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Kristalina Georgieva: ‘Spain’s guaranteed minimum income is a good instrument to improve equality’ | Economy and Business

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Shortly after one starts to talk to the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about economics, the conversation turns to her origins, what she learned about the history of a country and the unstoppable pace of change. Kristalina Georgieva, who was born in Bulgaria 66 years ago, worked selling groceries in a market in Sofia, and later became a university professor. She saw a communist regime fall, and her life took a radical turn. In 1993, she joined the World Bank and then she returned to Europe, where she became a vice-president at the European Commission.

She ran for secretary general of the United Nations in 2016, but it was António Guterres who ended up taking the role. In 2017, she was named managing director of the World Bank, and back then, in an in interview with EL PAÍS, she warned that she was not considering retiring. Last year, the IMF got rid of its age limit to join the leadership of the organization and Georgieva was picked for the top job. She took possession in October. Five months later, the world changed. On Friday, via a video call with EL PAÍS, she analyzed the most serious situation the world has seen in generations.

Question. I am sure that when you took office you expected to be faced with a crisis, even a major recession, but not this. How has this been for you personally?

Answer. “Pray for the best, prepare for the worst” is an important motto. I find myself in this position, and I believe that everything I have done in my life is helping me cope with this. I was European Commissioner for humanitarian aid, I come from a country that went through a severe crisis in the 1990s. And at the World Bank I worked on very dramatic cases and situations. I have been preparing for this moment my whole life.

Q. Two years ago, when you were at the World Bank, you recalled your time in Sofia and the events of 1989. You said that the biggest lesson you learned was that change is unstoppable. Are you thinking about that now as well?

A. It is useful to think of two things. One, that we can use a crisis as an opportunity to transform our world for the better. I have seen this happening and I strongly believe in it, and I strongly believe that this is what we need to do now. Being sad or disappointed is not what helps, what helps is to take action. Lack of confidence is the mother of all crises, and we can build confidence only if we have the conviction that together we can overcome this crisis. I feel fortunate to be at the helm of this institution that brings 189 countries together. We live in a more shock-prone world. Now we have the pandemic, but the climate crisis has not gone away. We are experiencing climate shocks and because we are so interconnected, inevitably there are economic obstacles to overcome. We have to move toward a more resilient society and a more resilient economy.

This is a crisis like no other because we stepped on the brakes, affecting both supply and demand, in order to protect people’s health

Q. There is a lot of debate now about whether we will come out of this crisis better. Or if the economy will, at least. Do you believe that is what happened the last time? Could it happen now?

A. The global financial crisis has driven the world toward very significant reforms in the banking sector and it is more resilient, which has helped a great deal in coping with the current shock. From this crisis we have to take a broader view of what resilience is. One obvious aspect concerns our health systems, but also these shocks of nature that are going to accelerate unless we act. We need a greener, smarter, and fairer future. Is that possible? Yes. If we look back at the Great Depression, then there was the New Deal, and a very significant change in policies that greatly reduced the risk of another economic depression. Now we have to transform policies to create a more resilient world. Crises are an opportunity to do that, because people are more inclined to seek solutions of that kind.

Q. Are you optimistic about a rapid recovery?

A. I will answer that in two parts. First, this is a crisis like no other because we stepped on the brakes, affecting both supply and demand, in order to protect people’s health. We have never done anything like this before. In addition, the degree of uncertainty is very high because we don’t know how the pandemic will be overcome, and we don’t know whether there will be a second wave. We are optimistic about vaccines and treatment, but we don’t yet have those vaccines and treatment. I expect the crisis to be very deep, but relatively short, and I expect the recovery to start gradually, as early as this year. Our latest projection for 2021 is for global growth of 5.8%, but at the end of this month we will update our projections for this year and 2021. The revision for 2020 will be downward for most of the countries, with some exceptions.

Q. Still, if there are no surprises, we can rule out a depression.

A. Yes, we can rule out a depression. Let’s remember that economists define a depression as a steep decline in output, of 10% or more, lasting for several years. We are projecting a big downturn this year, but not of that magnitude. And we are projecting a partial recovery next year. We should remember, looking back, that during the Great Depression there was very little immediate action by the governments and I believe that this time around people will recognize the decisiveness with which the administrations and central banks have acted. Fiscal measures totaling $10 trillion have been deployed, while the central banks have injected over $6 trillion in liquidity.

Q. What do you expect from the US economy? Do you believe that the current wave of social tensions could worsen the outlook?

