Thursday, May 31, 2007

Violence against women now a crime

By Maria Florez-Estrada.

A new law increases prison sentences for women abusers.

(Latinamerica press) - After seven years of congressional and high court debates, a law was finally approved in mid-April to make violence against women in Costa Rica a criminal offense.
Under the new Criminalization of Violence against Women law, physical and psychological violence against adult women within a romantic relationship will now be a felony punishable by imprisonment.

The April 12 law creates the crime of “femicide,” which will carry a prison sentence of 20 to 35 years for husbands or boyfriends who kill their partners, and between 15 to 18 years for those who force their female partners into sexual relations against their will.

Men who consistently insult, ridicule and verbally abuse their wives and girlfriends could also face prison sentences of six months to two years, and those who threaten them could receive up to a four-year sentence.

For Ana Carcedo, president of the Feminist Information and Action Center, one of the organizations that had promoted the law, “the most important impact of this law will be seen in long-term, since it will be a cultural one, when it is finally accepted that violence against women is a crime, the state commits itself to intervening, punishing this violence, and sends those who do it to jail.”

But she added that now it must be seen how this legal tool is put into practice. “Hopefully the Costa Rican state will act energetically in the criminal law scope, without waiting for violence to get to levels of femicide.”

As an example of this, Carcedo said that now people who don’t comply protection measures issued by authorities during a domestic violence prosecution trial will be given sentences of six months to two years.

Women no longer center of investigations
Another positive change that the law brings is that now, the male aggressors, not the abused women, are the ones who will be questioned and investigated. “The new law recognizes situations that occur in the privacy of the home, which the penal code” never would have taken into account, such as “wives being forced by their husbands to have sex with a third party.”

The Supreme Court had declared the law unconstitutional in April 2006 after 10 lawmakers sent a petition to the tribunal to review the bill.

Now, a majority of 45 lawmakers approved the law in the second vote, while only two representatives of the right-wing Libertarian Movement party voted against the bill. Last year, it only got to a first-round vote after fierce debates.

This time, several women, including the country’s vice president, the head of the National Women’s Institute and two judges — one from the Constitutional Court and the other from the Supreme Court — visited the 57-member Legislative Assembly “seat to seat” to secure nothing was stopping the law.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hostage taker turns himself in

(Roman Bogdanyants' photo by Al Dia Newspaper)Judicial court revoked release of man who penetrated Russian embassy

By Uri Ridelman

A legal immigrant from Kyrgyztan who took an acquaintance hostage at the Russian Embassy in San Jose turned himself in yesterday after a judicial court revoked the decision of a judge to set him free while the case is investigated.

Roman Bogdanyants (pictured) turned himself in at 4:30 p.m. after meeting with his lawyer Irina Verjov Verjova. Once under custody the 20-year-old suspect was ordered to serve a three month preventive sentence and then taken to an undisclosed jail.

A friend of Bogdanyants said that the family had already appealed the decision and that the suspect's mother was badly shaken after hearing about the decision of the judicial court.

Judge Maria Elena Chavez, who released Bogdanyants on May 12 after considering that he didn't have enough money to leave the country and evade justice, did not release a statement on the decision of the judicial court.

At the time of his release Chavez had told Bogdanyants he had to stay away from the hostage and his family and he could not leave Costa Rica.

The same day of the release Costa Rica's Attorney General Francisco Dall'Anesse said that his office was already filing a motion to revoke the freedom of Bogdanyants (who had already expressed his desire to move to Russia). He criticized the judge's argument that the gunman did not have enough money to leave, saying "the country's borders are very open."

On May 11 Roman Bogdanyants, armed with a gun, took an acquaintance hostage for four hours at the Russian Embassy in San Josr following an argument over money, in a stand-off that gripped Costa Ricans before ending without violence.

No embassy personnel were taken hostage during the incident.

