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Special Press Briefing

Briefer: Michael E. Parmly,
Acting Assistant Secretary for
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Special Briefing on the 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Washington, DC
February 26, 2001
(On the record unless otherwise noted)

MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. I guess we can say afternoon now. Welcome to the State Department. As you all are aware, today we are publicly releasing our 2000 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. This is the 25th edition of these Reports. They've been delivered to Congress, and this afternoon we have with us Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael E. Parmly to give you some comments and flavor for the Reports, and then to take your questions.

So without any further ado, let me turn it over to Mike Parmly. Thanks.

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Thank you, Phil. Thank you, all. It's a pleasure to be here on behalf of Secretary Powell, who as you know is traveling, to present the 25th edition of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

There is a phrase in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence that has always stuck with me. Thomas Jefferson talks about "decent respect to the opinions of mankind." That's the belief that we in the Department, in the Department that Thomas Jefferson created, owe mankind the respect to explain our positions clearly and publicly on what lies behind the Country Report, on all the hard work that went into them, and on the substance of the Reports themselves. That's why I'm standing here today, trying to get ready for all the questions that you all are going to throw at me.

By law, the Reports must be delivered to Congress. That was done this morning. Hopefully, by this afternoon the reports and the stories that you all write on them will be up and circulating on the Internet as well. That's my fondest hope. Get them on the Internet.

My hope is that the Reports will prove useful to all of you and all of us who take an active interest in the promotion and protection of universal human rights. The Reports cover 195 countries and territories. Many of the governments we report on have serious human rights violations, and I anticipate your questions on those countries. I would like to stress that we don't criticize for criticism's sake. We view these Reports as an exercise in truth-telling and as a basis, as a platform, on which we can work.

I do have one announcement for you. The Administration has decided that the United States will sponsor a resolution on China's human rights practices at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva next month. We'll have more to say on that at a later time. I anticipate that a lot of the questions might want to focus on that.

But for now, the subject is the Country Reports. Again going back to my theme that the Reports are not simply criticism for criticism's sake. There are good-news stories among the pages. For example, one of the most outstanding, in my view, is the story of Peru, a country that began to get back on the democratic path this fall and that we hope succeeds. Similarly, on the African continent, Ghana with its elections at the end of the year is a good-news story. I hope you focus on all the aspects of the Report.

And I'll be happy to take your questions right now.

Q: Is there any good news coming out of Colombia?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Actually, there is good news coming out of Colombia, but the stories that you all write show how far they have to go. The commitment of President Pastrana to a pacification of his country is encouraging, and anyone who knows the history of that country knows how long of a road President Pastrana and others who support him are going to have to follow.

Q: Can you tell us about the situation in the Middle East, specifically given the latest violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: What is critical to the United States is that we stop the violence. I think the Report -- and I am here to talk about the Report --documents fully the situation there. And that situation has only continued since December 31, when the Report stops.

That is what we have to put a stop to. Israel is a democracy. We are confident that the democratic institutions in Israel will get that country moving in the right direction. I would like to see the Palestinians get out of the street. I don't see how their human rights situation is improved by being out there.

But rather than get into a question of pointing fingers at one side or another, the bottom line that one has to come to when you read the Report on Israel and the OT is you have to stop the violence. The report could actually be divided into two parts: up until September and post-September.

What I would like to see is the success of the Secretary's trip and the commitment to everyone going back to a dialogue.

Q: Could you get into some more detail about this resolution you're sponsoring against China?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I think if you read the Report, it is hard to come to a conclusion that a resolution is not justified. I could go down five, six, seven areas -- and will, if you want -- be it freedom of religion, which was terribly abused in the past year in China; freedom of expression; the Falun Gong; the workers' rights -- you may have seen Mary Robinson talking about workers' rights on TV this morning, her visit to China; Tibet, a major area where serious and lamentable abuses continue to occur; the emergence in recent days and weeks of credible reports on the use of psychiatric hospitals, something that I, who have been working in human rights for most of my career, had hoped had passed on with the events of '89, '90, '91 in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. You see that reemerging.

