Tulane University Evacuates All Students Amid Power Outages

Tulane University began evacuating students to Houston early Tuesday and is set to close for two weeks after Hurricane Ida damaged New Orleans’ power grid. Students were required to be off campus by 5 p.m. as buses evacuated those who were on campus. The university said students would remain in Houston, with food and lodging provided by the university, until they could arrange their own flights home. “Classes will resume online only beginning September 13 through Wednesday, October 6, to give the city time to repair and reinstate power and other critical services,” the university said in a statement. More than 1 million people remain without power in Louisiana, including in New Orleans, the state’s most populous city, and in the state of Mississippi, after the Category 4 hurricane made landfall.  Utility company Entergy said all eight electric transmission lines that feed New Orleans are out of service, with one tower falling into the Mississippi River. Authorities said it could be days, even weeks, before power is fully restored, raising further concerns over residents falling ill from the area’s searing late-summer heat, which forecasters say could go as high as 32-degrees Celsius this week. 
 

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Marked by the State: Russia Ramps Up ‘Foreign Agent’ Law Ahead of Election

Dozens of Russian independent media have been labeled “foreign agents” in the run-up to parliamentary elections, which are now only three weeks away.As of August 31, the Ministry of Justice website lists 43 media outlets and journalists and 76 civil society groups as “foreign agents.” Another 46 groups have been given the label of “undesirable organization.”Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual nationwide televised phone-in show in Moscow, June 30, 2021.The list includes large news outlets and prominent Russian journalists who have investigated President Vladimir Putin and his allies. The U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are among those named.Russian journalists who spoke with VOA saw the labeling as an attempt by the Kremlin to destroy independent media and prevent any protests about September’s parliamentary elections or the 2024 presidential vote.The designation is also affecting an election-monitoring group and candidates for the opposition Yabloko party, who were ordered to indicate their affiliation with “foreign agents” on campaign materials.The legislation was introduced in 2012. It was amended in response to the U.S. ordering Moscow-funded news groups to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 2017.Since then, Russia has applied the label broadly to independent media outlets and critics and has told others they must indicate their connections to named agents.The Justice Ministry did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.The foreign agent label is “another mechanism” to fight dissent, Yabloko party candidate Alexei Krapukhin told VOA.Krapukhin’s election campaign has called for an end to repression and for protests over the resetting of presidential terms that would allow Putin to run for a fifth term.Russia’s New Constitution to Further Silence DebateAmendments, proposed new laws could block reporting on anything that contradicts Kremlin narrative, experts say But when Krapukhin sent a campaign video to Moscow Media, which oversees TV channels and radio stations, he was told to either remove the mention of Yabloko or indicate the party’s affiliation with registered agents.Russia’s state-run Central Election Commission said that because Yabloko nominated two candidates affiliated with “foreign agents,” the party must indicate the relationship in at least 15% of all campaign advertisements, including those on TV and voting ballots.Krapukhin successfully challenged the order. But, he told VOA, “the Kremlin is creating an information cocoon around the upcoming election.””Independent media are the lens for people to look at the state. If there are no independent journalists, there is no understanding of the country’s problems,” Krapukhin said.Tainted by labelRequirements under the foreign agent law are cumbersome and can lead to penalties and turn away potential business, some journalists said.When the Justice Ministry labeled Russia’s last independent TV channel, Dozhd, a foreign agent in August, the channel’s editorial board called the decision “insidious.” The ministry said in a statement that Dozhd received more than 130,000 euros ($153,000) from the European Commission for EU-Russia coverage and that it distributes material from foreign mass media, including VOA. In June, the station was removed from the Kremlin press pool after covering rallies for jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and it is one of the few remaining channels providing independent coverage of protests. Russian Opposition Leader Faces New Charge, More JailRussia’s Investigative Committee said Alexei Navalny’s non-profit group encouraged Russians to break the lawNow the station must indicate that every report on TV, the internet or its social media platforms was produced by a “foreign agent.” ”We are required to tag everything, even Instagram stories,” Dozhd Editor-in-Chief Tikhon Dzyadko said. But with a large number of posts, “there is always the possibility that we will simply skip this marking (if) someone is tired or forgets.”If that happened, Dzyadko said, the penalty would be huge, including up to two years in prison if fines for noncompliance are not paid.RFE/RL has filled a case with the European Court of Human Rights after being fined millions of dollars since January under the law. A more serious consequence, Dzyadko said, is that “business may not want to deal with us. Big money is known to love