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Michigan woman killed, 23 injured after car plows into Times Square crowd

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Friday, May 19th, 2017

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock (8824400d) Aftermath of a car being driven into Pedestrians in Times Square Car Driven into Pedestrians in Times Square, New York, USA – 18 May 2017

A man steered his car onto a sidewalk running through Times Square and mowed down pedestrians for three blocks Thursday, killing a teenager, then emerged from his wrecked vehicle wild-eyed and screaming before he was subdued by police and bystanders.

The driver, a 26-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, told officers he was hearing voices and expected to die, two law enforcement officials said.

Helpless pedestrians had little time to react as the car barrelled down the sidewalk and through intersections before smashing into a row of steel security barriers installed to prevent vehicle attacks on the square where massive crowds gather every New Year’s Eve. The car came to rest with its two right wheels in the air.

Police said 23 people were struck, including an 18-year-old tourist from Michigan who died. The woman’s 13-year-old sister was among the injured.

The carnage raised immediate fears of terrorism, fueled by recent attacks in England, France and Germany in which vehicles plowed through crowds of pedestrians. But investigators quickly turned their focus to the sobriety and mental health of the driver, identified as Bronx resident Richard Rojas.

“There is no indication that this was an act of terrorism,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Photographers snapped pictures of Rojas after he climbed from the wrecked car and ran through the street before he was tackled by a group that included a muscular security supervisor at a nearby Planet Hollywood restaurant.

“He began screaming, no particular words but just utter screaming. He was swinging his arms at the same time, said the bouncer, Ken Bradix. “There was something wrong with him.”

Watch the video below or click here.

Rojas initially tested negative for alcohol, but more detailed drug tests were pending, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The officials said Rojas told officers he had been hearing voices.

A week ago, Rojas was arrested and charged with pointing a knife at a notary, whom he accused of stealing his identity. He pleaded guilty to a harassment violation.

He was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated in 2008 and 2015, police Commissioner James O’Neill said. He pleaded guilty to an infraction in 2015 and was ordered to complete a drunken-driving program and lost his license for 90 days.

In previous arrests, he told authorities he believed he was being harassed and followed, one of the law enforcement officials said.

Police identified the woman killed by the car as Alyssa Elsman, of Portage, Michigan.

Elsman graduated last year from Portage Central High School.

“If you didn’t know her, you might think she’s reserved or shy,” school principal Eric Alburtus said. “But if you could talk to her for a minute, you’d realize she was engaging. She was bright. She was funny.”

In the Bronx, neighbourhood acquaintances said Rojas was a friendly man who had been having problems. Harrison Ramos said Rojas wasn’t the same when he came back from active duty in 2014.

“He’s been going through a real tough time,” he said.

Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and was an electrician’s mate fireman apprentice. In 2012 he served aboard the U.S.S. Carney, a destroyer.

Navy records show that in 2013 he spent two months at a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina. They don’t indicate why.

Rojas spent his final months in the Navy at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, before being discharged in 2014 as the result of a special court martial, a Navy official said. Details were not immediately available.

Thursday’s mayhem began at noon on a hot, clear day that brought large crowds of people into the streets to enjoy the good weather.

Police said Rojas had been driving south on Seventh Avenue when he made a quick U-turn at 42nd Street and drove up the sidewalk for three blocks, passing tourist draws like the Hard Rock Cafe and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant.

Security camera video showed people being flung in bunches over the car’s hood.

“People just got stunned,” said Bruno Carvalho, a student at SUNY Albany. “I don’t think there was actually time for screaming.”

“He didn’t stop,” said Asa Lowe, of Brooklyn, who was standing outside a store when he saw people scatter. “He just kept going.”

The White House said President Donald Trump was briefed about the situation.

The apartment building where Rojas lives was cordoned off by police Thursday. It was unclear when Rojas, who was in custody, would get a lawyer or be arraigned.

