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Current Affairs - 02 November 2017

General Affairs 

Our Ties With India Second To None, Says Russian Envoy After Military Drill
  • Russia's relationship with India is second to none and can't be compared with Kremlin's relations with Pakistan, Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev said today. "I do not see any opportunity to equalise relations between Russia and India and Russia and Pakistan. Our relations with India are a special strategic partnership, second to no other country," Mr Kudashev told reporters after the India-Russia first tri-service exercise.
    The maiden tri-service exercise for India and Russia -- Indra-2017 -- concluded in Russia's Vladivostok last week after 11 days of joint training in counter-terror operations.

    "We also have a sincere desire of normal relations with Pakistan. The purpose of the drill was of anti-terror nature, to support reasonable elements in the Pakistan government to counter terror," Mr Kudashev said.

    On Russia-China relationship, and his reaction to China's continuing opposition to declaring and Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and Pathankot terror attack mastermind Masood Azhar a terrorist, Mr Kudashev said China is a "sovereign nation" and did not explain further. "We need to fight common threats of terror, drugs and crime to make life easier for all of us."

    About his reaction to the India-US-Japan Malabar exercise, he said he was in favour of non-bloc open cooperation.

    "My primary preoccupation is our bilateral relations. India is a sovereign nation and can take its own decisions. We would welcome larger non-bloc open regional architectures which will have space for all," Mr Kudashev said.

    On the location of the exercise in the eastern part of Russia, an area which is close to China as well as the Korean peninsula, India's Chief of Integrated Defence Staff Lt. Gen. Satish Dua said the location for the exercise was picked by the host Russia, adding it was possibly because it was possible to carry out land, air and sea exercises there.

    If there was any message intended through the exercise, Mr Kudashev said: "The message was friendly." Since the exercise happened in the context of the nuclear threat from North Korea, he said: "As far as the drills are concerned, I do not see any immediate connection."

    He, however, added that Russia would welcome denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and resumption of talks.

    Indra 2017 focused on counter terrorism, and saw the participation of more than 900 Indian soldiers, sailors and air warriors along with over 1,000 personnel from the Russian Defence Forces. This is the first time both India and Russia held a tri-service exercise with any other country.

    "Exercise Indra 2017 will surely be a benchmark for future exercises of this nature all across the world," Lt. Gen. Dua said.

Congress 'Proof' Against Chief Minister Chouhan Was Doctored, Says CBI
  • For Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the three-time Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the Vyapam scam, which involved bribes for government jobs, blew up two years ago into a marquee scandal.
    But now, the country's top investigating agency has said in court that computer files submitted by the opposition Congress were manipulated in an attempt to indict Mr Chouhan.

    "I was clean, so a clean chit to me was obvious; people working in public life should not level false allegations against an opponent just for the sake of defaming, allegations must be based on facts," said Mr Chouhan today.

    Vyapam (an acronym) refers to the qualifying exam taken by lakhs of candidates for jobs as government teachers, doctors and policemen. Lakhs of candidates allegedly paid bribes to manipulate the exam process, including hiring proxies to take the test for them. After the first alert of a scam was sounded in 2009 by a state lawmaker, at least 35 people linked to the scandal or its investigation were dead by 2012; evidence, the opposition claims, of a sinister and deep-rooted cover-up.

    The CBI says that the computer files submitted on a pen drive by the Congress were doctored to add the letters "CM" (for Chief Minister) after the party got access to them.

    Three hard disks and two pen drives were sent to a state-run forensic laboratory in Hyderabad. They included a drive given by the Congress, which claims its contents are original and untouched, and those seized in 2013 from a senior official who helped administer the exam. Digvijaya Singh, senior Congress leader, said the Chief Minister was mentioned 48 times in spreadsheets that listed politicians against candidates who were declared qualified on their recommendation.

    Mr Singh, a former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, claims that various whistleblowers shared computer records with them to help expose the systemic corruption and that the computer files submitted by the CBI were tampered with -- to delete the references to  "CM".