silence. And being included in the list of foreign agents means that you are an enemy of the state; you are potentially dangerous.”Dzyadko cited the case of independent news website Meduza, which lost advertising after being labeled a foreign agent earlier this year.Russia Using Foreign Agent Law to Attack Journalism, Media SayExorbitant fines, repressive accounting of all personal spending, and labels that sow distrust are part of Russia’s ‘fight against the spread of ideas,’ say those affected by legislation’People will not be silent’Since a constitutional referendum last year cleared Putin to run for a fifth term, 25 journalists and seven media outlets have been labeled foreign agents by Russia.At first the action appeared linked to the parliamentary elections, but now it seems the 2024 presidential election is the focus, said Dozhd journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze.”The goal is to drown out liberal ideas and free speech before the elections in 2024, as the Kremlin is eager to avoid repeating the path of Belarus,” Kotrikadze said. “They are doing everything so that there are no large protests, large rallies — so that they do not have to use that much force as (Belarus President Alexander) Lukashenko.” But, she said, the Kremlin’s plan will not work. ”Russia is such a huge country, and there are many honest free journalists and political figures. People will not be silent.”In some cases, individual journalists as well as their newsrooms are listed as foreign agents.When Russia designated Vazhnye Istorii (Important Stories) — an outlet known for investigating Putin and his allies — as a foreign agent, it listed six of the news group’s journalists.Those people must now register as legal entities, submit reports to authorities and add a ‘foreign agent’ label to all their public social media posts, including personal ones.”I am not a foreign agent. This law is a shame, and it’s illegal,” Dmitry Velikovsky, a Vazhnye Istorii journalist, told VOA. “I am not a media outlet, I am a (Russian) citizen who writes articles in the media and writes what he wants on Facebook.”Velikovsky believes he and his colleagues were included in retaliation for reporting on Putin’s family and allies.”All those personally listed were investigative reporters who covered the Panama Papers leaks, where Putin’s childhood friend Sergei Roldugin appears,” Velikovsky said, adding that Vazhnye Istorii also investigated the transfer of billions of dollars from Russian state banks and businessmen to the accounts of people close to Putin and large Russian companies. His colleague Irina Dolinina, who is also on the list, told VOA the label “overcomplicates life and puts personal safety at great risk.””On every post on any social media and even in public chats, I have to put this huge humiliating mark, and now I have to open a legal entity to report my personal spending to authorities,” she said. “All ‘foreign agents’ are a couple of steps away from being in prison.”Survival modeThe situation in Russia has deteriorated significantly compared with the environment during the parliamentary elections five years ago, said Vasily Vaisenberg, editor in chief of news agency Zakon.Член ЦИК Игорь Борисов предложил специально маркировать наблюдателей, которые связаны с организациями-инагентами. “Вполне допустимо, что мы не будем запрещать ОП назначать таких наблюдателей, но соответствующим образом их маркировать”— ИА Закон (@zakon_agency) August 12, 2021″In 2016, parts of the society had certain hopes,” Vaisenberg said. “There is no hope now.”The journalist also works with the election monitoring group Golos (Voice), which in August was listed as an “unregistered foreign agent.”Vaisenberg said it was unclear what restrictions authorities might place on independent observers.A few days before Golos was added to the list, Central Election Commission of Russia member Igor Borisov had proposed identifying observers associated with “foreign agent organizations.”Borisov was cited in articles saying the observers would not necessarily be banned, but “labeled accordingly.”Alexei Kurtov, president of the Russian Association of Political Consultants, told VOA that the current climate “forces all the media to be more careful, more restrained.””Many news outlets seem to have to stand on tiptoe, not knowing what direction the wind blows,” Kurtov said. He added that Russians who want uncensored information would “have to read between the lines. Again.”But in some cases, media outlets added to the Justice Ministry list have closed down.Investigative outlet The Project was shuttered after the company and some staff were added to the register in July.Maria Zheleznova, a former Project journalist who is still listed as an individual “foreign agent,” said on Facebook that the label is equivalent to “an instant ban on activities threatened by immediate prosecution for the creator.” Mikhail Rubin, former deputy editor in chief for The Project, told VOA that the previous tactic of self-censoring on some issues, such as critical coverage of Putin, is no longer enough.”A huge number of media outlets in Russia have chosen this tactic of survival. They do not touch Putin, they don’t conduct their own investigations, they don’t write about Navalny, but otherwise they are trying to conduct some kind of transparent journalism,” Rubin said. “No, guys, it doesn’t work anymore.”Rubin believes Russia will soon demand “absolute demonstrative loyalty” from all media groups.Authorities are already demanding complete loyalty, even from newspapers that are popular among the elite only, Rubin said, adding, “This is the call to the Russian elite that they should demonstrate absolute loyalty to Kremlin.”This story originated in VOA’s Russian service. Ksenia Turkova, Rafael Saakov contributed to this report.