The sidewalks in many parts of Times Square are lined with metal posts designed to prevent cars from getting onto the sidewalks and other public areas. That network of barricades, though, is far from a complete defence. There are many areas where vehicles could be driven onto packed sidewalks or public plazas.

Sunita Prasad and her family, visiting from Guyana, were marveling at the sights when the car came toward them.

She pushed her children, 3 and 6, out of its path. But an uncle was struck on the head by a pole dislodged by the vehicle, relatives said as they left the hospital where he was being treated.

“We were just touring, seeing how beautiful Times Square was,” Prasad said. “And this came.”

King Street pilot project will give streetcar priority

MOMIN QURESHI AND NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, May 19th, 2017

The TTC has released details of a planned pilot project which could greatly affect your commute along King Street in the downtown core.

Sixty-five thousand people ride the King streetcar every day, so the TTC is making a move to give the transit line a priority between Bathurst and Jarvis.

“It’s our second busiest transit route. It’s busier than two of our subways.” TTC deputy CEO Chris Upfold explained.

It’s estimated that 20,000 drivers travel along King Street daily.

The pilot project would not ban cars from the downtown portion of King but would implement restricted vehicle access.

Vehicles would only be able to use one lane on either side of the street and left turns would be eliminated between Bathurst and Jarvis. As well, drivers would be forced to turn right at the end of each block.

Street parking would be eliminated along that stretch of King.

Upfold said this type of project works in other places so it should work in Toronto.

“I really believe that. I think people have to see how well this can work and how you can move people in more efficient ways. You can support businesses,” he said.

“I think, once we see it work here in Toronto, that a lightbulb will go on and people will begin to accept it a bit more.”

If it’s approved, the year-long pilot project would go into effect in October.

Council will vote on the project in July.

Swedish prosecutor drops rape investigation of Assange

DAVID KEYTON, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Friday, May 19th, 2017

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (centre) arrives at London’s High Court on Nov. 2, 2011. AFP/GETTY IMAGES/Leon Neal

Sweden’s top prosecutor said Friday she is dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority said in a statement Friday that Marianne Ny “has decided to discontinue the investigation.”

Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy in London in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden to answer questions about sex-crime allegations from two women. He has been there ever since, fearing that if he is arrested he might ultimately be extradited to the United States. Last month, President Donald Trump said he would support any decision by the Justice Department to charge Assange.

WikiLeaks tweeted after the Swedish announcement: “UK refuses to confirm or deny whether it has already received a US extradition warrant for Julian Assange. Focus now moves to UK.”

Friday’s announcement means Assange is no longer under any investigation in Sweden. British police said before the announcement that Assange is still wanted in Britain for jumping bail. It is not clear if that may change now that the investigation has been dropped. Friday was the deadline for the Swedish prosecution to send a request to Stockholm District Court in the Assange case.

The 45-year-old Australian computer hacker was wanted in Sweden for questioning over a rape allegation stemming from a 2010 visit.

“This is a total victory for Julian Assange. He is now free to leave the embassy when he wants. We have won the Assange case. He is of course happy and relieved. He has been critical that it has lasted that long,” Per E Samuelsson, his lawyer in Sweden, told Swedish Radio. Samuelsson was not immediately available for comments.

Toronto police search for missing child, mom

NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, May 19th, 2017

Toronto police say 11-month-old Chevon St. Louis-Patterson Jr. and his mother, 23-year-old Kayla St. Louis, were last seen on May 18, 2017. HANDOUT/Toronto Police Service

Toronto police are seeking the public’s help in finding a missing 11-month-old boy and his mother.

Chevon St. Louis-Patterson Jr. was last seen near Allen Road and Sheppard Avenue at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

He is around two-feet tall with short curly blonde hair. He was last seen wearing blue-and-white pinstriped overalls and blue shoes.

The mother is around five-foot-two with blue-grey eyes and red tinted hair. She was wearing a jean jacket and dark pants.

Police say the boy’s mother, 23-year-old Kayla St. Louis, went to see him earlier in the day. They went for a walk and haven’t been seen since.