All of these are elements that will be inspiring our efforts to fashion a good resolution, and we hope to start our discussions with our allies and like-minded partners in the near future.

Q: If I could follow up on the China question. During the previous administration, basically from 1993 when human rights was de-linked from what was then Most Favored Nation, through to the signing of the WTO Accord and its approval last year, the basic position that the State Department, and of course the administration, took was that increased economic engagement would, over time, have a beneficial effect. Of course, nobody ever said or knew quite how much time.

As you look at the past Reports, it seems as if on China there is sort of a steady degrading of conditions from the mid-90s. Would you agree with that assessment of how the Reports have read, and can you tell us if you have any thoughts about why the engagement issues don't seem to be having the kind of effect that you had hoped for, at least over these past few years?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Tough question. Major question. Important question. I tend to be an optimist. One of the areas that I didn't get into where the government exercises control is the Internet, and yet you see the ads in newspapers talking about the growth of the number of Internauts, subscribers to the Internet in China. I think there has been an improvement in certain areas in China. Those improvements have been largely despite government efforts to control them.

The bottom line is that the government strives to suppress any activity that they perceive as a threat to the government. The desire of Chinese -- Iím not saying every China man and woman -- but the desire of Chinese to participate more fully in the benefits of the international system is a dilemma that is posed to the Chinese Government. I think what you see is both phenomena happening at the same time. It's not for us to reconcile the two; it's for the Chinese Government and the Chinese people.

Q: How would you compare the human rights situation in China with the previous year, the one a year ago?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I think the Report speaks for itself. The situation has worsened in significant areas, and when I cited the areas that I would expect to inspire a human rights resolution, I cited some of those areas.

Q: One of the complaints of lawmakers and also of some of the US allies overseas is that the administration has not in previous years when they've sponsored this resolution done what they needed to do to press the rest of the international community to sign on board. They basically made a gesture at the last minute to let the resolution go through, but didn't spend enough capital needed to convince other allies to join on.

Do you think that there's enough time to sufficiently get allies on board to also sign on to the resolution?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: If the Administration has made the decision, it's because they're going to put in the effort. We're going to put in the effort necessary. I don't think it's a question of time. People know what the record is out there.

Q: Right, but some of the European countries, for instance, have said that there hasn't been enough explanation by the US to convince them that they're ready to take the lead and they're ready to get other countries to sign on. Isn't this maybe the tenth time that such a resolution has been sponsored? Is it the tenth --

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Susan, do you remember? One of my colleagues is in the back. She's got a little better sense of the history. I'm not sure which iteration this is of the resolution. I honestly don't feel that we could announce tomorrow that we're going to do a resolution in 2002. I'm not sure what's really necessary. What is necessary is to focus on the human rights situation.

And let me be clear about one thing. Again, I go back to my initial remarks. The purpose of this resolution is not to point the finger at the Chinese Government; on the contrary, I think the Chinese Government has indicated, including by their welcoming again today of Mary Robinson's visit, their desire to participate more fully in the international circles that discuss human rights issues.

They have expressed an interest in ratifying at least one, if not two, of the international conventions that are out there. They are interested in talking about access to prisoners and access to prisons. They indicate by their gestures and actions that they would like to participate more fully in the international circle. That is, in fact, what we are calling on the Chinese authorities to do.

Q: Mr. Assistant Secretary, in the Report on Greece in connection with the Muslim minority and the mass of illegal immigrants from the Balkans, any comparison for the other issues you have mentioned in the Report, it's better than the previous year?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I will have to take that question. There are some specific references in the Report to the issue you are addressing, not so much in the context of the Balkans. Again, the Report goes country by country, and we try not to get into sort of cross-border comparisons. But I will take that question and try and get back to you.