    One of these whistleblowers, Dr Anand Rai, today said that "an independent agency" -- a private forensic lab located in Hyderabad -- confirmed that it was the files submitted by the CBI that were manipulated.

    However, the CBI says that the objections of the whistleblowers and the Congress are baseless and that the privately-run Truth Labs has not delivered a report that indicts the agency for trying to protect the Chief Minister.

    Nearly 500 people -- many of them government officials and students and imposters who posed as students to take the entrance exam in 2013 -- have been accused by the CBI of colluding in the scandal in a chargesheet presented yesterday in court. The Chief Minister is not among them.

'Ease Of Doing Corruption' Has Ended: Arun Jaitley's Retort To Rahul Gandhi
  • Senior union ministers, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, today took on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi over his comments after a World Bank report showed a dramatic improvement in India's position on an index that measures ease of doing business in 190 countries. India is now number 100, up from 130 last year, and its best ranking ever.  

    "The difference between the UPA and NDA - the ease of doing corruption has been replaced by the ease of doing business," tweeted Mr Jaitley not long after Mr Gandhi took a swipe at him

    "Everyone knows the reality of 'ease of doing business', but it is a good thought to keep oneself happy 'Dr Jaitley'," Mr Gandhi tweeted in Hindi. In an election speech in Gujarat, the Congress leader alleged that "it is just a handful of businessmen who have found the going easier," accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of encouraging crony capitalism and failing to create jobs. "Ask small traders about ease of doing business."

    "Does Rahul Gandhi understand what ease of doing business is," said law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, adding, "He is the vice president of the Congress and because of his family connections is expected to soon take over as the National President of the party. One would expect that a person on such a post has some basic understanding of how world institutions function and the respect they deserve."

    Another union minister Hansraj Ahir said, "We don't take Rahul Gandhi seriously," also asking whether "people will believe a World Bank report and its analysis or what Rahul Gandhi says." Advising Mr Gandhi to invest in proper analysis, Mr Ahir dismissed the Congress vice president's criticism today as "utter nonsense." As an embargo ended on the release of the World Bank's report, Arun Jaitley addressed a press conference on Tuesday evening, sharing its findings and vowing to continue reforms that will help India break into the top 50 nations on ease of doing business, a target set by PM Modi soon after he took office three years ago.  
    "The Prime Minister said our target should be to take India immediately into first 50. I believe this is doable and therefore the remaining 3-4 areas where work has to be done we will be pushing it with greater force," the finance minister said.

    The World Bank report showed India's rise on the index was helped by a slew of reforms in taxation, licensing, investor protection and bankruptcy resolution. Mr Jaitley said India made the "highest jump" and is also the only major country named for pursuing structural reforms.

    The new ranking of 100 "indicates India's endeavour to further strengthen its position as a preferred place to do business globally," Annette Dixon, World Bank vice-president for South Asia, said in New Delhi.

    For the government, the new report is a big boost as it battles criticism over a slide in economic growth to a three-year low of 5.7% in the June quarter, blamed by Rahul Gandhi and other critics on last year's notes ban and what they have called a faulty implementation of new national tax GST. Mr Gandhi has called them "double torpedoes that hit the economy."

Navy's Women War-Fighters Hunt For Chinese Submarines In Indian Ocean
  • Breaking through a glass ceiling that has existed since the Indian Navy's founding, 20 women combat aviators are now in the crew of its most sophisticated anti-submarine warfare aircraft, the US-built Poseidon 8-India (P-8I) used to detect Chinese warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean.

    Eight P-8Is, which were ordered from the US in a $2.1 billion deal, are based at INS Rajali in Arakonnam near Chennai with four additional jets worth $1 billion on order from Boeing in the US.  
    Thirty more women officers are posted on the less capable Russian built Ilyushin Il-38 and the license-manufactured Dornier Do-228. 
    "Mission Assigned, Mission Accomplished is our motto," say their seniors.

