Could Aung San Suu Kyi face Rohingya genocide charges?

Justin Rowlatt writes: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is determined that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya face justice.

He’s the head of the UN’s watchdog for human rights across the world, so his opinions carry weight.

It could go right to the top – he doesn’t rule out the possibility that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces Gen Aung Min Hlaing, could find themselves in the dock on genocide charges some time in the future.

Earlier this month, Mr Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council that the widespread and systematic nature of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also called Burma) meant that genocide could not be ruled out.

“Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level,” said the high commissioner, when we met at the UN headquarters in Geneva for BBC Panorama.

That said, genocide is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot. It sounds terrible – the so-called “crime of crimes”. Very few people have ever been convicted of it.

The crime was defined after the Holocaust. Member countries of the newly founded United Nations signed a convention, defining genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy a particular group.

It is not Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s job to prove acts of genocide have been committed – only a court can do that. But he has called for an international criminal investigation into the perpetrators of what he has called the “shockingly brutal attacks” against the Muslim ethnic group who are mainly from northern Rakhine in Myanmar.

But the high commissioner recognised it would be a tough case to make: “For obvious reasons, if you’re planning to commit genocide you don’t commit it to paper and you don’t provide instructions.”

“The thresholds for proof are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.” [Continue reading…]

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A journey through a land of extreme poverty: Welcome to America

Ed Pilkington reports: We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance. [Continue reading…]

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UN envoy: North Korea would not commit to peace talks but ‘door ajar’

Reuters reports: United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Tuesday that senior North Korean officials did not offer any type of commitment to talks during his visit to Pyongyang last week, but he believes he left “the door ajar.”

Feltman, the highest-level U.N. official to visit North Korea since 2011, met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk during a four-day visit that he described as “the most important mission I have ever undertaken.”

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide,” Feltman told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors on his visit.

“They need time to digest and consider how they will respond to our message,” he said, adding that he believed Ri would brief North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on their discussions. [Continue reading…]

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Trump pulls U.S. out of UN global compact on migration

The Guardian reports: The Trump administration has pulled out of the United Nations’ ambitious plans to create a more humane global strategy on migration, saying involvement in the process interferes with American sovereignty, and runs counter to US immigration policies.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley, informed the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, at the weekend that Donald Trump was not willing to continue with an American commitment to the UN global compact on migration.

The announcement of the US withdrawal from the pact came just hours before the opening of a UN global conference on migration scheduled to begin Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

In 2016, the 193 members of the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding political declaration, the New York declaration for refugees and migrants, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle and ensure they had access to education and jobs. The initiative had the enthusiastic backing of Barack Obama, and was embraced by Guterres as one of his major challenges for 2018.

The aim is to publish a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration next year in time for adoption by the UN general assembly in September.

Louise Arbour, appointed as the UN’s special representative to oversee the process, regards the global compact as a chance to shift world opinion on the need to address future migration, in the same way that the UN had managed to persuade the world it needed to address climate change. There are currently 60 million people who have been displaced worldwide. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner failed to disclose he led a foundation funding illegal Israeli settlements before UN vote

Newsweek reports: Jared Kushner failed to disclose his role as a co-director of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 to 2015, a time when the group funded an Israeli settlement considered to be illegal under international law, on financial records he filed with the Office of Government Ethics earlier this year.

The latest development follows reports on Friday indicating the White House senior adviser attempted to sway a United Nations Security Council vote against an anti-settlement resolution passed just before Donald Trump took office, which condemned the structure of West Bank settlements. The failure to disclose his role in the foundation—at a time when he was being tasked with serving as the president’s Middle East peace envoy—follows a pattern of egregious omissions that would bar any other official from continuing to serve in the West Wing, experts and officials told Newsweek.

The first son-in-law has repeatedly amended his financial records since his initial filing in March, along with three separate revisions to his security clearance application. Despite correcting his financial history on multiple occasions, he has yet to include his role as co-director to the family foundation. [Continue reading…]

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‘No such thing as Rohingya’: Myanmar erases a history

The New York Times reports: He was a member of the Rohingya student union in college, taught at a public high school and even won a parliamentary seat in Myanmar’s thwarted elections in 1990.

But according to the government of Myanmar, U Kyaw Min’s fellow Rohingya do not exist.

