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Under pressure, Hallmark pulls gay-themed wedding ads


Under pressure from a conservative group, The Hallmark Channel has pulled ads for a wedding planning site that featured two brides kissing at the altar

NEW YORK —
Under pressure from a conservative advocacy group, The Hallmark Channel has pulled ads for a wedding-planning website that featured two brides kissing at the altar.

The family-friendly network, which is in the midst of its heavily watched holiday programming, removed the ads because the controversy was a distraction, a spokesperson said in an interview Saturday.

“The debate surrounding these commercials on all sides was distracting from the purpose of our network, which is to provide entertainment value,” said a statement provided by Molly Biwer, senior vice president for public affairs and communications at Hallmark.

In an interview, she added: “The Hallmark brand is never going to be divisive. We don’t want to generate controversy, we’ve tried very hard to stay out of it … we just felt it was in the best interest of the brand to pull them and not continue to generate controversy.”

There was immediate criticism on Twitter. Ellen DeGeneres asked Hallmark: “Isn’t it almost 2020? What are you thinking? Please explain. We’re all ears.”

Biwer confirmed that a conservative group, One Million Moms, part of the American Family Association, had complained about the ads to Bill Abbott, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, Hallmark’s parent company.

A post on the group’s website said that Abbott “reported the advertisement aired in error.” The group also wrote: “The call to our office gave us the opportunity to confirm the Hallmark Channel will continue to be a safe and family-friendly network.”

Zola had submitted six ads, and four had a lesbian couple. After Hallmark pulled those ads, but not two featuring only opposite-sex couples, Zola pulled its remaining ads, the company said.

“The only difference between the commercials that were flagged and the ones that were approved was that the commercials that did not meet Hallmark’s standards included a lesbian couple kissing,” said Mike Chi, Zola’s chief marketing officer, in a statement sent to the AP. ”Hallmark approved a commercial where a heterosexual couple kissed.

“All kisses, couples and marriages are equal celebrations of love and we will no longer be advertising on Hallmark,” Chi said.

In one of the pulled ads, two brides stand at the altar and wonder aloud whether their wedding would be going more smoothly if they had used a wedding planning site like Zola. The lighthearted ad ends with the two brides sharing a quick kiss on the altar.

Actress Sandra Bernhard, who played one of the first openly bisexual characters on network TV in “Roseanne,” also criticized Hallmark’s decision.

“All the groovy gay ladies i know won’t be watching your Christmas schlock,” she wrote on Twitter, addressing Hallmark. “They’ll be out celebrating with their ’families’ wives, children, friends on & on & getting married in chic ensembles. Didn’t you all get the memo? Family is all inclusive.”

The developments came as Hallmark appeared to be considering more same-sex themed content.

Asked about the possibility of holiday movies based on same-sex relationships, Abbott was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter in mid-November as saying on its TV podcast: “We’re open to really any type of movie of any type of relationship.”



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U.S. Turns Up Pressure on Iran With Sanctions on Transportation Firms


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the United States plans to impose new sanctions on Iran’s largest shipping company and a major airline for what he said were their roles in transporting material for the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

“Today’s designations put the world on notice: Those who engage in illicit transactions with these companies will risk exposure to sanctions themselves,” Mr. Pompeo said. He added that the sanctions on the shipping company and a subsidiary would not take effect until June 8, to give exporters of humanitarian goods to Iran time to find other transportation companies with which to work. The sanctions on the airline and three of its general sales agents are effective immediately.

The sanctions are intended to limit the activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines; one of its subsidiaries, E-Sail Shipping, based in Shanghai; and Mahan Air.

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, but the State Department designation adds a new layer of sanctions.

The designations increase the economic pressure that the administration has applied to Iran since May 2018, when President Trump withdrew from an agreement that Iran had reached in 2015 with major world powers to limit its nuclear program. Nuclear experts said earlier this year that Iran was complying with the agreement and had not been working toward building a nuclear warhead, but Mr. Trump for years had criticized the agreement, which was forged by President Barack Obama.

The United States reimposed major sanctions on Iran in November 2018, then in May ended exceptions for oil imports granted to eight governments. That was a crippling blow to Iran’s main source of revenue. Starting this summer, Iran lashed out with attacks by missiles or drones and seizures of tankers in the region, but none of those resulted in injuries or deaths, and the Trump administration debated how to respond. Iran also announced it had breached some limits imposed by the 2015 agreement on its nuclear program, which Tehran has said is for civilian purposes.

Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have all said they are still trying to abide by the agreement that they signed, despite the restrictions imposed since last year by the sanctions from Washington. The agreement allows for greater commercial exchanges with Iran.

In recent weeks, Iranian citizens have taken to the streets in protest against policies of the Iranian government; many of them are upset at the poor state of the economy. Iran security forces have killed hundreds in efforts to suppress the protests, according to international human rights groups. The protests are the worst unrest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution that put Shiite clerics in charge of the country in 1979.

Mr. Trump and senior administration officials have said publicly that their goal is to prompt Iran to enter into new agreements that would enshrine larger concessions from Tehran on its nuclear program, ballistic missile program and support of militias in the region. Iranian leaders have said they would consider new talks only if the United States lifts sanctions. Some experts in Washington say the real, unstated end goal of the administration is to spur uprisings in Iran that would lead to the overthrow of the cleric-led government, and sanctions are one tool to help ignite that unrest by crippling the economy.

On Saturday, in a rare instance of diplomatic cooperation between the United States and Iran, the two governments each released a prisoner who is a citizen of the other country: Xiyue Wang, an American graduate student at Princeton held for three years in Tehran, and Masoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist convicted of sanctions evasion after his arrest in Chicago last year.

Mr. Pompeo also said Wednesday that the State Department had imposed economic sanctions and travel restrictions on 68 individuals or entities around the world under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to impose such sanctions to try to curb human rights abuses. The officials and entities sanctioned are mostly from smaller nations; the countries of origin include Myanmar, Cambodia, Serbia, Latvia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan.

The State Department issued a statement with details on the sanctions on Tuesday, which was Human Rights Day, marking the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some senior American officials and many human rights activists have urged the White House to use the Global Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on Chinese officials deemed responsible for holding at least one million Muslims in internment camps. But Mr. Trump has rejected any such action out of fear it would harm his chances of reaching a trade deal with China. Washington and Beijing have yet to sign even a tenuous “phase one” agreement.

The Trump administration also blocked a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to hold a discussion Tuesday on human rights abuses by North Korea. Until Mr. Trump took office, the council had held such a discussion each year since 2014. But last year, the Trump administration blocked the session because Mr. Trump was trying to open one-on-one diplomacy with Kim Jong-un, the young North Korean dictator, and American officials did the same this year, despite recent threats against the United States by Mr. Kim.



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339,000 protesters ramp up pressure on French President Macron over pensions reform


Transportation services have been severely disrupted across the nation.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters including teachers took to the streets across France for the sixth day straight to strike against pension reforms proposed by President Emmanuel Macron.

Although the turnout is expected to be lower than the 800,000 strikers from last Thursday, strikers from a range of trade unions are expected to rally in major cities from Paris to Lille, Lyon, Bordeaux and Grenoble. The strikes are continuing to have a major impact on transportation across the country — in total 25% of domestic flights and 50% of bus routes have been cancelled.

Workers are striking against proposed changes to the country’s pension system by President Macron.

Macron promised in his election campaign to merge dozens of pensions’ schemes for different employment sectors into one universal system, which opponents say will see certain industries lose out. Under the current system, there is no fixed retirement age with pensions instead being collected after a minimum contribution period to a pension fund.

That could change under the proposed reforms, laid out in a report in June 2019 by the High Commissioner for Pensions Jean Paul Delevoye. The reforms have not yet been finalized, but a series of new proposals published at the end of November 2019 have sparked a wave of anger across the country.

In Paris, 10% of schools have been closed as the main teachers’ trade unions joined in with rail and airport unions to demonstrate on Tuesday. The interior minister reported that 339,000 protesters were across France including 31,000 in Paris on Tuesday.

Local police in Paris have prepared for the protests to turn violent, and have banned the “yellow vests” — anti-government protesters who have sometimes clashing violently with police since November 2018 — from attending protests in certain areas of the capital.

Yellow vest protesters joined the peaceful demonstrators at Denfert-Rochereau Square on Tuesday. Police said 22 people were arrested on Tuesday for various protest rule violations like bringing forbidden objects like a mask to cover the face, in their bags objects.

The strikers are expected to continue demonstrating over the coming days with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announcing the pension law in full Wednesday afternoon.

One demonstrator told ABC News that there is “real unity” where it comes to the strikers’ demands.