    Though women were first posted as observers on patrol aircraft in 2009, several officers are now experienced systems specialists, with the senior most woman combat aviator achieving the rank of Commander. 
    The women officers on P-8s and Il-38s operate all key sensors, including weapons systems. They will be war-fighters like their male colleagues if their aircraft were to attack enemy submarines or destroy warships using torpedoes or missiles in the event of a conflict.

    They would also, like their male colleagues, face the very real danger of being shot down if their aircraft was hit by missiles fired from enemy warships or aircraft.

    According to Vice Admiral AK Chawla, the Navy's Chief of Personnel, women officers currently on P8s "have been extremely capable. In fact, in the Services Selection Boards, inevitably the top people are the women officers. We go purely by merit." 
    Earlier this month, women officers on a Navy P-8 plane played a key role in detecting an empty life-raft off the Philippines after a 57,000 ton vessel, the MV Emerald Star, went missing with 26 Indian sailors on board. Ten crew members remain missing and are presumed dead.

    The rest were rescued by ships which responded to a distress call.

    While emergency situations are uncommon, scouring the Indian Ocean for potentially hostile military vessels is routine for P-8I crew. Women crew spend more than four hours on each mission, monitoring sea-search radars and magnetic anomaly detectors that can track down submarines. Using the data available on their systems, they plot targets for AGM-84L Harpoon Block II missiles that can hit a target out at sea more than 250 km away. Similarly, once detected, an enemy submarine can be taken out with an Mk 54 Lightweight torpedo. 
    The Navy's P-8Is and their crew are India's most capable first responders to any naval threat and are continuously deployed at a time the Chinese Navy has significantly stepped up its presence in the Indian Ocean. Chinese Navy nuclear attack submarines have been spotted in Karachi in Pakistan and China maintains a Naval logistics hub in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

    Earlier this year, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., the Commander of the United States Pacific Command, said China was increasingly in a position to sail an aircraft carrier into the Indian Ocean any day it chose to. In the process, "India should be concerned about the increased Chinese influence. If you believe there is only a finite amount of influence in the region, then whatever influence that China has is influence that India doesn't have.''

    The Navy is the second service after the Indian Air Force to enlist women officers in a combat role. In 1999, Flight Lieutenant Gunjan Saxena and Flight Lieutenant Srividya Rajan flew their tiny Cheetah helicopters in the Kargil war zone, where they came under fire from Pakistani forces. More recently, the first batch of women fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force completed their training and will now be deployed operationally in a MiG-21 squadron. Though women are not deployed in combat roles in the Army, the first batch of women are being inducted in the military police with Army Chief General Bipin Rawat calling it the start of the process to bring in women to serve in combat. At the moment, women who join the Army work as engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers or signals officers.

    While combat roles for women in the navy is a big step forward for gender parity, the force is still reluctant to have women serve on its warships in significant numbers. The design of warships, sleeping quarters and bathrooms on Navy ships cater only to men though the latest generation of ships, including the indigenous Shivalik class destroyers, do have space to accommodate both sexes.

India Plays A 'Big Role' In Indo-Pacific Region: White House
  • Ahead of US President Donald Trump's maiden Asia trip, the White House said today that India plays a "big role" in the Indo-Pacific region.

    Later this week, President Trump embarks on a 12-day visit to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and Philippines. Though Donald Trump will not be visiting India this time, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at her daily news conference when asked about India's role in the Indo-Pacific region that "It (India) certainly plays a big role."

    "Does this administration see India as a pivotal part of your strategy when it comes to the Asia-Pacific more broadly?" she was asked.

    At a separate news conference, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters: "I can tell you that we have a close relationship with India, that we have a lot of areas of common interest, including -- we're both democracies; we're both large countries. They're an enormous country."

    "India can bring so much, not only to the region, but to the world. In addition, many American jobs, through greater trade and cooperation with that country," she said, referring to the major India policy speech given by the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month, soon after which he travelled to India.

    Ms Nauert was asked why Donald Trump was not going to India on his maiden Asia visit, if the country is so important.

    "I think that would be a different kind of trip for the President, tagging India... -- along to that trip. I think he's got a pretty hefty schedule, but I don't want to speak on behalf of the White House," she said.

