The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Live updates: Austria's chancellor to meet Putin in Moscow

Associated Press Sunday, 10 April 2022, 06:15 Last update: about 5 months ago

BERLIN -- Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Nehammer told reporters in Vienna on Sunday that he plans to make the journey. It follows a trip on Saturday to Kyiv, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

APA reported that Nehammer aims to encourage dialogue between Ukraine and Russia and also address Russian “war crimes” in his meeting with Putin.

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Austria is a member of the European Union and has backed the 27-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia, though it so far has opposed cutting off deliveries of Russian gas. The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.

Nehammer said he was taking the trip on his own initiative, and that he had consulted with the European Union’s top officials. He said that he also informed Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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BERLIN -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Ukraine said the staff at the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant has been rotated for the first time in three weeks after Russian troops left the area.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern about the well-being of the workers since the Russian military took control of the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster at the beginning of the war.

The agency said Ukraine informed it on Sunday that it has now rotated the staff, but the situation remains far from normal. They had to be transported to and from the site by water, with the Pripyat River being the only way for people living in the city of Slavutych to currently reach the plant.

The IAEA said Ukraine has informed it that analytical laboratories for radiation monitoring at the site were destroyed, with analytical instruments “stolen, broken or otherwise disabled.” The automated transmission of radiation monitoring data has been disabled.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The governor of the region that includes Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, Dnipro, says the airport was hit twice by missile attacks on Sunday. The Ukrainian military command said Russian forces also keep shelling Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and have kept up their siege of Mariupol, the key southern port city that has been under attack for nearly six weeks.

The Russian Defense Ministry says it’s air-launched missiles hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in two locations, while sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed a Ukrainian unit’s headquarters in the Dnipro region. Neither side’s military claims could be independently verified.

The Pentagon said Russia has a clear advantage in armored forces for its next phase in its war on Ukraine. Press secretary John Kirby said Friday that the Russians spread themselves too thin to take the capital, but now they’re more focused on a smaller region, and still have the vast majority of their combat power. A major effort by Ukrainian defenses and more Western assistance will be needed to push them back.

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WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. official said Russia has appointed a new commander to oversee its war on Ukraine.

The official speaking on condition of anonymity said Russia has turned to one of its most experienced military officers, Gen. Alexander Dvornikov. U.S. officials say the 60-year-old general has a record of brutality against civilians in Syria and other theaters of war.

The White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN on Sunday that “this general will just be another author of crimes and brutality against Ukrainian civilians.” And he said “no appointment of any general can erase the fact that Russia has already faced a strategic failure in Ukraine.”

The new battlefield leadership comes as Russia gears up for what is expected to be a large and more focused push to expand Russian control in the Donbas after failing to conquer the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Sullivan reiterated support for the Ukrainian government, saying the United States is determined to do all it can to help Ukrainians resist this general and the forces he commands.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s border guard agency says that about 2,200 Ukrainian men of fighting age have been detained so far while trying to leave the country in violation of martial law.

The agency said Sunday that some of them have used forged documents and others tried to bribe border guards to get out of the country.

It said some have been found dead while trying to cross the Carpathian mountains in adverse weather, without specifying the number.

Under martial law, Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 are barred from leaving the country so that they can be called up to fight.

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WARSAW, Poland — Sirens have sounded in some Polish cities to mark the anniversary of a 2010 plane crash that killed the country’s president, despite protests that their sound would be unnecessarily traumatic for refugees from the war in Ukraine.

The sirens early Sunday were intended to add to the significance and the plaintive character of observances honoring the late President Lech Kaczynski, the first lady and 94 other prominent Poles killed 12 years ago in the crash of the presidential plane in Russia. Kaczynski was the twin of Jaroslaw Kaczynski — the leader of the main governing Law and Justice party.

Provincial governors ignored calls not to use the sirens out of concern for refugees from neighboring Ukraine, traumatized by air raid alarms. Authorities sent text messages to refugees’ phones that the sirens would mean no danger.

