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Monday, September 16, 2019

What's going on in the World Today 190916



Trump says Taliban talks 'dead,' U.S. military to ramp up Afghanistan operations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump proclaimed talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders dead on Monday, while the general in charge said the U.S. military is likely to ramp up operations in Afghanistan to counter an increase in Taliban attacks.

Trump scrapped talks with the Taliban planned for Camp David, Maryland, over the weekend after an American soldier was killed by a suicide bomber in the capital Kabul last week.

“They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead,” Trump told reporters when asked about the talks as he left the White House for a trip to North Carolina.

Trump had hoped to cap months of U.S. negotiations with the Taliban militants, who control large parts of Afghanistan, with a secret meeting at Camp David that would include Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and was aimed at securing an agreement to pull U.S. troops out of America’s longest war of 18 years...

Calling In The Cavalry

This new system speeds close air support to soldiers on the ground​.

In a firefight, seconds matter.

That is especially true when it comes to calling in back-up in a tough situation. Raytheon and military researchers are bringing to the field an advanced system to allow troops on the battlefield to get air support faster than ever before. The system provides real-time information sharing, quick response and precise targeting.

Called Persistent Close Air Support, the system connects ground-based Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, often embedded with special operations units, with overhead aircraft to coordinate friendly-force identification, target correlation and to spot hostile forces with pinpoint precision.

“By getting information to our aircrews faster, PCAS reduces battlefield risks and fratricide,” said Ryan McLean, Raytheon PCAS program manager...


No Continent for Old Men
Africa has the world’s youngest population and its oldest leaders. If the next generation wants change, young Africans must abandon dreams of private-sector success and enter the political arena.

The idea that Africa’s youth bulge is the key to sustained economic growth—a so-called demographic dividend—is a popular talking point for aging African leaders who coopt such language in an effort to signal faith and optimism in the next generation. This was particularly evident in 2017, when African heads of state adopted “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in the Youth” as the year’s official theme for the African Union.

While gestures toward youth empowerment are welcome, one awkward fact stands out: Africa—the youngest continent in the world—plays host to some of the oldest and longest-serving political leaders. Africa—the youngest continent in the world—plays host to some of the oldest and longest-serving political leaders...

Elephant Hunts to Start in Botswana at Likely Discount to Rivals
By Antony Sguazzin September 11, 2019

Botswana is reintroducing elephant hunts and is likely to sell licenses to kill the animals at a discount to its neighbors. That could further inflame the controversy that’s threatening a $2 billion tourism industry after a five-year ban on hunting was lifted.

The government will auction licenses to hunting operators for the right to shoot an elephant but is yet to decide on the minimum price it will set, said Kitso Mokaila, the country’s environment minister. Botswana will allow the killing of 158 elephants in trophy hunts this year...


For China and Russia, Common Interests Make for Closer Security Ties
Military officials salute each other in a ceremony before Russia and China warships set out for a naval cooperation exercise.(YURI SMITYUK\TASS via Getty Images)


- To counter the United States in key Asian and European theaters, Russia and China will increase the size and scope of their joint military exercises in the coming months.

- Russia and China will also increase consultations with each other on internal security issues, including their shared desires to create a sovereign internet and manage unrest in Moscow and Hong Kong, respectively.

- But such cooperation will be limited by Russia and China's own strategic competition with one another, particularly in areas of overlapping influence such as Central Asia and the Russian Far East.

- In the longer term, Russia-China security ties will last only until the three great powers' triangular relationship inevitably shifts again, and prompts Moscow and Beijing to recalibrate their positions.

New environment minister says Japan should stop using nuclear power

Japan's Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s newly installed environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, wants the country to close down nuclear reactors to avoid a repeat of the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011.

The comments by the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, himself an anti-nuclear advocate, are likely to prove controversial in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which supports a return to nuclear power under new safety rules imposed after Fukushima.

“I would like to study how we will scrap them, not how to retain them,” Shinjiro Koizumi said at his first news conference late on Wednesday after he was appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe...

Squeezed by debt and the US, Pakistan slows Belt and Road projects
'Even Beijing knows' things are on hold, experts say

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. left, speaks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during a signing ceremony in Beijing, in April. © Reuters
KARACHI -- Facing a prolonged financial crisis, and trying to balance ties between China and the U.S., Pakistan's policymakers are slowing the pace of multibillion dollar projects under China's Belt and Road Initiative.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, launched in 2014, aims to build links between China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region and the port city of Gwadar in southern Pakistan. The total cost of the project is estimated at $60 billion.

