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Legal news from Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Former Westar CEO jailed for violating release terms
Joshua Pantesco on January 17, 2006 8:03 PM ET

[JURIST] A US District Court judge ruled Tuesday that David Wittig [Wikipedia profile], former CEO of Westar Energy [corporate website] has violated the terms of his release from prison and will be immediately returned to detention. Wittig, who was found guilty on 39 counts of corporate fraud [JURIST report] last September, was allowed to postpone his 51-month sentence until his attorneys exhausted the appeals process, provided that he did nothing to hide or lower the value of his assets. Judge Julie Robinson was persuaded by prosecutors who alleged that Wittig has manipulated bank accounts and sold stocks since his conviction in a scheme to transfer his wealth over to his wife. Wittig could still be required to pay fines or reimburse the government as a penalty for his conviction. AP has more.

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SEC approves stricter executive pay disclosure rules
Joshua Pantesco on January 17, 2006 7:33 PM ET

[JURIST] The 5-member US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] voted unanimously [press release] Tuesday to support an overhaul of its rules governing how executive compensation packages are disclosed to investors, a top priority of Chairman Christopher Cox [official profile] since he assumed leadership of the regulatory body [JURIST report] last August. Read Cox's Tuesday remarks [text] unveiling the proposal. The proposed rules require all publicly-traded companies to disclose the true cost of the total compensation packages awarded to the chairman, chief financial officers, and the next three highest-paid executives of the company, to explain, in plain English, why executives deserve the level of pay they receive, and to report executive retirement benefits. The Business Roundtable [advocacy website], an interest group representing many Fortune 500 CEO's, supports the proposal [press release], but has cautioned that companies should be prevented from inflating the value of stock options disclosed to investors and should not be forced to reveal strategic information relating to future business goals. The SEC can officially adopt the new rules following a mandatory 60-day public comment period. Watch recorded video [RealPlayer] of Tuesday's SEC open meeting. AP has more.

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Supreme Court hears campaign finance law challenge
Joshua Pantesco on January 17, 2006 6:41 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday heard oral arguments in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], where the court will decide whether the federal Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 [text], popularly known as the McCain-Feingold law, violates First Amendment free speech rights where it bans corporate and union sponsorship of political issue ads that mention a specific candidate from airing within two months of the election. The case arose after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] in 2004 issued an injunction barring a Wisconsin Right to Life [advocacy website] advertisement that mentioned Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) from airing two months before Feingold was up for re-election to the Senate. The pro-life group defended the ad on the grounds that the purpose of the advertisement was to influence the legislative process rather than an election outcome. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement [official profile] in his defense of the bill Tuesday argued that interest groups would still be permitted to run such ads as long as they are funded through Political Action Committees, rather than with corporate or union money. AP has more.

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Turkish justice minister appeals release of Pope John Paul II gunman
Andrew Wood on January 17, 2006 4:39 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek requested Tuesday that a court return Mehmet Ali Agca [Wikipedia profile], the man who shot Pope John Paul II [official website; JURIST news archive], to prison for at least 11 more months. Agca had escaped from prison where he was serving a 36-year sentence for murdering Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci [profile] when he shot the Pope in 1981. Cicek argued that he should have served the full 10 years remaining of the sentence when Agca was returned to Turkish prison on June 14, 2000 and that the time he served in Italy should not have been deducted from his sentence. He further argued that even if the court deducted his time in Italy, at least 11 months remain that Agca should serve in Turkey. AP has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...

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House leader introduces overhaul to ethics rules
Andrew Wood on January 17, 2006 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Speaker of the US House of Representatives Dennis Hastert (R-IL) [official profile] on Tuesday introduced a proposal which will restrict the gifts Congressmen may receive from lobbyists. The ethics reform plan [Hastert speech] is in response to the recent ethics scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff [JURIST news archive] and Congressman Tom Delay [JURIST news archive]. The legislative package, which was expected [JURIST report] includes the banning of privately sponsored travel, a virtual ban on gifts, including meals, tickets to sporting events, and related travel, and the elimination of pensions of Congressmen convicted of a felony related to official duties. It also increases the length of time former lawmakers and senior aides must wait before they are allowed to lobby Congress from one year to two. AP has more.

