Canada disputes Trump on trade, but White House insists he's right 

iStock / Thinkstock(OTTAWA, Canada) -- President Donald Trump's leaked remarks from a private fundraiser have provoked a rebuke from Canada, disputing the president's claim that the U.S. has a trade deficit with its northern neighbor.

"Canada and the United States have a balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship," Canada's ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement to reporters. "According to their own statistics, the U.S. runs a trade surplus with Canada."

The Canadian statement comes after audio surfaced of remarks Trump made at a Wednesday fundraiser in St. Louis, obtained by the Washington Post, in which Trump recounted a conversation with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trump joked that he repeatedly disputed Trudeau's assertion that the U.S. does not have a trade deficit with Canada even though he -- Trump -- didn't know whether his claim was true.

“Nice guy, good-looking guy comes in -- ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed," Trump said. "So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid."

A Republican source who attended the fundraiser confirmed the authenticity of the Washington Post's account to ABC News, and the president himself tweeted in reaction to the story Thursday morning.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which is a part of the Executive Office of the President, does not support the president's claim, according to its own website.

"U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $627.8 billion in 2016," the USTR's website says. "Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016."

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stood by the president's claim during Thursday's briefing, explaining that the president was actually referring to the U.S. trade deficit with Canada on goods, omitting the large U.S. trade surplus on services.

In the February 2018 Economic Report of the President, the White House argued specifically that it would be misleading to characterize the U.S. trade relationship with a foreign country based only on trade in goods.

"Focusing only on the trade in goods alone ignores the United States’ comparative advantage in services, which rose as a share of U.S. exports to 33.5 percent through 2017:Q3," the economic report says.

The comments amount to the most recent flare-up between the U.S. and Canada as negotiations continue between the two countries and Mexico over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

The president openly dished on the status of those negotiations at the Missouri fundraiser and was similarly unsparing of Mexico in his remarks.

"I tell people openly because the best deal is to terminate it and then make a new deal," Trump said, according to the Washington Post transcript.

"But I don't know that we can make a deal because Mexico is so spoiled with this horrible deal that they've lived with -- from our standpoint, horrible."

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Three tons of gold-silver bars fall from the sky in Russia

Obtained by ABC News(YAKUTSK, Russia) -- A plane carrying $368 million of precious cargo littered a runway in Russia and the surrounding area with more than 3 tons of gold-silver bars on Thursday after part of the plane ripped off during takeoff, according to Russian media and airport officials.

The plane spilled about a third of its 10-ton load onto the runway and on a nearby car market when it took off at an airport in the city of Yakutsk, an airport official told ABC News.

The head of the airport, Nikolai Mesnikov, told ABC News that the cargo consisted of bars of doré -- an alloy of gold and silver -- that weighed about 44 pounds each.

Images showed the bars strewn across the airport’s runway, and reported that nearby residents scoured the surrounding area for bars. The plane's crew decided to land at a nearby airport. There were no reported injuries.

Mesnikov said Thursday that authorities had recovered 172 bars, or about 7,584 pounds, worth.

The Siberian Times reported that the cargo came from a mine largely owned by Canadian mining firm Kinross Gold. The company said all of the bars had been recovered, local media reported. Kinross Gold did not respond to requests for comment by ABC News.

The airport said in a statement that a flap of the plane’s cargo hatch was torn off during takeoff and that the cause was under investigation.

Yakutsk is located in a mining area for gold and diamonds. The area is one of the poorest places in Russia.

The company said all of the bars have been recovered, according to local media.

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Kremlin promises retaliation against UK over diplomat expulsions after ex-spy's poisoning

iStock / Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia is preparing retaliatory measures against the U.K. over its decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats, the Kremlin said Thursday, promising they would "not be long in coming."

“They are being formulated in the foreign ministry and in other bodies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing call, adding that president Vladimir Putin will make the final decision.

The U.K. government Wednesday gave the 23 diplomats a week to leave, as part of a broader set of punitive measures directed against Russia over the poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergey Skripal and his daughter in southern England last week. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May also announced she was cutting all top-level ties with Russia and that the country’s royal family would skip the soccer World Cup hosted there this summer.

The U.K. has said a military-grade nerve agent was used in the attack, of a type known as a “Novichok,” which is a chemical weapon secretly developed by Russia at the end of the Cold War. May has said the weapon’s origins meant either it had been used with the Kremlin’s knowledge or Russia had lost control of its chemical arsenal.

