Monday, April 7, 2008

New Zealand claims trade coup with China

New Zealand signed a comprehensive trade agreement with China on Monday, the first developed nation to seal such a deal with the world’s largest developing economy.

Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister, and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, attended a signing ceremony in Beijing to mark the agreement, completed after three years and more than 15 rounds of negotiations.

Phil Goff, New Zealand’s trade minister, has claimed China’s maiden trade agreement with a developed nation as a coup for his country and a potential framework for others.

“Just about every country in the world wants a trade agreement with China. New Zealand was important because we set the basis for the future negotiations and we have tried to come up with a high quality and comprehensive deal,” he said.

Beijing may have used New Zealand as a test case because it has a relatively straightforward trading relationship with the country, but that may also limit it as a model for other deals. “We didn’t have to deal with wheat, rice or motor vehicles,” Mr Goff said.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, is due in Beijing later in the week to promote his country’s trade links with China. Although he is expected to emphasise Australia’s interest in securing a deal with China after 10 rounds of talks, the negotiations have lost momentum over the past year.

China has been unwilling to make concrete offers on sectors Australia is most focused on – agriculture and services – partly for fear that any such concessions would flow on to larger countries such as the US and in Europe.

Under the agreement, New Zealand will gradually remove all tariffs on imports from China by 2016, while in return, China will phase out tariffs on 96 per cent of its imports from New Zealand by 2019. The first tariff cuts will kick in on October 1.

Tariffs on New Zealand goods range from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, and are almost 15 per cent on agricultural goods such as dairy products and wool, two of its biggest exports.

Mr Goff estimated the trade agreement would be worth close to NZ$400m (£160m, $319m) to the country each year.

New Zealand was the first developed country to sign China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation and the first to recognise China as a market economy, a concession the US and the EU have refused to make.

China is New Zealand’s third-largest trading partner and its fastest growing export market. New Zealand’s exports to China are worth NZ$2bn. China trails Australia, the US and Japan as New Zealand’s biggest export markets.

Pro-Tibet protesters climb Golden Gate Bridge cables

Three demonstrators scaled cables near the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge today and unfurled banners intended to draw attention to Chinese human rights violations in Tibet.

The protest by Students for a Free Tibet came the day before the Olympic Torch is to arrive in San Francisco for its only North American stop before this summer's games in Beijing.

The protesters, two men and a woman, scaled the cables around 10:30 a.m., and unfurled two banners around 11:20 a.m. One banner read, "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 08," a play on the official slogan of this year's Olympic Games, "One World, One Dream." The other read simply, "Free Tibet."

The protesters also hung two Tibetan flags.

The activists used climbing gear to reach a spot 150 feet over the roadway and 370 feet above the water. They rappelled down about 1 p.m. and were arrested by California Highway Patrol officers. Iron workers will remove the banners and flags, authorities said.

California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Mary Ziegenbein said police arrested another four activists who did not scale the cables.

Bridge manager Kary Witt said cameras are trained on the span, but that authorities at first hadn't realized that protesters were about to climb the cables because they wore "ordinary" clothing and pushed a baby stroller. Their "Team Tibet" T-shirts were covered, and their banners and climbing gear were disguised by the stroller, he said.

Witt said the group came down after he went out with a bullhorn and pleaded with them. He told the activists that they were posing a danger to themselves and bridge employees.

It took the group an hour to get down, Witt said, partly because the female protester got caught in one of the banners and needed help getting untangled.

Arrested were Mac Sutherlin, 30, of Sausalito; Hannah Strange, 29, of Oakland; Duane Martinez, 27, of Sausalito; Alexandra Taub, 22, of Vancouver; Thomas Parkin, 38, of San Francisco; Tashi Sharzur, 47, of San Mateo; and Leslie Kaup, 31, of St. Paul, Minn. All were booked on suspicion of felony conspiracy and misdemeanor causing a public nuisance, the CHP said.

Sutherlin, Strange and Martinez, the three who climbed the cables, were also booked on suspicion of misdemeanor trespassing, the CHP said.

