NEWS - Archive February 2007

Headlines 23 February, 2007

CONTROVERSIAL FRENCH BILL ON ARMENIAN GENOCIDE FADES AWAY

21/2/2007- A French bill criminalising the denial of Armenian genocide in Turkey has failed to become law, but a prominent Turkish writer Elif Shafak - previously tried in her country for comments on the sensitive subject - tells EUobserver about the nationalist backlash the French debate sparked. The controversial dispute centres around the claim by Armenia that Ottoman Turks in 1915 killed an estimated 1.5 million of its citizens - something Turkey has always strongly denied. France's National Assembly last October approved a socialist-drafted proposal which stated that those denying the genocide should be punished by one year in prison and pay a fine of €45,000. In order to come into force, the bill would have had to be approved by the country's senate where the current centre-right government of Dominique de Villepin and President Jacques Chirac - both opposing the bill - holds a majority. But French diplomats confirmed to EUobserver that as a result of a political decision, the bill has not been put on the upper house's agenda and that the parliamentary session is now almost over ahead of the electoral campaign for the presidential and legislative poll to be held in April, May and June. Asked whether this means the controversial legislation is off the table even after the new parliament convenes, a French diplomat said the "draft bill would have to be voted again by the new National Assembly to resume the process."

Be careful about political power games
The bill's adoption in France's lower house last autumn led to strong criticism by both the European Commission and the Turkish authorities. It came at the same time as an EU deadline for Ankara to fulfil its obligation over Cyprus or face a freeze of its membership talks and was seen in Turkey as yet another negative political message against its European aspirations. Elif Shafak, one of the best known Turkish novelists, says that the French move sparked nationalist reactions in her country that eventually mainly harmed people like herself who are trying to push for an open debate about sensitive issues such as the Armenian genocide. "I think that 1915 is such a sensitive and delicate political theme that it shouldn't be subject to political power games. It should not be up to politicians to decide which version of history should be acknowledged by everyone," she told EUobserver. "I criticise my own government for curbing freedom of expression. But it is a universal principle. If I defend it in Turkey, I will defend it in France or everywhere with the same zeal and dedication. And the French bill was very much against this principle." Ms Shafak was acquitted last September for charges of insulting Turkish national identity due to comments made by characters in her latest novel on the mass killings of Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Just as her other professional counterparts - like the 2006 Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk - Elif Shafak is a strong critic of Article 301 of Turkey's penal code which enables legal prosecutions undermining the freedom of expression in her country.

Spark of hope as part of negative trends
But she argues that the trials in Turkey of intellectuals and authors for their comments on this and other taboo topics is actually evidence of the ongoing transformation of Turkish society. "Whenever there are big societal changes in a country, those people who want to keep the status quo panic and retaliate. And as Turkey moves closer to the EU, the people who fear these changes will do everything they can to stop the process." Still, the novelist pointed out that while the backlash in the Islamic country comes from an organised minority, she has come across a much stronger negative sentiment from Turkish immigrants already living in Europe - also concerning the Armenian genocide debate. "I sometimes receive hateful messages, hate emails from nationalist people reacting to my novels or comments but most of those come from Turks living abroad rather than those living in Turkey." She believes the phenomenon can be explained as the "immigrants' psychology", adding "Most immigrants freeze their mindset and they become much more conservative. They embrace and defend their identity strongly because they always try to retaliate in response to a bigger majority identity. "Turks living in Europe or in America are less open to social transformation than those living in Turkey. They are always defensive."
EUobserver

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COURT BARS ADOPTION FOR LESBIAN COUPLE(France)