Article written using information from several Costa Rican newspapers and newswires.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Costa Rica seizes contaminated Chinese toothpaste

Chinese made Mr. Cool tainted toothpaste is displayed for the camera at the control and registry office of the Ministry of Health in San Jose.(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Health officials said Friday they have seized more than 350 tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste tainted with a deadly chemical reportedly found in tubes sold elsewhere in the world.

Health Secretary Maria Luisa Avila said 56 tubes of toothpaste containing diethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid, were found in the northern city of Liberia, in the province of Guanacaste, and 306 more were seized from a warehouse in the capital of San Jose.

Avila also said her department issued a nationwide alert although there have been no reports of anyone falling ill.

China has formed a government task force to investigate after contaminated toothpaste was also found in Australia, the Dominican Republic and Panama.

Diethylene glycol, or DEG, is a thickening agent used as a low-cost - but frequently deadly - substitute for glycerin, a sweetener commonly used in drugs.

DEG was blamed for the deaths of at least 51 people in Panama last year after it was mixed into cough syrup, another case with possible ties to China.

The United States said this week it was checking all toothpaste shipments from China as a precautionary measure

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Costa Rica aims to win "carbon neutral" nation race

General view of hydroelectric dam Cachi in Ujarras de Cartago, 60 miles of San Jose, Costa Rica, May 25, 2007.SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, May 24 (Reuters) - Costa Rica is drawing up plans to cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero before 2030, the government said on Thursday, and aims to be the first nation to offset all its carbon.

Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said the tiny, jungle-cloaked Central American nation would clean up its fossil fuel-fired power plants, promote hybrid vehicles and increase tree planting to balance its emissions.

"The goal is to be carbon neutral," Dobles told Reuters. "We'd like to do it in the next 20 years." He said Costa Rica would also eliminate net emissions of other greenhouse gases.

Costa Rica is a leader on green issues, with protected areas like national parks and biological reserves covering more than a quarter of its territory.

The country generates 78 percent of its energy with hydroelectric power and another 18 percent by wind or geothermally. It now plans to cut emissions from transport, farming and industry.

Faced with mounting evidence that burning fossil fuels is the main cause of global warming, many nations and companies are looking at ways to reduce their net carbon output.

In April, world number five oil exporter Norway said it was aiming to get rid of its net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The EU says it will cut emissions 20-30 percent by 2020. California aims to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

But Costa Rica believes it can still become a voluntarily carbon neutral country before anyone else.

"We think we can get there first," said Dobles.

Costa Rica has a headstart. According to the United Nations, in 2003 the country produced roughly 1.5 tonnes of carbon per person, compared to close to 10 tonnes in Norway.

At the heart of the Costa Rica's anti-carbon efforts are payments that compensate landowners for growing trees to capture carbon and protect watersheds. The government also plans payments to protect wildlife habitat and scenic beauty.

The program, launched in 1997 and funded by a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline and by loans and grants, now pays out about $15 million a year to nearly 8,000 property owners.

"The fact that Costa Rica has applied (payments) on a national scale is what's innovative," said Esteban Brenes, a conservation finance expert at the World Wildlife Fund.

Not all environmentalists have good things to say about the idea of capturing carbon to offset emissions.

"It's a deception to allow polluters to continue to pollute with makeup to mask it," said Juan Figuerola, forestry coordinator for the Costa Rican Conservation Federation.

Some other countries in the world, mainly in Africa, are virtually carbon-neutral, because poverty prevents them from emitting more greenhouse gases.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Frogs disappearing from Costa Rican jungles

San Jose, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Global warming is the top suspect for the disappearance of 17 amphibian species from Costa Rican jungles, scientists said on Tuesday, warning monkey and reptile populations were also plummeting.

Five of the amphibian species were found only in Costa Rica, meaning their disappearance from the country's jungles spells extinction, said Alvaro Herrero, a biologist with Costa Rica's National Biodiversity Institute.

Among the now-extinct species is the Golden Toad, named for its shimmering yellow colour, and two varieties of Harlequin frog, identified by their black and green stripes.