“The big question is how will we live after our working days,” Emmanuel Foucault, a teacher from suburban Paris said. “In France we pay quite a lot of taxes, and we pay taxes for social security but we also pay taxes for our pensions. This is completely unfair.”



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Man Utd vs Tottenham LIVE: Jose Mourinho returns, Solskjaer under pressure and more



Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford tonight as the new Tottenham boss looks to heap more pressure on his ​Manchester United successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Mourinho was relieved of his duties last December, and it will be a little under a year to the day that the Special One heads back to the Theatre of Dreams in charge of a new club.

Tottenham have enjoyed the so-called ‘new manager bounce’ with three wins out of three for Mourinho to leave them fifth in the Premier League table – though that says as much about the likes of Arsenal and United as it does about Spurs.

Mourinho’s return could not come at a worse time for Solskjaer, who contrived to draw against Sheffield United (3-3) and Aston Villa (2-2) with Mauricio Pochettino waiting in the wings.

While United are keen to back Solskjaer’s long-term vision for the club, a humbling home defeat to Mourinho of all people could force Ed Woodward to pull the trigger once again in December.

Follow LIVE updates ahead of tonight’s clash below!

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Prediction

Manchester United 1-1 Tottenham: Despite his warm words for United of late, Mourinho would dearly love to inflict a convincing defeat on them on their own turf.

The saving grace for United is that Solskjaer and his side are better in big games, and should have a decent game plan – so a draw is most likely.

Team news

Man Utd

Anthony Martial is a major concern for Manchester United ahead of Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford. 

The France forward suffered a muscle strain late on against Aston Villa on Sunday, making him doubt for Tottenham.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hoping for better news with Scott McTominay, who is still recovering from the ankle injury he picked up before the last international break. 

If Martial fails to recover in time, it could see Solskjaer opt for a three-man central defence, with Marcus Rashford and Daniel James playing as a wide front two.

Tottenham

Mourinho will be missing Hugo Lloris until the New Year, while Michel Vorm’s absence means Paulo Gazzaniga is certain to keep his starting role in goal.

Erik Lamela is sidelined with a thigh injury along with Ben Davies (ankle).

Despite three wins out of three, Mourinho has concerns over a defence which has conceded two goals in each of those matches.

It will be fascinating to see whether the Portuguese coach attempts to constrict such a high-stakes game in his usual manner, or if he sticks with how Spurs are currently winning – by forgetting about defending and looking to outgun a similarly shaky United back line.

Predicted lineups

Man Utd XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Tuanzebe, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams; McTominay, Fred, Pereira; Rashford, James​

Tottenham XI: Gazzaniga; Aurier, Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Ndombele, Dier; Sissoko, Dele Alli, Son; Kane

How to watch Man Utd vs Tottenham

(Amazon)

Along with every Premier League match in gameweek 15, the game will be available to live stream online on Amazon Prime.

Existing and new Prime members can watch on devices using the Prime Video app, across mobile, Fire TV, games consoles, Virgin’s V6 TV Box, BT TV, TalkTalk TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, online and more.

Amazon Prime is available for £7.99 per month/£79 a year, but you can watch any game this week if you start a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime.

You can follow all the action on Standard Sport’s LIVE match blog with James Robson and Dan Kilpatrick at Old Trafford.

Head to head (H2H) results history

United have a great record against Tottenham with 91 wins to Spurs’ 52 victories, and 48 draws.

However, their recent history is more evenly split with the last nine meetings alternating between Spurs and United wins.

Last season, Spurs thrashed United 3-0 on their last visit to Old Trafford – a result which sparked the beginning of the end for Mourinho in Manchester – but the Red Devils got their own back with a 1-0 win in north London the last time they met.



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Donald Trump accused of abusing his ‘power’ to pressure Ukraine into influencing 2020 presidential election – The Sun


A DRAFT impeachment report last night accused Donald Trump of abusing the “power of his office” to pressure Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 presidential election.

The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee’s 300-page report said the US President had solicited foreign interference effort to dig dirt on White House challenger Joe Biden.

 Donald Trump was accused of abusing the 'power of his office' by pressuring Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 presidential election

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Donald Trump was accused of abusing the ‘power of his office’ by pressuring Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 presidential election

Trump had asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Hunter Biden – the son of his main Democratic rival in next year’s presidential election.

He also threatened to withhold £307million in military aid from Ukraine and a White House meeting, if the country refused to help.

‘UNDERMINING DEMOCRACY’

The report said Trump “placed his own personal and political interests” above the US national interest – seeking to undermine democracy and endanger national security.