According to Hassan Daud Butt, CPEC project director for the Pakistani government, many Phase-1 projects, including improvements to the port of Gwadar, power plants and road construction, are unfinished despite deadlines set for last year by the previous government. Nor has there been progress on Phase-2 projects, which include setting up special economic zones and industrial estates. The initial time table called for the zones to be up and running by 2020...


Deadly olive tree disease spreads to France

Two trees infected with subspecies of Xylella fastidiosa that killed 1m trees in Italy

A deadly disease estimated to have killed a million olive trees in Italy has spread to France.

The French agriculture ministry announced the discovery of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, known as olive tree leprosy, on two trees in the south of the country and said the infected trees would be destroyed to stop it spreading.

Ministry officials said the two decorative olives were found to have the same subspecies of the disease that killed an estimated 1m valuable ancient olive trees in Italy. All trees and plants vulnerable to the bacterium within a three-mile radius are to be destroyed and burned.

There is no known cure or prevention for the disease, which blocks the plant or trees’ ability to take up water. Michel Dessus, the president of the chamber of agriculture in the Alpes-Maritimes, where the two infected trees were discovered, said more tests were needed before swathes of vegetation were destroyed. “Cutting down trees more than a hundred years old needs to be thought about,” he told French television.

The disease, also called olive quick decline syndrome, which scientists believe affects more than 350 plant species, has also hit vineyards in north and south America. It was first detected in Europe in October 2013 when ancient olive trees in Puglia, Italy, began to die. Entire olive groves of more than 230,000 hectares have been cut down...


In Mexico, Violence Flares Up Again in the Border City of Nuevo Laredo


- Violence between the Cartel del Noreste and state police has been surging in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas state over the past two weeks.

- In response to these losses, CDN has threatened those that do business with security forces, prompting many gasoline stations to refuse to sell fuel to the authorities.

- Given running gunbattles involving automatic weapons and grenades, attacks on security forces and threats against businesses, those with interests in Nuevo Laredo should be on heightened alert until the wave of brutality subsides...


In the Demise of the Taliban Peace Talks, Russia Is the Winner

Even as it paints itself as an ally in Afghanistan, the Kremlin is busy undercutting Washington.


Over the weekend, the prospects of a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban seemed to fall apart. That is a major setback, since it will likely delay a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and could lead to an escalated Taliban offensive on Afghan government-held territories. But one player—Russia—might benefit.

In an otherwise dark period for U.S.-Russian relations, Afghanistan seemed to have recently emerged as a rare bright spot for bilateral cooperation. After a visit to Moscow in May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described achieving a “reduction in violence” in Afghanistan as a shared interest of the United States and Russia. Dialogue between U.S. and Russian officials on Afghanistan, which was largely frozen after the collapse of the Northern Distribution Network—a rail network passing through Russia that supplied U.S. forces—in 2015 is now commonplace. Russia had even offered to act as a guarantor for any future U.S.-Taliban peace agreement. Although such a deal now seems to be off the table, Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, stated that he believes U.S.-Taliban peace talks are “suspended” but not “dead,” and he announced Moscow’s plans to consult with the United States on the future of the negotiations.

Although the de-escalation of tensions between the United States and Russia, which had risen last year due to Moscow’s alleged arms transfers to the Taliban, is a positive development, Russia should not be trusted as a partner in Afghanistan. The collapse of the U.S.-Taliban peace talks provides an opening for Russia to reassert its diplomatic presence in the country, and this prospect should concern U.S. policymakers. Russia’s subversion of the authority of Afghanistan’s internationally recognized government and propagation of disinformation about U.S. intentions in Afghanistan reveal that Moscow remains a dangerous adversary in the region...


A sudden surge in passenger car sales didn’t revive China’s cratering auto market
By Echo HuangJuly 10, 2019

China car sales continue to plunge in June even though back-to-back policy changes helped monthly passenger car sales grow for the first time in a year.

The country saw vehicle sales drop more than 12% in the first six months of 2019, which means the country is heading for an even worse year than it had last year, when it recorded its first annual decline since 1990.

China’s auto sales fell 9.6% to 2.04 million in June from a year ago, according to data released today (July 10) by the government-affiliated China Association of Automotive Manufacturers. China’s auto sales for the first half year reached 12.3 million...


Iran May Be Weak, But Its Strategy Is Working
By Reva Goujon VP of Global Analysis, Stratfor


- Iran's brazenness this summer is paying off: Washington continues to face a massive dilemma in trying to deter Tehran in the Persian Gulf, Iran has exposed U.S. President Donald Trump's extreme reticence toward war and France has offered the Islamic republic financial incentives in return for de-escalating tensions.