Scientists have yet to identify a precise mechanism for the disappearance of the amphibians, which began decades ago, but a prime suspect is a fatal fungus that has invaded their habitats, Herrero said.

"It is believed climate change is raising temperatures allowing a skin fungus to enter the places where the amphibians resided," he said.

Several studies in recent years have linked the rapid disappearance of many of the world's frog and toad species to global warming.

About a third of the 5 743 known species of frogs, toads and other amphibians are classified as threatened, according to the Global Amphibian Assessment survey.

Human activities are wiping out three animal or plant species every hour, the United Nations said on Tuesday, the International Day for Biological Diversity.

A strong consensus of scientists believe that global warming is the result of the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Scientists say the amphibian die-off is a harbinger of things to come in the biologically rich tropical forests of Costa Rica.

"It's going to be a fact that we see a large extinction," said Rodrigo Gamez, president of the biodiversity institute.

In La Selva, a biological station in northern Costa Rica run by Duke University's Organisation of Tropical Studies, scientists have found a 75 percent decline in amphibian population over the last 35 years.

The precise reason for the La Selva decline is not known, but scientists suspect that higher temperatures are inhibiting plant growth and thus diminishing the volume of decomposing leaves in which the amphibians thrive.

Populations of reptiles and insects also seem to be on the decline around the biological station, he said.

Another disturbing trend in the country is the decline of Costa Rica's monkeys. Monkey populations have fallen by 30 percent in recent years, according to Alfo Piva, executive director of the biodiversity institute.

He said a lot was unknown about the changes in Costa Rica's jungles. "Much study is still lacking," he said.

Costa Rica occupies about 0,03 percent of the Earth's land mass, but contains about four percent of its animal and plant species.

Monday, May 21, 2007

CAFTA referendum: Costa Ricans to vote on September 23

(Tax-News.com) - Costa Rican voters will go to the polls in September this year to decide whether they want the country to ratify the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), although a review of the agreement by the constitutional court may yet throw the referendum into doubt.

With the government and the national assembly seemingly at loggerheads over whether to accept the trade deal, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has announced that the people will decide on the issue in the country's first ever referendum, set for September 23.

However, following weeks of speculation, Costa Rica's Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court has announced that it will review the text of the 2,000 page agreement to ascertain whether it violates the country's constitution.

This review, which was announced on May 11, is expected to be completed after a month. If the court rules that CAFTA-DR is unconstitutional, it is unclear whether the referendum will go ahead in September as planned. Although the court's ruling would be non-binding, local reports suggest that this would clearly have some kind of bearing on whether the vote can still take place.

While all the other signatories of CAFTA-DR, including the United States, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, have signed and ratified the agreement, Costa Rica remains the only country to waver on its commitment following fierce protests from labour unions who fear more competition would lead to job losses and drive wages downwards.

Other opponents fear that the agreement could lead to a loss of sovereignty as Costa Rica would be required to defer to a multinational arbitration panel in the event of a trade dispute. On the other side of the debate, the business community has been demanding that the government send the agreement to the assembly, saying that the seemingly never-ending delay could cost Costa Rica lost business opportunities and foreign investment.

CAFTA would immediately eliminate duties on more than half the value of US farm exports to the region, expand IP protections and open telecommunications and other markets. It would also eliminate tariffs on 80% of US exports of consumer and industrial goods in signatory countries, with remaining tariffs phased out over 10 years.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Costa Rica accuses Castro of meddling in its internal affairs

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AFP): Costa Rica accused Cuba Thursday of meddling in its internal affairs after Cuban leader Fidel Castro criticized free trade agreements between Latin American nations and the United States.

The Central American nation charged that Cuba was attempting to "mar" a referendum on its free trade deal with the United States scheduled for September 23.

"The government of the Republic of Costa Rica expresses its concern and unease over a foreign government's interference in the internal affairs of Costa Rica," President Oscar Arias' office said in a statement.

"The declarations of the president of Cuba ... fomenting an external interventionism and insinuating the possibility of 'fraud' in the referendum ... represent a serious affront on the residents of a sovereign, democratic, free and independent Costa Rica," the statement said.