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UK anti-terror proposal suffers setback in House of Lords
Andrew Wood on January 17, 2006 3:00 PM ET

[JURIST] The UK Terrorism Bill proposal [text], introduced following last year's July 7 London bombings, suffered two defeats Tuesday in the House of Lords [official website] as peers voted against introducing a "glorification" of terrorism offense and called for more safeguards for provisions that would outlaw the spreading of terrorist publications. Prime Minister Tony Blair has already faced one major setback on the anti-terror proposal when members of parliament in the House of Commons voted last November to reduce the proposed detention period [JURIST report] for suspected terrorists from 90 to 28 days. The bill proposed outlawing the "glorification of terrorism" as part of the more general "indirect encouragement of terrorism" offense. "Glorification" would apply to those acting recklessly or intentionally and require those hearing glorification to believe they were being encouraged to carry out terrorist acts. Peers voted 270-144 to scrap the proposal, with critics calling it unworkable and "not sufficiently legally certain." Plans to outlaw the spreading of terrorism publication were also defeated, with opponents of the plans fearing that academics, librarians, and shopkeepers would be left open to prosecution. Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] criticized the proposed bill [JURIST report], including provisions that would outlaw the glorification of terrorism and the dissemination of terrorism-related publications, pointing to human rights concerns, though the government dismissed Arbour's concerns as "unjustified". BBC News has more.

 Op-ed: The UK Terrorism Bill: Defending Democracy's Core Values [UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke]

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UK denies memo reveals plot to bomb Aljazeera
Holly Manges Jones on January 17, 2006 2:29 PM ET

[JURIST] The British government Tuesday denied allegations that a government memo documenting a conversation between British Prime Minister Tony Blair [official profile] and President George Bush included a suggestion to bomb the Aljazeera [media website] headquarters, after the news agency hired a law firm [AP report] to put pressure on the British government to release the memo. The request was made under the UK Freedom of Information Act 2000 [text] and a Downing Street [official website] spokesman said the British government will respond within 21 days. Two British officials charged with leaking the memo to the media are expected to face trial [JURIST report] before the end of January and Aljazeera has indicated that it is considering legal action against Bush [JURIST report] over the memo. Reuters has more.

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Suspect arrested in failed London bombings
Holly Manges Jones on January 17, 2006 2:07 PM ET

[JURIST] A man was arrested Tuesday in connection with the failed London bombing [JURIST news archive] attempts on July 21, 2005 after police searched two residential buildings and one place of business. The 27-year old was arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism under the UK Terrorism Act of 2000 [text]. He is being held by the Scotland Yard [official website] Anti-Terrorist Branch for questioning and his arrest marks the 44th detention in connection with the failed bombings. All five of the suspects who allegedly carried out the actual attack face trial in September [JURIST report], and an additional ten have been charged for failing to release information about the suspects and/or aiding them in avoiding arrest. The Guardian has more.

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California school discontinues 'intelligent design' course in settlement
Holly Manges Jones on January 17, 2006 1:37 PM ET

[JURIST] A California school district has agreed to stop teaching a philosophy class [AU press release] discussing intelligent design theory [Natural History backgrounder; JURIST news archive] as part of a settlement agreement filed Tuesday, according to the legal director for the Americans United for Separation of Church and State [advocacy website]. A group of parents sued the school district [JURIST report] last week arguing the "Philosophy of Design" course violated the separation between church and state, and a federal judge had originally scheduled a hearing for Tuesday afternoon to determine whether the El Tejon Unified School District [official website] should discontinue the course. Americans United had a prior victory in December when it, along with other advocacy groups, obtained a federal court ruling [PDF text; JURIST report] ordering schools in Dover, PA to stop teaching intelligent design as part of high school biology classes. AP has more.

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South Africa establishes new apartheid prosecution policy
Holly Manges Jones on January 17, 2006 12:53 PM ET

[JURIST] South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) [official website] has established a policy to prosecute political crimes committed during apartheid in South Africa [UN backgrounder] by individuals who were denied amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) [official website]. The new policy indicates that the National Director of Public Prosecution [NPA backgrounder] will make decisions on whether to prosecute, and that the NPA's Priority Crimes Litigation Unit will manage the investigations and institute any resulting prosecutions. According to the policy, prosecutions could be prompted by victim complaints, continuing investigations into cases arising from TRC hearings, or referrals by the police or the National Intelligence Agency [official website]. Additionally, perpetrators bringing information to the NPA are able to become witnesses for the state. The deputy director of public prosecutions, Gerhard Nel, said it is impossible to predict how many prosecutions will result from the policy. SAPA has more.