    Asked if Rex Tillerson's India policy was a China containment policy, the State Department spokesperson said the top American diplomat had said this before with China "privately".

    "I think the Secretary -- what he said in his speech -- about China, in his speech about India, was something that the Secretary has said with China privately before. So some of those in the past have been private conversations, and now, they're just becoming more public conversations," she said.

    The spokersperson said that North Korea is a top issue and Donald Trump will discuss it with China. "But let me just say, I know that the president is very much looking forward to his trip to China. It is going to be a lengthy trip, a robust trip. And one of the top issues that will be discussed with China is certainly the DPRK," the spokesperson said.

Business Affairs

Sensex, Nifty close at all-time highs: Five reasons why markets rose today
  • The Sensex and Nifty welcomed India's giant leap on World Bank's ease of doing business rankings on Wednesday and closed at their all-time highs. The 30-share BSE Sensex rallied 387.14 points or 1.17 percent to 33,600.27 and the 50-share NSE Nifty rose 105.20 points or 1.02 percent to 10,440.50, after hitting an intraday record highs of 33,651.52 and 10,451.65, respectively.
    Market breadth was positive with 1,516 stocks closing higher against 1,274 stocks ending lower on the BSE.
    We look at five reasons why Sensex, Nifty closed at their record highs today.
    Ease of doing business rankings: For the first time ever, India jumped 30 positions to become the top 100th country in terms of ease of doing business ranking this year. This was announced by the World Bank Group's latest Doing Business 2018: Reforming to Create Jobs report in Delhi on 31, October 2017. The World Bank has attributed the change in India ranking to the sustained business reforms it has undertaken ever since Modi government took charge a little over three years ago. The market turned buoyant and welcomed the change in rankings.
    Bharti Airtel: The stock of country's largest telco hit a fresh 10-year high in Wednesday's trade after the firm announced earnings which came below estimates for India market. The stock seems to have received a boost from stellar performance in Africa market and prospects of reaping huge gains from the sale of stake in mobile tower unit Bharti Infratel. The firm was approached by global investors interested in a controlling stake in Bharti Infratel, Airtel said on Tuesday. The stock closed 8.19 percent or 40.75 points at 538 level on the BSE.
    Strong macroeconomic data: On the economic front, eight core sectors, which comprise 40.27 per cent of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), grew to a six-month high of 5.2 per cent in September, driven by a strong performance in coal, natural gas and refinery segments.
    The combined Index of Eight Core Industries stands stood at 122.5 in September 2017. The eight core industries, which include coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilisers, steel, cement and electricity - had witnessed a growth of 5.3 per cent in September last year.
    Positive Global cues:  Oil prices extended a bull run on hopes that major producers would maintain their output cuts. The dollar firmed ahead of a Fed rate decision and digital currency bitcoin surged to a record high.
    The pan-European STOXX 600 index climbed to its highest level since August 2015 as stock markets in London, Paris and Frankfurt gained 0.5 to 1.2 percent in early trade.
    That followed a rally in Asia, where stock markets hit 10-year highs. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.9 percent, led by a 1.3 percent jump in South Korea. Japan's Nikkei soared 1.9 percent.
    Banking, metal stocks lead gains: Banking stocks led the gains in market today with the BSE Bankex rising 568 points or 2.01 percent at 28,867 level. Bank Nifty too rose nearly 471 points to breach the crucial 25,000 level to reach 25,490 mark.
    Metal stocks too rose on Wednesday pushing the Sensex and Nifty higher.
    The Nifty metal index rose 1.80% or 70 points at 3946 level. Metal stocks rallied on the BSE too with the BSE metal index closing 277 points or 1.89 percent higher at 15008.23 level.  SAIL (4.56 percent), Vedanta Ltd (3.48 percent) and Hindalco (3 percent) were the top gainers on the index.