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Kenya Company Wants Buses, Utility Vehicles to Go Green by 2030

The United Nations Environment Program on Monday marked the official end of toxic leaded gasoline use in vehicles worldwide. A company in Nairobi, where the UNEP is headquartered, is working on the next step — converting all buses and utility vehicles to electric power by 2030.Lucy Mugala goes about checking on the energy levels of battery modules lined neatly on a workshop table. Mugala is an engineer at Opibus, a privately owned four-year-old Nairobi company that converts cars and public transport vehicles to run on electricity.Today, Mugala and fellow engineer Esther Wairimu are fine-tuning plans to outfit a public transport bus with lithium batteries. Mugala said converting this bus reduces the effects of greenhouse emissions responsible for global warming.“A lot has been done currently in terms of mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases in Kenya, but very little is being done in the electrical vehicle sector, and that is the gap we are trying to fill at Opibus. We are looking at maximizing impact by targeting the largest sector, which is the public transport sector, and with this, we will be able to step by step be able to achieve a low carbon economy in Kenya and in Africa at large,” said Mugala.Douglas Agwata has been in the public transport industry for 15 years. On average, Agwata spends around $80 on fuel daily, a cost he’d like to see come down.However, Agwata said that drivers like him may find it challenging to adapt to electric vehicles.He said that converting the engines from gasoline to electric is quite costly and that one may also find that there is a scarcity of charging stations, and this may prove to be quite challenging.Joshua Anampiu is the strategy and planning manager at the National Environment Trust Fund, or NETFUND, a state corporation that raises funds for sustainable environmental management in Kenya.Anampiu said shifting toward clean energy requires investment from the government, but he argues that the investment will be worth it.“No matter how costly it looks right now, we know in the long run it will be more effective towards preserving our environment, which is an existential threat right now if we do not take care of our environment. So, yes, there are areas we need to put up infrastructure. We need to change the entire mechanisms of the infrastructure, and this obviously is costly. And so, going forward, maybe invest now, put in a bit more cash, and then we’ll reap the benefits in the future,” he said.The global end of leaded gasoline use has been lauded as a milestone by the United Nations Environment Program.Jane Akumu is a program manager at UNEP. Akumu adds that a lot more needs to be done to ensure efficacy in abolishing the use of leaded gasoline.“You know, we need a lot of awareness for people to be able to know why it’s important to have cleaner fuels or cleaner vehicles. Policymakers need to also come in, and especially … standards bodies. It’s important for them to set regulations in place because the industry is pushed by regulation. What we’ve noticed is that in some of the countries where there’s no regulation, poor fuel quality, poor vehicle qualities, are imported,” said Akumu.For Mugala and other clean energy champions, the challenge will be to reduce the costs of going electric and encourage consumers to go green. 