20/2/2007- France's appeals court on Tuesday barred a woman from adopting the biological child of her lesbian partner, saying it was not in the interest of the child. Lesbian couples are prohibited under French law from adopting, but the partners of biological mothers have used adoption as a way of establishing the rights of both parents over the child. The Cour de Cassation however ruled Tuesday that a lesbian couple could not share parental authority over a child as only the adoptive mother enjoyed those rights. The ruling capped a long legal battle for Carla Boni who had won a ruling in a lower court to adopt the son of her partner Marie-Laure Picard who was conceived through artificial insemination. "This decision stems from a conservatism that is unjustified," Boni told LCI television. "How can we say that it is not in the interest of the child to recognize the two parents, whoever they may be."  "This is a political decision that is not in the interest of the child." Lawyer Caroline Mecary, representing the lesbian couple, expressed regret that "the highest court failed to recognize that the children of two parents of the same sex enjoy the same rights as children from heterosexual couples." She called for new legislation "to quickly remove the obligation placed on a biological mother to give up her parental authority to her partner." More than 100,000 children are being raised by gay couples in France, said Mecary, arguing that they should enjoy the same rights as other children. In its ruling, the appeals court confirmed a lower court decision that the adoption by a lesbian partner was illegal because the biological mother continued to exercise rights over the child. Sharing parental authority "through adoption is antinomic and contradictory as the adoption of a minor is aimed at conferring parental authority solely to the adopting parent," said the ruling. France in 1999 recognized gay unions by offering a civil contract known as PACS, but the measure falls short of offering same-sex couples the same rights as marriage.
Expatica News

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BULLETS FRESH FODDER FOR THE FIGHT(Hungary)

By Péter Krekó, Political Capital Institute

Although smaller and larger far right demonstrations have been part of the landscape since the regime change in 1989/90, the far right has now become one of the key issues in domestic political debates following its reorganisation and attention-grabbing actions in 2006. Moreover, the riots last autumn and the approaching national holiday on 15 March to mark the 1848 revolution against Austria have attracted particular attention due to Fidesz dismantling the cordon outside Parliament, and created an opportunity for both Fidesz and MSZP to point the finger at each other.

Rejecting, but making use of the far right
Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s main challenge now is to return to the state of affairs before his Balatonõszöd speech in which he admitted to lying was leaked. His aim is to leave violent demonstrations, radicalising groups and debates on police heavy-handedness in the past, and to turn the attention of the public to the reforms and the business of governing. Nevertheless, despite temporary successes, current events keep forcing the government to return to its “Balatonõszöd legacy”. The government’s task is made more difficult by the fact that since the autumn riots, the activities of far right groups have been in focus. In autumn 2006, the population came face to face with events that until then they had at most seen on television as foreign news. After several years of invisibility, the Hungarian far right entered the public eye again, as demonstrators took to the street with political slogans and no intention of recoiling from physical violence. The significance of the far right groups becoming more prominent has been attributed to entirely different causes and given different significance by the parliamentary left and right wings, and the polarised Hungarian media. The national media took a clear stance according to political slant on the actions of the groups involved in the autumn riots. The left-of-centre media, whilst stressing the danger posed by the extremists, endeavoured to present the number of those participating in the anti-government actions as minimal, and simply cast some organisations and individuals as ridiculous. By contrast the right-of-centre media frequently exaggerated the events and portrayed the anti-government acts of the various groups as a significant “civil” movement.

Right mix the wrong conclusion
In the current overheated situation, marginal events - protests are in fact are an almost annual fixture - have been presented in political debates as part of the extraordinary political processes of the past months. One example was the celebration on 10 February of the “Day of Honour”, when Hungarian extremist groups marked the attempt by the soldiers of the pro-Nazi Szálasi government to break out from the Buda Castle in 1945. Due to the timing of the events, the media has also connected this to commemorations of the 50th anniversary of Miklós Horthy’s death (9 February, 1957). Yet the participants in the weekend neo-Nazi event regard Ferenc Szálasi, - leader of the Hungarian Arrow Cross party, who (with German support) removed Horthy from power in 1944 - as their heir. So in fact the two figures represent different political traditions on the Hungarian right, which is extremely mixed both in terms of ideology and organisation.

