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Opportunity within Constraints: The OSCE and its Next Italian Presidency

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The current OSCE Chairperson-in-Office is the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sebastian Kurz. The OSCE Chairmanship is held for one calendar year by the OSCE participating State designated as such by a decision of the Ministerial Council. Kurz has outlined his activity in the largest security structure in the world which tries to prevent internal conflicts between members and beyond.

The OSCE comprises 57 participating States and 11 Partners for co-operation (5 Asian and 6 Mediterranean). The network allows a range of operations never experienced before by a network for collective security. Furthermore, these are crucial areas for the future development of the globe and not only at an economic level. The latest action, but certainly not the least relevant, is the 2017 Business Conference for “green” and telecommunication technologies, which will be held in Vienna on January 25. This is a good example of the activities carried out by the OSCE, an international security and stability structure which could potentially replace or otherwise improve the work of other collective security organizations. In a recent interview, Minister Steinmeier, the previous Chairperson, noted that the OSCE has organized as many as 300 major events in Vienna, Berlin, and in the whole region of the organization. In terms of geographic scope, the OSCE truly does represent the world from ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok.’

From Ukraine to Turkmenistan to Armenia, ODIHR – hence the OSCE – has endeavored to observe the proper organization and development of many legislative and local elections and will do so also in the near future: in February, elections will be held in Liechtenstein and, on February 12, in Turkmenistan; on March 15, elections will be held in the Netherlands; in April 2017, presidential elections are scheduled in France and, on April 2, elections will be held in Armenia. Furthermore, in May and June the OSCE will also carry out electoral observation activities in Serbia and Mongolia. It is important to note that ODIHR is the human rights institution of the OSCE. Its mandate tasks ODIHR with assisting governments in meeting their commitments in the field of human rights and democracy. To this effect, ODIHR observes (ie, does not “monitor”) elections, promotes and monitors respect for human rights, and runs democracy assistance projects throughout the OSCE region. In addition, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly also leads election observation missions, and some OSCE field operations carry out elections-related activities, including training for election commission members, media and police, as well as voter education initiatives.

These are all highly sensitive areas where observing the regularity of the electoral process is key to international political legitimacy and hence also to the economic and financial stability of those new governments. Keep in mind that election observation is conducted with a view to assess the electoral process and make recommendations in order to improve it so that participating States meet their commitments in this area. While, initially, the issue may make a cynical proponent of Hobbes or Machiavelli smile, think of what would happen if all these elections were devoid of international legitimacy and certification? The process of democratic maturation would surely be lessened and damaged. There would be the blocking of international funding, destabilizations carried out by various international actors, the “sword jihad” and the economic disruption of those countries, as well as tumultuous refugee migration.

Hence, if Trump’s new US Presidency does not want NATO as a guiding star – an organization that the US President believes, and not entirely wrongly, to be obsolete – or if the EU is only going to be a “general partnership” for individual EU Member States’ interests, only the OSCE will be in a position to convey and meet in a credible way the demands for collective security. This reality should not be disregarded too easily.

The amount of electoral activity and scope of political importance coming before the OSCE should not be underestimated. Next June general elections will be held in France and, on June 18, elections are also scheduled in Albania. On June 26, presidential elections will take place in Iceland, a country which only those who know the full complexion of NATO’s network can understand. We do not know yet when general elections will be held in Germany, while next September parliamentary elections are scheduled in Norway. No matter whether they are democratic countries, it is clear they are essential countries for global balance. In 2017 important elections will be held in Slovenia and Bulgaria even though, once again, we do not know yet the precise dates. In 2017 also the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will hold its municipal elections, which are crucial in political terms. Finally, in October 2017, presidential elections are due in Kyrgyzstan and parliamentary ones in the Czech Republic. These are all on the OSCE electoral observation activities list and should make everyone understand the importance and impact of the organization.

Hence, during the 2018 Presidency – granted to Italy by consensus via the Ministerial Council – it shall also monitor the efficacy of the electoral process in Ukraine. This means not only with specific reference to elections, but also in relation to the extremely complex issue of intercontinental migration and the relationship with Southern Mediterranean countries. Hence the decisive lines of Italy’s foreign policy and the essential issues for the structure and future of many European countries and many of the other 57 OSCE Member States will be decided between 2017 and 2018, the latter year being under the OSCE Italian Presidency.

One issue which the 2018 Italian Presidency will certainly give great attention to is the solution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. As we may recall, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia led to the Armenian occupation of approximately 20% of Azeri territory and military operations ended with the bilateral agreement reached in Bishkek in 1994. Heaven knows how badly this agreement is desired by Russia, which does not want backyard wars on its borders. Indeed, all international resolutions, namely Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of the UN Security Council, as well as the others adopted by the UN General Assembly itself, call for the unilateral withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azeri territory. Please note, however, that no Resolution, Declaration, or Decision was taken by the OSCE on this topic so far this year but it could very well be a main topic on the overall 2017 or 2018 agenda.