After Russian officials rejected an ultimatum from May to explain, she called the poisoning an “unlawful use of force.”

Russia has denied any involvement. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, today called the U.K.’s allegations “irresponsible” and suggested that the incident was meant as a “provocation” against Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry today said it was drawing up a response to the U.K. measures. “There will be a response, I assure you,” Lavrov said at the forum, titled “Russia -- Land of Opportunity,” adding that Russia would inform the U.K. first before announcing it.

In previous diplomatic standoffs, Russia insisted it would follow a policy of “mirror” response, expelling the same number or proportion of diplomats. But Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested Wednesday night that Russia might consider different options.

“They will be appropriate, comparable -- I think here there is no need to get hung up on words -- mirror measures absolutely appropriate to the situation,” she said on Russia’s Channel 1.

Russia clashed overnight with the U.K. and United States at the U.N. Security Council. Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, denied the Novichok program had existed, telling the council “no scientific research or development under the title Novichok were carried out.”

He then alleged that the most likely scenario of the attack was a false-flag operation, perhaps done by the U.K. itself to “tarnish” Russia.

“The most probable source of this agent are the countries who have carried out research on these weapons, including Britain,” Nebenzia said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley rejected the Russian arguments, making an unambiguous statement that the United States supports the U.K. after criticism the White House had appeared hesitant about backing the British assessment of the attack.

“Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning: the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain,” Haley said. “The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.”

The U.K. has accused Russia of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention by failing to declare the Novichok program. Russia has responded by accusing the U.K. of its own violation by not conducting the dispute through the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OCPW) and complaining that the U.K. has not yet provided samples of the nerve agent.

The U.K.'s ambassador at the Security Council meeting pointed out that the U.K. has called on the OCPW to take part in the investigation.

The expulsion of the 23 diplomats, 40 percent of Russia’s embassy staff, according to the BBC, is the largest since 1971, when 100 Soviet diplomats and spies were ordered out.

But many Russians have viewed the expulsions as a surprisingly mild retaliation from the U.K.

“We are all in shock how soft the sanctions are,” Sergey Markov, a pro-government analyst who at one time advised the Kremlin, told ABC News. It was, he said, as though May had issued an ultimatum, obey or "we won't give you your tea."

Others have said the Kremlin will be more concerned by May’s comments that the U.K. may seek to take a more aggressive line against wealthy Russian figures allied with Putin. It was unclear from May's speech, however, that substantial actions targeting the assets of businessmen close to Putin were coming.

“I am not sure how committed the British government is to that idea,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Moscow-based Council of Foreign and Defense Policy, who sometimes advises Russia’s government.

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Queen Elizabeth II gives official consent for Prince Harry to marry Meghan Markle

iStock / Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Meghan Markle passed another milestone on her road to becoming a member of Britain's royal family after Queen Elizabeth gave her formal consent for Prince Harry to marry her.

The monarch expressed her support in a letter to the Privy Council for "My Most Dearly Beloved Grandson" Prince Harry to marry Rachel Meghan Markle.

The statement read: "My Lords, I declare my Consent to a Contract of Matrimony between My Most Dearly Beloved Grandson Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle, which consent I am causing to be signified under the Great Seal and to be entered in the Books of the Privy Council."

According to the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013, the first six people in line to the throne must obtain the consent of the Queen before marrying.

The consent was made on March 14. Queen Elizabeth also gave her consent prior to Prince William and Princess Kate's marriage in 2011.

In a statement a week before their wedding, she expressed similar consent for the marriage writing, "Our Most Dearly Beloved Grandson Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, K.G. and Our Trusty and Well-beloved Catherine Elizabeth Middleton."

Earlier in the day, Prince Harry attended a Veterans Mental Health Conference, where he said he and Meghan had recently visited the injured veterans and said they were “shocked to the core” hearing their struggles.

"Some of the stories Meghan and I heard when we visited Colchester Garrison a few weeks ago shocked us to our core. But despite meeting these people and others who are in the darkest of places, I am continually surrounded and inspired by amazingly positive outcomes."

Markle, 36, has made private visits to a number of charities as she familiarizes herself with Harry's charitable work and other areas of personal interest to her. Last month, it was revealed that she had made private visits to survivors of one of Britain's recent tragedies, the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people last year.

Once she marries Harry, Markle will join the work of The Royal Foundation, which is the chief charitable vehicle for William, Kate and Harry.