New spin on annual events
Hungary’s skinhead community, which is actually minimal and of very little influence, has celebrated the breakout of the Arrow Cross soldiers almost regularly since 1996. Contrary to statements by Fidesz - according to which such events did not take place under the Orbán government - all cabinets have had to face the problem of the February commemorations since the time of the Horn government. Yet this year both political sides played the blame game, accusing the other of pursuing a policy that encouraged the extremists. According to the interpretation of the governing coalition, by tearing down the police barrier outside Parliament, Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) opened the way to further far right demonstrations, whereas according to Fidesz the government hypocritically gave permission to the far right protests, in order to “alarm” the public. Fidesz’s arguments, however, contain an inconsistency: although the party symbolically defended the groups of Kossuth tér protesters by dismantling the barrier outside Parliament and accused the government of setting up a “police state”, Fidesz blamed the police and government for not banning the far right event on 10 February.

The other side behind every attack
Although in the immediate aftermath it was impossible to know anything about the causes, perpetrators and consequences of the shots fired at the police headquarters, the events were immediately given a political interpretation. At a press conference at the scene, the Prime Minister Gyurcsány and Justice and Law Enforcement Minister József Petrétei implied that the shooting was linked to the events of recent months. According to Gyurcsány, “One cannot help recognising a chain of radical acts, which warns us that this path must not be followed”, whilst according to Petrétei the shooting could be traced back to the fact that in the past months the police has been exposed to increasing numbers of “verbal attacks” in public. With these comments, Gyurcsány and Petrétei passed the blame to Fidesz, which tore down the police cordon - if only for a couple of hours - and recently has frequently verbally attacked the police. The right pointed the finger at the government. Whilst the Fidesz deputy chairman Mihály Varga said it was necessary to wait for the result of the police inquiry before speculating, one politician from allied faction the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) commented that it was strange that the attack took place exactly a few days after the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, György Szilvásy warned of the extremist threat in Hungary. Despite the fact that the radical groups’ main enemy (alongside Gyurcsány) has been the police, the far right groups who commented publicly (Jobbik, Hungarian National Committee) also condemned the attack on the police headquarters. To the governing coalition the political risk associated with the shooting is similar to that last autumn at the time of the riots. Fidesz is forced to defend itself in connection with all such incidents. But for Gyurcsány there is also the potential danger that people will see conditions in public life as chaotic and infer that the government is incapable.
The Budapest Times

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EVICTED ROMANY FAMILIES SHOULD GET MONEY, MINISTER SAYS(Czech Rep.)

19/2/2007- The ten Romany families that were evicted from the North Moravian town of Vsetin last autumn as rent-defaulters and moved to ramshackle houses in the Moravian Jesenik region may be given some subsidies for the basic repairs of their houses, Czech Minister without Portfolio Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens) told journalists today. Stehlikova said that she wanted to obtain 1.5 million crowns in total and that she would submit the proposal to the government in about a month. The idea to seek the subsidy was recommended to her by the government council for Romany community affairs. When Christian Democrat leader, senator Jiri Cunek, was the mayor of Vsetin, the town hall evicted the Romanies from a dilapidated tenant house in the town centre last October. Most of the families were moved to "container-type" house at the town edges and the rest went to the Jesenice region where they were given some ramshackle houses. Romanies are to repay them for 20 years. Cunek has absolutely rejected the proposal. "Our generosity has some limits," he wrote in a statement passed to CTK. He dismissed Stehlikova's criticism. He said he resented the comparison of the removal of the Romanies to the post-war deportation of Germans and also the provision of subsidies. "They must put up some effort, to be responsible for their houses because they destroyed the previous ones. This must not repeat," Cunek told CTK today. Cunek said that Stehlikova, who was in charge of minorities, spoke about a problem she did not know. Stehlikova said that some of the houses did not have any drinking water and sewage system. Electricity is flawed in one of them and fire has flared up in it twice, she added. "The conditions in which the families live are miserable," Stehlikova said. She said that since the Romanies also had to repay a mortgage, they were unable to pay the repair works. Stehlikova said that she wanted to obtain the money from the Local Development Ministry, headed by Cunek. Some money may also be provided by the Vsetin town hall, she added. According to an expert analysis, there are over 300 poverty houses and neighbourhoods primarily inhabited by Romanies. There are an estimated 80,000 people living in them. Most of the adults have no jobs and the families live on welfare.
Prague Daily Monitor