Yangchen Lhamo, a Tibetan American who lives in San Francisco, said Students for a Free Tibet hopes to persuade the International Olympic Committee to keep the torch out of Tibet this summer. It is scheduled to pass through Tibet on June 19-21.

Lhamo said the group planned other protests Tuesday and Wednesday that she said would be peaceful. On Tuesday, there will be an alternative torch event, the celebration of the Tibetan Freedom Torch, beginning at 11 a.m. at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco.

A number of visitors who were prevented from crossing the bridge for several hours appeared to take the protest in stride. Cincinnati resident Jim Hayden, 62, who is visiting San Francisco for the first time, said he was well aware of the city's reputation for political activity.

"If they're going to do it, do it here," Hayden said. "These people have their point of view, and find very strange ways to express them."

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France talks with pirates holding yacht

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- France has made contact with pirates who hijacked a French luxury yacht off Africa's eastern coast with 30 crew members on board, the French foreign minister said Sunday.


A handout photo from the French maritime transport company CMA-CGM shows the luxury yacht Le Ponant.

About 10 suspected pirates stormed the 288-foot Le Ponant on Friday as it was returning, without passengers, from the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. The pirates then guided the vessel down Somalia's eastern coast.

The hijacking comes amid a surge in piracy in the seas off the chaotic Horn of Africa nation, where a weak and impoverished government is unable to patrol its territorial waters. Pirates have seized more than two dozen ships off the country's coast in the past year, typically demanding high ransoms to free their hostages.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that France was in contact with the pirates.

"We have established contact, and the case may take a long time," he said, without providing more details. Asked whether France would consider paying a ransom, he responded, "We'll see."

"We have to do everything to avoid bloodshed," Kouchner said.

Earlier, a local fisherman Mahdi Daud Anbuure said he saw the ship arriving at the northern town of Eyl, about 310 miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, with a small boat heading toward it, apparently with supplies.

Abdirahman Mohamed Bangah, information minister for the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland, said he hoped international forces will "rescue this ship" at Eyl, confirming its location.

France's prime minister said Saturday that he hoped to avoid force in freeing the crew but that no options had been ruled out. There are 22 French citizens, including six women, on board, as well as Ukrainian citizens, authorities said.

A French diplomat working on the case said the hostages were being treated well, and that they have been provided food and given the opportunity to wash. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region. But an increase in naval patrols has coincided with a rash of kidnappings of foreigners on land.

Two police officers were killed and another was wounded late Saturday during the attempted kidnapping of a German aid worker, Bangah said. Four men attempting to seize the woman were arrested, he said.

Somalia -- wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy -- does not have its own navy, its armed forces are poorly paid and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.

Late Sunday, Islamic militants took possession of Balad, a town 18 miles north of Mogadishu, said resident Abdi Ibrahim. It is the ninth town they have taken in the past few months, in a series of hit-and-run attacks that usually sees them voluntarily withdraw after capturing equipment and freeing prisoners. Ibrahim said he was unaware of any casualties.

The insurgency, bandits and clan militias all contribute to the insecurity. Two U.N. contractors are being held hostage in the south of the country, and several aid workers and a French journalist have been seized in the past few months.

The International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy, said in its annual report earlier this year that global pirate attacks rose 10 percent in 2007, marking the first increase in three years.

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Police probe 'new KGB poison attack' as defector Gordievsky is found unconscious in Surrey home

Special Branch is investigating an alleged attempt to murder Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB double-agent who spied on Russia for British intelligence at the height of the Cold War.

The former Soviet colonel, who escaped to Britain in 1985, says he was poisoned by a Russian assassin who visited him at his secret safe-house in Surrey.

He fears he is the latest victim of revenge attacks by Russian intelligence on high-profile defectors.

Alexander Litvinenko, another former Russian spy, was murdered in London in 2006.

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Honour: Former spy Oleg Gordievsky after receiving the CMG from the Queen at Buckingham Palace last October

Gordievsky – awarded one of Britain's highest honours by the Queen last October – was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home.