Q: Going to Panama, your Report notes that the Panamanian President has appointed a truth commission to investigate the crimes during the dictatorship, and she wrote to you -- or the truth commission wrote to you last week asking that the Bush Government Administration act quickly to declassify documents that could be helpful to the truth commission's work.

I wondered if you could say something about how you are responding to that request?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I haven't seen that request come to my desk yet. Obviously, as soon as it does, you have seen what we have done with other requests from friendly governments in the region. When we get this sort of request we give it immediate attention.

Q: Can you characterize what has happened in Haiti over the last year?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Yes. I suppose I would divide it into two categories. There were some positive developments. I'd rather start with the positive. The Carrefour-Raboteau trials -- if you read the Report, you'll have the details on those two trials -- were carried out in accordance with all the standards appropriate to that sort of activity.

If there were problems, and there were significant problems, it was in the area of the behavior of the police. More importantly, in the electoral process, where the May elections we considered flawed, and the November elections we considered imperfect, imperfect because of the boycott by a number of the opposition parties, and imperfect because the central electoral commission failed to act in an impartial manner.

Q: Can I ask you about Russia? In the Report you mention that -- the phrase that President Putin often uses-- "the dictatorship of the law", and it has been a full year now where the Administration has had time to assess what his human rights, what priority he attaches to the issue of human rights.

Could you tell us what you think, now that you've have had this whole year to assess his human rights performance, and compare it with Boris Yeltsin's?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Again, I would rather not compare it to Boris Yeltsin; I would rather look at what Vladimir Putin has done this year. If you read the Report, there too I would divide it into the pluses and the minuses.

In terms of pluses -- and this isn't an exhaustive list -- any time there is an electoral process, the full participation of so many political groups is an encouraging sign. Freedom of assembly, freedom of association, is another area where we see, really, the flowering of the Russian political process. That's encouraging. Freedom of religion, a difficult area, but one where for most of the religious groups -- in fact, I can only think of one that doesn't enjoy registration, positive treatment by the Russian Government. That's the Salvation Army, which still has a case pending. The fact that there was a law passed that some people in past years that required the registration of religions, and yet that hasn't proved an impediment to any of the religious groups to register themselves. There were some manifestations of anti-Semitism, and those are of serious concern to us and we keep a close eye on it.

If there were two areas where we saw major problems and areas of concern. One is freedom of the press, where we keep a very close brief, close watch, because of signs of concern that trouble us. And, second, and by far the most important, is Chechnya, where we have not seen Ö. The Human Rights Commission last April passed a resolution over the objections of the Russian Government calling on the Russian Government to do a number of things. We haven't seen the Russian Government do virtually any of those things in terms of accounting, in terms of stopping the abuses, the extra-judicial killings. And that is of major concern to us.

One thing we did last year is -- that we found very encouraging -- we re-launched the human rights dialogue with the Russians. It is important, we feel, that we be exchanging views on issues of concern to us, and this is one that concerns my office in particular.

Q: What are the most troubling findings on the part of Colombia in the Colombian Report, and what about the links between the paramilitaries and the army?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Colombia is one of the most difficult Reports because of the closeness of the country to us, because of our close interest, not just in the State Department, in the White House, on the Hill. It's one of the ones that we pay the closest attention to.

President Pastrana, we feel, has a solid commitment to human rights and has made serious efforts to get on top of the human rights abuses that take place in his country. There you have to -- and there I could list a number of specific steps that he has started to take, that his government has started to take. But then I would break Colombia down into three categories: you've got the guerrillas, you've got the paramilitaries, and you've got the government. So the government is making efforts. They at least have the commitment on top. Anyone who knows the history of Colombia knows that with the best intentions of President Pastrana there are traditions there that will take years, if not decades, to overcome, regrettably.

Unfortunately, the guerrillas and the paras are drawing on those traditions, regrettably. And they perform in different ways, but they both contribute to the really very sad -- and for some of us who know Colombia, know Colombia well -- very sad things that happen in those countries. And I use the word "sad" not just euphemistically. I mean, I could come up with a whole list of other adjectives to describe the situation in Colombia. We have to hope that the government, the Pastrana government, the government that will succeed the Pastrana government, can get on top of those phenomena.