- The removal of national security adviser John Bolton — a hawk on Iran — from Trump's war Cabinet could provide more space for diplomacy, but unless Trump accedes to Iran's demand for some sanctions relief, there is little chance that the two countries will reach a breakthrough at this month's U.N. General Assembly in New York.

- With political pressures to rise in both Tehran and the White House heading into 2020 and Iran now more confident that Trump is intent on avoiding war, there is still potential for Tehran to resurrect its military threat in the Persian Gulf to break another stalemate...

Iran: Tehran Takes Another Hit at What Remains of the Nuclear Deal

The Big Picture

Over the past year, Iran has retaliated against tougher-than-ever U.S. sanctions by continuing to escalate its nuclear development activities. This approach helps Tehran build leverage for future talks, while also helping drum up Iran's domestic image as a sovereign nation that doesn't bow to pressure from the West.

Iran is moving forward, as promised, with its third phase of pulling back from commitments made under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to limit the development of its nuclear energy program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that starting Sept. 6, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran would suspend all the JCPOA limits related to research and development and the testing of centrifuges, including:

- Conducting R&D in a way that does not accumulate enriched uranium.

- Limiting R&D for uranium to only the IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges.

- Limiting mechanical testing of these centrifuges to two single centrifuges of each type.

- Halting research for other isotope separation technologies.

The first phase of Iran's gradual JCPOA suspension was announced in May, which saw Tehran increasing its stockpiles of low enriched uranium shortly thereafter. The second phase was then announced in July, with Iran saying it would increase its uranium enrichment beyond JCPOA limits. Tehran has warned that if Europe fails again to deliver financial relief to Iran as promised in the deal, it would take a fourth step to further reduce its nuclear commitments in another 60 days (or Nov. 5, 2019)...

U.S. says it has evidence Adrian Darya 1 oil transferred to Syria

in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has evidence that the Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 has transferred its crude oil to the Syrian government, breaking assurances it gave not to sell crude to the country, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.

British commandos on July 4 seized the vessel, formerly named the Grace 1, on suspicion that it was en route to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Gibraltar released it on Aug. 15 after getting written Iranian assurances that it would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria...

How to Make a Lasting Deal With Iran

Maximum pressure won’t make Tehran capitulate. Letting it enhance its conventional military capabilities could convince it to rein in proxies and curb its nuclear and missile programs.


Despite the Trump administration’s assertions, it is increasingly clear that the maximum pressure approach deployed to force Iran to temper its behavior in the Middle East is not working. Iran has allegedly engaged in provocations in the Persian Gulf and has taken concrete steps to scale back its commitments to enrichment limitations under the 2015 nuclear deal. Meanwhile, it hasn’t limited its missile program and has doubled down on its reliance on nonstate actors throughout the region.

Tensions flared again in the Middle East late last month after Israel apparently launched strikes on Iranian forces and their proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As this shadow war moves into the light of day, Israeli officials argue that these attacks are meant to curb Iran’s expanding regional influence through its support and training for nonstate actors—which is a growing threat from Israel’s perspective. The most recent exchange between Israel and Iran highlights the security challenges Iran poses to U.S. interests and partners in the region, and, more importantly, why the U.S. government needs a new and innovative strategy to effectively engage with Iran.

While the United States and its regional partners have legitimate concerns about Iran’s exploitation of nonstate actors, they don’t appear to understand Iran’s motivations. Thus, they have adopted policies that have proved ineffective and counterproductive.

Today, Washington is seeking to force Iran to forgo all three pillars of its deterrent capabilities: its nuclear program, its missile program, and its proxies.Washington is seeking to force Iran to forgo all three pillars of its deterrent capabilities: its nuclear program, its missile program, and its proxies. But from Tehran’s point of view, forgoing all deterrent capabilities would leave the regime defenseless and powerless. It is similar to asking North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons up front with only limited guarantees by the other parties. No state would compromise what it perceives as its means of survival for purely economic benefits....




Israeli Voters Don’t Care About the Economy. They Should.
Despite high inequality, lagging productivity, and serious long-term challenges, the current election campaign has barely mentioned economic policy.


When the economy of a country has faced excessive government intervention alongside high deficits, debt crises, inflation, and severe recessions in the past, as well as high cost of living and rampant inequality in the present, one would expect that economic policies would be the focus of an election campaign. But that’s not the case in Israel—a country where the economy continues to be a second- or even third-order issue. The main issue for Israelis voting on Sept. 17 is whether you’re for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or not.