The statement was issued a day after the convalescing Castro denounced in a newspaper article the "bitter reality" left by free trade agreements between Latin American nations and Washington.

In his eighth article in two months, the 80-year-old leader also cited Costa Rican, Mexican and Chilean delegates who criticized free trade deals during a forum in Havana.

Castro handed power to his brother Raul on a temporary basis in July while he recovers from intestinal surgery.

While he has not been seen in public for since then, Castro has used articles published in Cuba's daily Granma newspaper to convey his thoughts on several issues.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Costa Rica quits training cops at Fort Benning

San Jose, Costa Rica (AP, AFP) - Costa Rica will no longer send its police to a controversial US training center formerly known as the School of the Americas, officials said Friday.

Public safety minister Fernando Berrocal (pictured) said President Oscar Arias made the decision with regard to "the most sacred principles of the country's history."

"We must understand that this decision does not in any way contradict our alliance with the United States in the struggle against crime and neither does it impede cooperation in security programs to professionalize our police," he said.

While many Latin American countries send military officers to the US school at Fort Benning, Georgia, Costa Rica has not had an army since it was constitutionally disbanded in 1948.

Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize 20 years ago and has dedicated himself to international arms control. He said he made the decision after meeting Wednesday with activists from the group School of the Americas Watch.

"We agreed that when the three police we have there end their training, we won't send any more people," Arias said in a statement.

School of the Americas Watch has campaigned for years against the school, arguing that its training of the region's police and soldiers led to human rights abuses, especially during the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

The School of the Americas moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984 and was replaced in 2001 by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, under the U.S. Defense Department. The school added human rights courses to its curriculum after some of its graduates were accused of committing human rights abuses.

While Costa Rica made its decision based on the primarily military nature of the school, it in no way altered the government's intention to fight crime, especially drug trafficking.

Costa Rica patrols its sea coasts with US cooperation to fight drug trafficking.

Berrocal said that he has been working with US officials to find a formula that would allow the technical training of Costa Rican police rooted in civil traditions and human rights.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Picture of the day

In this handout image from the Miss Universe 2007 organization, Eileen Roca, Miss Colombia 2007, left, Annelien Coorevits, Miss Belgium 2007, center, and Veronica Gonzalez, Miss Costa Rica 2007, pose in Mexico City Friday, May 18, 2007. They will compete for the title of Miss Universe 2007 during the 56th annual Miss Universe competition from Mexico City on May 28. (AP Photo/Darren Decker, Miss Universe L.P., LLLP)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Costa Rica official protests hostage taker release

In this undated photo released by his family, Roman Bogdanyants, the 20-year-old Kazakhstan man that turned himself over to police on Friday, ending a three-hour standoff and safely releasing a captive he held inside the Russian Embassy, is seen in San Jose, Costa Rica. Bogdanyants was taken to a San Jose courthouse, where he was being held as prosecutors were investigating what charges would be filed against him.(AP Photo) SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, May 14 (Reuters) - Costa Rica's top prosecutor on Monday appealed against a judge's decision to release an immigrant who last week held a man hostage for hours at the Russian Embassy in San Jose.

Roman Bogdanyants, armed with a gun, took an acquaintance hostage on Friday following an argument over money, in a stand-off that gripped Costa Ricans before ending without violence.

A judge freed Bogdanyants, originally from Kyrgyzstan, on Saturday on the condition that he doesn't leave Costa Rica while the case is investigated and that he stays aways from the hostage and his family.

Costa Rica's Attorney General Francisco Dall'Anesse said that Bogdanyants committed a crime and six months of preventive prison while the incident's investigations proceed are justified. Dall'Anesse also said that his office is already filing a motion to revoke Bogdanyants' freedom.

He criticized the judge's argument that the gunman did not have enough money to leave, saying that "the country's borders are very open."

Dall'Anesse said the release could send a message to armed political groups that they could operate easily in the Central American nation.