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Poland Could Declare State of Emergency at Belarus Border

The Polish government has asked President Andrzej Duda to declare a state of emergency along the Poland-Belarus border. Poland accuses Belarus of using migrants as political pawns by pushing them into the European Union in retaliation over EU sanctions. According to a recent BBC report, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accused Poland of starting a “border conflict” and violating his country’s territory. The state of emergency would create a three-kilometer-wide zone around the border that would prohibit outsiders from entering. FILE – Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks in Gdansk-Westerplatte, Sept. 1, 2020.”Please expect Poland’s security to be strengthened in the nearest time through acts of law, and also through subsequent actions on Poland’s border,” Duda said. The country’s parliament would need to approve the emergency declaration, and Duda said he thinks it would. About 30 migrants, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, have been in limbo at the border for weeks. So far, Poland’s response has been to deploy troops to the border and install a barbed wire fence. Last week, it said it had provided tents, blankets and power generators to the migrants, who remain on Belarusian territory. Also last week, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, called for Poland to provide medical and legal support to the migrants. Some refugee rights groups say several migrants are sick. One group reportedly tried to cut a hole in the barbed wire fence. About 3,000 migrants have attempted to enter Poland from Belarus this month, The Associated Press reported. Poland is not alone in accusing Belarus of using migrants as political pawns. Other Baltic states have said Minsk is pushing migrants toward them in response to the EU sanctions following a crackdown against those protesting the disputed reelection of President Lukashenko in August 2020. Last week, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, said it was monitoring the situation. “We firmly reject attempts to instrumentalize people for political purposes,” spokesman Christian Wigand said in Brussels. “We cannot accept any attempts by third countries to incite or acquiesce in illegal migration” to the EU.  Some information in this report comes from the Associated Press and Reuters. 
 

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Turkish Officials Say Deportation Centers Packed With Afghan Refugees

Under a small bridge more than 100 kilometers from the Turkish border with Iran, a small group of boys and young men waits quietly for a smuggler.  They are unwashed, exhausted and hungry. Most of them are under 18, and they are all from Afghanistan. When the Taliban began taking over their towns and villages, they fled their homes with almost nothing. Currently, after more than two months of travel, they have even less. “I brought shampoo, soap, money, my phone and a watch,” says Saboon Afghan, 24, the oldest in the group and its de facto leader. “I used up some and the rest was stolen. Now, I just have these clothes and an empty bag.” Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
Zaki Wassim, 17, at right, sits beside his brother under the bridge. Both of them are trying to reach Istanbul for the second time, after being sent back to the Iranian border by Turkish police a few weeks ago. (VOA/Yan Boechat)”We were walking openly on the streets for an hour when the police arrested us last time,” says Zaki Wassim, 17, from Kabul, explaining what happened when he tried to enter Turkey from Iran about a month ago. “The next evening, they took us in a bus to the border and shouted, ‘Don’t come back to Turkey.'” Influx angers some Turks Earlier this month, the Taliban swept into Kabul after taking over vast swaths of Afghanistan in a matter of days. Since then, mass evacuations have left the Kabul airport in chaos, and Islamic State suicide bombers have killed at least 170 people and 13 U.S. service members.  The country is on edge, waiting to find out what will happen now that the United States has met its self-declared August 31 deadline to pull out of Afghanistan completely. Afghan refugees detained in a Turkish deportation center watch journalists touring their facility with Turkish officials in Van, Turkey, Aug. 30, 2021. (VOA/Yan Boechat)Turkish officials also are waiting to see what happens next, saying it may be weeks or months before they can resume deportations. Turkey currently has 25 deportation centers, all filled to capacity with mostly Afghan refugees, and it plans to build eight more. “We cannot send them back because of human rights issues,” says Omurcu. “But if things go well, we will resume normal deportations.” Soldiers patrol the Turkish-Iranian border trying to prevent Afghans refugees from entering Turkey, on Aug. 30, 2021. (VOA/Yan Boechat)Many Turkish people are angered by the influx of Afghan refugees, saying their country is being damaged economically and socially by the crisis. Turkey already hosts more than 4 million refugees and asylum-seekers, more than any other country in the world, including 3.6 million Syrian refugees. During the tour, officials express sympathy for the detainees, showing playrooms for children, Turkish language classes, and a line of young men picking up what appears to be a healthy meal. They also express sympathy for the angered Turkish nationals, who want refugees out of their country.  “Illegal entries are out of control in Turkey,” Omurcu continues. “It is too much.” Asylum claims The process for becoming a legal refugee in Turkey involves applying for asylum via government officials. In most countries, the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, processes the claims, but Turkey relieved the agency of that responsibility in 2018. Under the bridge, the boys do not seem to know much about the process, saying first they were driven from their homes by crushing poverty. Later, they explain the poverty was a result of war and violence. Both the United Nations and Turkey are clear: fleeing violence and danger can make you eligible for refugee status. Fleeing poverty does not, even if the two are intertwined.  At the deportation center, some refugees point out that no one plans to become a refugee, so it is reasonable that some people do not know how to organize their tragic stories in order to fit into a legal definition. Soraya, 19, fled her home in the western part of Afghanistan when the Taliban was getting closer. She left with her sister and five nephews and nieces, After crossing Iran and entering Turkey they decided to go to the police and seek asylum, pictured Aug. 30, 2021. (VOA/Yan Boechat)Soraya, 19, was in her third semester at a university when she ran from her home in western Afghanistan. She was studying physics and chemistry, hoping one day to become a doctor.  When the Taliban took over her town, she and her sister fled with her nieces and nephews. Besides the violence of the war, they feared they would be in danger, just for being educated women.  And while she hopes Turkey will help her find a safe place to live, outside of the detention camp, she doesn’t see it as Turkey’s responsibility. “This is my request for the whole world,” she says. “Please pave the way for us. We escaped the battles ourselves. Now we need help.” Mohammad Mahdi Sultani contributed to this report.
 