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KYIV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian military says Russia has been beefing up its forces and trying to probe Ukrainian defenses.

The Ukrainian military command said Sunday that the Russian troops have continued attempts to break Ukrainian defenses near Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv. It reported that Russia was sending reinforcements to Izyum while continuing the shelling of Kharkiv.

The military added that the Russians also continued their attempts to take control of Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port that has been besieged by Russian forces for nearly 1 ½ months.

After Russia’s attempt to capture Kyiv and other big cities in northeastern Ukraine quickly failed, Ukrainian and Western officials expect Moscow to launch a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he focused on the need to track down perpetrators of war crimes in a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Zelenskyy said on Twitter that in Sunday’s call “we emphasized that all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other places near Kyiv, where hundreds of slaughtered civilians, many with their hands bound and signs of torture, were found after Russian troops retreated.

Zelenskyy also said he and Scholz “discussed anti-Russian sanctions, defense and financial support for Ukraine.”

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has opened Holy Week with a call for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make room for a negotiated peace, highlighting the need for leaders to “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.”

Celebrating Palm Sunday Mass before crowds in St. Peter’s Square for the first time since the pandemic, Pope Francis called for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”

Francis did not refer directly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the reference was clear. He has repeatedly denounced the war and the suffering brought to innocent civilians.

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HELSINKI — Finland says that a shipment of art works from Russian museums has been returned to Russia after it was seized under European Union sanctions against Moscow.

Finland’s customs service said late Saturday that the Foreign Ministry granted a special permit to return the consignment with a total insured value of around 42 million euros ($46 million). It said that trucks carrying the art works from the Hermitage Museum and the Pavlovsk State Museum in St. Petersburg, among others, left Finnish territory on Saturday afternoon.

The shipment was seized at the Vaalimaa border crossing at the beginning of April. The works were en route to Russia after loan to museums in Europe and Japan. Experts say that art works loaned from Russia typically travel overland via Finland.

Russia has demanded the return of all works on loan to “unfriendly” nations that imposed sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — The Russian military says it has struck Ukrainian air defense batteries in the country’s south and east.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Sunday that the military used air-launched missiles to hit Ukraine’s S-300 air defense missile systems in Starobohdanivka in the southern Mykolaiv region and at an air base in Chuhuiv in the eastern Kharkiv region.

Konashenkov also said that sea-launched cruise missiles destroyed the headquarters of a Ukrainian military unit near Zvonetske in the Dnipro region.

The Russian military claims couldn’t be independently verified.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says more civilians are expected to leave Mariupol Sunday in their personal vehicles.

Evacuations are also planned from Berdyansk, Tokmak and Enerhodar in the south and Sieverierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasna and Rubizhne in the east.

Mariupol, a strategic port city on the Sea of Azov, has been besieged by Russian forces for nearly 1 ½ months, cut from food, water and power supplies and pummeled by relentless bombardment that has killed at least 5,000, according to local officials.

Ukrainian authorities have urged civilians in the east to evacuate in the face of an imminent Russian offensive. They accused Russia of killing 52 people on Friday at the train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk as they were preparing to evacuate.

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GENEVA -- The U.N. refugee agency says the number of people who have left Ukraine since the beginning of the war has reached 4.5 million.

A regular update Sunday of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ online portal on numbers of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Feb. 24 brought the total to some 4.504 million.

About 2.6 million of those fled at least initially to Poland and more than 686,000 to Romania. However, UNHCR notes that there are very few border controls within the European Union and it believes “a large number of people” have moved on from the first country they arrived in.

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LONDON -- Britain’s Ministry of Defense says that Russia’s armed forces are seeking to respond to mounting losses by boosting troop numbers with personnel who had been discharged from military service since 2012.

In an intelligence update on Twitter, the ministry also said Sunday that the Russian military’s efforts to “generate more fighting power” also include trying to recruit from Trans-Dniester, a breakaway region in Moldova that borders Ukraine.

Russia maintains some 1,500 troops in the region, which is not internationally recognized.

