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LifeStyle 74 News From the Papers

Strikes in France to continue on Friday but Paris transport turmoil to ease...slightly

The Local - 12 December 2019

Strikes by French transport workers continue on Friday - but if you are in Paris, things are looking up.

Unions on the capital's public transport network announced on Thursday that they would continue their strike at least until the end of Tuesday, December 17th, but it seems that more of the employees are returning to work, as there is a significant increase in the number of services running on Friday.

On the Metro, lines 1 and 14 - which are automated - will continue to run as normal as they have been doing throughout the strike (with some extremely crowded services).

But several other lines will also be back running, albeit with reduced services.

On the tram network four services are now back to normal - 2, 5, 6 and 8 - while 7 is running all day, but with a reduced service. Lines 1, 3a and 3b will be running morning and evening only, with reduced services.

The RER suburban train services are still running a reduced service at rush hour only, but on the buses half of all the usual services, will be running on Friday.

Services at the weekend are again likely to be minimal as RATP concentrates resources on getting commuters to work and back.

On the railways across the country the situation is staying largely the same, with around 80 percent of services cancelled.

Overall only 25 percent of high speed TGV trains are running, and roughly the same number of Intercité services, but the TER local trains are the worst hit with just four in 10 services running, many using replacement buses.

Flights are again unaffected.

Blockades continue at some oil depots around France, but supplies of fuel are still largely getting through.

Still quite a few petrol stations around the country are either low on fuel or closed though - so check this interactive map before you set out and make sure you fill up the tank when you can.

Friday is not a 'demo day' so there are no protests or marches planned, instead unions are concentrating their efforts on anger 'day of protest' which has been called for Tuesday, December 17th.

This day might also see some more one-day strikes by unions such as teaching unions, which are fiercely opposed to the government's pension plans but have not declared unlimited strikes in the same way as the transport workers.

While there is no immediate end in sight to the conflict, France's finance minister Bruno le Maire struck a conciliatory tone on Thursday, telling a French radio station that there was "room for negotiating".

Anyone pinning their hopes on a collapse in support for the strikers among the French population is likely to be disappointed, however, as a poll by the Elabe institute released Thursday found France evenly divided over the pension reforms, with 50 percent of respondents approving and 49 percent against.

But the poll also found that 54 percent rejected the proposed "pivot age" of 64 for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the unions' protest.


Strikes in France: Paris woman gives birth on RER commuter train during rush hour crush

The Local - By Jean-Baptiste Andrieux - 12 December 2019

In the midst of the chaos caused by a mass transport strike, one Paris woman had a particularly memorable journey home - giving birth at a station on the RER suburban train network.

The young woman boarded the RER train at Gare de Lyon on Wednesday evening, heading out to the southern Paris suburbs.

But during the journey she went into labour, giving birth at the Villeneuve-Saint-Georges station on the outskirts of Paris.

She had a healthy baby girl, reported SNCF officials, adding that although the traffic on the line had to be interrupted, her fellow commuters reacted positively.

The RER service which links Paris to its suburbs has been badly hit by the strike, with an average of one in three services running during rush hour.

This has meant that the services have been extremely busy in recent days as desperate commuters struggle to reach the further out suburbs, from which walking or cycling into Paris is not an option.

The crush prompted scenes of near panic at Gare du Nord station on Monday as thousands of people tried to cram onto one of the few trains running.

Births in RER trains happen every so often and it has become a custom for SNCF to offer a permanent Navigo travel pass to every child born inside their rolling stock.

This is also the case on the Metro - a boy born on the Line 6 in November 2018 was given a free Navigo card until his 25th birthday.

“We have a new customer and we are going to welcome the newborn with a gesture,” said a SNCF spokesperson without providing any further detail.

French jihadist jailed for 30 years for knife attack on soldiers at Jewish centre

AFP - 12 December 2019

A Paris court on Thursday sentenced a jihadist to 30 years in prison over his February 2015 knife attack on three soldiers guarding a Jewish centre in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

Moussa Coulibaly, now age 35, staged his assault just weeks after the killing of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris, the beginning of a wave of assaults carried out in the name of the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist groups.

In issuing its ruling, the judges noted that Coulibaly had shown "little or no regret" for the attack, in which two soldiers were injured before a third wrestled Coulibaly to the ground.

They found "an almost fanatical determination" to apply IS calls for French citizens to carry out terror attacks on home soil.

The assault sparked criticism of the government's security efforts after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, since Coulibaly was well known to police.