Police say this is not an Amber Alert situation because the mother does not intend to harm the child. However, police said they are concerned for the pair’s safety.

Anyone with information on their whereabouts is being asked to call police.

Pillar suspended 2 games for yelling homophobic slur

The Canadian Press and News staff | posted Thursday, May 18th, 2017

The Toronto Blue Jays are handing centre-fielder Kevin Pillar a two-game suspension for directing an anti-gay slur at an Atlanta Braves pitcher.

General manager Ross Atkins confirmed the ban during a media availability before Thursday night’s game at SunTrust Park.

Pillar was angry at Jason Motte for allegedly quick-pitching him to get a strikeout that ended the seventh inning in Atlanta’s 8-4 victory Wednesday night.

Replays appeared to show Pillar using the slur as he yelled toward the mound.

“By doing so I had just helped extend the use of a word that has no place in baseball, in sports or anywhere in society today,” Pillar said on his Twitter account.

“I’m completely and utterly embarrassed and feel horrible to have put the fans, my teammates and the Blue Jays organization in this position. I have apologized personally to Jason Motte, but also need to apologize to the Braves organization and their fans, and most importantly, to the LGBTQ community for the lack of respect I displayed last night.

“This is not who I am and will use this as an opportunity to better myself.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Major League Baseball was also considering disciplining Pillar.

“The Toronto Blue Jays are extremely disappointed by the comments made by Kevin Pillar following his at-bat during the seventh inning of last night’s game,” the team said in a statement.

“In no way is this kind of behaviour accepted or tolerated, nor is it a reflection of the type of inclusive organization we strive to be. We would like to extend our own apologies to all fans, Major League Baseball and especially the LGBTQ community. We know Kevin to be a respectful, high-character individual who we hope will learn from this situation and continue to positively contribute and live up to our values on and off the field.”

Many on Twitter came down on Pillar over the incident.

“Heat of the moment or not, simply having that word in your vocabulary makes you a bad person. Inexcusable, Pillar,” @ReesorBoy wrote.

Pillar was apparently upset that Motte threw a quick-pitch for the third strike. The benches emptied after the incident but no punches were thrown.

After the game, Pillar told reporters he got caught up in the heat of the moment.

“It just stems from a little frustration in myself, just the way this series has been going,” he said. “It was immature, stupid. It was uncalled for. It’s part of the game. I’m a competitive guy.”

The Braves won the first three games of the series, outscoring the Blue Jays 27-15.

“(Motte) didn’t do anything wrong, it was on me,” Pillar said. “It’s something to learn from, something to move on from. Don’t let it define me.”

Pillar, 28, has been enjoying a strong season at the plate and in the field. Entering Thursday’s games, he was tied for fourth in the major leagues with 51 hits.

He has six homers, 12 RBIs, an .854 OPS (on-base plus slugging) and has made several highlight-reel catches in centre field.

In 2012, former Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended for three games by the team after he played a game with a homophobic slur written in Spanish on his eye-black stickers. Pillar made his big-league debut with the Blue Jays the following year and he became an everyday player in 2015.

The tension didn’t end after Pillar’s outburst on Wednesday night.

In the eighth inning, Jose Bautista stared at the mound and flipped his bat after homering to left field. Jace Peterson said something to Bautista as he rounded first base and the Toronto slugger had words with catcher Kurt Suzuki as he touched home plate.

The benches emptied again but no punches were thrown.

Bautista has a history of flipping his bat after hitting home runs, an action that often makes opponents bristle. His most infamous bat flip came after he hit a go-ahead homer in the deciding game of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.

Braves pitcher Eric O’Flaherty didn’t mince words about Bautista’s latest actions.

“That’s something (that’s) making the game tough to watch,” he said. “It’s turned into look-at-me stuff. He hit a home run with (the Braves holding) a five-run lead and throws the bat around. I’m just tired of it. I’ve seen it from him enough.”

The rivalry between the Blue Jays and Rangers was heightened last year after Texas infielder Rougned Odor rocked Bautista with a punch during a scuffle. The teams went on to meet in the ALDS once again, with Toronto winning three straight games to advance.