No embassy personnel were taken hostage during the incident. Russian Ambassador Valery Nikolayenko stayed in a separate floor of the building throughout the incident trying to persuade Bogdanyants to give up.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hostage taker at Russian embassy in Costa Rica surrenders

Costa Rican police escort a gunman and a hostage, both in yellow, after the gunman surrendered at the Russian Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, Friday May 11, 2007. A 20-year-old Kazakhstan native turned himself over to police on Friday, ending a three-hour standoff with police and safely releasing a man he had been holding at the Russian Embassy in Costa Rica, police said. The police did not confirm which of the two men was the hostage. (AP Photo)San Jose, Costa Rica (Itar-Tass) - Friday’s incident at the Russian embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica has been resolved peacefully, and the armed man who penetrated into the building, agreed to give himself up to the police.

“Nobody was harmed during the incident and the Russian diplomatic mission suffered no significant damage,” Russia’s ambassador to Costa Rica, Valery Nikolayenko, told Itar-Tass over the telephone. He thanked the Costa-Rican authorities for effective cooperation in resolving the incident.

The troublemaker agreed to surrender and be handcuffed as a result of negotiations, in which his parents took part.

According to the version offered by the Russian diplomats, the incident occurred shortly after noon during a reception at the embassy’s consular office. Two visitors quarreled over a cash debt. One of them carried a handgun. Holding the alleged debtor at gunpoint he said he wanted his money back, and then locked himself up in the reception room, in fact taking the other man hostage.

According to the information available at this point the attacker was identified as Roman Bogdanyants, 20, whose family had moved to Costa Rica from Kyrgyzstan about a year ago. Starting life from scratch away from the home country proved not so easy. Some financial problems emerged.

A family friend, Artur Mitiniani, told Channel 7 news that the family had lost $30,000 because of problems with the Russian citizen whom Bogdanyants met at the embassy.

“It is very good the incident was resolved peacefully and nobody was hurt. Both men have been taken to the police and the details and background of the incident is being investigated,” Nikolayenko said. “All embassy staff demonstrated self-control and courage. We shall see what we should do to improve security at the embassy.”

This is not the first case armed people manage to penetrate into foreign embassies in Costa Rica. Some of the previous incidents were not without casualties.

In July 2004, an armed guard, angry about his transfer to a different job, entered the Chilean embassy in San Jose to take diplomats hostage. The incident had a tragic outcome. The attacker shot dead three of the ten hostages and then committed suicide before the building began to be stormed.

In 1993 a group of five gunmen penetrated into the Nicaraguan embassy in Costa Rica to seize over 20 hostages. That crisis was settled without losses.

Friday, May 11, 2007

45% of Costa Ricans in favour of CAFTA

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - The number of people in Costa Rica who support signing a commerce agreement with the United States and other neighbouring nations is bigger than those who oppose it.

According to a poll by CID-Gallup 45 percent of respondents say they will vote in favour of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in a referendum, while 32 percent would vote against the deal and 10 percent are still undecided.

In May 2004, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua agreed to the CAFTA with the United States. The Dominican Republic followed suit in August. The agreement—which would reduce or eliminate taxes and tariffs on imports—must be approved by each country’s legislative branch.

To date, Costa Rica remains the only country that has not ratified CAFTA. Former Costa Rican president Abel Pacheco postponed debate on the trade deal, hoping that the Legislative Assembly would approve a series of bills related to the country’s fiscal system.

Oscar Arias—a member of the National Liberation Party (PLN)—won the February 2006 presidential election with 40.92 per cent of all cast ballots. Arias supports the CAFTA and expects to have it ratified by the end of 2007.

On Apr. 13, Arias announced that Costa Ricans would be asked in a referendum whether they want the country to ratify the CAFTA or not. The president declared: "For the first time, Costa Ricans will be able to directly decide the future of a very important law for the country."

No date has been set for the nationwide vote, but it is expected to take place within the next three months.