A long-persecuted Muslim minority concentrated in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, the Rohingya have been deemed dangerous interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh. Today, they are mostly stateless, their very identity denied by the Buddhist-majority Myanmar state.

“There is no such thing as Rohingya,” said U Kyaw San Hla, an officer in Rakhine’s state security ministry. “It is fake news.”

Such denials bewilder Mr. Kyaw Min. He has lived in Myanmar all of his 72 years, and the history of the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group in Myanmar stretches back for generations before.

Now, human rights watchdogs warn that much of the evidence of the Rohingya’s history in Myanmar is in danger of being eradicated by a military campaign the United States has declared to be ethnic cleansing.

Since late August, more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims, about two-thirds of the population that lived in Myanmar in 2016, have fled to Bangladesh, driven out by the military’s systematic campaign of massacre, rape and arson in Rakhine.

In a report released in October, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Myanmar’s security forces had worked to “effectively erase all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.” [Continue reading…]

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Can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights while facing extreme poverty?

The Guardian reports: The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the world’s richest nation – and its president – to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions – from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law – a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner is said to have ordered Flynn to contact Russia

Eli Lake writes: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea Friday for lying to the FBI is alarming news for Donald Trump. But the first person it’s likely to jeopardize will be the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Two former officials with the Trump transition team who worked closely with Flynn say that during the last days of the Obama administration, the retired general was instructed to contact foreign ambassadors and foreign ministers of countries on the U.N. Security Council, ahead of a vote condemning Israeli settlements. Flynn was told to try to get them to delay that vote until after Barack Obama had left office, or oppose the resolution altogether.

That is relevant now because one of Flynn’s lies to the FBI was when he said that he never asked Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, to delay the vote for the U.N. Security Council resolution. The indictment released today from the office of special prosecutor Robert Mueller describes this lie: “On or about December 22, 2016, Flynn did not ask the Russian Ambassador to delay the vote on or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution.”

At the time, the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements was a big deal. Even though the Obama administration had less than a month left in office, the president instructed his ambassador to the United Nations to abstain from a resolution, breaking a precedent that went back to 1980 when it came to one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

This was the context of Kushner’s instruction to Flynn last December. One transition official at the time said Kushner called Flynn to tell him he needed to get every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the U.N. Security Council to delay or vote against the resolution. Much of this appeared to be coordinated also with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose envoys shared their own intelligence about the Obama administration’s lobbying efforts to get member states to support the resolution with the Trump transition team. [Continue reading…]

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With the successful Hwasong-15 test, North Korea’s final goal is in sight

Andrei Lankov writes: As long as the United States doesn’t use military force (at the cost of risking a major war), nothing can stop North Korean leaders from becoming the third country in the world, after Russia and China, capable of annihilating any American city.

Perhaps North Korean decision-makers hope that once they have the first strike capability in place, they will be in a position to start negotiating and, perhaps, negotiate a freeze under favorable conditions.

CNN recently cited a statement by an unnamed North Korean official who said: “Before we can engage in diplomacy with the Trump administration, we want to send a clear message that the DPRK has a reliable defensive and offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States.”

These words are not surprising to the majority of North Korea watchers who have long known that this is exactly Pyongyang’s strategy or, at least, its plan A (there might be a plan B and a plan C, of course).

But it is remarkable that the intention to look for compromise after acquiring the first strike capability has been expressed in such explicit terms by a Pyongyang representative.

North Korea’s decision-makers believe that they have just a few more steps before they arrive at their strategic goal. Once there, they can begin negotiating and seriously reduce international pressure. They likely expect that if they agree to freeze launches and nuclear tests, many of the sanctions will be lifted. They are probably right. [Continue reading…]

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Israel and U.S. race to prevent publication of UN settlement ‘blacklist’

The Associated Press reports: Weeks ahead of the expected completion of a U.N. database of companies that operate in Israel’s West Bank settlements, Israel and the Trump Administration are working feverishly to prevent its publication.

While Israel is usually quick to brush off U.N. criticism, officials say they are taking the so-called “blacklist” seriously, fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Dozens of major Israeli companies, as well as multinationals that do business in Israel, are expected to appear on the list.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, told The Associated Press. [Continue reading…]

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‘Somebody had to tell these stories’: An Iraqi woman’s ordeal as an ISIS sex slave

The Washington Post reports: Islamic State militants have lost the last of their strongholds, but for Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad, a new battle is just beginning.