He lay unconscious and "close to death" for 34 hours. He spent a further two weeks recuperating in a private clinic paid for by his former bosses in MI6.

He was initially left partially paralysed by the alleged attack and still has no feeling in his fingers.

Last night Surrey Police confirmed they were investigating a possible attempt on Gordievsky's life.

But he claimed that his former MI6 paymasters had attempted to cover it up.

He said MI6 forced Special Branch to drop its initial investigation into the case.

Officers were ordered to reopen the inquiry only after pressure by senior intelligence figures, including former MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Lord Butler, the head of the inquiry into intelligence failures in the run-up to the war in Iraq, is also understood to have questioned why the case was not being taken more seriously.

Gordievsky, 69, defected to the UK after more than ten years living a double life spying for British intelligence.

He told The Mail on Sunday that he was certain he was the victim of a Kremlin-inspired assassination attempt.

"I've known for some time that I am on the assassination list drawn up by rogue elements in Moscow," he said.

"They murdered my friend Alexander Litvinenko. I have no doubt my sudden illness last November was a similar attempt on my life.

"It was obvious to me I had been poisoned.

"The targets for assassination are well known. First Boris Berezovsky [the multi-millionaire oligarch living in exile in Britain], next the prime minister of Chechnya, then Litvinenko and then I was fourth. Now I remain third."

Alexander Litvinenko hospital bed

Previous poison victim Alexander Litvinenko in his hospital bed

Gordievsky, who was the KGB station chief at the Soviet embassy in London in the Eighties, believes his would-be assassin used a "variant or derivative of thallium".

The fact that forensic tests have so far failed to identify the poison or any other suspicious substance in his body does not surprise him.

He said: "KGB poisoning is based on the poison being undetectable.

"All my fingers were paralysed. I have no doubt it was poison that affected my fingers."

Initial tests on Litvinenko while he lay desperately ill in a London hospital failed to detect the deadly radioactive polonium that killed him days later.

And Gordievsky pointed to the case of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident who was jabbed with a poison-tipped umbrella as he walked across Waterloo Bridge in London in 1978, saying: "It was only pure luck that his assassination came to light."

Last night Gordievsky accused MI6 of abandoning him.

He said: "On the third day I was in hospital, the deputy head of Special Branch in Guildford visited me and said there was no crime, no poison.

"I realised that they wanted to hush up the crime.

"There has been accusation and counter-accusation. If they are saying I am not affected by the poison, why did I spend two weeks in hospital?

"The fact that no evidence of poison was initially found means absolutely nothing.

"I was forced to contact Eliza Manningham-Buller. She helped very much.

"The investigation was restarted and it is now at a critical stage. But I am caught between MI5, MI6 and Special Branch. It is internal politics."

Asked whether he thought there could be any other explanation for his illness – perhaps the extra stress on him after Litvinenko's murder – he said: "The stress is made only by MI6.

"Refusing to investigate a crime is not nice. Special Branch were ordered by MI6 not to investigate."

The Mail on Sunday understands that Gordievsky suspects one of his long-term friends, a former Russian military intelligence officer, of administering the poison.

After Gordievsky was released from hospital, he accused the man of trying to kill him and gave his name to the police.

"When this man was at my house, he had ample opportunity to insert the poison into food and drink, to which he had access," said Gordievsky.

Eliza manningham-buller

Former MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller pressed for the Gordievsky case to be reopened

"I ate some of that food and drink on the day I fell unconscious."

Last night the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, confirmed that Gordievsky had accused him of attempting to murder him.

"It is nonsense," he said. "It is sad, but Oleg has been ill for the past year.

He took Litvinenko's murder very badly and he has been under tremendous stress.

"Then, at the beginning of November, he couldn't open the door of his house for Jill, his secretary.

He was bumbling something and she couldn't open the door either. He had locked it from the inside.

"She called the police and they broke in. They found him unconscious and it was clear from the beginning it was not a murder attempt.