It added: “The impeachment inquiry…uncovered a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election.”

The report said Trump’s “scheme subverted US foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security” in favour of “investigations that would help his presidential re-election”.

The document does not recommend his impeachment and removal from office.

But it laid out the framework which Democrats will use to push for impeachment – as well as blasting Trump for obstructing the probe.

House Democrats released the report after the intelligence panel conducted a handful of closed-door meetings with witnesses and five days of public hearings.

If the full House of Representatives eventually votes to approve formal impeachment charges, a trial would be held in the Republican-led US Senate.

An unlikely two-thirds majority of those present would be required to convict and remove Trump from office.

 The US President allegedly solicited foreign interference to dig dirt on White House challenger Joe Biden and his son Hunter

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The US President allegedly solicited foreign interference to dig dirt on White House challenger Joe Biden and his son HunterCredit: Getty
House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff speaks after of release impeachment report detailing ‘overwhelming’ evidence of misconduct


GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL [email protected]






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Under Pressure. Can COP25 Deliver? — Global Issues


Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, drive up environmental remediation costs. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS
  • Opinion by Farhana Haque Rahman (rome)
  • Monday, December 02, 2019
  • Inter Press Service

But despite warnings that the planet is reaching critical tipping points, the two weeks of talks with nearly 30,000 participants and dozens of heads of government attending may still end in that familiar sense of disappointment and an opportunity missed.

The annual Conference of the Parties, this year being COP25, was to have been a highly arcane if crucial process of finding agreement on carbon markets, known in the jargon as Article 6 of the ‘rulebook’ to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on stopping the planet from overheating.

Highly contentious, and in part pitting developing countries like Brazil, China and India against others, the Article 6 debate could not be resolved at last year’s summit – COP24 in Katowice, Poland – nor at meetings in Bonn in June and hence was left for COP25 to try and fix. The other big elephant in the room – setting more ambitious national targets to reduce carbon emissions – was conveniently going to be left to be settled at next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

But action is needed now, and senior officials representing nearly 200 countries have been put on notice that the climate emergency in all its forms is dominating the public sphere across the world. Just last week we saw student-led demonstrations and strikes in many places that appropriately fell on Black Friday, delivering a broadside against rampant consumerism as well as government inaction.

Farhana Haque Rahman”Striking is not a choice we relish; we do it because we see no other options,” youth leaders Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Luisa Neubauer of Germany and Angela Valenzuela of Chile declared in a joint statement.

“We have watched a string of United Nations climate conferences unfold. Countless negotiations have produced much-hyped but ultimately empty commitments from the world’s governments—the same governments that allow fossil fuel companies to drill for ever-more oil and gas, and burn away our futures for their profit.”

UN Secretary General António Guterres has told COP25 that “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon”.

“In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters – to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” Guterres said.

Just last month the UN Environment Programme’s annual Emissions Gap Report warned that the Paris Agreement ambition of keeping average temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times was “on the brink of becoming impossible”.

Global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 would have to be under 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to reach that target but, at current rates of growth, emissions are projected to reach more than double that level. Clearly drastic action is needed.

Reinforcing the sense of emergency, the World Meteorological Organization reported that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases reached new record highs in 2018. China is the world’s largest emitter.

Spain stepped in to offer Madrid as a venue for COP25 after Chile withdrew as host because of mass anti-government unrest. However Chile is still leading the conference and together with Spain will be pushing countries to act quickly to raise the ambition of their carbon emission reduction targets. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says the goal is for “the largest number of countries” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.

From 2020 to 2030, emissions must be cut 7.6% a year to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, the UNEP says.

However the main negotiation process in Madrid is expected to focus on the unfinished business of the market-based mechanisms to create and manage new carbon markets under the Paris Agreement. This would allow countries and industries to earn credits for above-target emission reductions that can then be traded. Big developing countries have already accumulated huge amounts of carbon credits under the previous but now largely discredited carbon credit scheme. It is a highly complex tangle of interests.

Carbon Brief, a UK-based climate website, says the Article 6 debate has the potential to “make or break” implementation of the Paris Agreement which comes into force next year.

“To its proponents, Article 6 offers a path to significantly raising climate ambition or lowering costs, while engaging the private sector and spreading finance, technology and expertise into new areas. To its critics, it risks fatally undermining the ambition of the Paris Agreement at a time when there is clear evidence of the need to go further and faster to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” Carbon Brief explains.