A few weeks earlier, French intelligence services had been alerted to the fact that he was trying to enter Turkey - a key staging point for jihadists seeking to go fight in Syria - and asked the country to expel him.

He was questioned upon his return but later released because of insufficient evidence to press charges.

After the Nice attack Coulibaly told investigators he hated France as well as police, the military and Jews.

But in court on Thursday, Coulibaly said: "I'm now against violence. I would not do again what I did."


'No Christmas truce': French unions call to reinforce strike action

The Local - 12 December 2019

New pension reform details unveiled by the government on Wednesday did not appear to have soothed the determined French unions - who have now called for a 'hardening' of the strike action that has brought the country to a near standstill.

As French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe wrapped up his long-awaited speech on Wednesday where he unveiled more details of the government's planned pension reform, he said: "this plan justifies putting a stop to the strikes."

But almost as soon as he had stopped speaking one union after the other expressed their disapproval, calling in unison for a reinforcement of the strikes that began on December 5th.

Edouard Philippe only repeated what we already knew,” said Yves Lefebvre, the General Secretary of the police union Unité-SGP to BFMTV.

On Thursday morning Laurent Brun who represents rail workers with the CGT union warned "there would be no Christmas truce" unless the government backs down and "sees sense".

"There's a huge determination to go all the way to the end. We prefer a few weeks of chaos rather than a life of misery," Brun told France Info.

"The strike will continue because the government is digging its heels in so it will go on for a long time," he added.

Police are among the groups that have been taking strike action to protest the government's plan to overhaul the French pension system, claiming the reform "doesn't recognize the dangers of the profession."

The speech - where the PM tried to reassure those with physically demanding jobs that they would still benefit from an early pension - did not satisfy them. In the minutes following the speech several police unions called for a 'hardening' of the movement.

Unions representing the transport sector were equally frustrated. Force Ouvrière and CGT Cheminots both called for a "reinforcement of the movement", and UNSA, which is the main union representing the Paris Metro operator RATP, said the PM’s details “did not measure up to their demands,” calling for an "enlargement" of the movement.

That could mean more transport chaos in the time to come.

Even the CFDT, which until now has been lukewarm in its support of the strikers with only the union's transport branch participating, said the government had "crossed a red line" by making 64 the "pivot age" for pensions.

Philippe had said the current French retirement age of 62 would be kept, but that people choosing to retire before age 64 would lose some of the benefits of those who retired at this "pivot age" or after.

The PM’s attempts to reassure teachers, saying that it would be "unacceptable" for them to "lose a single euro of their pension," also fell flat.

"We are very disappointed," said Francette Popineau, Co-General Secretary and spokesperson of the largest teacher’s union FSU.

"It's just a lot of words and promises, nothing concrete."

The government says the current French retirement system is too complex and outdated and wants to introduce a universal system where everybody's pension is calculated in the same way. The new, one-size-fits-all system would ensure that “every euro earned gives the same rights to all French people.”

Unions had previously told The Local that only a complete policy U-turn would suffice if they were to put a stop to the strikes. They fear the proposed points-based system would have negative social and financial consequences for France at large.

"The government has re-affirmed that they are keeping the points-based system, which means everyone will be working more for less," said Popineau.

The FSU union will now go into talks with the government, but are getting preparing to reinforce the strikes.

"Tuesday is the next big strike day for teachers," Popineau said.

France postpones G5 Sahel meeting after deadly Niger attack

FRANCE 24 - 12/12/2019

French President Emmanuel Macron and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou agreed on Thursday to postpone to early 2020 a meeting of Sahel country leaders due to take place in France later this month, the French presidency said.

The decision to postpone the event, which was to address France’s military presence in the region as well as the fight against jihadist organizations, follows an attack on a remote military camp in Niger.

The Islamic State group on Thursday claimed the attack in a statement confirmed by the SITE intelligence group. According to an army spokesman, 71 soldiers were killed in the assault on a military camp located near the border with Mali.

Niger is part of a five-nation anti-jihadist task force known as the G5, set up in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad.

Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in violence across the vast Sahel region, which began when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.

The conflict has since spread to the centre of Mali and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Attacks continue, despite the 4,500 French troops deployed in the region as part of Operation Barkhane to help local forces.

Thirteen French soldiers were killed in Mali last month when two helicopters collided during an operation against jihadists in the country's restive north, in the heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades.


Argentina's Mario Sandoval: France to deport ex-policeman in torture case

BBC - 12 December 2019

France is preparing to deport an Argentine former policeman, Mario Sandoval, accused of torture and crimes against humanity during Argentina's military dictatorship in 1976-1983.