Source: CID-Gallup
Methodology: Interviews with 1,200 Costa Rican adults, conducted from Apr. 16 to Apr. 23, 2007. Margin of error is 2.8 percent.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

NASA to set up base in Costa Rica to study global warming

(Inside Costa Rica) - The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has chosen Costa Rica for its operations research base on the stuyd on the impact of tropical clouds on global warming.

The research is expected to take place from mid July to mid August, as NASA airplanes fly over Costa Rica and Panama.

The Costa Rican National Centre of High Technology (CENAT) has signed an agreement with NASA which will allow the U.S. space agency to fly three planes out of the Juan Santamaría International airport in Alajuela.

CENAT said that his is the largest mission NASA has carried out outside the United States and has an estimated cost of $20 million dollars, with more than 200 NASA scientists and technicians working on the project.

The focus of the study is to observe the ascending and descending air currents along the Costa Rican and Panamanian coasts and how these currents affect global warming.

Monday, May 07, 2007

U.S. to partially forgive Costa Rican debt

Costa Rican Juanita Zeledon uses a special camera and laptop to take photos of the root systems of plants at La Selva Biological Station on the edge of Braullio Carrillo National Park north-east of San Jose, Costa Rica, Monday May 7, 2007. The U.S. and Costa Rican governments announced negotiations for $ 12.6 milion dollars of debt to be forgiven in return for Costa Rica's conservation of the environment under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act.(AP Photo/Kent Gilbert) (Inside Costa Rica) - The United States could soon cancel about $12.6 million of the almost $100 million dollars in debt owed to it by Costa Rica. The debt cancellation is in exchange for environmental protection spending programs, said the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry yesterday.

The plan is for Costa Rica to spend the money towards programs that protect forestlands.

Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias, first proposed the idea to United States president, George W. Bush, during a visit to the White House last December. The U.S. president expressed interest and Treasury Department later deemed Costa Rica to be eligible to join the other countries qualifying for debt forgiveness under the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA).

In addition, the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International has pledged to cancel $2.5 million in debt allowing Costa Rica to choose to invest in environmental projects.

The deadline for the debt cancellation is September 30, by which time Costa Rica has to announce its decision in which projects to invest, said the U.S. Embassy.

Attending the ceremony were Finance Minister Guillermo Zúñiga, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, The Nature Conservancy Costa Rican program director Zdenka Piskulich and Manuel Ramírez, of Conservation International.

U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, Mark Langdale, said that he is confident that Costa Rica will meet the deadline and that all the parties will do everything necessary to make the opportunity a reality.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Chemichal fire

Fire fighters watch explosions at a chemical plant in Alajuela, Costa Rica, early Wednesday, May 2, 2007. Fire fighters fought the blaze for more than 5 hours. (AP Photo/Kent Gilbert)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Picture of the day

In this photo released by the Miss Universe 2007 Organization on Friday May 4, 2007, Veronica Gonzalez, Miss Costa Rica 2007, poses in a Mexicana airplane jet engine during a photo shoot in Mexico City, May 3, 2007. She will compete for the title of Miss Universe 2007 during the 56th annual Miss Universe competition in Mexico City on May 28. (AP Photo/Miss Universe L.P.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Costa Rica fears Chavez' meddling with referendum

The Costa Rican government launched Tuesday night an official campaign to endorse by means of referendum a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States and warned against the potential meddling of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"As a citizen and president, I decided already to say 'yes' to the FTA. I will do it not because it is faultless, but simply because it is good for most Costa Ricans," President Oscar Arias declared at the Congress, where he briefed on the first year of his presidential term, AFP reported.

Arias initially purported to approve the FTA at the Congress. However, the Elections Supreme Tribunal (TSE) ruled three weeks ago that the issue should be taken to a referendum in order to prevent clashes and violence.

Arias' presentation followed a speech by Mayi Antillon, the head of the parliamentarian section of ruling Partido de Liberación Nacional (PLN). Then, the official expressed outspokenly her fear about the potential funding by the Venezuelan government of a campaign in Costa Rica against the referendum.

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