SANTIAGO, Chile — Dozens of protesters gathered in front of the Russian embassy in Chile’s capital of Santiago on Saturday to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Protesters unfurled a large banner featuring the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The group included Ukrainians living in Chile.

Some protesters lay down on the ground and clutched stuffed animals to honor child victims of the war. A large banner read, “Stand with Ukraine.”

“We want to be united at this time with our children, with our families,” said Alina Prus, a Ukrainian living in Chile. “Several of us have our families who are now living the horror of what war means.”

Another protester, Dária Gryshko, said many Ukrainians living in Chile have family or friends living both there and in Russia.

“It is painful to see how families break up, how relationships break up, when opinions are divided within a family,” she said. “Because the people who live in Russia are exposed to a lot of propaganda, even when you show them video of what is happening now, they don’t believe, because they don’t come out from their TV.”

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BORODIANKA, Ukraine — Firefighters continued searching Saturday for survivors or the dead in the debris of destroyed buildings in a northern Ukrainian town that was occupied for weeks by Russian forces.

Residents of Borodianka expect to find dozens of victims under the rubble of the several buildings destroyed during fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops. The town is about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northwest of the capital of Kyiv and had more than 12,000 residents.

Russian troops occupied Borodianka while advancing towards Kyiv in an attempt to encircle it. They retreated during the last days of March following fierce fighting. The town is without electricity, natural gas or other services.

A 77-year-old resident, Maria Vaselenko, said her daughter and son-in-law’s bodies have been under rubble for 36 days because Russian soldiers would not allow residents to search for loved ones or their bodies. She said her two teenage grandchildren escaped to Poland but are now orphans.

“The Russians were shooting. And some people wanted to come and help, but they were shooting them,” she told The Associated Press. “They were putting explosives under dead people.”

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MARIUPOL, Ukraine -- Shelling by Russian forces of Ukraine’s key port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has collapsed several humanitarian corridors and made conditions seldom right for people to leave.

It was not clear Saturday how many people remained trapped in the city, which had a prewar population of 430,000. Ukrainian officials have put the number at about 100,000, but earlier this week, British defense officials said 160,000 people remained trapped in the city.

Ukrainian troops have refused to surrender the city, though much of it has been razed.

Resident Sergey Petrov said Saturday that recently two shells struck around him in quick succession, but neither exploded upon landing. He was in his garage at the time and said his mother later told him, “I was born again.”

“A shell flew in and broke up into two parts but it did not explode, looks like it did not land on the detonator but on its side,” he said.

He added that when another shell flew in and hit the garage, “I am in shock. I don’t understand what is happening. I have a hole in my garage billowing smoke. I run away and leave everything. I come back in several hours and find another shell lying there, also unexploded.”

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ATHENS, Greece — A Ukrainian soccer club on Saturday opened a series of charity games on a government-backed “Global Tour for Peace” wearing the names of heavily bombarded cities on its jerseys.

The tour by the Shakhtar Donetsk club aims to raise money for Ukraine’s military in the war against Russia, and also help Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war.

Its first game Saturday was a 1-0 loss to Greek league leader Olympiakos.

Soccer clubs around Europe have been offering to play games against Ukrainian clubs and host youth players after soccer in the country was shut down when Russia invaded in February.

Shakhtar already was displaced from its home of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Playing in the Athens area on Saturday, Shakhtar players replaced their names on the back of their jerseys with those of cities bombarded by Russian forces, including Mariupol.

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BUCHA, Ukraine -- Civilians remaining in Bucha lined up Saturday for food donated by the local church in the battered Kyiv suburb where Ukrainian forces and journalists reported evidence of war crimes after Russian soldiers withdrew.

With other civilians fleeing in the wake of Russia’s invasion, most of the people remaining in Bucha were elderly, poor or unable to leave loved ones. Russian troops withdrew more than a week ago.

Volunteer Petro Denysyuk told The Associated Press that he and fellow church friends started providing food, with a wide array of basic foodstuffs and hot meals.