Israel, now known as the “start-up nation” and an investment magnet for hundreds of leading global firms, was not always the envy of many. Over the past 70 years, the Israeli economy has gone through many rocky episodes.

From its beginning, Israel was known for having socialist-minded policies and institutions at its core: state-owned enterprises monopolizing certain industries, large cooperatives, very influential labor unions which were intertwined with the ruling party, as well as hundreds of collective farms known as kibbutzim which received state subsidies. Either directly or indirectly, through these institutions the government controlled many aspects of daily life.

While the Israeli citizen seems to care about the cost of living and inequality, the Israeli voter seems not to. When they enter the voting booth, other issues matter more.

The economy hit a wall following the global recession in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War: no growth, high inflation, and high levels of debt. It was Prime Minister Shimon Peres who came to the rescue and saved the Israeli economy when elected in 1984, through a stabilization program that became the first step in converting Israel into the free-market economy that it is today. Peres reduced government expenditures and allowed for the independence of the central bank. Further pro-market reforms continued in the years that followed.

Following the recession caused by the Second Intifada of 2000 to 2005, Netanyahu continued the reforms in his capacity as finance minister in the government of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu cut welfare programs and slashed taxes, incentivizing labor participation. These reforms arguably set the stage for stability and robust economic growth...

Israel's Netanyahu announces post-election plan to annex West Bank's Jordan Valley

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention on Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank, if he wins a closely contested election just a week away.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that “all signed agreements with Israel and the obligations resulting from them would end” if Netanyahu went through with the move.

Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians, who signed interim peace deals with Israel in the 1990s that include security cooperation, seek to make the area part of a future state.

Israeli political commentators saw Netanyahu’s declaration, in a speech broadcast live on Israel’s main TV channels, as a bid to siphon support away from far-right rivals who have long advocated annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank...


North Korea says it will resume talks but adds pressure with new launches

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea fired a new round of short-range projectiles on Tuesday, South Korean officials said, only hours after it signaled a new willingness to resume stalled denuclearization talks with the United States.

The launches were detected early in the morning by the South Korean military, which said they appeared to be short-range projectiles...


Russian police raid opposition activists' homes in 43 citiesAP NEWS

By NATALIYA VASILYEVA September 12, 2019

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shows his ballot as he arrives to vote during a city council election in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Residents of Russia's capital are voting in a city council election that is shadowed by a wave of protests that saw the biggest demonstrator turnout in seven years and a notably violent police response. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police raided the homes and offices of supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 43 cities on Thursday, his close allies said.

So far, more than 200 raids have taken place across Russia from Vladivostok on the Pacific to Krasnodar in Russia’s south.

Police have also searched the home of Sergei Boyko, a Navalny associate who came second with nearly 20% of the vote in the mayoral election in Russia’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk last Sunday.

Navalny in a video message mocked authorities for the raids, comparing them to a crackdown on a drug cartel and vowed to keep up his work.

“We are not going to stop our work, don’t you worry about that,” he said, adding that authorities on Tuesday blocked bank accounts linked to Navalny’s political aspirations.

Police appear to be targeting those who were part of Navalny’s 2018 presidential election campaign. Though Navalny wasn’t allowed to run, his supporters in local election headquarters in dozens of Russian cities have grown in force, investigating high-level corruption and mobilizing supporters for opposition rallies...


What Bolton’s Departure Means for Israel

Some Israelis are worried it will leave them alone to confront Iran in the region.

TEL AVIV, Israel—The departure of National Security Advisor John Bolton from the U.S. administration on Tuesday has some Israelis worried that President Donald Trump would now pursue a more vigorous policy of detente with Iran, leaving Israel on its own to fight Iranian influence in the region, according to analysts.

Bolton had been one of the drivers of the Trump administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran, which perfectly matched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy toward Iran. But Trump has been signaling a shift over the past few weeks, including a willingness to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Any softening of the U.S. approach would mark a dramatic change in policy for the administration, which canceled the President Barack Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran last year and has steadily ratcheted up sanctions.

“What needs to worry us is that the last hurdle ahead of a historic reconciliation between the U.S. and Iran has been removed,” Gabi Ashkenazi, a former army chief of staff who is currently part of the centrist Blue and White party, told Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday. “I would be worried about the possibility that after this agreement between Iran and the Americans, Israel will be left on its own against Iran, something that all prime ministers before Netanyahu were very careful to avoid.”