Q: Two days ago, the FARC exploded gas cylinders in a small town in Colombia. Do you have something to say about that, because they had promised not to do so?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Not about that specifically. But if someone promises not to do something like that, given the record of what they've done in the past, given the record of what the paramilitaries have done in the past, it's only by establishing a record of action, not by promises or words, that one shows a commitment to human rights. And one doesn't see it either from the paramilitaries or from the guerillas.

Q: To follow up on Colombia, given the fact that you think it is going to take a while to improve human rights conditions there, is it realistic for the US Government to link human rights improvements to future aid packages, do you think?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Those of us who are in human rights and government -- I know sometimes that seems like an oxymoron -- the human rights and government game, we are always looking at the right angle, the right approach, the right tactic, to influence the human rights situation and improve the human rights situation.

There is a civil society in Colombia. One of the things that is most troubling about Colombia is the attacks on human rights defenders. There are valiant, courageous human rights defenders in Colombia who are striving in their own societies, in their own countries, to improve the situation there. Anyone who knows Colombia well knows that there is a thriving civil society, even in the current circumstances. There is a thriving civil society, in very difficult circumstances, unfortunately.

It wouldn't take them very long -- and given the fact that there are responsible government leaders who want to connect with them, who do connect with them, it wouldn't take long if you had a commitment by the guerillas and the paramilitaries. I think we have to be realistic, but when we talk to the Colombian Government, we emphasize the urgent need to respect human rights norms. And the legislation that was passed that establishes a number of conditions, goes in that direction.

We welcome any steps the Colombian Government can make in that direction. I am simply being, I think, realistic.

Q: Well, to follow up on that, but that legislation, I believe, is expired at this point, and that there is some talk that there might be some more aid that would be -- I mean, do you think it would be useful to continue that approach, to condition, in terms of future aid, improvements in human rights?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I'm not going to tell the Congress how to do its job.

Q: Sure.

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: We are the Executive Branch. We execute.

Q: To follow up, I wanted to ask, when you talk about the guerillas and the paramilitaries taking advantage of traditions in Colombia, I'm wondering what traditions you are talking about.

And secondly, just to be clear, were you saying that it could take years or decades for human rights violations to improve in Colombia?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: No. As I just said in answer to the previous question, I would hope that it happens tomorrow. The traditions that I know in Colombia, the traditions that those of us who have had contact with Colombia know, go more to the civil society traditions, go more to the strength of the Colombian people, go more to the strength of the Colombian institutions. All that you need to get on top of human rights abuses in Colombia is there. It's already there. Whether that will actually come to fruition, however, depends on the Colombian people.

Q: But how are the guerillas, the paramilitaries taking advantage of that? I don't understand.

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Well, maybe "taking advantage of" isn't the right way to describe it. They have their own philosophies; they are pursuing their own philosophies. I find that regrettable, and I don't find them very Colombian philosophies.

Q: Reading from the Israel section, "Israel's overall human rights record in the Occupied Territories was poor. Israel's security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses during the year." And as you noted, the Reports say that "Israeli forces killed over 300 Palestinians."

To be saying this about a close ally, how would you characterize your view of that? Are you saddened by it, disappointed by it? How would you describe your view of this?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I'm not sure my views are the most important. The Department of State's views -- the Report speaks for itself. The Report registers what happened in the course of the year. To talk about my views, I'm not sure what the value would be.

In Israel, you have got a situation, as I say, where up until September -- and you have to read the two Reports side by side, although you shouldn't necessarily get into comparisons.

In Israel, you have a thriving democracy. There is a court system. Among other things, that supreme court of Israel in September of 1999 declared the use of torture and other such abuses illegal. As you'll see from reading the Report, it appears to us from all the information that's available to us that that mandate from the supreme court was adhered to. Then came the violence in late September, early October.