“We have gathered together with the youth from our church and prepared food for the needy,” Denysyuk said. “We prepared pilaf, boiled eggs, prepared meat, sausages, noodles.”

Ukrainian forces and journalists that went into Bucha saw bodies strewn in the streets, evidence of summary executions and the remains of people who could not have threatened soldiers. Russia has denied accusations of war crimes and accused Kyiv of staging them.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the leaders of Britain and Austria for their visits to Kyiv on Saturday and pledges of further support.

In his daily late-night video address to the nation, Zelenskyy also thanked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a global fundraising event that raised more than 10 billion euros ($11 billion) for Ukrainians who have had to flee their homes.

Zelenskyy said democratic countries were united in working to stop the war. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer became the latest of several European rulers to meet Zelenskky in Kyiv.

“Because Russian aggression was not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone, to the destruction only of our freedom and our life,” he said. “The entire European project is a target for Russia.”

Zelenskyy repeated his call for a complete embargo on Russian oil and gas, calling them the sources of Russia’s “self-confidence and impunity.”

“But Ukraine does not have time to wait. Freedom does not have time to wait. When tyranny begins its aggression against everything that keeps the peace in Europe, action must be taken immediately,” he said.

He added: “And an oil embargo must be the first step. Moreover, by all democratic states, the entire civilized world. Then Russia will feel it. Then it will be an argument for them to seek peace, to stop the senseless violence.”

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LVIV, Ukraine — Eyewitness descriptions are coming from Kramatorsk, the town in eastern Ukraine where a missile hit a train station packed with evacuees on Friday.

The Sydorenko family could have been among the 52 dead and more than 100 wounded, but their taxi didn’t show and they had to wait for another one. They finally arrived for the 11 a.m. evacuation train just three minutes after the explosion.

Ivan Sydorenko says there were around 2,000 people inside the station and on the platforms when the missile hit. He says they got out of their taxi in a scene of burning cars, burning pieces of the missile and people fleeing for their lives.

Ivan managed to escape by bus and then train with his wife and daughter, eventually reaching the relative safety of Lviv in western Ukraine. The Sydorenkos are just one of thousands of families clamoring to leave eastern Ukraine ahead of an expected Russian onslaught there.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 10 evacuation corridors were planned for Saturday, and other stations were open for trains full of refugees.

Russia meanwhile has denied responsibility, accusing Ukraine’s military of firing on the station to try to turn blame for civilian slayings on Moscow.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Panicked residents of eastern Ukraine boarded buses or looked for other ways to leave Saturday, a day after a missile strike killed at least 52 people and wounded more than 100 at a train station.

The attack in in Kramatorsk left the city with no trains running and came with thousands of people seeking to leave. Ukrainian authorities have called on civilians to get out ahead of an imminent, stepped-up offensive by Russian forces in the east.

Residents on Saturday feared the kind of unrelenting assaults and occupations by Russian invaders that brought food shortages, demolished buildings and death to other cities elsewhere in Ukraine.

“It was terrifying. The horror, the horror,” one resident told British broadcaster Sky, recalling Friday’s attack on the train station. “Heaven forbid, to live through this again. No, I don’t want to.”

Western military analysts said an arc of territory in eastern Ukraine was under Russian control. It was from Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second-largest city — in the north to Kherson in the south.

But Ukrainian counterattacks are threatening Russian control of Kherson, according to the Western assessments, and Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian assaults elsewhere in the Donbas region in the southeast.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials predict Russian President Vladimir Putin may use U.S. support for Ukraine as justification for a new campaign to interfere in American politics.

Intelligence officials tell The Associated Press that they have yet to find any evidence that Putin has authorized measures like the ones Russia undertook in the last two elections to support former President Donald Trump. Several people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive findings said it remains unclear which candidates Russia might try to promote next.

Trump has repeatedly assailed U.S. intelligence officials and claimed that investigations of Russian influence on his campaigns to be political vendettas. In Ukraine and elsewhere, Russia has been accused of trying to spread disinformation, amplifying pro-Kremlin voices in the West and using cyberattacks to disrupt governments.