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SENEGAL CANDIDATE VOWS TO ALTER SPAIN MIGRANT DEALS

21/2/2007- A leading challenger to President Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal's elections this weekend said on Wednesday he wanted to change accords with Spain that allow illegal Senegalese migrants to be repatriated. Voters in the West African country will cast their ballots on Sunday in a presidential contest that has been dominated by debate over thousands of desperate young Senegalese risking their lives to try to reach Europe in flimsy fishing boats. Ousmane Tanor Dieng, who is hoping to beat octogenarian Wade to put Senegal's Socialist Party back in the presidency after a seven-year absence, condemned agreements made by Wade's government with Madrid last year to combat illegal migration. 'We're going to renegotiate these accords signed by this government,' Dieng, a 59-year-old former diplomat, told Reuters in an interview before heading out on the campaign trail. The agreements with Madrid led to Spanish patrol boats deploying off Senegal to intercept migrants and around 5,000 young Senegalese who had come ashore illegally in the Canary Islands being flown back home under Spanish police escort. 'That's not acceptable,' Dieng said. The repatriations created a popular backlash against Wade, who is nevertheless widely expected to lead the field of 15 presidential candidates in Sunday's first round vote. Many analysts believe however the contest will go to a second round. Dieng and other opponents accuse Wade of 'selling out' the migrants for a Spanish pledge of 20 million euros ($26.28 million) of aid. 'In exchange ... Wade put these Senegalese who were in Spain at the mercy of the Spanish authorities,' Dieng said. He said if elected he would demand fresh migration accords negotiated in a multinational framework which would exclude rapid repatriation of illegal migrants and seek better conditions for Senegalese living abroad. Offering aid in exchange for cooperation by West African governments, Spain has been struggling to stem the migrant exodus to its shores which saw more than 30,000 mostly Africans land in the Canaries last year, six times more than in 2005.

Soaring prices
Dieng, who served as diplomatic adviser to Senegal's first two post-independence presidents, Socialists Leopold Sedar Senghor and Abdou Diouf, said Wade's 'tropical-liberal' policies had brought more poverty to Senegal's nearly 12 million people. Wade, a sprightly, dapper African statesman well known abroad, was elected in 2000, ending 40 years of Socialist Party rule and pledging to end unemployment and improve living standards. He argues he has polished Senegal's image as one of West Africa's most stable nations in a turbulent region. But opponents say the boatloads of parched, ragged young Senegalese staggering ashore in the Canary Islands show he has failed to deliver on his promises. 'The cost of living today in Senegal is untenable, people's buying power has been completely pulverised,' Dieng said, adding prices of fuel and other basic necessities had rocketed under the rule of Wade's Senegalese Democratic Party. Dieng said this, and the splintering of the electoral coalition that brought Wade to power in 2000, made it impossible for the president to gain the 50 percent of votes needed to win outright in the first round. He warned Wade and his supporters against trying to engineer a first round victory through 'pre-fabricated results'. 'The Wade government should know that we won't accept a forced outcome,' Dieng said, adding he expected to go into a second round as Wade's challenger. Dieng said that if elected he would apply a 'good neighbour' foreign policy and seek the participation of neighbouring states Gambia and Guinea-Bissau to try to end the long-running separatist insurgency in Senegal's south Casamance province.
Reuters

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MADRID INVESTS EUR2BN TO HELP MIGRANTS INTEGRATE (Spain)

19/2/2007- Spain is invest EUR 2 billion in measures to help immigrants to feel they are "part of Spain". "If there is social cohesion, if the inequality between Spaniards and immigrants is reduced to a minimum, living together will be that much easier," said Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega as she outlined the plan. Defending the idea of "legal, orderly" immigration, she said that immigrants in Spain have gone from 900,000 in the year 2000 to 3 million at present, which would indicate that foreign workers make up 6 percent of the population. Moroccans represent the largest single group of foreign-born residents in Spain, followed by Ecuadorians. The plan, which covers up to the year 2010, is divided into 12 areas: reception, education, jobs, homes, social services, health, infancy and childhood, women, equal treatment, participation, raising awareness and co-development. Forty percent of the funding will go to education, 20 percent to reception of immigrants, while 11 percent of the total is for employment. The main objectives are to guarantee the full exercise of the immigrants' civil, social, economic, cultural and political rights and adjust public policies to meet the needs that come with immigration. Labour minister Jesus Caldera said the initiative originated through a consensus of regional authorities, social organizations and foreigners' associations, which in itself is "a guarantee of success".