A. The latest employment figures show some positive signs, that the reopening of the country is resulting in the hiring of workers who were laid off because of the pandemic. This is what we would expect in countries that are beginning to open up again, although the problem is far from being resolved. The unrest and the protests remind us that in both the United States and in the rest of the world there is still inequality and exclusion. I would take these protests more as a wakeup call. We ought to address the root causes of the problem, why people are going out into the streets, and when you do that, you see that it is often because of discrimination and inequality. The year 2019 was a year of protest in many places. As we build public policies in response to this crisis, we ought to concentrate on policies that are going to reduce inequality. This is certainly the case in the United States. And what I hope we will see is action to end a pattern of racial discrimination.

We cannot return to a world in which each country is only concerned with its own economy and its own people

Q. Regarding economic policies, what would you like to see most from the US government?

A. The US has responded very well to the crisis. The Federal Reserve – which is not the government, but independent – has played a hugely important role in providing liquidity and the Congress and the administration have passed good fiscal measures to stimulate the economy. The massive liquidity created by the [Federal Reserve] has also helped emerging markets to continue issuing bonds. In March we saw $100 billion flowing out from these economies, seeking safety in other assets, and we were concerned that the market would be closed to them. In April and May, however, emerging countries issued $77 billion in bonds at a very reasonable cost. So the measures have been appropriate and rapid, but we also need to see how we come out of this together. In other words, we need to avoid a resurgence of protectionism. We need to resist this natural temptation. There are problems with globalization, there are legitimate complaints that we spoke about before the pandemic, such as leaving parts of society behind. There are issues to be resolved, but we cannot return to a world in which each country is only concerned with its own economy and its own people.

Q. Spain has approved a guaranteed minimum income scheme for vulnerable families. Do you think that this should be a permanent tool or just something associated with this crisis?

A. First of all, bravo. Spain has taken an appropriate action to protect the most vulnerable people in this crisis. And second, yes, there is good logic in making this permanent. With the caveat that there are also regional schemes and some work has to be done to make sure that there is consistency, and that there are no overlaps that give rise to unfairness. Spain has higher poverty in comparison to the eurozone, especially among children. In Spain, 21% of the population falls below the poverty line, while in the EU, the figure is less than 17%. In terms of people at risk of poverty, the figure was 26% in Spain, and 22% in the EU. In other words, Spain has some important work to do to improve inequality and this is a good instrument. Coming out of this crisis, we need to build up stabilizers of social protection. I have huge respect for the economy minister, Nadia Calviño. As you know, I worked with her when I was vice-president of the Commission and she was the Director General for Budget, and I know that she will be thinking ahead. What can be added to these social safety nets? These are social lifelines helping people to help themselves. This income for vulnerable families is good and it would be good to continue it in the future.

Q. How long can this pace of public spending be maintained in Spain? When will the country have to start thinking again about fiscal consolidation?

A. Right now, the focus should be on getting through this crisis with minimal scarring. You don’t hear the IMF saying this often: spend. But that is what we are saying to the governments. Spend as much as you can, but keep the receipts, and make sure that you are accountable for how the money is being used. And also make sure that the measures are temporary and targeted. So, many of the measures will have to be removed, but when we are on the other side of the crisis. We are not there yet. And then, of course, governments will have to be sure that there is strong and sustained growth, because then it will be easier to deal with those deficits and debts. It is important not to make the mistake we made with the financial crisis when this support was removed too quickly. More dynamism needs to be injected into the economy, and we know which sectors are the winners. The digital economy is a great window of opportunity, it is going to go fast, and so is the environmental sector. There are sectors, and this is applicable to Spain, that create large numbers of jobs, such as reforestation, building installations, or coastal zone management, among others. All of this, while looking at fairness in taxation. It is only fair that the winners from this crisis should also contribute to the rest of society.

Kristalina Georgieva after a press conference in Washington in March.
Kristalina Georgieva after a press conference in Washington in March.SAMUEL CORUM / Getty

Q. Would you say that the IMF has also learned lessons from its past mistakes?

A. We all have, governments and the IMF. Certainly, the Fund has learned two important lessons. One, policies are for people, to improve their lives, and they are not intended for the paper on which they’re written. They are not only for those in the corridors of power. So we have looked closely at how we perform surveillance, how we arrange our assistance packages, and how we judge whether we are succeeding. And the second important lesson, as you quoted me before, is to assume that change is unstoppable. We have to look ahead. For example, we have to take the climate impact into account. One thing that I love about the IMF is how open-minded it is.