"He was in the local NHS hospital for two days and was then transferred to a private hospital paid for by MI6. Everybody was very confident that he would be fine.

"When he came out of hospital he said he would tell me a secret. He said he knew from the service, MI6, that there had been a KGB attack against him.

"I said I found that hard to believe.

"We continued in a friendly way until I left for holidays in Austria for three weeks in December. Then he immediately changed. He accused me."

The man confirmed that Special Branch officers had spoken to him at his home, but he has not been formally interviewed.

He said: "About three days after Oleg was taken into hospital, two Special Branch officers came to my home.

"They were very friendly, very helpful. We talked for an hour and there was nothing that wasn't clear to them. It was a friendly talk, very friendly.

"Oleg is accusing me because he is very embarrassed that MI6 disapproves of his behaviour.

"It is worse because it came weeks after he was given a very high award from the Queen."

Gordievsky was appointed Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for "services to the security of the United Kingdom".

The honour is the same as the one supposedly held by Ian Fleming's fictional spy James Bond.

Yesterday a spokesman for Surrey Police confirmed it was still investigating the case.

He said: "Surrey Police were called to an address in Surrey on November 2, 2007, at around 11.30am following concern for the safety of a man.

"The man was taken by ambulance to the Royal Surrey County Hospital for treatment.

"We are continuing to investigate allegations made by the man and it is not appropriate for us to comment further until this investigation has concluded."

MI6 recruited Gordievsky when he was stationed in Denmark in 1968 after learning that he had become disenchanted with his work and his country following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

In 1982 he was assigned to the Soviet embassy in London as the KGB "resident" responsible for Soviet intelligence-gathering and espionage in the UK.

While in London, his handler was a young MI6 officer, John Scarlett, who is now head of MI6.

But in 1985 Gordievsky was ordered back to Moscow and arrested at the dacha of one of his superiors.

Gordievsky was interrogated by the KGB for several weeks and, even under the influence of "truth drugs", he never confessed.

Although he was suspected of espionage, his superiors appeared to have no solid proof.

In June 1985, he was allowed to return to his Moscow flat.

Despite being under house arrest, Gordievsky managed to inform MI6 of his situation.

British intelligence officers put in place a daring and dangerous escape plan.

On July 19, 1985, Gordievsky went for his usual jog and gave his KGB watchers the slip.

He boarded a train to the Finnish border, where he was met by a British embassy car and smuggled across the frontier in the boot.

His wife and children finally joined him in the UK six years later. Their marriage has since broken up.

Gordievsky receives a Ministry of Defence pension, equivalent to that of a British Army colonel.

His welfare and security are overseen by the Re-Settlement Group for Defectors within MI6.

When he was taken ill, the local police immediately informed Special Branch, who then alerted MI6.

Gordievsky has written books about the KGB and is a frequently quoted media pundit on the subject.


Favoured by Soviet agents during the Cold War, the odourless and tasteless killer with a deadly history

A highly toxic metal used in rat poisons and insecticides, thallium has a long history as a murder weapon – earning it the names "the poisoner's poison" and "inheritance powder".

Odourless and tasteless, thallium and its compounds dissolve in water and are readily absorbed through the skin.

Its effects include loss of hair and damage to the nervous system and it would take only about a gram – the equivalent of a large pinch of salt in food – to kill.

Frequently used by the KGB against the Soviet government's enemies during the Cold War, thallium has been linked more recently to attempts to kill others who have crossed the Russian state.

Many suspect that Yuri Shchekochikhin, a Russian journalist and politician critical of Moscow, who died in 2003, was killed by thallium.

And journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead on a Moscow street in 2006, was also supposedly a victim of thallium poisoning two years earlier.

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was initially thought to have been poisoned with thallium before the deadly agent was later identified as radioactive polonium.

In 1957, Nikolai Khokhlov, a former KGB assassin, was poisoned with thallium. He fled the Soviet Union to Germany, where he was treated and eventually recovered.

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Iraqi Widows, Orphans Left Stranded

BAGHDAD (AP) -- The car exploded near a popular ice cream parlor, sending flames and shrapnel through the busy square and killing 17 people.

