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The Isolation of Julian Assange Must Stop

The Isolation of Julian Assange Must Stop

We call on the government of Ecuador to allow Julian Assange his right of freedom of speech.

If it was ever clear that the case of Julian Assange was never just a legal case, but a struggle for the protection of basic human rights, it is now.

Citing his critical tweets about the recent detention of Catalan president Carles Puidgemont in Germany, and following pressure from the US, Spanish and UK governments, the Ecuadorian government has installed an electronic jammer to stop Assange communicating with the outside world via the internet and phone. As if ensuring his total isolation, the Ecuadorian government is also refusing to allow him to receive visitors. Despite two UN rulings describing his detention as unlawful and mandating his immediate release, Assange has been effectively imprisoned since he was first placed in isolation in Wandsworth prison in London in December 2010. He has never been charged with a crime. The Swedish case against him collapsed and was withdrawn, while the United States has stepped up efforts to prosecute him. His only “crime” is that of a true journalist — telling the world the truths that people have a right to know.

Under its previous president, the Ecuadorian government bravely stood against the bullying might of the United States and granted Assange political asylum as a political refugee. International law and the morality of human rights was on its side.

Today, under extreme pressure from Washington and its collaborators, another government in Ecuador justifies its gagging of Assange by stating that “Assange’s behaviour, through his messages on social media, put at risk good relations which this country has with the UK, the rest of the EU and other nations.”

This censorious attack on free speech is not happening in Turkey, Saudi Arabia or China; it is right in the heart of London. If the Ecuadorian government does not cease its unworthy action, it, too, will become an agent of persecution rather than the valiant nation that stood up for freedom and for free speech. If the EU and the UK continue to participate in the scandalous silencing of a true dissident in their midst, it will mean that free speech is indeed dying in Europe.

This is not just a matter of showing support and solidarity. We are appealing to all who care about basic human rights to call on the government of Ecuador to continue defending the rights of a courageous free speech activist, journalist and whistleblower.

We ask that his basic human rights be respected as an Ecuadorian citizen and internationally protected person and that he not be silenced or expelled.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Banks & Builders Want New Property Bubble In Spain, Government Obliges

Banks & Builders Want New Property Bubble In Spain, Government Obliges

“This plan, far from solving or alleviating the problem, is likely to make it a whole lot worse.”

Spain’s second biggest bank, BBVA, just announced that it’s resurrecting the 100% mortgage, a high-risk loan instrument that notoriously helped fuel Spain’s madcap property boom. For the first time in almost a decade, property buyers will be able to receive credit equivalent to the total value of the property they wish to purchase. As before, no down payment will be needed. But this time, interest rates will be even lower.

Despite boasting the largest stock of empty housing in Europe — 1.36 million units at last count, almost a quarter of them belonging to banks and investment funds — Spain’s economy is being primed for another property boom. Real estate developers and builders want it and banks need it, not only to fatten their NIRP-eroded margins but also to dispose of some of the real estate assets still lingering on their books from the last crisis.

The government will do just about anything it can to help out. For the coming years, real estate developers want to build around 120,000-150,000 new housing units. It’s a mere fraction of the 700,000 new homes a year being built at the apogee of the last bubble — more than in France, Germany, Italy and the UK combined — but still a lot higher than current production levels.

In 2017, a paltry 43,300 new homes were built — little more than a third of the ambitious target real estate developers now have in their sights. There’s likely to be little change in this trend in the coming years, according to forecasts by the National Institute of Statistics (INE). Between 2017 and 2021 it predicts that around 188,000 new homes will be built – an average of just 47,000 a year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Spain Arrests Leaders of Catalonia Independence Movement & They Dare to Claim Russia Does Not Respect Democracy?

The Spanish government has shown to the entire world that it denies human rights and has absolutely no democratic principles whatsoever. The next step is for the pretend elected government to declare a perpetual state of emergency and suspend all elections nationwide to complete what is rapidly becoming a dictatorship. Thousands in Catalonia have now risen up in protest against the Spanish government once again as they arrested the five leaders of the independence movement. The mood in Catalonia is turning more anti-Madrid and based upon the emails we are getting from Spain, many are now beginning to see that how the Spanish government is treating those in Catalonia means that the government views them as well as having no rights.