The same plan seeks to make sure that public services do not deteriorate, either for the immigrants or for native Spaniards, since the latter should not have to suffer in this respect because of workers coming in from other countries. The socialist government's immigration policy was criticized by the main opposition, the conservative Popular Party (PP). PP official Ana Pastor said that Spain's immigration problem is "much worse than 13 years ago, very much worse," as a consequence of the socialist government being in power. Her criticisms were directed above all at the "massive legalization" of foreigners who have come to Spain illegally and the implied invitation that this and other measures, such as family reunification, send to those planning to emigrate from their own countries to Europe. Since taking office in April 2004, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has presided over one "massive legalization" of undocumented migrants. Launched in February 2005, the three-month amnesty process resulted in legalization for 573,270 people, about 70 percent of them from Latin America. Applicants were required to have lived in Spain for at least six consecutive months prior to the start of the programme. Some of Spain's neighbors, including France, criticized the broad amnesty, expressing concern that due to the absence of border controls throughout most of the now-27-member European Union member nations, some of those "regularized" in the Iberian nation would spill over into other countries.
Expatica News

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'DUAL NATIONALITY CAN HELP INTEGRATION' (Netherlands)

19/2/2007- Having two passports can encourage integration, was Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin’s thinking in 1991 when he submitted a motion to allow dual nationality. Those who are not forced to surrender their old passport will apply for Dutch citizenship sooner. That was the political reasoning behind the motion, the Volkskrant reports. Ernst Hirsch Ballin, due to be appointed justice minister once again in the new government, watches as outgoing Minister Rita Verdonk, who also holds a seat in the justice department, is pushing for a ban on dual nationality. On the eve of her departure from government, though she will still serve in parliament, the minister for integration said on the television programme NOVA on Friday that even Princess Maxima should give up her Argentine passport. She failed to mention that Argentines, like Moroccans, are prohibited by the laws of their home country from relinquishing their nationality.

Those who oppose dual nationality say handing in a former passport in fact increases the sense of loyalty to the Netherlands. Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) called for a motion last week that would keep state secretaries Aboutaleb and Albayrak out of the cabinet because of their dual nationality. “This is really an absurd discussion,” says Ahmed Marcouch, city district mayor of Amsterdam’s Slotervaart district. “As if I would make more of an effort without that Moroccan passport. The Netherlands is my country, this is where I live.” There is little discussion of dual nationality in traditional immigration countries like Canada, Israel and the US. Film star Arnold Schwarzenegger even serves as governor of California while holding both Austrian and American nationality. “Loyalty has nothing to do with dual nationality,” Marcouch stressed. “You don’t serve in public office in a country that you don’t care about.”

The Netherlands has more than 1 million residents with dual nationality, says Statistics Netherlands. Between 1992 and 1997, dual nationality was permitted – after Hirsch Ballin’s proposal. Immigrants are now required to give up their old nationality when naturalising. But the IND does list a number of exceptions, when the country of birth does not allow one to relinquish nationality for instance.
Expatica News

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KELLY WARNS 'POISONOUS' FAR-RIGHT(uk)