The Braves and Blue Jays, meanwhile, have little history since their play has been primarily limited to occasional interleague play.

The teams did meet in the 1992 World Series, with Toronto winning four games to two.

Victoria Day long weekend: Fireworks, events, and what’s open and closed

PATRICIA D'CUNHA AND SAMANTHA KNIGHT | posted Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Fireworks are shown in Toronto in this undated file photo.

Summer officially arrives on June 21, but the Victoria Day long weekend is often pegged as the unofficial start of summer.

While some people will head to the cottage, others will be in town hanging out on the patio or enjoying local events. If you are out and about on Monday, below is a list of what’s open and closed.

There is a partial subway closure on Line 1 (Yonge-University-Spadina), as well as a GO train service reduction on the Lakeshore East line. There are also road closures in effect, some of which are near the Gardiner Expressway ramp to York, Bay and Yonge streets.

Have a wonderful long weekend.

A closed sign on a storefront. GETTY IMAGES/Steve Goodwin


What’s open and closed


  • TTC will run on a holiday schedule
  • GO Transit will run on a Saturday schedule
  • Tourist attractions: ROM, CN Tower, Casa Loma, Toronto Zoo, Hockey Hall of Fame, Ontario Science Centre, Canada’s Wonderland, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
  • Most malls: Bramalea City Centre (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Eaton Centre (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Pacific Mall (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.), Square One (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), The Promenade (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Toronto Premium Outlets (9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.), Upper Canada Mall (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Vaughan Mills (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.), Yorkville Village (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
  • Curbside garbage is not collected on any Monday, but other services will be affected. Click here for details.



  • LCBO stores are closed on Monday, but many cottage-area locations may remain open later on Friday and Saturday. Click here to check individual store hours.
  • Beer Store locations will also be closed on Monday but some stores will open later on Sunday
  • Government offices, municipal buildings and banks
  • Libraries are closed on Sunday and Monday
  • No mail delivery
  • Some malls: Dufferin Mall, Fairview Mall, Scarborough Town Centre, Sherway Gardens, Yorkdale Shopping Centre
The intersection of Harbour and York streets before the redesign, which is expected to be completed in early 2018. CITY OF TORONTO


Transit and road closures

Partial Line 1 closure
Despite it being a long weekend, the TTC is limiting service on Line 1. There will be no subways running between Sheppard West and St. George stations on Saturday and Sunday because of signal upgrades.

Due to construction, shuttle buses will only operate between Sheppard West and Lawrence West stations during the closure. Additional service will be added to existing bus and streetcar routes to help with the commuter traffic.

GO Transit service
Train service on the Lakeshore East line will be run every hour, instead of every 30 minutes, from Friday evening until Monday due to construction work at Guildwood GO Station. Click here for schedule details.

Road closures
If you are driving in or out of the downtown core over the long weekend, road closures will await you near the Gardiner Expressway as crews demolish the ramp to York, Bay and Yonge streets. The following streets will be closed:

  • York Street, from Queens Quay to Harbour Street, will be closed from 10 a.m. on Friday to 11 p.m. on Monday.
  • Eastbound Lake Shore Boulevard/Harbour Street, from Lower Simcoe Street to Bay Street, as well as the York and Harbour intersection, will be closed from 1 p.m. on Friday to 11 p.m. on Monday.
  • Southbound York Street between Lake Shore Boulevard West and Harbour Street will be closed from 1 p.m. on Friday to 11 p.m. on Monday.


The work will be done between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on each of those days. The city warns that it will be brightly lit and loud in the area. During the closure, pedestrians and cyclists will have to use Bremner Boulevard, Rees Street and Lower Simcoe Street.

Road closures will also be in effect on Monday for the Walk with Israel. Partial closures will be in effect from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the area bounded by Strachan Avenue, Lake Shore Boulevard, York Street and Wellington Street.