Clashes with police are being reported with at least 24 demonstrators injured, according to rescue workers. Independent journalists are reporting that policemen in Barcelona were using batons against demonstrators approaching the regional government building. Some demonstrators in Barcelona were even burning pictures of King Felipe VI, which is a crime in Spain. They were also burning photographs of judge Pablo Llarena, who ordered the arrests. The protesters waved Catalan flags and shouted “freedom for political prisoners”.

Spain refuses to respect human rights and Brussels has refused to defend the people because they too seek a dictatorship. The irony here is they have the guts to point the finger at Putin and China as suppressing democracy?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Toxic Debt Still Plagues Spanish Banks (and Taxpayers Will End Up Paying for It)

Toxic Debt Still Plagues Spanish Banks (and Taxpayers Will End Up Paying for It)

Years after Crisis Was “Solved.”

Europe’s banking authorities are finally beginning to pile pressure on poorly performing banks to clean up their books, something that should have happened a long, long time ago. But as is often the case with European banking regulation, there’s an elevated risk of unintended consequences.

If a bank with a deeply compromised balance sheet is forced to report its loans that have gone bad — the hidden piles of toxic “assets” — at prices that reflect their real value (rather than the illusory prices the bank arrived at with its mark-to-model formula), that bank could suddenly find that its capital has gone up in smoke.

This is more or less what happened with Banco Popular, the mid-sized Spanish bank that went under in June last year. No matter how creative the rescue plans its management came up with — including spinning off a bad bank called “Sunrise” — Popular simply couldn’t find a viable way of disposing of its nonperforming loans without crippling its financial health.

A similar thing appears to be happening with Spain’s fifth largest bank, Banco Sabadell, the Spanish bank that has grown the most in relative terms since the crisis. It has more than doubled in size in the last ten years (from €78.7 billion in assets in 2008 to €173.2 billion in 2017), following the acquisitions of Banco Gallego, Banco Guipuzcoano, Caixa Penedès, and the bankrupt savings bank Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM).

Now it has immense difficulty ridding itself of the impaired assets it acquired when it took over CAM in 2012. But unlike Popular, Sabadell is getting a massive helping hand from Spain’s government.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s Feeling Like the 1930s in Spain and France

It’s Feeling Like the 1930s in Spain and France

It’s Feeling Like the 1930s in Spain and France

During the Spanish Civil War, many loyalist leaders and supporters of the Spanish Republican government fled into exile to wage their battle against the Spanish fascist dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco from abroad. 2018 is beginning to feel like 1939. After the fall of the Second Spanish Republic to Franco, who was aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Spanish President Manuel Azaña and Prime Minister Juan Negrin fled to exile in France. Following the October 27, 2017 declaration of independence of Catalonia by the Catalan Parliament and the dissolution of the Catalonian government by Franco’s proto-fascist successor, Spanish Prime Minister Manuel Rajoy, key members of the Catalonian government fled into exile. The President of the Catalonian Generalitat (Prime Minister) Carles Puigdemont and four of his ministers fled to Belgium to avoid arrest by Rajoy’s security forces.

Other Catalonian leaders were imprisoned in Madrid, where they await trials on sedition and rebellion charges. The leader of the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidature (CUP), Anna Gabriel, attained political asylum in Switzerland, where she told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, “I will not go to Madrid . . . Since I will not have a fair trial at home, I have looked for a country that can protect my rights.” As with the loyalists imprisoned under Franco, the Catalan independence leaders, who enjoy a majority in the newly-elected Catalonian parliament, face decades in Spanish prison cells under Madrid’s EU-supported regime.