Bloomberg reported yesterday that Trump decided to oust Bolton precisely over his opposition to easing sanctions against Iran, with an eye to a future meeting with Rouhani. In the Oval Office, Trump indicated Wednesday that he wasn’t seeking regime change in Iran, a goal Bolton has spent his career championing.

But Netanyahu downplayed the implications of Bolton’s departure.

“Look, the one who formally crafted the American policy was [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo … and President Trump of course. But I’m not getting into the personality changes in this administration,” he told Israeli Channel 20 in an interview. “So I am convinced, I have no doubts at all, that in any situation—with talks, without talks—President Trump and his administration will be very, very tough with Iran...”


Aerial view of Tencent's biggest data center under construction in a mountainous area of Guizhou province, on March 13, 2018.

China's data centers emit as much carbon as 21 million cars

By Julie Zaugg, CNN Business

Hong Kong (CNN Business)China's data centers produced 99 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, the equivalent of about 21 million cars on the road, according to a new report.

Data centers store electronic information like emails, photos and videos, and worldwide they consume between 3% and 5% of total global electricity, and rival the airline industry in terms of carbon emissions.
China's data center industry is among the world's largest and last year consumed just over 2% of the country's power, according to a report by Greenpeace and the North China Electric Power University...

Cyber Command's biggest VirusTotal upload looks to expose North Korean-linked malware

U.S. Cyber Command’s largest-ever upload to VirusTotal exposes malware linked with North Korean government hackers, according to security researchers.

Several of the malware samples have been tied to hackers from the so-called Lazarus Group, which the U.S. government has linked with the North Korean government. Specifically, the samples look to be what’s known as “HOPLIGHT,” a trojan that has been used to gather information on victims’ operating systems and uses a public SSL certificate for secure communications with attackers...


Intel & National Security Summit Explores Space and Cyber Issues

By David E. Hubler

Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was correct: Space is the final frontier. But that frontier is under attack from rogue nation-states, private cyber thieves, and bad non-state actors. Some are seeking financial gain, political influence or the disruption of the world’s most important communication medium; others, like the United States, are in a cyber war to protect the vital cyber interests of the nation and its allies.

Get started on your Homeland Security degree at American Military University.
With that mission in mind, cybersecurity experts from the military, federal government and private industry held their annual Intelligence and National Security Summit on September 4-5, co-hosted by AFCEA International and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) at National Harbor, Maryland...


18 Years After 9/11, Jihadism Remains a Global and Local Threat
By Scott Stewart VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor


- The jihadist movement has always consisted of various components, and has never had a unified ideology, theology or operational doctrine.

- While many franchise groups and grassroots jihadists operate under either the Islamic State or al Qaeda name, their operations are still largely independent and thus unaltered by any losses incurred by the two core organizations.

- This decentralized model means that jihadist militants continue to pose an array of threats both at the local and global level, and that security forces must keep the pressure on both levels to adequately thwart future attacks...


The U.S.-China Cold War Is a Myth
The 20th century’s great standoff doesn’t explain the emerging dynamic between Washington and Beijing.

This week, the U.S. Navy conducted drills with ships from Southeast Asian countries in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea—an apparent sign of Washington’s renewed interest in the region and in challenging China.

Close U.S. partners such as Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have warned of growing tensions between the two superpowers and urged restraint by both sides. Washington has been deepening security and diplomatic relations in the region, even with former adversaries such as Vietnam, which has been locked in a tense maritime standoff with China since July.

In recent years, the notion of an emerging second Cold War, this time between the United States and China, has gained credence. As early as 1995, China scholar David Shambaugh warned of deteriorating relations in an article titled, “The United States and China: A New Cold War?” Last year, Cold War analyst Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon professor of government at the Harvard Kennedy School, warned of a “new cold war,” and articles published in the Economist, Foreign Policy, the Washington Post, and across the mainstream media have built on this narrative. But the Cold War paradigm is not the best way to understand today’s strategic landscape. The Cold War paradigm is not the best way to understand today’s strategic landscape.

The security environment is far more benign than that of the Cold War, and middle powers—countries with more moderate power and influence—have far more agency to shape great-power competition to suit their interests. Southeast Asia is a prime case in point. The region was at the heart of the Cold War era’s so-called hot wars—calamitous U.S. interventions in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos that have shaped the outlooks of a generation of counterinsurgency and strategic analysts in Washington. Today, it sits at the geographic nexus of Chinese and U.S. influence, and is the site of emerging military friction. But the dynamics are very different...

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