Can Tata beat Adani in the renewable battle
  • After a long fight to perch at the top as India's largest thermal power producer, now, a new war is brewing between Tata Power and Adani Power, to become India's largest green energy producer in terms of capacity.   
    With the commissioning of a 30 MW solar power plant on a 140 acre area in Palaswade, Maharashtra on Tuesday, Tata Power has now taken its solar power portfolio to 957 MW. In June, Adani Power had commissioned  a 50 MW solar PV project in Mahoba, Uttar Pradesh, to take its solar capacity to 838 MW.
    Tata Power's subsidiary Tata Power Renewable Energy (TPREL) now has a green energy operating capacity of 1487 MW, comprising of 530 MW wind and 957 MW solar capacity, mainly created with the last year acquisition of Welspun's 1140 MW for Rs 10,000 crore. Apart from this,  TPREL is implementing nearly 373 MW of renewable assets and is planning to carve out Tata Power's 380 MW clean energy assets from its books into TPREL. With this, TPREL's portfolio grows to about 2200 MW, making it a leading renewable energy company in India.
    According to a recent Tata Power Company presentation, non-fossil based capacities will be 30-40 per cent of the total portfolio in future. About 326 MW of projects in pipeline are to be commissioned in FY18, taking the renewable portfolio to reach 2500 MW, out of 3500 Mw of non-fossil fuel capacity. Tata Power has an installed gross generation capacity of 10643 MW, of which 7463 MW is from thermal power and the rest are a mix of hydro, wind, solar and waste heat.
    On the other hand, Adani Power, which is now the largest private thermal power producer in India with an installed capacity of 10,480 MW overtaking Tata Power, is betting big on solar to beef up its green energy portfolio. The company was having a 100 MW solar power Plant in Bhatinda and a 40 MW solar plant at Bitta, Gujarat. Adani Power significantly increased the capacity last year with another 648 MW solar power plant at Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu, which is claimed to be the world's largest solar power plant at a single location.
    According to an Adani Power press release, by the end of this year Adani Group will be having above 2000 MW of solar installed capacity, making the company the largest player in India's renewable energy sector. Adani Power, which is targeting to create 20,000 Mw of power genertion capacity by 2020, has announced to add about 10,000 Mw of solar by 2022. It is executing a joint venture integrated solar park with the Rajasthan Government at Bhatida in Rajastan, which will be the largest such facility in India.

India may wait for more clarity before agreeing to WTO negotiations on e-commerce
  • India is in favour of promoting e-commerce, rule making for domestic e-commerce, developing an ecosystem to support exports and protecting the consumers' interest. However, starting negotiations on WTO rules in e-commerce would be premature as the contours of this space are still in the dark, said Sudhanshu Pandey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce & Industry.
    Speaking at an interactive session on 'E-Commerce, Digital Infrastructure, Trade Rules and WTO' organised by FICCI jointly with Centre for WTO Studies on 1 November, Pandey said that while several countries were enthusiastic to negotiate multilateral rules to govern international trade through e-commerce, such rules stand to hurt the interests of most developing countries, including India. "India needs to think whether it was prepared to take on the obligations that would bind its stakeholders to an international policy in a sector, which was still evolving". According to Pandey, India's priority at the moment should be to put in place domestic rules to govern e-commerce.
    Abhijit Das, Head, Centre for WTO Studies, said that though there were many challenges  in starting international negotiations, but data flows, server and data localization, transfer of technology and mandatory sharing of telecom infrastructure were the keys areas which India needed to look at. He added that India needed a harmonized approach at both the WTO and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations while balancing its interests.
    India may be very hesitant to be party to e-commerce related negotiations at the WTO level, but the country has been more receptive to such negotiations in at a regional level, particularly the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (Rcep) the proposed free trade agreement with the 10-ASEAN countries (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and its six Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) partners, viz. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Korea and India.