Rajoy, like Franco, appointed not a Catalonian but a Spanish Castilian, Deputy Prime Minister María Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría Antón, as acting President of the Generalitat in Barcelona. Rajoy, as was the case with Franco, has Galician roots. Franco’s rule was infamous for stamping out Catalonian government, language, culture, and national identity and Rajoy, whose Spanish People’s Party is the ideological and chronological heir to Franco’s Falangists, does his very best to emulate his party’s ideological forbearer.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A New Cunning Plan to Allay Banking Jitters is Hatched in Spain

A New Cunning Plan to Allay Banking Jitters is Hatched in Spain

But there’s a problem with the plan.

The Spanish Government has a brand new cunning plan to fortify the country’s banking system, which was rocked last year by the collapse of the sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular. It wants the country’s Deposit Guarantee Fund (DGF) to insure the entire bank deposits of large companies, even if those deposits exceed the current limit of €100,000, so that if a bank begins to wobble, its corporate customers don’t take their money out en masse.

The government hopes that the plan will be included in the new banking resolution rules being drawn up by EU banking authorities in the aftermath of Banco Popular’s quickfire resolution last year, the financial daily Cinco Dias reports.

If the law is passed, it would mean that corporate deposits of any amounts would be guaranteed in case of a bank’s resolution. The proposal apparently enjoys the enthusiastic support of Spain’s major banks, large companies, and the president of Spain’s Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB), Jaime Ponce. The government also wants the deposits of large public institutions to be covered without limit, as well as those of small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).

The new law would help prevent large scale deposit flight, which became endemic during Spain’s banking crisis and was also instrumental in the collapse of Popular. According to Ponce, if the government’s newly proposed measure had been in force between May and June last year, the frantic run on the bank’s deposits from Popular would never have happened.

In its final days, Popular was bleeding funds at an average rate of €2 billion a day.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

On Closer Inspection, Debt of Bankrupt Spanish Construction Firm Grows Four-Fold

On Closer Inspection, Debt of Bankrupt Spanish Construction Firm Grows Four-Fold

What happens if cases like this prove to be the rule rather than the exception?

Spain appears to have a brand-new Abengoa — the imploded energy giant whose fabulous accounting tricks pushed creditors into a black hole — on its hands: Isolux was until recently a fairly large privately owned infrastructure company with operations spanning the globe.

When the group declared bankruptcy last July, its cash flow in Spain was barely enough to cover a month’s operating costs. The group had a a total workforce of 3,884 and 119 infrastructure projects under development of which 39 were still operational and the remaining 90 had been halted.

The company tried to reduce its debt addiction through agreements with investment funds but they fell through. It also made two attempts to go public, in Brazil and Spain. Both failed.

The bankruptcy proceedings affected seven subsidiaries. At the time, the company stated that it owed €405 million to suppliers, that its total financial debt — including those companies not included under the Spanish Insolvency Act filing — was €1.3 billion, of which €557 million was associated with project financing, and that the total deficit on the group’s balance sheet was about €800 million.

Turns out, according to the bankruptcy receivers, the shortfall is actually €3.8 billion — four-and-a-half times the company’s original estimate — and the group’s total debt, at €5.7 billion, is over €4 billion more than the amount stated by the company 10 months ago.

This amount does not include the group’s dual or contingent liabilities. The receiver’s report concludes that the current situation will probably culminate in the liquidation of the entire group.

How did all this come to pass? According to the receiver’s report, the collapse of the real estate bubble in Spain and the drastic reduction in public work tenders during the crisis led Isolux to massively expand its international operations, as many large Spanish companies did in the aftermath of the housing bubble collapse.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Spanish Government Uses Hate Speech Law To Arrest Critic Of The Spanish Government

Spanish Government Uses Hate Speech Law To Arrest Critic Of The Spanish Government

from the shocked-SHOCKED-to-find-such-a-predictable-use-of-a-bad-law dept

Spain’s government has gotten into the business of regulating speech with predictably awful results. An early adopter of Blues Lives Matter-esque policies, Spain went full police state, passing a law making it a crime to show “disrespect” to law enforcement officers. The predictable result? The arrest of someone for calling cops “slackers” in a Facebook post.