Q. For example…?

A. For example, now this crisis is erupting and for the first time we need epidemiological projections, so we incorporated them into our macroeconomic models very quickly. In practical terms, virtually overnight, from March 13 to 16, the entire institution started working from home. And in six weeks we have approved 69 requests for emergency financing. I am saying this because people sometimes think that the Fund is a bunch of guys in gray suits who work behind closed doors, but what I am so privileged to run is not the IMF from your grandmother’s era. This is a very agile and human institution. It has a big wallet of $1 trillion, and it has a brain, but it also has a heart.

Q. That brings me to Argentina. The support for the country in the negotiations is quite remarkable, and I see a change there. Could you explain this and also how you imagine Argentina coming out of this crisis?

A. Argentina is a complex story. A country that has gone through boom and bust cycles for decades, it has suspended payments eight times and is now in a ninth technical default, which we hope will not turn into an actual default. And it has had a turbulent relationship with the IMF over time. What we are seeing now is a chance for the country to break this cycle, and this chance needs to be anchored in something, which is bringing its debt back to a sustainable level. In other words, reaching a positive outcome in the negotiations with creditors to open up space for Argentina. I find it remarkable how Argentine society has united behind the debt negotiations. Of course, like any other country, there are differences, but it is a country with great economic potential. As for the president, with whom I have been working on economic issues, I will say that he wants to do the right thing for the people of Argentina, and also for the role that the country could play in the region and in the world. So, I wish them the best of luck, and if they come to the Fund to request an assistance program, we will work with Argentina to support policies that will break that boom and bust cycle.

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Taiwan: Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader who imposes her agenda on Biden | International

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Party discipline is very elastic in the United States, as President Joe Biden well knows. Leading Democrats, almost always the usual suspects (Joe Manchin, Kirsten Sinema), behave like loose cannons, tripping up White House-sponsored bills and sometimes derailing them, but none had gone so far as to push the world to the brink of an incendiary conflict. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives and third authority in the country, was awarded that dubious honor thanks to her controversial visit to Taiwan last week, in which she confirmed her commitment to the free world. “America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad,” she said last Wednesday in Taipei. Pelosi added the US “will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan and we are proud of our enduring friendship.” But there is concern in Washington about how China will respond to these statements.

Pelosi is one of the heavyweights of the Democratic establishment. She has been a member of Congress for California since 1987, and has served twice as House Minority Leader, between 2007 and 2011, as part of Barack Obama’s term, and in 2019, she became the first woman to be the speaker of the House. Therefore, despite Biden’s warnings about the inconvenience of visiting the island, her initiative does not seem like the decision of a novice, but rather one that responds to her own agenda, and probably also to that of Congress, including many Democrats, in favor of a more determined support for Taiwan than that offered by, in her opinion, timid Washington diplomacy. Hawks from both parties are pushing Biden to toughen his policy on China and the Senate had planned to send $4.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan last week, as well as declaring the island the “main non-member NATO ally,” but the commander in chief has asked for containment so as not to further fuel the fire around a self-governed island that Beijing considers its own.

Politics runs in the family of Nancy Pelosi. Her father, Thomas D’Alessandro, was a prominent Democrat at the time of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Pelosi is her married surname, also of Italian-American origin and she is faithful to certain cultural traditions such as a large family (five children) and a cultural Catholicism, though not exempt from friction with the curia, such as her defense of the right of women to abort. Like Biden, he too, a Catholic, that position has caused him more than one headache. The first, being denied communion by the archbishop of his diocese. In late June, on a visit to the Vatican, Pelosi, dressed in stark black, took communion at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. There are no images of the communion, which was confirmed by two witnesses next to her, but Pelosi and her husband were photographed with the pontiff before the Eucharist.

After graduating in Political Science in Washington in 1962, Pelosi spent six years raising her children in New York. The Pelosi family moved to San Francisco in 1968, where she began her career as a Democratic volunteer. She was soon recognized for her talent in fundraising campaigns, a key factor in the success or failure of a politician in the US. From there she made the leap to the Democratic National Committee, the party’s bridge of command, and, shortly after, to State Congress. Leader of the party in Congress since 2003 – another breakthrough of the glass ceiling – Pelosi uses her personal experience to arbitrate between opposing factions of the formation. She calls it the “mother of five children” strategy.