Harry and Markle announced earlier this month their plans for a carriage ride following their wedding ceremony at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19. They also plan to invite 2,640 members of the public into the grounds of Windsor Castle to see the wedding carriage procession.

They will be selected from different regions of the U.K., and 100 students from two local schools in Windsor will also be invited, according to a statement from Kensington Palace. The couple will also extend 200 invitations to individuals who take part in charities and organizations where Harry serves as Royal Patron.

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UK to invest $67M in chemical defense center after ex-spy poisoned 

iStock / Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The U.K. is investing $67 million in a new chemical defense center at the Porton Down military research center near Salisbury less than two weeks after a nerve agent attack on an ex-Russian double agent in the city.

Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Russia needed to “go away and shut up,” and added that the new center would demonstrate to adversaries that efforts to harm the U.K. would be “futile.”

The investment will also increase the number of chemical warfare experts working at the facility, as well as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialists.

Williamson said that thousands of British troops would be offered vaccinations against anthrax – a weaponized bacterial disease that was used in a number of biological terror attacks in the U.S. in 2001.

Britain is expelling 23 Russian diplomats it has identified as undercover intelligence officers, Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday. These individuals have one week to leave the country.

The U.K. is taking a range of other measures in retaliation for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, on March 4.

The government has assessed that the attack, which involved a Soviet-era “Novichok” nerve agent, was carried out by Russia.

The Kremlin has fiercely denied the accusation and accused the U.K. of carrying out a smear campaign against Russia.

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Apartment doors at Grenfell Tower could only withstand 15 minutes of fire: Police

iStock / Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Doors to apartments in London's Grenfell Tower could resist fire for half as long as they were intended to, authorities said this week.

London’s Metropolitan Police experts tested a Grenfell Tower apartment front door, designed to resist fire for 30 minutes, and found that it only resisted fire for about 15 minutes, police said in a statement.

The test was part of what the police described as a “comprehensive investigation” into what happened when a huge fire engulfed the 24-story Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017.

The Metropolitan Police said the forensic examination phase is ongoing and they are not able to comment on what impact the test result could have on the criminal investigation.

The fire killed 70 people, according to the Metropolitan Police. A stillborn baby was also recorded as a victim.

The Metropolitan Police has previously said that exterior cladding, fitted to the building, failed all safety tests.

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German Chancellor Merkel re-elected amid weaker Germany-US relations

Xander Heinl/Photothek/Getty Images(BERLIN) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who has been a key U.S. ally in the past, but has disagreed with some of Trump's positions -- was sworn in Wednesday for her fourth term leading the world’s fourth-largest economy.

In a campaign rally in July, Merkel clearly laid out her position toward some of Trump's policies, saying that Germany "could no longer rely on the U.S. to some extent."

Over her time as leader, the Germany-U.S. relationship has changed. The two countries had developed a stronger partnership during the terms of former President Obama, with whom Merkel was said to have a close relationship.

Obama had said that Merkel was likely his "closest international partner." Merkel said at his last presidential visit to Germany that "the parting is hard for me."

Merkel enters her new term with a possible trade war looming. Based on her past, many believe she is unlikely to concede easily to the conditions Trump has laid out on trade tariffs, which could have devastating consequences on the German economy.

The chancellor is expected to push back and collaborate with the European Union, according to Sudha David-Wilp, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

"Trade is something that is important to the EU, and they will work together to make sure the U.S. realizes the EU won’t take this lying down," she told ABC News.

"From once being the sought-after, indispensable partner, Germany is now kind of left in the cold and feeling threatened by the U.S.," she said. "It’s definitely a different time than it was two years ago."

During the last U.S. presidential election, Merkel refrained from sharing any thoughts about Donald Trump, but set clear terms for continuing German support in a statement congratulating him on his victory.

At the time, Merkel said close cooperation would be offered on the basis of continued shared values such as "democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position."

While not exactly the "fire and fury" language often used in U.S. politics, many in Germany saw the statement as a lecture on core Western values and a strong rebuke for an incoming U.S. president.

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UK expelling 23 Russian diplomats after ex-spy Sergey Skripal's poisoning -- The United Kingdom has given 23 Russian diplomats identified as intelligence officers one week to leave the U.K., the biggest expulsion in decades in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in early March.

Prime Minister Theresa May also said that the U.K. was looking to implement new powers to its sanctions bill, styled on the Magnitsky Act in the United States, which allowed America to freeze assets and withhold visas of foreign officials thought to be involved in corruption and human rights.