21/2/2007- The Government is to step up its efforts to take on "poisonous" far-right groups like the British National Party (BNP), Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has revealed. Ms Kelly accused far-right extremists of promoting violence and division by peddling "myths and misconceptions" about Britain's multi-racial society. And she said that strong leadership was needed to correct "gross falsehoods" spread by extremist groups - particularly during election campaigns such as last year's local authority polls, when the BNP doubled its number of councillors to 52. Ms Kelly was speaking at the launch of a new report highlighting English language skills as the key to helping immigrants integrate successfully into British society. The interim report by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion floated proposals to require spouses from overseas to pass an English test before joining their husbands or wives in the UK. And it suggested that translation services for migrants should be scaled back to allow a greater focus on English language tuition. Ms Kelly indicated support for the Commission's argument that translation services should not be allowed to become a "crutch", removing the need for migrants to learn the language of their new home. And she said she would "study carefully" their other recommendations when she is presented with a final report in June this year. But she told the launch, at Charlton Athletic Football Club in south-east London, that efforts to help newcomers integrate must go hand-in-hand with a struggle against the far-right to "win the hearts and minds" of communities from all racial backgrounds. There was no room for complacency if Britain was to avoid the emergence of a far-right political figure like Jean-Marie Le Pen in France or Joerg Haider in Austria, she warned.
Press Association

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HOMELESS POLISH AT RISK OF RACISM SAY CATHOLICS (uk)

21/2/2007- Polish migrants are being confronted by a new type of racism if they become homeless, a hard-hitting report has claimed. London’s Catholic Church said a number of migrants were also being forced into prostitution after falling on hard times, in the report which examined the changing face of its community-base in London. The report says that it had heard ‘compelling narratives’ from both clergy and migrants about homelessness. It claims that young Eastern Europeans faced the toughest challenges to survive on the streets and that a new breed of racism was growing, with people being given help at centres depending on their country of origin. ‘In the context of feeling that there is a “new racism abroad” with regard to these people we noted with strong interest that one Catholic homelessness agency had decided to use “country of origin” as the basis by which to ration its services,’ the report says. ‘The allocation of resources on the grounds of race or national origin would normally be described as explicitly “racist”.’ Jenny Edwards, chief executive of Homeless Link, said: ‘Over the past three years we have arrived at a situation where one in seven of the capital's rough sleepers are from eastern Europe and have no recourse to help.’

The Ground of Justice: The Report of a Pastoral Research Enquiry into the Needs of Migrants in London’s Catholic Community.
Inside Housing

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RACE KILLINGS 'LOW IMPACT' FOR HOME OFFICE(uk)

17/2/2007Racist murders such as those of Stephen Lawrence and Zahid Mubarek should be regarded as "low impact" events, according to a Home Office memo that tells staff how to protect the department's image. The internal document, sent out this month, says the killings of the teenagers - and the damning inquiries that followed - were less harmful to the department's reputation than policy U-turns or missed performance targets. A friend of the Lawrences called the memo "offensive". Imtiaz Amin, Mr Mubarek's uncle, said he was "upset and disappointed". A document was sent from the Home Office to regional probation managers, asking them to report risks that could embarrass ministers. It included examples of the kinds of crises that can arise, set against a scale of seriousness. Rated "very high impact" were examples such as the accidental release of a prisoner who goes on to kill, or the freeing of foreign prisoners - the blunder that led to Charles Clarke's sacking as home secretary last year. Examples given of "medium impact" risks include "policy U-turn (ID cards)", or missing a key performance target. Cited as examples of "low impact" events are "inadequate protection for individuals/individual communities, including failure to resolve celebrity cases, eg Mubarrak [sic], Lawrence".

Stephen Lawrence's murder by a racist gang in 1993 is a notorious unsolved crime which had a huge impact on policing and race relations. Mr Mubarek, an Asian teenager, was beaten to death in prison in 2000 after he was forced to share a cell with a violent skinhead. An inquiry found 186 failures by jail staff. Both bereaved families fought for years to secure public inquiries into the killings. Suresh Grover, a campaigner for both families, said: "I'm appalled that public interest cases where lives have been lost - sometimes because the Home Office itself is not functioning properly - should be so low on this list. This reveals the very sad fact that the Home Office is more interested in saving politicians than in saving lives and responding to real need." The Home Office said ministers had not seen the memo before it was sent. A spokeswoman said: "Neither the probation service nor the Home Office would want to upset these families, whose losses are taken very seriously. We regret any unintentional offence."
The Telegraph

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