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Saddam trial judges disagree over choice of new chief judge
Krystal MacIntyre on January 17, 2006 12:24 PM ET

[JURIST] Judges on the Iraqi High Criminal Court (formerly, the Iraqi Special Tribunal [official website]), the court trying Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive], are in disagreement over how to choose a new chief judge to replace Rizgar Amin [Wikipedia profile]. Amin resigned last week [JURIST report] in protest of criticism surrounding his handling of the trial, and was replaced temporarily [JURIST report] by colleague Sayeed al-Hamashi. The court administration wants to appoint al-Hamashi as permanent chief judge, but some of the 14 judges on the 15-judge panel feel that the administration does not have the right to appoint a new chief judge, saying that court's governing statute [PDF text] clearly states that the new chief judge should be elected by the other judges in the tribunal. The disagreement further fuels doubts of some human rights groups as to whether Iraq is capable of hosting a fair trial for Hussein and his seven co-defendants, charged [JURIST report] in connection with the 1982 massacre of 143 Shiites in Dujail. Meanwhile Tuesday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile] suggested that security concerns surrounding the proceedings would be alleviated if the trial were moved from Baghdad to Kurdistan [Reuters report]. Talabani, who is from the Kurdish region, told reporters Tuesday that judges would be safe there and "guarded very well." Two defense lawyers have been killed and there has been an assassination attempt [JURIST report] on an investigative judge since the trial began last year. Reuters has more.

Previously in JURIST's Paper Chase...

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Putin signs law limiting foreign NGOs
Krystal MacIntyre on January 17, 2006 11:52 AM ET

[JURIST] Russia's official newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta [media website] reported Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law [AP report] granting tighter state control over non-governmental organizations, including those foreign-based, though there has been no official announcement from the Kremlin. The law, approved by parliament [JURIST report] last week, has been widely criticized [JURIST report], but its supporters defend the measure as necessary to prevent foreign governments and organizations from using NGOs to undermine Russia's security. Reports that Putin has signed the legislation come the same day that a Russian regional high court ordered two foreign NGOs, the UK-based Centre for Peacemaking and Community Development and German group Help [advocacy websites], to halt their work providing aid to Chechen refugees in Ingushetia [government website, in Russian]. The Ingush Supreme Court ruled that the two groups did not have proper authorization. BBC News has more.

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Corruption trial of ex-Atlanta mayor opens
Chris Buell on January 17, 2006 11:36 AM ET

[JURIST] The federal trial of former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell [Wikipedia profile] on charges of corruption opened Tuesday with jury selection. Campbell, who served as mayor from 1994 to 2002, has strongly denied charges [indictment summary, PDF] of racketeering, fraud and bribery, which included accepting more than $160,000 in illegal contributions in return for city contracts during his administration. He was charged [JURIST report; US Attorney's news release] in August 2004, following what was ultimately a seven-year investigation that led to the convictions of 10 others from Campbell's administration. Jury selection is expected to take up much of the week, with the trial expected to begin Monday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has local coverage [registration required]. AP has more.

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Austrian court rules country must return Nazi-looted art
Chris Buell on January 17, 2006 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] An Austrian arbitration court has ruled that the country must return $150 million in artwork to the heir of the family from whom the works were seized by the Nazis, bringing to a close a case that wound its way through both Austrian and US courts. Both parties agreed to abide by the ruling, issued Monday, a year and a half after the US Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report; opinion text] that Maria Altmann could sue Austria in US courts for possession of the artwork. The Supreme Court ruled that an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 [text] applied to conduct prior to the Act's passage, opening the way for US citizens to sue foreign governments over looted property and war crimes. The controversy was prompted by a 1998 Austrian law that required museums to review their holdings for potentially looted property. AP has more.