Three years after escaping militants in northern Iraq, Murad is unveiling a harrowing memoir, “The Last Girl,” about her ordeal as a sex slave.

Murad’s disturbing personal account is part of her effort, represented by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, to bring Islamic State members to justice for war crimes and genocide against the Yazidi people.

“This is not something I chose,” Murad, 24, said in an interview in the lounge of a posh London hotel. “Somebody had to tell these stories. It’s not easy.”

When the Islamic State swept into northern Iraq in 2014, thousands of Yazidis were killed and thousands more were kidnapped, including women and girls who were taken as sex slaves. U.N. officials have said the violence committed against the minority sect constituted a genocide, and the U.N. Security Council has created a task force to collect evidence of atrocities in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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Why global warming lawsuits are gaining traction in courtrooms around the world

Pacific Standard reports: Negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, last week made some incremental progress toward fulfilling the Paris Agreement’s aim to limit global warming. But the intensifying urgency of the climate crisis requires bigger and bolder steps, including more lawsuits, according to a group of legal experts who met on November 15th in the basement of a converted church in downtown Bonn.

“We have a strong message for climate polluters: We’ll see you in court,” said Fijian activist Makereta Waqavonovono, a legal practitioner with the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network who made it clear that Fiji expects help from wealthier countries to pay for relocating about 800 coastal villages that will be flooded by rising sea levels in the next few decades.

At the panel, organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, climate activists and attorneys said that, as international climate policy keeps failing, litigation is becoming an increasingly important part of the strategy to force reductions of dangerous heat-trapping greenhouse gases—and to hold climate polluters financially accountable for the damage they’ve caused.

At the talks in Bonn, the question of compensation—Loss and Damage, in negotiator jargon—was once again shunted aside for the most part, said Naomi Ages, a climate liability expert with Greenpeace USA.

“Sometime soon there has to be a day of reckoning. Who’s going to pay for the climate damage already caused?” she said. “All governments are obligated to consider the human rights aspects of climate change, and the International Criminal Court has said that climate change is a possible reason for charges on crimes against humanity,” she added. [Continue reading…]

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Ratko Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia,’ guilty of genocide in last Balkan war crimes trial

The Washington Post reports: Ratko Mladic, a former Serb warlord who commanded forces that carried out some of the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars, was found guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity by an international tribunal Wednesday.

Mladic, 74, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bloodiest chapter of European history since World War II.

His conviction on 10 of 11 counts marks the last major prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which the U.N. Security Council set up more than two decades ago.

The verdict was hailed as a victory for justice — even if it was long delayed.

“Mladic is the epitome of evil, and the prosecution of Mladic is the epitome of what international justice is all about,” said U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller probes Jared Kushner’s contacts with foreign leaders

The Wall Street Journal reports: Robert Mueller’s investigators are asking questions about Jared Kushner’s interactions with foreign leaders during the presidential transition, including his involvement in a dispute at the United Nations in December, in a sign of the expansive nature of the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s alleged meddling in the election, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigators have asked witnesses questions about the involvement of Mr. Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, in a controversy over a U.N. resolution passed Dec. 23, before Mr. Trump took office, that condemned Israel’s construction of settlements in disputed territories, these people said.

Israeli officials had asked the incoming Trump administration to intervene to help block it. Mr. Trump posted a Facebook message the day before the U.N. vote—after he had been elected but before he had assumed office—saying the resolution put the Israelis in a difficult position and should be vetoed.

Mr. Trump also held a phone conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, whose government had written a draft of the resolution. Egypt proceeded to call for the vote to be delayed, but the resolution passed the following day, with then-President Barack Obama’s administration declining to block it.

Israeli officials said at the time that they began reaching out to senior leaders in Mr. Trump’s transition team. Among those involved were Mr. Kushner and political strategist Stephen Bannon, according to people briefed on the exchanges.

The White House referred questions to Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, and to a White House lawyer.

The motivation for the Mueller team’s questions about the U.N. is unclear. [Continue reading…]

It seems likely that the focus here is not the legality of these diplomatic exchanges but instead a pattern of deception — Kushner’s apparent habit of withholding information and providing false or deceptive answers while being questioned under oath.