While Article 6 is a highly technical area, the underlying issues are political, with some countries forming unofficial alliances to defend their own interests rather than the common good of the planet. But politicians have been put on notice that this time the world’s public is watching closely. Horse-trading cannot be allowed to put our futures at risk.

© Inter Press Service (2019) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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  • Africa’s Civil Society Calls for Action as COP25 Kicks off in Madrid Monday, December 02, 2019
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  • Hola, Madrid! African Development Bank takes the continent’s climate agenda to COP25 in Spain Saturday, November 30, 2019
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  • Nuclear False Warnings & the Risk of Catastrophe Friday, November 29, 2019
  • COP25: UN Climate Change Conference, 5 Things You Need to Know Friday, November 29, 2019



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Roy Hodgson relying on Martin Kelly to step up as Joel Ward injury ramps up pressure on January window



Roy Hodgson is counting on Martin Kelly to do an Aaron Wan-Bissaka and grab the opportunity grated by Joel Ward’s injury with both hands.

Ward, Palace’s only natural right-back, is out until the new year having suffered a serious knee injury during the defeat to Liverpool last weekend, leaving Hodgson desperately short at full-back.

Kelly is first and foremost a centre-back but is capable of playing at right-back and was taken to Euro 2012 by Hodgson as cover for that position.

He is now hoping the 29-year-old can step up and make a case to keep Ward out of the side once he returns to fitness, just as Aaron Wan-Bissaka did when making his breakthrough.

“The thing is Aaron Wan-Bissaka got into the team through an injury to Joel Ward,” said Hodgson. “Joel Ward was the right-back, got injured and in came Wan-Bissaka and unfortunately Joel couldn’t get his place back. 

“I’m now hoping Kelly will do very well and it will be a tough fight between Kelly and Ward, and possible even another player if we were to sign one, to decide who will play in that right-back position.”

Signing a right-back remains a priority for the Eagles going into the January window. Following the £50million sale of Wan-Bissaka in June, Palace looked at bringing in Chelsea’s Reece James, then fresh from a year on loan with Wigan in the Championship, or Kyle Walker-Peters from Tottenham.

James is no longer an option given his standing in Frank Lampard’s squad, though Walker-Peters could be a target the club return to come the new year. 

Hodgson is not afraid to hide his frustration at the lack of significant transfer activity during his time at Selhurst Park. While recognising that the club cannot operate without fiscal responsibility, that the former England boss has largely had to work with free signings being his only new additions remains a concern. There is a feeling among those at the club that their recruitment must change soon.

There have been consistent failures to land key targets in recent windows, James and Walker-Peters being an example as well as Russian striker Fedor Chalov, who may now have drifted out of Palace’s reach.

Despite that disappointment, Hodgson says there will be no change of approach to landing signings in January.

“I think our scouting and recruitment policies are as good as anyone else’s,” he said. “They certainly don’t differ from any club I have been at. I don’t think there is anything we need to do to make things better, how we assess our squad or identifying how we make our squad better or more complete. 

It’s a case of making sure the profiles of the players you know are known to the people who do the scouting so the names brought to you are the players you want. And then the last thing is, is the money there to do what’s required. When it’s free transfers or players being released, it’s quite easy. And that’s why quite a lot of players who have come into the club since I’ve been here have been free transfers and loans.”

Hodgson is unclear, publicly at least, as to how much he will have to spend in January, with that decision laying largely in the hands of wantaway American shareholders Joshua Harris and David Blitzer.



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Arsenal vs Southampton live: Team news, lineups and transfer news with Unai Emery under pressure


Welcome to the Evening Standard’s LIVE build-up to Arsenal vs Southampton.

There has been a big change in north London over the international break… but it came at Tottenham, with Spurs sensationally sacking Mauricio Pochettino and replacing him with Jose Mourinho this week.

The Special One is back in the Premier League, and the pressure will be on Unai Emery to hold off a festive charge from Spurs – but the Arsenal coach have problems of his own.

The Gunners sit sixth in the table, eight points off fourth place – and that spot is currently occupied by champions Manchester City, showing how difficult a task Champions League qualification could prove to be.

Arsenal need a result on Saturday, and welcome a struggling Southampton side to Emirates Stadium – but the Saints have put in a couple of spirited displays since their 9-0 horror show at home to Leicester City, and very nearly beat Man City in Manchester before the international break.

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