In addition, Russian state assets will be frozen where they threaten U.K. nationals or residents, and all planned high-level contact between the U.K. and Russia is to be suspended, including an invite for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to come to the country.

British officials and the royal family will also not attend the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

A midnight Tuesday deadline set by May for Russia to provide a “credible” explanation for how Sergey Skripal was poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent in Salisbury passed with no response from the Kremlin.

Skripal's daughter, Yulia, was also poisoned in the incident. Both were in critical condition.

May warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that if the Kremlin did not cooperate, London would interpret the incident as an “unlawful use of force” by the Russian state against the U.K.

Russia's foreign ministry responded to May's announcement in baroque tones, denouncing it as an "unprecedentedly crude provocation," and promising to retaliate.

"Britain has made the choice of confrontation with Russia," a statement from the ministry read, saying May's sanctions were based on a "false pretext."

Lavrov, speaking ahead of the Prime Minister’s statement, said that the expulsion of diplomats from the U.K. over the Salisbury incident was “unacceptable” and a “provocation”.

The expulsion is the biggest removal of Russian staff since more than 100 Soviet diplomats and spies were booted by former Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government in 1971, plunging U.K.-Soviet relations to an historic low.

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Finland ranked world's happiest country

iStock/Thinkstock(HELSINKI, Finland) -- Finland has been declared the happiest country in the world in the latest United Nations rankings, beating out its Nordic neighbors to take the top spot. The United States, which has never broken the Top 10, dropped four places from 14th to 18th place.

Every year, the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network publishes its report on global happiness, ranking 156 countries by their happiness level. Finland just pipped Norway into the top spot, while Denmark, which used to be the clear winner of the annual survey, was reduced to taking home the No. 3 spot on the list.

Michael Birkjaer of the Danish Happiness Research Institute said it’s tough at the top, saying that there's “not a big difference” between any of the Top 5, with differences between them being “marginal.”

Research suggests that happiness correlates with six key variables: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Supporting this, the countries at the top of the happiness rankings also score well in these areas, with the Nordic countries that dominate the rankings having a reputation for high personal freedom combined with a strong social security net.

The report argues that America’s ranking of 18th, despite high-income levels, is down in part to health issues -- particularly rising obesity and depression -- and high levels of income inequality.

The report shows that a list of the countries with the happiest immigrants is nearly identical to the happiest countries overall. What’s more, immigrants tend to move toward the happiness level of the country they’re in.

Birkjaer said that “no matter where you come from, you will converge” to the average happiness level in that particular location.

When the report was first published in 2006, the Danes were clearly the happiest people, but over the years, they have slipped from the top spot on the list. On whether Denmark’s drop to third this year stings, Birkjaer laughed and said, “We will be fine.”

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Top Putin critic Navalny calls for UK to sanction oligarchs over spy poisoning

ABC News(LONDON) -- As Britain weighs possible retaliatory actions against Russia over the poisoning of a former spy in England last week, a top Kremlin opponent has called for the U.K. to impose targeted sanctions against oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin with assets in London.

Britain is considering its options after a chemical attack on Sergey Skripal and his daughter that employed a military-grade nerve agent U.K. officials said must have been produced in Russia. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May had given Russia until midnight Tuesday to explain how the nerve agent, known as a "Novichok," came to be used in the small town of Salisbury, or face retribution.

In an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, Alexey Navalny, an anti-corruption activist seen as Putin's most-effective critic, said that if it's proved conclusively that the Kremlin was behind the poisoning, the British government should eschew "symbolic gestures" such as a soccer World Cup boycott or banning Russian propaganda stations, and instead target wealthy Putin allies in the U.K.

"One scenario, as it seems to me, is Putin's comfortable scenario," Navalny said at the Moscow office of his organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation. That would mean "quite standard responses," Navalny said, such as diplomatic punishments or symbolic sanctions, that he said Putin expects.

"There is a second option," he added, "that would really be painful for Putin and his corrupt circle that consists of applying targeted sanctions on those oligarchs and state officials whose families have been based for a very long time in Great Britain."

British officials have suggested they're looking at a broad range of retaliatory actions, including diplomatic expulsions, fresh economic sanctions and cyberattacks, and the government has also made clear that it's considering sanctions against individual Putin allies, by imposing visa bans and possibly freezing assets.

