presidency
Network alleged to have sold favourable election coverage to top politicians
Jo Tuckman, Guardian, Thursday 7 June 2012 16.07 EDT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/07/mexico-presidency-tv-dirty-tricks

Mexico City - Mexico's biggest television network sold prominent politicians favourable coverage in its flagship news and entertainment shows and used the same programmes to smear a popular leftwing leader, documents seen by the Guardian appear to show.

The documents – which consist of dozens of computer files – emerge just weeks ahead of presidential elections on 1 July, and coincide with the appearance of an energetic protest movement accusing the Televisa network of manipulating its coverage to favour the leading candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The documents, which appear to have been created several years ago, include:

- An outline of fees apparently charged for raising Peña Nieto's national profile when he was governor of the state of Mexico.

- A detailed media strategy explicitly designed to torpedo a previous presidential bid by leftwing candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador, who is currently Peña Nieto's closest rival.

- Payment arrangements suggesting that the office of former president Vicente Fox concealed exorbitant public spending on media promotion.

While it has not been possible to confirm the authenticity of the documents – which were passed to the Guardian by a source who worked with Televisa – extensive cross checks have shown that the names, dates and situations mentioned largely line up with events.

There is also evidence that actions suggested in the proposals did take place. The allegations come at a crucial time for Peña Nieto, the candidate of the ideologically nebulous Institutional Revolutionary party: recent opinion polls show his substantial lead beginning to erode as Televisa's role as political kingmaker has become a central issue of the campaign.

In a country where newspaper readership is tiny and the reach of the internet and cable TV is still largely limited to the middle classes, Televisa – and its rival TV Azteca – exert a powerful influence over national politics.

Televisa, the largest media empire in the Spanish-speaking world, controls around two-thirds of programming on Mexico's free television channels. The documents appear to have been developed within Radar Servicios Especializados, a marketing company run by a Televisa vice-president, Alejandro Quintero.
[...]
One of the documents is a PowerPoint presentation which explicitly states its aim of making sure "López Obrador does not win the 2006 elections". That bitterly contested election saw the leftwing candidate lose a commanding lead and ended with him claiming he had been cheated.

It was apparently created just after midnight on 4 April 2005, hours before President Fox was reported to have met the heads of Televisa and TV Azteca.

Fox was facing growing criticism for an attempt to get Lopez Obrador, then mayor of Mexico City, impeached over a minor planning dispute. The document outlines short-term measures for controlling the backlash, a period of national mourning for the recently-deceased Pope John Paul II to distract attention from the growing row. The next day Fox declared a day of mourning for the pontiff.

Longer-term strategies proposed to "dismantle the public perception that Lopez Obrador is a martyr/saviour," by boosting news coverage of crime in the capital and revisiting old corruption cases involving his former allies. The plan also envisaged "promoting personal stories of crimes suffered [in the capital] by showbiz celebrities" and "urging the inhabitants of the Big Brother house" to do the same. Some Televisa celebrities did just that, both on showbiz programmes and in the Mexican version of Celebrity Big Brother broadcast that May.

The document also advises that scriptwriters of a popular political weekly satire show called El Privilegio de Mandar should make the character who represented López Obrador appear "clumsy" and "inept." The final episode of the show, broadcast immediately after the 2006 elections – when the result of a recount was still pending – ended with a non-humorous speech by an actor calling on López Obrador to accept defeat.

A former Televisa employee, who is not the source of the documents, told the Guardian that they attended meetings within the company where the anti-López Obrador strategy was discussed. "There was a strategy and there was a client who paid a lot of money," the source said.

Most of the other documents are strategies and associated budgets apparently aimed at promoting political clients through TV adverts and programmes.

They include three Excel spreadsheets titled "Enrique Peña Nieto: Budget 2005-2006" apparently created at the start of his term as governor of the state of Mexico.
[...]
The current wave of protests against perceived media dirty tricks was triggered on 10 May when Televisa downplayed an anti-Peña Nieto protest at a private university where he was giving a campaign speech – and then gave wide coverage to accusations that the protest was staged by non-student troublemakers.

One protester at a recent demonstration carried a placard proclaiming: "Not even my mother manipulates me like Televisa."
[...]

6) Americans Are as Likely to Be Killed by Their Own Furniture as by Terrorism
Terrorist attacks killed 17 U.S. civilians last year and 15 the year before.
Micah Zenko, The Atlantic, Jun 6 2012, 8:43 AM ET
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/americans-are-as-likely-to-be-killed-by-their-own-furniture-as-by-terrorism/258156/

[Zenko is a Fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.]

Today, the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) released its 2011 Report on Terrorism. The report offers the U.S. government's best statistical analysis of terrorism trends through its Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS), which compiles and vets open-source information about terrorism--defined by U.S. law as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents."

Although I invite you to read the entire thirty-one page report, there are a few points worth highlighting that notably contrast with the conventional narrative of the terrorist threat:

"The total number of worldwide attacks in 2011, however, dropped by almost 12 percent from 2010 and nearly 29 percent from 2007." (9)
"Attacks by AQ and its affiliates increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011. A significant increase in attacks by al-Shabaab, from 401 in 2010 to 544 in 2011, offset a sharp decline in attacks by al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI) and a smaller decline in attacks by al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)." (11)
"In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years." (14)
Of 978 terrorism-related kidnapping last year, only three hostages were private U.S. citizens, or .003 percent. A private citizen is defined as 'any U.S. citizen not acting in an official capacity on behalf of the U.S. government.' (13, 17)
Of the 13,288 people killed by terrorist attacks last year, seventeen were private U.S. citizens, or .001 percent. (17)

According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens who died in terrorist attacks increased by two between 2010 and 2011; overall, a comparable number of Americans are crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year. This is not to diminish the real--albeit shrinking--threat of terrorism, or to minimize the loss and suffering of the 13,000 killed and over 45,000 injured around the world. For Americans, however, it should emphasize that an irrational fear of terrorism is both unwarranted and a poor basis for public policy decisions.