Argentine prosecutors based their extradition request on one case - that of student Hernán Abriata, who disappeared in detention in 1976.

Mr Sandoval, age 66, denies the charges, but a top French court has given a final ruling, rejecting his appeal.     He is accused in some 500 cases.

Those cases relate to murder, torture and kidnapping. Court documents in Argentina note that he was nicknamed "Churrasco" (Spanish for steak) - the term used for a metal bed frame on which detainees were electrocuted.

The Argentine dictatorship "disappeared" about 30,000 people during the "Dirty War" against suspected leftists and political dissidents.

In some cases victims' infant children were stolen and given to couples loyal to the regime.

French police arrested Mr Sandoval on Wednesday at his home near Paris. Earlier the Council of State - France's top administrative court - rejected his appeal, after years of legal wrangling.

He will be sent back to Argentina within a week, police say.

Mr Sandoval fled to France after the fall of the military junta and he obtained French citizenship in 1997. He can be extradited because the alleged crimes were committed before he became French.

He taught as a professor at the Sorbonne's Institute of Latin American Studies in Paris (IHEAL) and the University of Marne-La-Vallée.

Mario Sandoval's lawyer Jérôme Rousseau has now appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging that his client will not get a fair trial in Argentina.

Mr Sandoval's colleagues at the two prestigious institutes called for him to be arrested when they recognized him from a photo during the investigation.


EU leaders deadlocked in summit budget battle as exit polls predict Johnson victory

The Telegraph - James Crisp, Brussels Correspondent - 12 December 2019

European Union leaders were deadlocked over the bloc’s first EU budget after Brexit in Brussels Wednesday night. Meanwhile Boris Johnson and his Conservatives have won a stunning victory in the UK general election on Thursday, now assuring a swift Brexit from the EU.

Britain is the third largest contributor to the current EU budget. It is estimated that Brexit will leave a 100 billion euro shortfall in the next seven year budget, which is meant to begin in 2021.

Heads of state and government are divided over whether the next budget, the first without Britain paying in, should increase. France and Germany, the bloc’s two most influential countries, are on opposing sides of the battle in Brussels. ________________________

That’s LifeStyle 74 News From The Papers on Friday the 13th of December.


LifeStyle 74 weather…

A strong Westerly current is established from the Atlantic to the Alps, conveying a series of wintery weather disturbances over the next two days. Windy, mild Foehn conditions expected next week.

Blizzard conditions this morning down to low elevations. Frequent precipitation this morning, abundant in the Jura and Alps. The snow line lowering from 900 to 600 meters. Snow flurries this afternoon and perhaps a clap of thunder or some fine hail. In Valais, continued snow down to the plain. Max temp 5 C. on the Plateau, 2 in Valais. -6 at 2000 meters. Strong, sometimes strong, gusty SW winds on the Plateau. Strong to Tempestuous W winds in the mountains. 20 to 30 cm of snow falling today above 800 meters. 30 to 50 cm expected above 1500 meters. The strong winds will whip the snow into snow drifts, making driving conditions treacherous in the mountains today.

Intermittent precipitation at first, the snow line between 1000 and 1600 meters.   Then development of sunrays on the plain by afternoon. Strong to gale force W winds. Minimum temp at dawn, +2, warming to 6 to 9 C. -4 at 2000 meters. An additional 15 to 30 cm of snow falling above 1500 to 1800 meters. Drifting snow and very dangerous ski conditions with a high risk of avalanches.

Cloudy at first with some rain drops. Snow above 1800 meters. The sunnier on the Plateau, quite sunny in the alps. Continued strong to gale force SW winds in the mountains. Max Temps 8 to 11 C.

Morning gray on the Plateau, otherwise mostly sunny and mild, but cloudier along the Jura. Probably Foehn winds in the Alps. 9 C. up to 12 in Foehn areas.

Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday
Some morning gray on the Plateau, otherwise mostly sunny. Probably Foehn winds in the alps. Highs 7 on the plain, 13 in Foehn areas.

That’s LifeStyle 74 weather… comprehensive, accurate, reliable, produced by Meteo Suisse. 


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LifeStyle 74 News From the Papers

10 Paris Metro lines closed - Strikes will hit transport in France on Thursday

The Local - 11 December 2019

Now one-week into mass strike action, unions are prepared for another day of protest.

Unlimited transport strikes will enter their eighth day today Thursday, and there will be yet more one-day walk-outs and protests by certain groups and unions.