May's midnight ultimatum passed, with Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, saying it will not respond to it until the U.K. provides details of the nerve agent used. Officials in Moscow have lined up to reject the British allegations as inventions meant to smear Russia, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman calling them "fairy tales."

With her ultimatum deadline seeming to have passed without Russia acquiescing, May is under pressure to respond toughly amid criticism the U.K. failed to act strongly enough over a previous Russian-linked poisoning, that of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence officer turned dissident who was murdered with a radioactive substance in London in 2006. With Russia seen as mounting an increasingly aggressive challenge to Western countries, there are calls for the U.K. to take a harder line to make the Kremlin take notice.

Irking the Kremlin is an area Navalny has experience in. A former lawyer, he came to prominence in Russia with investigations revealing the alleged illegal wealth of senior officials and members of Putin's circle. One of those, into the alleged illegal property empire of Russia's prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, prompted large scale street protests last year. Recently, Navalny built a grassroots movement with tens of thousands of followers, calling for fair elections and an end to official corruption. Regularly jailed for holding rallies against the Kremlin, he was barred from running for president against Putin in elections, due to take place this week, over a fraud conviction he says is trumped up.

Navalny has argued that the Kremlin's pressure points are the oligarchs around it, the few dozen businessmen and friends of Putin who made immense fortunes during his rule, often benefiting from state contracts. The Kremlin will not, Navalny said, be phased by symbolic responses, having got used to them after years of escalating confrontation with Western countries. In particular, he said he is opposed to the proposal to ban RT, the Kremlin-funded broadcaster formerly known as Russia Today that has been accused of acting as a propaganda outlet. Putin would be untroubled by such a ban, given RT is relatively little watched in the U.K., and it would allow the Kremlin to say censorship exists in Western countries.

Such steps, Navalny, said just allowed Putin to "use them in his propaganda."

Instead, he added, the U.K. should take advantage of the concentration of Putin allies' wealth in London. The U.K. has become a hub for rich Russians under Putin, with large numbers of the country's elite owning property there and educating their children in English schools.

Navalny said U.K. authorities should impose asset freezes and strip visas from oligarchs close to the Kremlin who were enjoying lives in England, saying he could name 20 figures to start with.

"It will lead to the creation of an anti-Putin coalition, one in the shadows for now, inside the Putin establishment," Navalny said. "Up to now, they have seen that Putin solves problems, Putin is able to do whatever he wants —- to shoot down airplanes, to start wars, to lie in every interview, in every conversation with world leaders -- but in a remarkable way he gets away with everything."

"And here will be the first example," Navalny added, "if it will all be proved, where it leads to some kind of consequences."

Navalny gave the names of two figures he said the U.K. authorities should immediately target: Alisher Usmanov and Igor Shuvalov.

Usmanov is one of Russia's richest men, solidly invested in Britain, where he owns the London soccer club Arsenal FC. The Kremlin has reportedly tapped him when in need of cash for projects; Usmanov even once paying the wages of the coach of Russia's national soccer team.

Shuvalov, is an influential Russian first deputy prime minister, who Navalny has previously accused of concealing vast wealth abroad. Navalny has previously alleged that Shuvalov owns an $18 million, 5,380-square-foot penthouse in central London, despite having an annual government salary of only around $17,000.

Shuvalov has previously said his income declarations are in order and his earnings are entirely legal. Usmanov has sued Navalny over allegations he was part of the bribery involving prime minister Medvedev. Last year, Usmanov released a video in which he told Navalny, "I spit on you."

Enthusiasm for targeting assets belonging to Kremlin-linked figures in London has been expressed in British official circles since Skripal’s poisoning. In particular, there have been calls for Britain to introduce a so-called Magnitsky Act, legislation similar to that already in the U.S. that imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russians implicated in human-rights abuses.

The act is named after Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer murdered after he uncovered a $230 million tax fraud involving Russian officials. The U.K. government has also suggested it's considering applying recently introduced legislation allowing for freezes of wealth suspected to be corrupt.

Navalny, however, said he feared the U.K. "unfortunately" was likely to opt for "the route of symbolic gestures" in the latest clash. A large number of individuals identified as close to Putin are already under European Union and U.S. Treasury sanctions imposed over Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. But Navalny argued that these have been relatively toothless, claiming that most of Putin's key allies still own property in Europe and the U.S.

“While about these sanctions there are a lot of conversations," Navalny said, "they unfortunately have no practical influence on what is happening."

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