Despite the balance that she advocates in favor of party unity, she has given numerous signs of aligning herself with the most open or liberal faction – although the affiliations are sui generis in the US, without allegiance to the precise definition of the concept –, voting in favor of arms control measures and the right to abortion, or against the war in Iraq. Her critics accuse her of “west coast leftism.” The political microclimate of San Francisco, like that of Washington, was one of the targets chosen by Donald Trump to successfully attack the Democratic elites alienated from ordinary Americans.

Pelosi is a wealthy member of the elite. Her husband, businessman Paul Pelosi, owner of the Sacramento Mountain Lions football team, has been involved in several financial operations that sometimes border on insider trading. At the end of July, Paul Pelosi sold nearly 5,000 shares of chipmaker Nvidia for $4 million, just days before the House approved a major legislative package that provided subsidies and tax credits to boost the US semiconductor industry. This is not the only dubious example, but the Speaker of the House has always closed ranks with the father of her children, even after he was arrested in May in California for being drunk while driving a Porsche that was involved in an accident. The leader’s husband pleaded not guilty last week in court.

After the arrival of Obama to the presidency, and during the financial crisis, Pelosi helped the president carry out his stimulus program, worth $787 billion, in February 2019 in Congress; and a year later, the health reform known as Obamacare. Pelosi has never spared support for social measures such as those that Biden encourages today. Her role was also decisive in preventing the closure of the Administration during the last stretch of Trump’s mandate, when she managed to twist his arm. In January 2020, she opened the proceedings of the first impeachment against the Republican, of which he was acquitted, and a year later, she championed the creation of a commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol by insurgent Trumpists.

In the US, representatives are responsible to their constituencies and voters, rather than to the party and, of course, to any other earthly or heavenly authority. Faced with the dilemma posed by the conservative Archbishop of San Francisco, also Italian-American Salvatore Cordileone, retracting from defending the right to abortion or taking communion, Pelosi has responded by qualifying the repeal of the Roe v. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court as “outrageous and heartbreaking” a decision. The fact that Pelosi doesn’t shrink even before a world power is evidenced by her decision to visit Taiwan.

Translated by Xanthe Holloway.

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UK government honoured anti-abortion figure before editing women’s rights statement | Global development

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The British government presented a vehemently anti-abortion former US envoy with an award for his services to freedom of religion just days before watering down a statement on gender equality to remove commitments to reproductive rights.

Sam Brownback, a former governor of Kansas who targeted abortion rights while in office and then became Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was given the award during the international ministerial conference for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) held in London last month.

Organised by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and opened by the Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss, the gathering has since become engulfed in controversy after a statement signed by more than 20 countries was quietly removed from the FCDO website and significantly edited.

Conference organiser Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, with Sam Brownback in background, 5 July 2022.
Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, was involved in organising the conference. Photograph: Courtesy of FCDO

It has now emerged that a number of participants to the conference, which Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, was involved in organising, are known for their strong anti-abortion views.

Three, including one speaker, were from ADF International, the global wing of a US legal advocacy organisation considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which monitors extremist groups in the US.

Founded by leaders of the Christian right, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has long opposed abortion. It writes on its website: “In 2022, the pro-life movement achieved what was thought impossible by many: the overturning of Roe v Wade. But there’s more work to be done.”

Other participants were from the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), a rightwing thinktank based in Washington DC, which, alongside the ADF, is pushing for more laws protecting anti-choice medics from performing “procedures in violation of their conscience”, from abortion to gender transition surgery.

Ján Figel, a former EU special envoy for FoRB, was among the speakers. Figel’s mandate was not renewed in 2020 after a group of pro-choice MEPs complained he had “undermined [the mandate’s] credibility … by showing highly problematic acquaintances with organisations opposing women’s sexual rights and LGBTI people’s rights.”

Figel said the MEPs’ criticism had been rooted in “false arguments … based on lies”, and added that he had nothing to do with the statement.

It is understood that Brownback, who received warm applause at the London conference, was given the award by the UK government in conjunction with the Dutch special envoy for FoRB, Jos Douma, in recognition of their work on FoRB around the world.

While in office, Brownback signed a number of pieces of anti-choice legislation. Last week, he bemoaned the decisive victory of pro-choice campaigners in a Kansas referendum on abortion, adding: “We fight on defending all life, mother and child, from beginning to end.”