I'm not going to get into an analysis of the reasons for that violence. If the violence stops, I believe the abuses will stop.

Q: Can I follow up on that? But in -- I think it was in both Reports, at the same time while you said that a lot of the kind of targeted killings and killings of Palestinians during demonstrations got worse over the last few months of this year, you also detail a pretty extensive, if not abuse, then certainly different types of treatment for the Palestinian citizens than the Israelis.

Do you consider the economic situation and the Palestinians -- their lack of access to equal food, health care, social services -- a continued human rights problem in Israel, regardless of whether there is violence in the region at this point?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: The Secretary is in the region. He is addressing that issue. In the past several days, he has addressed that issue. I wouldn't attempt to paraphrase what the Secretary has said or done on that issue. I think I'll stop there.

Q: But I guess my question is that this kind of problem that you describe isn't really a problem of the last four months; am I correct?


Q: The economic problem. The lack of access to equal social services, medicine, food, water. Those type of things.

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Well, I'm not sure I'm following the question. What is it in the Report that you're asking about?

Q: Well, but you're not tying the last four months of violence to those --

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: No, I'm talking specifically about the violence: Palestinian youths on the streets, IDF forces responding to the Palestinian youths.

Q: Two points. One, what is the US going to do about the continuous human rights abuses in Afghanistan, especially against women and girls? And, number two, since this Report is from the year 2000 and there are different administration, now we have new administration, so how much role this new administration has played in this human rights report?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Well, let me take the second question first. The Report does describe human rights conditions in the year 2000, so any policy response to what is described in the Report that is being released today would be a policy response from Secretary of State Albright, from President Clinton, from the previous administration.

Regarding your first question on Afghanistan, one of the saddest and most lamentable conditions described in the Report of all the 195 Reports, especially in its treatment of women, but in general, not just in its treatment of women, clearly, the number of levers that we have to respond to a country that seeks to isolate itself to the extent that the Afghans do are limited. We will continue to speak out. We will continue to coordinate with our allies and like-minded countries. You know we have very close cooperation with a number of countries to address the situation in Afghanistan, and we'll simply keep working that.

Q: You haven't mentioned Indonesia yet, and I was wondering if you could. Much of the most recent violence of course is not covered by the Report. And, also, could you comment briefly on those three countries that the US still tries a good deal of economic isolation with, which is, of course, Cuba, North Korea and Burma?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: The events in Indonesia over the last few days clearly are troubling, very troubling. If you look back at the Report -- and I'm here to talk about the 2000 Report -- if you look back at the Report, I think you'll see two phenomena there that are most troubling. And I don't know to what extent one is seeing that in the events in Borneo over the past several days.

One is impunity, where we do see a pattern that I believe that President Wahid is trying to get on top of but which we haven't seen fully played out. The issue of impunity. The other is simple weakening of control and of the elements of control by the central government over events like this. It's an absence of government more than a misbehaving of government, which the events in Borneo go more in the direction of, in the direction of impunity. I haven't seen evidence that the police are acting with impunity or that there are government forces acting with impunity fostering this violence. I have not seen that. But it was a problem in the year 2000, and so I ask myself that question.

Regarding the three countries that you ask about, regrettably those three -- I don't like to establish a hit parade, but they're way up there on any list of the most serious abusers of human rights of their populations. Cuba, we saw it just over the weekend, with the detention of some 20 dissidents for no apparent reason. That's only the most recent manifestation. You did see a worsening in the human rights conditions in Cuba over the past year.

In North Korea, despite Secretary Albright's trip there at the end of the year, which one would have hoped would be a positive sign, a sign of that government's willingness, desire, intention to move in a more positive direction, the record for the year 2000 speaks for itself. And you simply read through that, and there is hardly an area in which the Government of North Korea doesn't reach the bottom of almost any list you want to establish.