Bahrain
7) Tens of thousands protest in Bahrain in biggest opposition push in weeks
Associated Press, Friday, June 8, 12:05 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/bahrain-lawyer-11-year-old-boy-facing-charges-from-anti-state-protests/2012/06/08/gJQAI2RNNV_story.html

Manama, Bahrain - Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas and stun grenades Friday as tens of thousands of protesters staged the biggest anti-government demonstrations in weeks in the divided Gulf nation.

Opposition groups called for major rallies after a prominent rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, was placed back in detention earlier this week on fresh charges linked to his social media posts.

Bahrain has experienced near daily protests for 16 months caused by an uprising by the kingdom's Shiite majority seeking greater political rights from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy. At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011.
[...]
Earlier Friday, a defense lawyer said a court hearing is planned next week for an 11-year-old boy detained for allegedly taking part in the anti-government protests.

The lawyer, Mohsen al-Alawi, said the sixth-grade student is scheduled to appear in court on Monday on charges of joining an illegal gathering and other claims related to the ongoing unrest.

Al-Alawi said the boy, Ali Hasan, was arrested last month and took his school exams behind bars. He is among the youngest suspects detained in Bahrain's crackdowns.

Colombia
8) 11,179 Colombian politicians, officials, businessmen involved in parapolitics: Report
Sarah Kinosian, Colombia Reports, Thursday, 07 June 2012 14:51
http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/24474-11179-colombian-politicians-officials-businessmen-involved-in-parapolitics-scandal-report.html

More than 11,000 Colombian politicians, state officials, businessmen and citizens are facing accusations of being accomplices to paramilitary groups, said research group Verdad Abierta Thursday.

"We asked the Prosecutor General's Office how many people the paramilitaries mentioned voluntarily in their trials or in investigations and the prosecutor general gave us the number of 11,179 politicians, government officials, businessmen and citizens that were accomplices to paramilitary dealings," Cesar Molinares Duenas, editor of Verdad Abierta, told Colombia Reports.

The infiltration of paramilitary groups into Colombian politics has become popularly known as "parapolitics." Former president Alvaro Uribe and hundreds of his former officials have been implicated in the scandal, with dozens facing prosecution.

Verdad Abierta's report revealed the extent to which the scandal has affected the country, from the highest political office to regional governments and businessmen.

From the beginning of 2005's controversial Justice and Peace Law until the end of April 2012, prosecutors and officials have requested the investigation of 943 politicians, 870 military members, 330 public servants and 9,036 civilians, including several business owners suspected of contributing to paramilitary organizations in some fashion. The Justice and Peace reform sought to provide legal benefits to demobilized members of illegal armed groups, but instead invoked waves of criticism for granting impunity to human rights violators.

Seven of the past ten Senate presidents between 2002 and 2012 are being investigated for their ties to paramilitaries, while extradited AUC leader Salvatore Mancuso and other paramilitary leaders claimed President Uribe's reelection campaign in 2006 was financed by the right-wing group.
[...]

Argentina
9) Singer, Elliott under radar at Hill hearing
Michelle Celarier, New York Post, June 8, 2012
http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/singer_elliott_under_radar_at_hill_rTbAjTS3XNOYUvvyO1w1cO

Ted Olsen, former George W. Bush solicitor general, testified yesterday for Republican heavy-hitter Paul Singer at a House financial services committee hearing on "the need to protect investors from the government." Yet neither Singer, nor his firm's name Elliott Management, was ever mentioned.

Olsen was billed as a representative for the American Task Force Argentina, a lobbying group that is mainly financed by Singer. His firm has been battling Argentina in the courts for years to get the country to pay its debt to him.

At the hearing, Olsen said he represented NML Capital, which he defined as "a family of funds that manages capital for dozens of US-based organizations, including colleges, universities, hospitals and pension funds."

In fact, NML is part of Elliott, a $20 billion hedge fund that is known as a "holdout creditor" for taking busted countries to court in order to profit handsomely on debt it purchases for pennies on the dollar.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) referred to these investors as "swashbuckling investors who knew what they were getting into."

At issue is a friend-of-the court brief the US filed on Argentina's behalf in a case coming before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on June 20. Olsen will argue for Elliott.

"I am troubled by our government's eagerness to side with lawless nations against the interests of Americans," Olsen said, referring to the brief. He acknowledged that the Bush administration had also done so.

Argentina has ignored more than 100 court judgments to make it pay up, but law professors said that Elliott's latest legal tactic sets a bad precedent.

"The US government has quite legitimate reasons to file the amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief, namely protecting global financial stability and the US's ability to benefit from sovereign immunity abroad," said Adam Levitin, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, who also testified.

He added that Elliott's legal reading of a technical issue that the appeal rests on is "absolutely bizarre, but I hardly think a Congressional hearing is the place to get into the interpretation of the language."
[...]

---
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