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Trump may be turning his back on the world, but America isn’t

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Last week in Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, the most unwelcome attendees at a U.N. summit on climate policy may have been the members of the delegation representing the Trump administration. President Trump, after all, made a great show of his opposition to the landmark Paris climate accord — one of the linchpins of his predecessor’s political legacy — by announcing his country’s withdrawal from the pact in June.

Trump’s energy adviser, George D. Banks, promoted coal and other fossil fuels at a panel event swarmed by protesters. As he attempted to explain his boss’s doubts about global warming, he trotted out lines of reasoning that one analyst deemed “zombie arguments from the 1990s and 2000s.”

Meanwhile, an unofficial and dramatically different American delegation was making its presence felt. A number of prominent Democratic senators made the trip to affirm their commitment to the ongoing negotiations. Other big names, including leading business executives and California Gov. Jerry Brown, showed up and emphasized their desire to curb carbon pollution, no matter what the president says. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a committed advocate for climate action, pitched in for a swanky pavilion that declared “We are still in!”

“We are here because it’s our responsibility to be part of the global community,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) last week. “We’re here because it’s in our national security interests to deal with climate change.” Bloomberg directly mocked the administration’s climate stance: “Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” he joked. [Continue reading…]

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International law is meant to prevent what’s happening in Yemen

Nathalie Weizmann writes: Every day brings worse news from Yemen. This morning, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that water and sewage systems in three cities in Yemen – Hodeidah, Sa’ada and Taiz – had stopped operating because imports of fuel were at a standstill. And just yesterday, the heads of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization described the current situation in Yemen as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Yemen was already struggling with a humanitarian disaster after two years of war, but the situation grew far worse last week, when the Saudi-led military coalition stopped critical commercial supplies and humanitarian aid deliveries from entering Yemen, and blocked the movement of relief workers into and out of the country. The coalition announced the closure of all Yemeni airports, seaports and land crossings in response to a ballistic missile fired by Ansar Allah (also referred to as Houthi) opposition forces in Yemen and intercepted by the Saudi military over Riyadh’s international airport.

Reacting to the shutdown, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned that if it isn’t lifted, “it will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims.” According to key members of the humanitarian community in Yemen, “There are over 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance; 7 million of them are facing famine-like conditions and rely completely on food aid to survive.” [Continue reading…]

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Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Yemen would suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims” if Saudi Arabia did not immediately allow food and medicine to be offloaded at all of Yemen’s seaports, and permit the resumption of air services to the cities of Sana and Aden, the United Nations official Mark Lowcock warned Security Council diplomats last week.

Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade against Yemen on Nov. 5 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened Riyadh with a ballistic missile. The Saudis have since partly lifted the blockade, but only of ports controlled by its allies. That is not nearly enough to get urgently needed food to nearly seven million Yemenis facing famine.

Misery has been Yemen’s lot after more than three years of unrelenting war. At least 10,000 people have been killed, many by Saudi-coalition bombings carried out with military assistance by the United States. A raging cholera epidemic has sickened some 900,000 people, and 17 million Yemenis are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Ships and cargo planes ferrying food, medicine and vital fuel to Yemen’s war-ravaged civilians are inspected by the United Nations to make sure they are not transporting arms.

Impeding humanitarian assistance and using famine as a weapon are war crimes, and Saudi Arabia must realize that the world is finally taking notice. [Continue reading…]

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UN agency report shows Iran meeting nuclear commitments

The Associated Press reports: The United Nations agency monitoring Iran’s compliance with a landmark nuclear treaty issued a report Monday certifying that the country is keeping its end of the deal that U.S. President Donald Trump claims Tehran has violated repeatedly.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report stopped short of declaring that Iran is honoring its obligations, in keeping with its official role as an impartial monitor of the restrictions the treaty placed on Tehran’s nuclear programs.

But in reporting no violations, the quarterly review’s takeaway was that Iran was honoring its commitments to crimp uranium enrichment and other activities that can serve both civilian and military nuclear programs.

The report cited IAEA chief Yukiya Amano as stressing “the importance of the full implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments” under the deal. Diplomats familiar with the work that went into the evaluation said Amano’s statement referred to a past violation on heavy water limits that Iran has since corrected.

Heavy water cools reactors that can produce plutonium used to make the core of nuclear warheads. The IAEA last year said that Tehran had slightly exceeded the limit, but later said it had returned to compliance. Monday’s report showed its heavy water supply remains under the maximum 130 metric tons (143.3 tons) allowed under the deal. [Continue reading…]

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