It was another deadly explosion quickly forgotten by the outside world. But Aug. 1, 2007, changed the life of 28-year-old Maysa Sharif. It was the day she became one of nearly a million Iraqi women who have lost husbands as the country has suffered through three wars and Saddam Hussein's murderous regime.

Such vast numbers of widows would tax any society, and all the more Iraq's. With virtually no safety net and few job opportunities, most widows have little choice but to move in with their extended families and depend on their largesse.

Sharif was five months pregnant and preparing breakfast for her children when the blast shook their house in central Baghdad. She ran to the scene where her 39-year-old husband, Hussein Abdul-Hassan, ran a cigarette kiosk, and saw him on the ground. ''Shrapnel hit his body and his head was cracked open. His eyes and mouth also were open,'' she said.

''I wanted to close them,'' she said, but police dragged her away, fearing a second explosion.

And her nightmare continued. Her 7-year-old son Saif had gone to work with his dad, and she couldn't find him. Only as her husband was being taken to the holy city of Najaf to be buried did she learn her son had died in the hospital.

''The funeral convoy turned around and put Saif's body in the same coffin,'' she said. ''They refused to let me see my son or go to Najaf because I was pregnant. I could not believe that he was dead until I saw the death certificate.''

Sharif has three other children -- 10-year-old Ali, 2-year-old Tabarak and infant Abdullah, whose name was chosen by his father the night before he was killed. They now live in one room set aside for them in her brother-in-law's compound in central Baghdad.

With the government's attention focused on political crises and the U.S.-led war now entering its sixth year, advocates say the plight of women like Sharif is being ignored.

Women's Affairs Minister Nirmeen Othman warns it could boil up into a peacetime ''social crisis.''

A family health survey provided by lawmaker Samira al-Moussawi, who champions the widows, counted 738,240 widows ranging in age from 15 to 80 as of January 2007, and dating back to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The figure included those whose husbands died of natural causes and a further breakdown was not available.

Othman estimated the number at closer to 1.3 million.

The problem also threatens the next generation.

A whole new primary school for 640 orphans has opened in Baghdad's Sadr City district, but headmistress Asma Karim says many pupils are failing for lack of support at home.

''Those who are left to care for these children are normally concerned about their survival more than their education,'' she said.

Al-Moussawi, a geologist-turned-politician, says she has been overwhelmed by petitions for help, including 448 recently delivered to her office in a plastic bag from the predominantly Shiite southern city of Diwaniyah.

''There isn't any strategy, any clear strategy to deal with this social issue -- not for women, not for children,'' she said.

She has proposed legislation to budget $1 million -- a tiny fraction of the oil-rich country's $48 billion budget -- for educating widows, teaching them skills and raising their tiny pensions. But the Cabinet has rejected the measure.

Umm Hiba, a 38-year-old mother of two in northern Baghdad, blames herself for her husband's death because she sent him to a Baghdad market to buy yogurt for the dinner she was cooking. A mortar attack killed him on Jan. 27, 2007.

''It was all my fault. If I did not send him, he would be alive now with his children,'' she said, crying as she held her 2-year-old son.

Now she lives with her 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son in a room in the back of the house she and her husband shared with her blind brother-in-law and his family. She has built a makeshift bathroom and kitchen.

Neighbors and relatives collected money for her husband's funeral, but she was forced to sell her furniture to buy a sheep to slaughter on the first anniversary of his death, according to Islamic tradition. The sheep cost more than her monthly $62 pension.

Umm Hiba, who would only give her nickname, which means ''mother of Hiba,'' says she applied unsuccessfully for several jobs but was rejected. She could have sought work as a cleaner in a school, but refused. ''I have a high-school degree so it would be shameful for me to take such a job,'' she said.

The pension, she said, can't keep up with soaring food and clothes prices. ''In Iraq, everything is costly, except human beings who are very cheap,'' she said.

By comparison, war widows under Saddam received plots of land, the cost of the funeral and sufficient pensions.