The May long weekend may be the unofficial start of summer, but it is the start of the fireworks season.

One of the main events will be at Canada’s Wonderland. Fireworks will be held at 10 p.m. on Sunday, weather permitting. Spend the day at the park enjoying the more than 200 rides and then watch the light show over Wonder Mountain.

The fireworks show at Ashbridges Bay Park is on Monday, kicking off at 9:45 p.m. Since there is flooding in the area, the city said the fireworks will be set off from a barge in the water and not from the beach.

File photo of a fireworks display. EYEEM/Syilvana Grabski-Wawer


Rib & Craft Beer Fest
The Rib & Craft Beer Fest is taking over Yonge-Dundas Square this Thursday through Sunday.

The annual summer kickoff showcases the best rib teams in Canada, along with craft beer vendors. Guests can also enjoy blooming onions, poutine, burgers, sausages, deep fried treats, funnel cakes and ice cream. Entertainment includes live music all weekend long, on-site contests, line dancing lessons, cooking lessons and face painting. The festival runs each day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

HarbourKIDS: Circus
Take your long weekend to new and exciting heights, at the HarbourKIDS Circus festival.

Toronto’s circus on the waterfront returns for three days, with an inspiring mix of artists who will consider and play with the concept of flight, acceleration and momentum. Highlights include the Voyages in Circus Show, Sideshow Expedition: Mr. Mess, The Circus of Industrious Fleas, Fly, and Becoming the Human Cannonball Art Station.

WeeFestival Family Day
Spend some quality time with your family this long weekend at the WeeFestival Family Day event at Artscape Wychwood Barns. The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Victoria Day.

The morning will be filled with dance, storytelling, music, crafts, healthy eats and treats. Admission is by donation, with a minimum of $10 suggested per person. All money raised will go towards the 2018 edition of the WeeFestival of Theatre and Culture for Early Years. During the event, a sneak peek of the 2018 event will be shown.

Trinity Bellwoods Bed-In
The Trinity Bellwoods Bed-In returns to the west-end park this long weekend. The event, which is in its fourth year, celebrates the bed-in that John Lennon and Yoko Ono held at the King Edward Hotel on May 25, 1969. The pair also held a bed-in in Amsterdam and a press conference from their bed at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

The event features musicians, performers and yoga in the park. The Bed-In runs from 11 a.m. on Sunday to 2 a.m. on Monday. All are welcome to attend.

City councillor steps in after Air Canada passenger allegedly tries to open door

NEWS STAFF AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, May 18th, 2017

It was a shocking end to a family vacation as city councillor Michael Thompson helped restrain a man threatening to take down an Air Canada flight on Monday.

Coun. Thompson said he was returning from Jamaica with his mother when a passenger, sitting in business class, became aggressive.

The Air Canada flight crew tried to calm the man, who has been identified as Brandon Michael Courneyea, but when he continued to be aggressive, they moved him to the back of the airplane, near where Coun. Thompson was sitting.

That’s when the Scarborough Centre representative stepped in to try to help.

“I asked if it would be okay for me to just sit and try to talk with him,” Coun. Thompson explained. “At that point I sat with him and we were talking and things were going okay for a little while and then he sort of reacted and said ‘I don’t want you to sit here anymore … I don’t want to talk anymore. Just get up and just get outta here.’”

Courneyea then told Coun. Thompson that he wanted to take the plane down by opening the rear door.

“It was rather threatening. He took a coffee pot and threatened to throw the coffee at me because we were standing in his way trying to prevent him from opening the door,” Thompson said.

Courneyea then allegedly lunged for a rear door and began pulling the lever.

As the situation escalated, more people tried to step in to help, while the tension proved too much for others.

“Some were crying, some were just very concerned, obviously, because you don’t know what could have happened and we didn’t know what the situation was, we didn’t know what prompted this particular individual to react in the fashion that he reacted in,” Thompson said.

It was decided that Courneyea would be restrained until the plane, which was being diverted to Orlando, landed and authorities could deal with the man.