Spain’s government is either woefully unaware of the negative consequences of laws like this or, worse, likes the negative consequences. After all, it doesn’t hurt Spain’s government beyond a little reputational damage. It only hurts residents of Spain. When you’re already unpopular, thanks to laws like these and suppression of a Catalan independence vote, what difference does it make if you’re known better for shutting down dissent than actually protecting citizens from hateful speech?

One Catalan resident is getting the full “hate speech” rap-and-ride.

A Catalan high school teacher, Manel Riu, appeared in court on Thursday accused of hate speech for his tweets and Facebook posts criticizing Spain, government members and the Guardia Civil police. Over a hundred people escorted him to court in Tremp, west of Catalonia, where he denied any wrongdoing and asked for the case’s dismissal.

As a Catalan, Riu certainly has reason to criticize the Spanish government. During the last attempted referendum, the Spanish government sent police to seize ballots, voters’ cellphones, and ordered Google to remove a voting location app from the Play store. The evidence against Riu is composed of 119 tweets gathered by the Guardia Civil, Spain’s oldest law enforcement agency — one that blurs the line between playing soldier and playing cop far more often than its US counterparts.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Spain On High Alert To Prevent Puigdemont From Sneaking Back “In The Boot Of A Car”

Spain’s Interior Minister Jose Ignacio Zoido has a warning for  Carles Puigdemont: “don’t try to sneak back into Barcelona, you will be caught.”

The ousted former Catalan leader and infamous separatist, Carles Puigdemont who remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels and who was again picked by the Catalan parliament to be its president, may be tempted to cross into Spain “by helicopter, light aircraft or boat” so that the regional parliament can reappoint him officially, Zoido told broadcaster Antena 3 in an interview. The police have deployed specialist teams to monitor his movements and will catch him if he tries.

“Justice will be done with Carles Puigdemont”, Zoido told Antena 3 on Tuesday morning, adding that the former First Minister had “fled” from the courts. “He has gone to countries where they’re not paying much attention to him but where he can make a lot of noise.”

As a reminder, “making a lot of noise” in Europe, especially when it goes against the establishment, is frowned upon.

Why the bizarre statement? Because, as Bloomberg notes, the Spanish media is abuzz with speculation that “Puigdemont might attempt a dramatic return for an investiture vote in the Catalan parliament this month. He fled to Brussels in October after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fired him for engineering a declaration of independence from Spain and he faces arrest if he attempts to return.”

Asked about the possibility that Puigdemont might try to sneak back across the border to attempt another embarrassing media coup for the Spanish government, Zoido replied that Spanish security forces were vigilant and prepared, with Civil Guard and National Police experts working on the problem.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rajoy Slapped in the Face: Catalonia Elects Pro-Independence Speaker

Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy received a well-deserved slap in the face today. Independents again rule Catalonia.

In October, prime minister Mariano Rajoy took direct control of Catalonia, jailing its leaders and dissolving its parliament after Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared independence in October. Puigdemont is now in exile in Belgium.

Rajoy forced a new election, but the results are the same.

Catalan Parliament

Back in Control

Today, in a well-deserved slap in the face to prime minister Mariano Rajoy, Pro-Independence Groups Take Back Control of Catalonia’s Parliament.

Pro-independence parties took control of the Catalan parliament on Wednesday in what they hailed as the first step towards restoring the regional government after almost three months of direct rule from Madrid.

Celebrations erupted among flag-waving supporters in Barcelona as Roger Torrent, of the pro-independence Republican Left (ERC), was voted head of the speaker’s committee, the chamber’s decision-making body.

Addressing the chamber, Mr. Torrent denounced the legal proceedings against much of the pro-independence leadership. He said the imprisonment of three parliamentarians – including Oriol Junqueras, the former vice president and ERC leader – was “absolutely unjustified, and impedes them being able to freely exercise their rights”.

Opposition parties had tried to thwart the election of Mr. Torrent with a request – swiftly denied – that the parliament reject delegated votes from the three jailed politicians, whose empty seats were marked with yellow ribbons. Mr. Puigdemont and four former cabinet members in self-imposed exile in Brussels dropped their attempts to vote via delegates after Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, warned he would appeal such a move at the Constitutional Court.