And the third country you mentioned, Burma. Some hopeful signs. Those signs are not listed in the report -- the beginning of the dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues and the government. Unfortunately, the number of people who continue to be held in detention, the abuse of workers that the ILO in the fall highlighted by an Article 33 declaration resolution -- the first time, I believe, that the ILO has ever passed an Article 33 resolution -- calling on its member-states to examine what steps they can take in view of the policies of the Burmese Government in the area of forced labor. They show how far it is that the Burmese regime has to go.

Q: You stress that you don't make policy obviously, but this report is certainly looked at by those who do and by those who argue on both sides of it, and they are going to look at the China findings and suggest that engagement is not having the impact that people would like to see on China, so we should change that. Others are going to look at Cuba and say the embargo is not having the desired impact, and that that should be changed.

What is the real lesson of all this?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I'm not sure I'd draw a parallel between China and Cuba. China has shown a willingness to engage with the international community that Cuba has not shown. Cuba shows its commitment to human rights by detaining hundreds of people on Human Rights Day, as occurred this past December 10th, or anytime there is a major event coming up, rounding up dissidents, rounding up anyone who can cause problems.

No. In the case of China, there is a willingness on the part of the Chinese Government, a desire on the part of the Chinese Government, I believe, to move forward. More importantly perhaps, because I think that is what the Chinese Government is responding to, there is a desire on the part of major segments of the Chinese population to move in a direction of greater openness, more engagement with the outside world, more participation, submitting of China to international norms, not because some country on the outside dictates those international norms, but because those norms reflect an evolving attitude around the world of people that want to see a commitment to these human rights norms.

So I'm not sure I'd draw a parallel between the one and the other. In the one case, as I say, I'm not sure I see a commitment, any commitment, on the part of that government. In the other, I do.

Q: In the case of Burma, do you see any desire, the willingness, the military regime is now willing to open -- you mentioned dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi. Also, a question, too. Is any chance the new Administration can review the embargo policy? And number three, there is one report that State Deputy Assistant Secretary Boyce had a meeting with the top officer of the military regime.

MR. REEKER: We can deal with that afterwards. We just want to go with the questions on the Report and I can talk about that.

Q: Sure. The first two questions?


Q: Yes. The first one is, do you see any desire, willingness of the military regime to change?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: Well, the fact that they were willing to receive Special Envoy Razali, and the fact that they have begun -- and I emphasize and underline the word "begun" -- a dialogue with the National League for Democracy at the top leadership, may indicate -- and I emphasize the precautionary word "may" -- a desire on the part of that government to move in that direction.

But why, then, do they keep close to 1,000 NLD supporters in jail, including 45 who were elected the last free elections but never were able to assume their office? It's only by actions; it's not by words that one sees a willingness on the part of the Burmese Government to --

Q: Is there any chance the new Administration will review that policy to Burma?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I would rather focus on the Human Rights Report today, and leave it at that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, since the DU weapons, used by Mr. Bill Clinton on purpose against the Balkans people, including the Greeks during the war in Yugoslavia, spreading mainly leukemia counts as another severe disease, according to hundreds of experts on radiation, do you mention that in the Report, which is something the most severe human rights violation against humanity?

MR. REEKER: I would entirely disagree with the premise of your question and we'll move on to Elaine, who has the last question.


Q: He is talking on behalf of the Secretary and it's --

MR. REEKER: This is the Human Rights Report, Mr. Lambros, that outlines human rights violations in individual countries. If you have another question, we can do it later.


Q: You mention as your kind of highlight of the year last year the exit from power of Slobodan Milosevic, but you also mention that the new president, and under his leadership, with stopping the transfer to The Hague.

What does that say, in your view, about Belgrade's new leadership's willingness to engage with the international community?

ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY PARMLY: I think the Kostunica government has manifested in a number of ways its willingness to engage with the international community. It gives me a lot of hope, and I think I speak for the entire Department when I say that.

MR. REEKER: Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:50 P.M.)

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