GST impact! Massive stock clearance discounts on apparels, gadgets likely in December
  • Retail outlets are reportedly planning bumper year-end sales by December to clear their inventories before 2018 ends. Retailers might offer discounts up to 50 per cent on branded goods in light of restrictions on transitional credit under Goods and Services Tax, said a report by The Economic Times.
    As per the GST regulations, traders will not be able to claim transitional credit under indirect tax regime for goods bought without corresponding invoices six months after rollout. Retailers are planning to clear stocks of such goods with them before December 31, as they will not be able to set off taxes paid against them on their GST liability.
    The retail chains are planning to sell branded apparel, gadgets, kitchen appliances and toys in these clearance sales to get a relief from credit restrictions under GST regime, the report said quoting sources privy to the information, even affording 'wafer-thin margins'.
    Meanwhile, several retailers are expecting the government to extend the deadline for claiming transitional credit under GST. Some retailers are planning to hold their stocks of goods without corresponding invoices till November to see whether government changes its stance or not.
    Some retailers are even considering legal action if the expected deadline extension does not comes to pass. Two leading Indian retail chains are looking to move Delhi High Court over the issue, the report said, backed by legal opinion that credit restrictions under GST law are infringement of businessmen's fundamental rights.
    Experts are hopeful that the government will rule in favour of traders, keeping in mind the dismal sales registered last quarter. Retailers who expected Diwali sales to sweep away the pre-GST stocks were disappointed with tepid sales during the festive season, and now want to be rid of them.
    A decision on this front is expected to come in the next GST Council meet scheduled on November 10. Moreover, reports suggest that government officials are looking for daily use commodities and as well as products predominantly produced by small and medium enterprises placed in the higher tax slab. It is expected that the GST Council is all set to slash GST rates on such items in its next meet.

    Dredging Corporation stock closes 20% higher after Cabinet clears stake sale
    • The Dredging Corporation stock on Wednesday hit the upper circuit of 20 per cent after the government today approved the sale of its entire 73.47 per cent stake in the firm which could fetch about Rs 1,400 crore to the exchequer.
      The stock closed 20 percent or 111.65 points higher at 669 level on the BSE.
      Prime Minister Narendra Modi  led Cabinet approved the DCI disinvestment, official sources said after the Cabinet meeting.
      The company is under the administrative control of the shipping ministry. It is involved in maintenance dredging, capital dredging, beach nourishment, land reclamation, shallow water dredging, project management consultancy and marine construction.
      A core group of secretaries on disinvestment, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, had already approved the sale of DCI.
      The government think tank Niti Aayog too had favoured disinvestment. The government currently holds 73.47 per cent stake in DCI.

    General Awareness

    India leaps 30 places to 100th rank in World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ index

    • India has leaped to 100th rank out of 190 countries on World Bank’s latest edition of ‘ease of doing business’ index. This marks a forward leap of 30 places as compared to 130th rank in the previous edition of the index. In the report titled ‘Doing Business 2018: Reforming to Create Jobs’, India has been recognised as one of the top 10 improvers in this year’s assessment.
      About ‘Ease of Doing Business’ Index:
      ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index is prepared annually by World Bank since 2003.
      • The latest edition of the index took into consideration, reforms and policy changes from June 1, 2016 – June 2, 2017.
      • The rankings have been complied on basis of assessment on 10 parameters viz. starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
      Highlights of “Doing Business 2018: Reforming to Create Jobs”:
      India’s remarkable jump in this year’s ranking has been ascribed to Government’s consistent efforts in last few years.
      • In India, reforms have been implemented in eight out of 10 Doing Business indicators.
      • India has jumped 33 places in “resolving insolvency” parameter and is now ranked 103.
      • On ‘paying taxes’ India has jumped 53 places, from 172 to 119, while on ‘getting credit’, ranking has improved by 15 places from 44 to 29.
      • Most significant accomplishment is India’s 4th rank in the parameter of ‘protecting interest of minority investors’. This is the first time that India has featured in the top five countries in one of the parameters for determining ‘ease of doing business.’
      • It is to be noted that this year’s ranking does not take into account business environment post implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
      • Indian Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to further improveease of doing business and government officials have been instructed to put due efforts in order to bring the country in the top 50.
      ‘Doing Business 2018: Reforming to Create Jobs’ – Top 10 Countries:
      1New Zealand
      4South Korea
      5Hong Kong
      6United States
      7United Kingdom

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