Parliament Reconvenes Pro-Independence Groups Win

The BBC reports Catalonia MPs Elect Separatist Speaker as Parliament Reconvenes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Romans and Us. Why State Violence is on the Rise 

The Romans and Us. Why State Violence is on the Rise 


The Spanish police injured hundreds of people, including women and the elderly, during the referendum for the independence of Catalunya, in 2017 (image source). It was not the worst that states can do – and have have been doing – to their citizens, but it is an indication that state violence is on the rise. Perhaps we can find reasons for this trend if we look back at history, all the way to ancient Rome. The Romans were extremely cruel and violent, perhaps an effect of their reliance on slaves. In our case, we have replaced human slaves with fossil slaves (fossil fuels) but, as they are abandoning us, we risk to return to the violence of ancient times.

The more you study ancient Roman history, the more you realize how similar to us the Romans were. The economy, money, commerce, travel, bureaucracy, laws – so many things in our world find a parallel in the Roman world, even though often in a much less sophisticated form. So, if you were to use a time machine to be transported to ancient Rome, you would find yourself in a familiar world in almost all respects. Except for one thing: you would be startled by the violence you would encounter. Real, harsh, brutal violence; blood and death right in front of you, in the streets, in the arenas, in theaters. It was not the random kind of violence we call “crime,” it was violence codified, sanctioned and enacted by the state.

When we think of violence in Roman times, we normally think of gladiator games. Those were surely bloody and violent, but just part of the story of how the Roman state managed violence. The Roman courts meted capital punishment with an ease which, for us, is bewildering. Poor people, slaves, and non-Roman citizens were especially likely to be declared “noxii” (plural of noxius) and condemned to death.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“This is Groundhog Day”: Spanish Stocks Battered By Catalan Vote, Bitcoin Crashes

“This is Groundhog Day”: Spanish Stocks Battered By Catalan Vote, Bitcoin Crashes

Spanish stocks and the euro fell, while Spanish government bond yields hit their highest levels in over a month after Catalan secessionists delivered an unexpected blow to the government of Spanish PM Rajoy by winning the Catalan regional election. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, U.S. equity futures and the dollar rose on the last trading session before the Christmas holiday. The MSCI index of world stocks was flat.

Europe’s Stoxx 600 Index traded sideways as Spain’s Ibex 35 underperformed, dropping as much as 1.6%. Spanish stocks dominated Europe’s biggest fallers, confirming analyst expectations that any shake-out from the Catalonia vote would be mostly confined to Spain. Spain’s bonds also fell along with peripheral European government debt, though bunds were little changed after a selloff this week drove yields to five-week highs.  For those who missed it, Catalan separatist parties triumphed in regional elections, outperforming some polls and reigniting Spain’s political trauma. While the Euro has stabilized since, it suffered a mini flash crash in the illiquid aftermath of the Catalan election news, momentarily dipping to $1.1817 before trimming losses to last stand at $1.1853, down 0.2 percent.

“This is Groundhog Day, we have been here,” said Christopher Peel, chief investment officer at Tavistock Wealth. “I just don’t think the Spanish government can do anything other than come to the table now.” He added that thin liquidity due to the holidays could be accentuating what he called a kneejerk reaction on the IBEX. “Likely there’s some hedge funds leaning on it, but in terms of long-only money I don’t think there will be much movement now.”

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Stressful Year Ahead for Spanish Banks

Stressful Year Ahead for Spanish Banks

The “spillover effects.” 

Just how much more stress Europe’s banking system can bear will be one of the big questions of 2018. This year was already a pretty stressful year, what with two major Italian banks being put out of their misery while, another, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, was brought back from the dead. In Spain, 300,000 shareholders and subordinate bondholders mourned the passing of the country’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, which was acquired by Santander for the measly price of one euro.

Now, a whole new problem awaits. A report published by Spain’s second largest lender, BBVA, has warned about the potential impact on the sector’s profitability of new rules on provisions due to come into effect in early 2018.