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Lawsuits filed over NSA domestic wiretaps
Krystal MacIntyre on January 17, 2006 11:11 AM ET

[JURIST] A coalition of civil rights groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit [ACLU complaint, PDF; press release] Tuesday challenging the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program [JURIST news archive]. In the ACLU lawsuit [fact sheet; additional materials] the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the NSA program, which authorizes warrantless wiretaps on international communications originating in the US, is unconstitutional under the First and Fourth Amendments and a permanent injunction barring the NSA from continuing the program. A separate lawsuit [CCR complaint, PDF; press release] was also filed Tuesday by the Center for Constitutional Rights. The CCR lawsuit alleges that privileged attorney-client communications were intercepted by the National Security Agency [official website] and also seeks a declaration that the program is unconstitutional. The two lawsuits, the first major challenges to the program since it was made public [JURIST report] in December, come the day after former Vice President Al Gore accused President Bush of repeatedly breaking the law [JURIST report] by authorizing the wiretaps. The administration has repeatedly defended the legality of the program [JURIST document] and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told [transcript] CNN's Larry King Monday that "this program from its inception has been carefully reviewed by lawyers throughout the administration, people who are experienced in this area of the law, experienced regarding this technology and we believe the president does have legal authorities to authorize this program." It is expected that the administration will oppose the lawsuits on national security grounds. The New York Times has more.

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Supreme Court limits diversity citizenship for banks
Chris Buell on January 17, 2006 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] In addition to its ruling [JURIST report] in the Oregon assisted suicide case, the US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday limited the citizenship of a bank to the state in which its main office is located for purposes of diversity jurisdiction. The Court in Wachovia Banks v. Schmidt [Duke Law case backgrounder], 04-1186, reversed a Fourth Circuit decision [PDF text] that no diversity jurisdiction existed to support a petition for arbitration by Wachovia [corporate website] in federal court. In an 8-0 opinion [text] authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held that banks' citizenship was limited under 28 U.S.C. § 1348 [text], otherwise federally chartered banks would have limited access to federal courts compared to state banks. Justice Thomas did not participate in the case.

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Cambodian rights activists released from jail
Krystal MacIntyre on January 17, 2006 10:36 AM ET

[JURIST] Four Cambodian civil rights leaders arrested on defamation charges [JURIST report] were unexpectedly granted bail and released from jail Tuesday. Leaders from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights [advocacy website], along with a journalist and union leader were released pending trial, after intense international pressure and a request by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] that the four be freed. Hun Sen, who just last week defended the criminal defamation lawsuits [JURIST report] referred to the prisoners' release as a "present" for visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill [official profile]. The United States has condemned the arrests [State Dept. press briefing transcript] and the recent rights crackdown which has drawn widespread international criticism [Amnesty press release]. Almost a dozen people have been arrested or face punishment for criminal defamation or other criminal offenses. AFP has more.

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UK Lords block national ID plan over cost concerns
Chris Buell on January 17, 2006 10:33 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK House of Lords [official website] has blocked government plans to issue national identification cards [BBC backgrounder], objecting to three aspects of the proposal [bill text] including questions of cost. The Lords on Monday voted to halt the legislation until the anticipated costs to launch the ID card program were revealed, but government officials said making such information public could limit the government's ability to seek a deal from contractors. The Lords also approved stricter controls on storing personal information for the ID cards and on who may access that information. Some peers called the government's refusal to release its figures unconstitutional. The issue of cost was renewed when the London School of Economics [official website] issued a report [PDF text; LSE news release] on Sunday arguing that the UK Home Office [official website; ID card backgrounder] was not the proper agency to handle the program and that its numbers for cost were not accurate. The ID card plan, announced last spring [JURIST report] by Prime Minister Tony Blair, has run into stiff opposition in the time since, although it was narrowly approved in the Commons [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.

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BREAKING NEWS ~ Supreme Court upholds Oregon assisted suicide law
Jeannie Shawl on January 17, 2006 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] AP is reporting that the US Supreme Court [official website] has upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [PDF text], rejecting federal efforts to prevent doctors from assisting patients in taking their own lives. In 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered [text] a halt to the distribution of controlled drugs used by doctors for the suicides, arguing it was a violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act [text]. The Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in Gonzales v. Oregon [Duke Law case backgrounder] in October.