Thompson said he helped flight attendants restrain the man by putting zip ties on his feet while others used restraints on the man’s wrists.

Courneyea’s wife says his arrest has come as a complete shock, saying his alleged behaviour is not in keeping with the man she knows.

“That is not my husband at all,” she told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview. “There’s a lot more to what brought that on, because my husband is the kindest, most loving man you’ll ever meet. And anybody that knows him will tell you the same thing.”

Amanda Courneyea said her 33-year-old husband headed off to Jamaica last week from his home in Amherstview, Ont., to fulfil a long-held desire to take a vacation there.

She said she had urged him to “cross it off his bucket list,” adding he travelled alone because the couple has five children, many of whom have special needs, and cannot be left in the care of a babysitter.

But Brandon Courneyea’s vacation plans went awry almost immediately, according to his wife, who said he told her that locals were threatening his life.

She arranged for him to move up his flight plans from Friday to Monday, booking him on an Air Canada flight to Toronto that left Montego Bay in the late afternoon.

In a statement, Air Canada commended its staff for following proper procedures to ensure the safety of the plane.

“Our crew are trained to respond to such situations and followed standard procedures to ensure the continued safe operation of the flight,” Air Canada said in a statement.

“It should be noted that although the passenger threatened to open an exit door, this is impossible to do during flight.”

When the plane landed in Orlando, federal agents arrested Courneyea. He is facing several charges.

Ontario autism program to offer direct funding at families’ urging

ALLISON JONES, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Parents of children with autism protest the government’s decision to cut Intensive behavioural Intervention therapy for children age five and older at Queen’s Park in Toronto on June 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ontario families of children with autism will be able to choose between using government-funded services or receiving funding to pay for private therapy, as part of an overhauled program, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Liberal government is set to announce Thursday that the $533-million Ontario Autism Program beginning next month will soon include a direct funding option, something families have long been clamouring for.

“We’ve been advocating for direct funding for 12 years,” said Ontario Autism Coalition president Bruce McIntosh. “We know that it’s a better option for families in terms of the flexibility … The cost per child for the government is lower. Everybody benefits from this funding model.”

While some families prefer the government-funded direct service model because they don’t want to have to manage the money and keep time sheets, many want the flexibility of direct funding, McIntosh said.

“The therapists can come to your home,” he said. “The times of service delivery are different. The direct service agencies restrict you to sort of a nine-to-five on weekdays, whereas you can do evenings and weekends with a private provider.”

When the Liberal government initially announced a new autism program early last year, it said it would do away with the distinctions between Intensive Behavioural Intervention and Applied Behaviour Analysis and blend them into a service that would tailor the intensity of therapy to a child’s individual needs.

But that program was not due to roll out until 2018, and in the meantime the government said it would stop funding IBI for kids over four, giving families of kids removed from the IBI wait list $8,000 to pay for private therapy during the transition.

The families said that would only pay for a few months of therapy, not two years.

Premier Kathleen Wynne put a new minister on the file, who quickly announced that those families would get successive payments of $10,000 for private therapy until the new program was up and running. The start date for the program was moved up to June 2017.

Now, Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau will announce that there will be a new and permanent direct funding option in the Ontario Autism Program by the end of the year, government sources said.

Families already receiving the $10,000 payments for private therapy will continue to get them until the permanent funding is up and running.

There was a direct funding option under the old program, but only for kids under five and it capped the funding at $39 per hour for providers. It wasn’t true direct funding because that cap was “artificially low” and meant families still had to pay top ups out of pocket, McIntosh said.

“The experiment hasn’t been a free, open market for services and as a result of that requirement, it really did come down to a two-tier system,” he said.

Details are still being worked out for the new direct funding option, but it would have no age cap, the sources said.

Any new fee cap would be about ensuring children get the same level of service, no matter which stream they are under, they added.

A government-commissioned analysis about 10 years ago found that the average cost per hour for direct service was $55, versus $37 for direct funding – something Ontario’s auditor general highlighted in a 2013 report.

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