This will be an interesting test at the strategic level: how can the OSCE make its decisions and negotiated talks credible and enforced? As we have seen repeatedly, the UN “Blue Helmets” are not always effective or comprehensive. They freeze the clash until they are on the field, but unfortunately later everything returns inevitably to the way it was. Hence, during the Italian Presidency, it would be useful for the OSCE – as a collective security framework – to equip itself with an effective system to control decisions on the field. A purely military system is not needed. Rather, a network of “sensors” on the ground would be enough. These sensors could signal to other traditional military structures – ranging from NATO to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, up to individual countries such as Turkey and Russia – the need to assess, control, and prevent undesired or compromising clashes in the new Eurasian framework.

What this truly means is that the large alliances born on the basis of the Cold War are obsolete. NATO is obsolete and will not be taken seriously by Donald Trump’s new US Republican Presidency, even if he does not have the fortitude to try to disband or withdraw formally from the organization. The new US President does not want useless entities standing in his way: if he wants a global agreement with the Russian Federation – and certainly so – he will reach it without, and possibly against, the Atlantic Alliance itself. It is worth noting that the issue does not only lie in the American money spent on European security while the EU and NATO de facto earn a “peace dividend” for which they have not paid a penny. As we might soon see with the new US President, this is not the only problem. The issue is much broader. As Lord Ismay used to say, NATO was established to “keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.” Today the Atlantic strategic equation is completely different. If anything, the issue is now about keeping the Germans in, the Russians close, and the Americans not aloof or dismissive.

Indeed, Russia has no direct national security interest in keeping the United States out of the regions in which it currently operates and is currently winning the geostrategic game. In Syria, in Central Asia, in new regional wars taking shape across the Middle East, Russia wants to make the United States matter in a positive way – which it would consider a welcome change from Barack Obama’s vision which lacked strategic and logical sense, torn between naïve and disastrous, and was too heavily ideological. “Democratic interventionism” in geostrategically important countries must be done by consensus and not unilaterally. Russia does not want to bear the whole burden of its international operations, which have pulled many chestnuts out of the fire and taken the United States off the hook in Syria at least. In all likelihood, a great peace conference will be held in the Middle East, or, in any case, there will be a network of bilateral and trilateral relations which will redesign a new balance of regional power. Russia will certainly be the final arbiter, after its progress in Syria, as well as the agreements with Israel and the stabilization of the Shiite system along the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. Not to mention Russia extended invitations to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to participate in the upcoming negotiations on Syrian peace.

Some might ask what will or can the OSCE do in this regard, since it is certainly desired by many to have a leading role in Syria, and not only in terms of observing future elections? Unfortunately, the OSCE cannot and will not monitor elections in Syria. Syria is neither a Participating state nor a Partner for co-operation of the OSCE. The Organization therefore cannot conduct any activities in that country. But can the Italian Presidency in 2018 come up with new ideas and a new perception of regional equilibria, capable of providing original and safe solutions? Within the OSCE could it try to ensure the management of migrant flows, as many European and Italian leaders are calling for? It would certainly be good if the Italian Presidency made inroads in making the Russian Federation a more integral and cooperative partner for the OSCE. The organization likes to stress that the Russian Federation is one of the founding participating States of the CSCE and therefore has always been a full-fledged participating State of the OSCE. But when it comes to the desire to see perhaps China have a more participatory or partnership role with the OSCE, there are problems: China, quite simply, cannot become a participating State as it is not part of the Euro-Atlantic region. Turkey is already a member and it should be made more active explicitly within the framework of OSCE collective security action. This is in terms of both migrants and refugees, who should not be a tool to blackmail Germany with EU money, as well as the redesign of arrival lines and, most importantly, the selection of migrants/refugees from the Middle East. Potentially, within the OSCE and the framework of the 2018 Italian Presidency, an important issue will lie in further integrating and progressing the Maghreb countries – at least those not destabilized forever by the silly madness of the “Arab Spring” – into a collective security project for migrant and Mediterranean stability. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel are all OSCE partners for Co-operation, after all, but they cannot become formal participating States.

If, as is likely, the Russian Federation will be present – with two bases in Libya – in the territories controlled by Khalifa Haftar and the Tobruk government – while the West in general and other “humanitarian operators” in specific are still tinkering with Fajez al-Serraj’s Tripoli government – the 2018 Italian Presidency should try to be an influential thought-leader and potential change-agent in order to settle the Libyan issue. This is speaking optimisictally, however, as it has to be stressed that Libya is neither a participating State nor a partner for Co-operation with the OSCE. The OSCE does not have a mandate to deal with issues related to Libya, nor can it take any initiative to convene an international conference on that subject. But that does not mean OSCE leadership cannot be a moral and humanitarian voice for good over this conflict area.

We must remove from this increasingly important collective security organization the impression of it being a Northern-countries-of-the-world-only club, as the incomparable Willi Brandt called them. If Italy succeeds in this endeavor, of being a true thought-leader and change-agent for the world, it will have a chance to replace two declining organizations which have been weakened significantly as of late, namely NATO and the EU, with a new, broad, and credible collective security network. If we remain linked to old orthodox thinking and we are afraid of our own shadows, every effort will be in vain and Italy shall move to a phase for which it is totally unprepared: a nationalized and autonomous foreign and defense policy absent any real consensus or partnership beyond its own borders.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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From Davos to Munich

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An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.

During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.

In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.

This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.

These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.

“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”

Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.

“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.

The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.

But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.

The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.

Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.

The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.

Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.

“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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