Top U.S. intelligence officials are still working on plans for a new Foreign Malign Influence Center, authorized by Congress, that will focus on foreign influence campaigns by Russia, China and other adversaries.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told The Associated Press on Saturday that he is committed to seeking peace despite Russian attacks on civilians that have stunned the world.

He said no one wants to negotiate with people who tortured their nation — “as a man, as a father, I understand this very well.” But he said “we don’t want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution.”

Zelenskyy said he’s confident Ukrainians would accept peace despite the horrors they have witnessed in the war. But meanwhile, Russian troops are regrouping for an expected surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine, including the besieged port city of Mariupol that Ukrainian defenders are battling to retain.

So Zelenskyy renewed his plea for countries to send more weapons. He says they have to fight for life -- not “for dust when there is nothing and no people. That’s why it is important to stop this war.”

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KYIV, Ukraine — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, promising so much support that his nation might never be bullied again.

Johnson’s surprise visit included a pledge of 120 armored vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems, part of another 100 million pounds ($130 million) of high-grade military equipment. Johnson also confirmed an additional $500 million in World Bank lending, taking Britain’s total loan guarantee up to $1 billion.

Johnson said Ukraine defied the odds pushing Russian forces “from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century.″

The prime minister credits “Zelenskyy’s resolute leadership and the invincible heroism and courage of the Ukrainian people” for thwarting what he calls the “monstrous aims” of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Johnson says Britain and its partners “are going to ratchet up the economic pressure ... not just freezing assets in banks and sanctioning oligarchs but moving away from use of Russian hydrocarbons.”

Johnson also described a vision for a future Ukraine so fortified and protected by the equipment, technology and know-how of Britain and its partners that it can never be threatened in the same way again. In the meantime, Johnson said, “there is a huge amount to do to make sure that Ukraine is successful, that Ukraine wins and that Putin must fail.”

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MILAN — An Italian government source said Italian Premier Mario Draghi is traveling to Algeria on Monday to sign a deal for more gas.

Italy has been urgently looking for alternatives to natural gas from Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. Russia is Italy’s biggest supplier, representing 40% of total imports.

Italy’s foreign minister has traveled to Algeria as well as Azerbaijan, Qatar, Congo, Angola and Mozambique to secure more deals. Algeria is Italy’s second-largest supplier of natural gas, which is the main source of the nation’s electricity, providing some 21 billion cubic meters of gas via the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline.

Italian energy company ENI has operated in Algeria for 40 years. ENI announced a significant oil and gas discovery in Algeria last month and said it would work with Algerian partner Sonatrach to fast-track its development for the third quarter of this year.

— Italy business reporter Colleen Barry.

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Julian Lennon has explained why he decided to sing his father’s song “Imagine” for the first time publicly.

He’s posted on social media that he always said he would only sing the song if it was the End of the World. He says it’s the right song to sing now because “the War on Ukraine is an unimaginable tragedy,” and he felt compelled to respond in the most significant way he could.

The son of John Lennon says murderous violence in Ukraine is forcing millions of innocent families to leave the comfort of their homes. He says the lyrics reflect our collective desire for peace worldwide, and “within this song, we’re transported to a space, where love and togetherness become our reality, if but for a moment in time.”

Lennon joined celebrities around the world calling on world leaders to do more to support refugees in the Stand Up For Ukraine campaign.

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BOSTON -- The International Monetary Fund has created an account to give donor countries a secure way to funnel financial assistance directly to war-ravaged Ukraine.

The multilateral lender said in a statement Friday that it’s launching the account at the request of several member countries.

The goal is to help Ukraine meet its payment obligations and help stabilize its economy using loans or grants from pooled resources.

The IMF says Canada has proposed routing up to 1 billion Canadian dollars ($795 million) to Ukraine through the new account.

Two weeks after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the IMF approved a $1.4 billion emergency loan to Ukraine.

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