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Florida Education Department Withholds Funding from Local Schools That Require Mask-Wearing

The agency that governs public education in the U.S. state of Florida said Tuesday it has withheld funding from two local school districts that require the wearing of masks in classrooms in defiance of the governor’s ban on mask mandates.Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he withheld an amount equal to monthly school board member salaries in Alachua and Broward counties at the request of the State Board of Education, which oversees the state education department.Governor Ron DeSantis has banned mask mandates, despite a ruling Friday by a Florida state judge that the ban was unconstitutional and could not be enforced.Oregon Becomes Latest US State to Reintroduce Indoor Mask Mandate Governor cites health concerns related to the coronavirus’s delta variant  Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said his ruling would not take effect until it is finalized in writing, which is expected by Monday. The governor’s office has said the state would appeal the ruling.  DeSantis, a Republican who may run for the U.S. presidency in 2024, had warned for weeks he would financially penalize local school boards. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said he would allocate federal funding to cover any such costs.    Corcoran said funding would continue to be withheld until the districts comply.Broward County Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said in a statement that its school board believes it is complying with the law and would “continue to mandate masks, knowing the data show they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”The school districts in Broward and Alachua counties were the first of 10 districts to require all students to wear masks unless they had a medical exemption. Slightly more than half of the nearly 3 million public school students in Florida live in those two districts.The Associated Press and Reuters provided information for this report.

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Family Vows to Win Freedom of US Journalist Held in Myanmar