Sam Brownback speaking at the conference, 5 July 2022.
Sam Brownback speaking at the conference, 5 July 2022. Photograph: Ottr Works/Courtesy of FCDO

According to one participant at the London conference, who requested anonymity: “The UK government says it advocates ‘freedom of religion or belief for all’. But some of those featured and celebrated at the ministerial don’t support this. What they do instead is use their ‘religious freedom’ as an excuse to trample the rights and freedoms of others. People like Sam Brownback and the ADF, who seek to take away others’ freedom of choice in this way, should be challenged, not celebrated.”

The conference is an annual gathering that began in the US during Trump’s presidency. This year it was held on 5-6 July.

Its agenda was centred on how to “protect and promote freedom of religion or belief internationally”, with topics ranging from the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China to the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria discussed by academics, analysts, politicians and faith leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

But its aftermath has been controversial, since it emerged that its statement on FoRB and gender equality had been edited to remove commitments to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy”. The FCDO initially said it had made the changes to focus on key FoRB issues and to achieve a broader consensus of signatories.

FCDO minister Lord Ahmad
FCDO minister Lord Ahmad said last week the statement had been edited to become ‘more inclusive of all perspectives and views’. Photograph: Courtesy of FCDO

Tariq Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister and former FoRB special envoy, said last week the statement had been edited to become “more inclusive of all perspectives and views” and “to allow for a constructive exchange of views on all issues”.

However, the watering-down of the statement, which had been painstakingly worked on and signed by more than 20 countries, provoked anger in a number of governments, many of which are refusing to sign the modified version. It currently has eight signatories, including Malta, where abortion is illegal, and the UK.

It is understood that the pushback on the gender equality statement began the day after the conference, at a “next steps” meeting at Lancaster House, convened by Bruce. Among those present were Jim Shannon, of the Democratic Unionist party, and David Alton, a crossbench peer, who were also conference speakers.

After the overturning of Roe v Wade, Lord Alton told the Universe Catholic Weekly he hoped the decision would lead to “new laws and resources” in the UK.

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the vast majority of British people saw through the “fiction” that there was significant opposition in the UK to abortion rights. But words mattered, she added, which was why there was concern over the conference statement.

“I think what we’ve really seen when it comes to abortion rights is the power of words and the power of the direction that governments are moving [in] … I think what we really are concerned about seeing is any indication from this government or the next government that they are valuing women’s reproductive rights as less than where they are currently,” she said.

Clarke added that, with Bruce as special envoy, it would have been hard for the government to put out a statement on freedom of belief that was not inclusive of “incredibly anti-abortion views”. “[Bruce] is the most anti-abortion MP in the House of Commons.”

A spokesperson for Brownback said he had no involvement in drafting the conference statement or in organising the event. Brownback was “proud to be pro-life”, a stance that is “immaterial to his support for freedom of religion or belief”, he added.

“Ambassador Brownback has not tried to connect his support of unborn human life to the issue of religious freedom … Ambassador Brownback believes that anyone can support FoRB regardless of their position on abortion. At a time when people are being killed and persecuted for what they choose to believe, Ambassador Brownback believes that the FoRB movement best moves forward by focusing on FoRB and not diverging into non-FoRB issues.”

The ADF denies the accusation it espouses hate, accusing the SPLC of besmirching “huge swaths of well-respected, mainstream, conservative America” in that categorisation of its beliefs.

A screen showing the logo of the conference.
The conference’s agenda centred on how to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief internationally. Photograph: Courtesy of FCDO

A spokesperson said: “As the world’s largest organisation committed to protecting religious freedom, ADF International were proud to take part in the ministerial. Our current projects include defending girls in south-east Asia who have been abducted, forcibly married, and ‘converted’ from their faith; challenging the Russian authorities for prohibiting church communities from gathering to worship; and supporting those on death row for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan to escape to safety in Europe. We believe in the equality and dignity of all people.”

Nathan Berkeley, communications director of the RFI, said the thinktank worked to advance religious freedom throughout the globe and to defend those of all faiths who were persecuted.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We invited experts and representatives from a wide range of different fields and beliefs to the conference in the spirit of fostering positive discussion and collaboration on issues of freedom of religion or belief.”

Bruce, Alton and Shannon did not respond to requests for comment.



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FBI Handovers – 09.08.2022, Sputnik International

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On Monday, the FBI, for the first time in history, conducted a search of the home of a former president, which took place at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. After the raid, Trump issued a statement denouncing the incident and accusing the US court system of using it as a weapon against him.

Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.

And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.

But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year.

Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.

A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.

Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.



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