10:35 AM ET - In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that the Controlled Substances Act does not allow the Attorney General to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide when state law permits the procedure. Read the Court's opinion [text], per Justice Kennedy, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, and a separate dissent [text] from Justice Thomas. AP has more.

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Lawyers for Chinese Gitmo detainees to appeal directly to Supreme Court
Krystal MacIntyre on January 17, 2006 9:57 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for a group of Chinese Uighur detainees being held [JURIST report] by the US at Guantanamo Bay plan to ask the US Supreme Court to hear an appeal of last month's District Court ruling authorizing their continued detention. Lawyers plan to file a petition for certiorari, arguing that the Court should intervene before an appeals court hears the case because only the high court can resolve the case. Guantanamo Bay Combatant Status Review Tribunals [DOD materials] have determined that the detainees are not enemy combatants, but have the men have not been released due to concern that they could be tortured if returned to China due to their Muslim faith [HRW report]. US District Judge James Robertson ruled [PDF opinion] that although their detention was illegal, the court had no relief to offer the men. The Washington Post has more.

Previously on JURIST's Paper Chase...

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Pinochet torture victim elected Chile president
Kate Heneroty on January 17, 2006 9:26 AM ET

[JURIST] Voters in Chile [JURIST news archive] elected Michelle Bachelet [BBC profile; campaign website] as president with 56 percent of the vote in a runoff election Sunday. Bachelet and her parents were imprisoned and tortured in 1973 under the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive; BBC backgrounder], after her father, an air force general, opposed the coup which brought Pinochet to power. Bachelet, a pediatrician and member of the Socialist Party [party website, in Spanish], is seen as a symbol of reconciliation in the country and in her victory speech, she said that she has dedicated her life to understanding and tolerance. Bachelet is now the third woman to be elected president of a Latin American country. She will be inaugurated on March 11. AP has more. From Santiago, La Nacion has local coverage.

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California executes oldest inmate on death row
Kate Heneroty on January 17, 2006 8:43 AM ET

[JURIST] California executed 76-year old Clarence Ray Allen [advocacy backgrounder, PDF] Tuesday morning, despite protests that executing the ailing inmate was cruel and unusual punishment. Allen, who was blind, nearly deaf and confined to a wheelchair, was California's oldest death row inmate and the second-oldest person executed in the US since the death penalty [JURIST news archive] was reinstated in 1976. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency [press release; statement of decision, PDF] Friday, saying "Allen's crimes are the most dangerous sort because they attack the justice system itself." Allen was sentenced to death in 1982 for hiring a hit man to kill witnesses who testified against him in an earlier murder trial. The US Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the execution [order, PDF], though Justice Breyer dissented, saying that the circumstances raised "a significant question as to whether his execution would constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment.'" Last month, California sparked a death penalty debate [JURIST report] with the highly publicized execution of Crips gang co-founder and convicted murderer Stanley Tookie Williams [advocacy website]. The Los Angeles Times has local coverage. AP has more.

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FBI questioned legality of post-Sept. 11 NSA surveillance
Kate Heneroty on January 17, 2006 8:11 AM ET

[JURIST] In the months following Sept. 11, the National Security Agency [official website] provided a "flood" of surveillance [JURIST news archive] information to the FBI, most of which proved to be worthless and a waste of FBI resources, and which prompted FBI doubts about the legality of the NSA's increasing role in domestic intelligence, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The NSA gathered the bulk of its information, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and names of suspected terrorists, through warrantless wiretaps on Americans' international communications. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III [official profile] probed administration officials concerning "whether the program had a proper legal foundation," but eventually deferred to reassurances by the Justice Department. The Times report cited more than a dozen current and former counterterrorism officials who questioned the sources of the collected information, raising questions of "pointless intrusions" on the privacy of Americans. Some FBI officials expressed unease with the NSA's increasing role in domestic intelligence, citing their lack of training in safeguarding American privacy and civil liberties. Reuters has more.

 Op-ed: Not Authorized By Law: Domestic Spying and Congressional Consent

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For more legal news check the Paper Chase Archive...


Unprecedented Notice of Warrantless Wiretapping in a Closed Case
Ramzi Kassem
CUNY School of Law

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