Until now, banks only had to report losses when loans began deteriorating — i.e. when the defaults began. But the introduction in January of a new accounting rule, known as IFRS 9, will force banks in Europe to provision for souring loans much sooner than at present. One direct result will be that banks will have to hold more capital on their books, and that will have a detrimental impact on their profits.

If next year’s stress test by the ECB sets the same macroeconomic conditions and parameters as those used in 2014, banks holding just over one-fifth of the market share in Spain — measured in risk-weighted assets — would have to undertake provisions exceeding 200 basis points, the BBVA report predicts. That would leave some entities with a solvency rating lower than 9% — i.e., on the brink or even below the minimal level required by European regulation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Spain’s Third Biggest Bank Just Made it Harder to Get Cash

Spain’s Third Biggest Bank Just Made it Harder to Get Cash

War on Cash bogs down, despite best efforts of government, banks, and credit card companies.

Spain’s third biggest lender, CaixaBank, has just launched a pilot project in Madrid aimed at limiting cash services in their branches to less than three hours a day, from 8:15 am to 11 am. After that point, all cash operations, including the settlement of bills and cash withdrawals and deposits, must be conducted through an ATM.

Caixabank is not the first Spanish bank to try out such a scheme, but it is the biggest. Spain’s fourth largest lender, part state-owned Bankia, has removed all cash services from select branches (including my local branch), forcing customers to withdraw or deposit cash at the ATM or travel further afield to another branch that still offers cash services.

It’s part of a broad trend. Bank branches are increasingly becoming so-called “customer advisory points,” where the primary role of branch staff is to sell customers a myriad financial products, many of them no doubt risky.

Those same customers are forced to perform many of the more rudimentary bank operations (cash withdrawals and deposits, transfers, payment of bills…) themselves, either at the ATM or online. It’s a great way of getting your customers to do your work for you while also cutting back on staffing costs.

pain’s banking industry has already witnessed a savage cull of branch and office staff since the financial crisis began as many banks collapsed while those left standing closed many of their branches. In 2016 the total number of workers in the sector was 189,280 — 81,605 fewer than in 2009. What’s more, it’s a trend that shows little sign of ending, especially with most other banks almost certain to follow CaixaBank and Bankia’s lead in paring back their cash services.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

750,000 Protesters Clog Barcelona Streets, Demands Release Of “Political Prisoners”

750,000 Protesters Clog Barcelona Streets, Demands Release Of “Political Prisoners”

Hundreds of thousands of people – 750,000 according to Barcelona police – backing Catalonia’s bid to secede from Spain clogged the streets in downtown Barcelona Saturday to demand the release of jailed separatist leaders.

.

Close to a million people filled the length of the Avenue Marina that runs from the beach to Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia church, while the jailed leaders’ families made speeches.


Here’s what this looks like on the ground pic.twitter.com/7uZP1EUbk0


As AP reports, the rally’s grassroots organizers called for 10 prominent members of the secessionist movement in the northeastern Spanish region to be freed from prison.

Eight former members of Catalonia’s dissolved Cabinet and two activists are in jail while Spanish authorities investigate their alleged roles in promoting an illegal declaration of independence last month in violation of Spain’s Constitution.

A separate court in Madrid granted bail on Thursday to another six Catalan lawmakers – including Catalan parliament’s speaker Carme Forcadell – also being investigated over the secession push. Forcadell was released after agreeing to renounce any political activity that went against the Spanish constitution, according to the court’s ruling, in effect banning her from campaigning for independence in the December election. Those terms threaten to undermine the independence movement just as cracks are starting to appear and tensions rise between the grassroots and their leaders.

Still, there were few cracks on display Saturday: “We want to tell the world that we want freedom for our prisoners and freedom for Catalonia,” Agusti Alcoberro, the vice president of grassroots group National Catalan Assembly, told the crowd in Barcelona, the region’s capital.

Many of the protesters carried pro-independence “estelada” flags, with its white star and blue triangle superimposed over the traditional red-and-yellow Catalan colors.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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