Jalila Hassan's husband, Kadhum Mohammed was 29 when he was killed in 1984 while fighting in the Iran-Iraq war. She was 17 at the time and said she was given a pension and even offered a choice between a car or the equivalent price. She chose the cash.

''Back then, widows were taken care of better than they are now. We were not left in destitution,'' she said.

Hassan, who lives with her mother and brothers in Sadr City, still gets a slightly higher pension of $80 a month but its value has fallen sharply.

Afifa Hussein's husband, 58-year-old Uraibi Hamid, was snatched by masked gunmen and shot to death July 14 in the insurgent stronghold of Samarra.

Hussein, in her 40s with eight children, found herself struggling to care for two disabled sons and an ailing daughter. To earn extra money for the family, her 19-year-old son drove a cab, a dangerous occupation in Iraq these days.

Her teenage daughter quit school, unable to cope, and a traumatized son moved out of the house for a month to stay with relatives.

Badriyah Hamid, a 45-year-old Shiite cleaning woman with 10 children, was working late at a school in the predominantly Sunni village of Rashidiyah on May 23, 2007, when she learned her 55-year-old husband, Fadhil Jafar, had been shot to death and dumped on the street.

''I ran to the site and all my children came too, throwing themselves on his body. He was shot six times in his back and head,'' she said.

The killing left one of her sons with a form of amnesia and no longer able to read or write, causing him to fail in school.

But Hamid, a strong-willed Kurdish woman, is struggling to manage on her own.

She moved in with her husband's family but became worried they would try to force her daughters to marry their sons. So with rent money donated by a neighbor, she moved into a two-room house with all her children.

She finds occasional work as a cleaner but still has to scavenge for scraps of food at a nearby market. She worries that without a father, her children will fall victim to drug traffickers or other bad influences.

''My husband was everything in my life. Without him, life is extremely difficult because no one can help us and no one can fill the gap he left,'' she said. ''But besides the financial burdens on my shoulders, I have to care about the morality of my children and protect them from the evils of society.''

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Church of Scientology warns Wikileaks over documents

Wikinews has learned that the Church of Scientology warned the documents-leaking site that they are in violation of United States copyright laws after they published several documents related to the Church. Wikileaks has no intention of complying, and states that in response, it intends to publish thousand pages of additional Scientology materials beginning Monday.

In the letter to Wikileaks, lawyers for the Church's Religious Technology Center (RTC), which oversees the use of the their logos, writings and religious content, states that the site "placed RTC's Advanced Technology works on's website without the authorization" of the Church.

"I have a good faith belief, and in fact know for certain, that posting copies of these works through your system was not authorized by my client, any agent of my client, or the law. Please be advised that your customer's action in this regard violates United States copyright law. Accordingly, we ask for your help in removing these works immediately from your service," states the letter from Ava Paquette of Moxon & Kobrin, which was published by Wikileaks.

On March 9, 2008, Wikileaks published several documents relating to the Church's Office of Special Affairs and personal notes gathered by Frank Oliver, a former Scientologist and former member of the Church's Special Affairs office. On March 26, 2008, Wikileaks published the entire set of the Churches 'Operating Thetan Level' documents which included handwritten notes by Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Although the letter does not mention specific legal threats, the letter asks that Wikileaks "preserve any and all documents pertaining to this matter and this customer, including, but not limited to, logs, data entry sheets, applications -- electronic or otherwise, registration forms, billings statements or invoices, computer print-outs, disks, hard drives, etc."

Despite the letter, Wikileaks states it will not comply with the "abusive request" by the Church.

"Wikileaks will not comply with legally abusive requests from Scientology any more than Wikileaks has complied with similar demands from Swiss banks, Russian off-shore stem cell centers, former African Kleptocrats, or the Pentagon. Wikileaks will remain a place where people of the world may safely expose injustice and corruption," stated Wikileaks in a release on its website.

Wikileaks further states that, "in response to the attempted suppression, Wikileaks will release several thousand additional pages of Scientology material next week."

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