The parents and brother of an American journalist who has been detained in Myanmar for 100 days vowed Tuesday to never stop working to secure his release.Danny Fenster, 37, is managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, the Southeast Asian nation’s largest city. He was detained May 24 while trying to board a flight to visit his family who live in the Detroit area, and is being held in Yangon’s Insein Prison.”We’re just trying to stay tough — as tough as Danny is — and we’re not going to stop until we bring him home,” Buddy Fenster, his father, said during a news conference held via Zoom.Myanmar’s military-installed government accuses Fenster of incitement, saying he spread false or inflammatory information. If convicted, Fenster could be imprisoned for up to three years.Military officials say they are not suppressing press freedom by holding the journalist, but that limits on publishing information are needed to prevent violence and disorder. The junta has detained dozens of journalists since it took power in February this year.Fenster’s next hearing is scheduled for next week, according to his brother, Bryan Fenster.His family wanted to raise awareness about his detention and call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds.Danny Fenster told his lawyer in July that he believed he had COVID-19, but prison authorities denied he was infected. The Fensters say they have not spoken to Danny since Aug. 1. During that conversation, they came to believe that he had indeed contracted the coronavirus.”He still was having some brain fog, loss of taste and smell, some fatigue,” mother Rose Fenster said, adding that her son has not been vaccinated against COVID-19.The U.S. government and press freedom associations have been pushing for Danny Fenster’s release.”It’s 100 days, and he’s not home, which is frustrating,” Bryan Fenster said Tuesday. “But we know that at the highest levels this is a top priority. And resources are being used to secure his release.”Michigan Rep. Andy Levin said he is in regular contact with the U.S. State Department and the Fenster family, whom he represents in Congress. The Democrat from suburban Detroit predicted that Fenster eventually will be freed.”We will get Danny out, because the Fensters will not give up,” Levin said.The National Press Club announced Monday that Danny Fenster will receive the 2021 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, which recognizes journalists who bravely push to disclose the truth in trying circumstances.

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Red Cross: 48,000 People Confirmed Missing Across Africa 

The International Committee of the Red Cross says more than 48,000 people are missing across Africa, and at least 21,600 are minors. Most of the registered disappearances — widely believed to be a fraction of the continent’s wider, undocumented humanitarian tragedy — are linked to armed conflict, violence, disasters and migration across the continent.   The International Committee of the Red Cross says the number of people coming forward to report missing persons is on the rise in Africa.   Amaya Fernandez, the humanitarian organization’s adviser on the missing and their families for Western Africa, says the cause of the increasing numbers is two-fold.     “On one hand, [it’s] due to the fact we are trying to register more systematically cases of missing persons throughout the region. But also, certainly, [it’s] due to the increased violence and conflict experienced on the continent, which increases at the same time the likelihood of people going missing. Looking at our figures, almost half of the missing persons have been recorded underage and most of them are men. Among the women … we can see that the majority are minors,” she said.The ICRC finding shows that 39,360 of the 48,000 missing people are from seven countries with armed conflicts.   According to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, 20 countries in Africa have armed conflict. Out of the 20, 10 are witnessing high-intensity armed conflicts.   Fernandez says the ongoing conflict in some African countries has created more pain and suffering for families of missing persons. “Humanitarian consequences… caused by protracted armed conflicts are often… reflected in most of the interviews. For instance, half of the families interviewed in Nigeria reported that their relatives had gone missing in 2014-2015. [In] South Sudan, [the] majority of the families were looking for people that went missing between 2013 and 2016. In Libya, families reported that they were looking for missing relatives from the late ’70s until the present day, and the same goes for families in Ethiopia and Uganda,” she said.  Some experts see the need to train community workers and security agencies on the importance of information sharing to help locate missing persons.   Zimbabwe’s assistant police commissioner Crispen Lifa says his country and the region need a data management system to follow up on the missing person cases.   “There is a need to have a database which should be continuously updated so that all missing persons, and even those that are deceased… is captured in a database by police stations. At the end of the day, that information has to be put in place… [so] if you want to check across the country the number of missing persons, [you] would quickly get that information from a central point,” he said.  Fauziya Hussein’s brother went missing in June after a Kenyan court released him.   The 39-year-old was accused of terrorism-related issues, but the court found him innocent and ordered the police to release him. His sister, Fauziya Hussein, says they never saw him again. “I know they still have him. At every point [of his detention], my brother got a chance to make a phone call. He called my mother. So, if he was released, why didn’t he call my mother? So, I know for a fact they did not release him,” she said.  According to Hussein, police told her they released her brother.   The ICRC calls on African governments to prevent disappearances and help with search and identification, and addressing families’ needs.  

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