On the railways, SNCF is advising people not to travel unless absolutely necessary. Around 80 percent of services are cancelled.

Nearly a quarter of high speed TGV services are running, with roughly one in four trains also running on Intercité and suburban Transilien services.

On the local TER network only 4 in 10 services will be running, but many of those will involve replacement bus services.

In Paris workers on the city's RATP network have already announced that their strike is continuing until at least Friday, with considerable disruption to services.

Today, 10 Paris Metro lines are set to close, although in recent days line 11 has been operating a reduced service at rush hour, despite RATP saying it would not be operating.

A slight improvement perhaps in the Metro, with fewer lines closed completely, and some offering limited rush-hour only services, but still a skeleton service.

Only Metro lines 1 and 14, which operate driverless trains, will operate normally, but expect push and shove crowding during rush hour.

Buses, trams and the suburban RER network are very disrupted. RER B services to Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will only operate at rush hour and that will be on a reduced service. Passengers travelling to Charles de Gaulle airport from southern Paris will have to change trains at Gare du Nord.

In the air there is some good news. Flights to and from Paris, and other French cities, are running closer to normal. But passengers are still advised to check with their airline.

On the roads blockades at oil depots are continuing, although some fuel is still getting through. Several hundred filling stations across the country are either closed or have limited petrol and diesel supplies.

Click here for an interactive map of the areas affected.

On the streets there will be more demonstrations.

Unions have designated Thursday, December 12th and Tuesday, December 17th as further days of protest, with demonstrations in most major cities. Turnout at protests has fallen sharply since the first day of the strike on December 5th. But marches in the big cities like Paris are registering tens of thousands.

It looks like Paris unions say they are focusing their efforts on December 17th.

One teachers' union said they are focusing their efforts on December 17th, so there shouldn't be too much disruption in the classroom today.


French government unveils pension reforms

The Local - 11 December 2019

Despite the widespread anger over proposed pension reforms, full details of the have not yet been released. The government is still at the consultation stage of its reforms.

But more details were revealed on Wednesday by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

A universal system - this is the over-riding principle of the reforms.

Instead of the current system of 42 different pension regimes, with big differences in both how pensions are calculated and the age at which workers can retire, the government wants to introduce a systèm universel which would be the same for everyone.

Invoking the French principles of solidarité and egalité, Philippe announced the end of the 'special regimes' which allow - for example - Metro drivers to retire at the age of 55, and announced that in the future everyone would be on the same pension regime with "no exceptions".

This is the issue that has caused widespread anger among transport workers, the majority of whom are currently on special regimes.  But although the current system works well for some people, in particular public sector workers, others such as low-paid workers in the private sector, farmers and women who take career breaks to look after children lose out.

A points-based system - Under the new system "every hour worked will earn rights". In the present system, calculation of pensions for workers on special regimes is based solely on their salary during the final six months of their career, while many others have a calculated based on their highest earnings over 25 years.

The government wants a more equitable system which counts a person's whole career, with every euro earned gaining that person 'points' towards their pensions.

A fairer deal for women - Women "will be the big winners of a universal system" said Philippe. Time out of the workplace for maternity leave will be compensated by 100 percent, and extra pension provision will be added for mothers from their first child, not from the third as is the current system.

A minimum monthly payment - €1,000 per month minimum, with pensions pegged to the French minimum wage going forward, so that no pensioner will get less than 85 percent of the minimum wage of the day.

Start date - the reforms will be introduced in phases, with anyone born before 1975 not affected at all. The government previously planned to include everyone born in 1963 or later, but chose to push back the age-limit in response to the strikes. Those entering the labour market for the first time in 2022 will be put straight on to the universal system, with change phased in gradually for those in between.

No change to the legal retirement age - the legal age to retire will remain at 62, but a 'pivot age' - where the maximum pension kicks in - will be introduced at 64. Although 62 is the current legal age, many people who are on 'special regimes' in fact retire earlier and the average retirement age in France is 60. If special regimes are scrapped, the average retirement age will likely rise.

However Philippe did add that there would be special provision for people doing certain physically demanding jobs, such as nurses, to retire two years earlier. Police officers, firefighters, prison guards and soldiers would also continue to benefit from early retirement provision.

Teachers - Teachers have been joining the strike, worried that a universal system would see their pensions - currently calculated based on their final six months salary - lowered. They were singled out in the speech, with Philippe saying: "It would be unacceptable for teachers to lose a single euro of their pension". The Prime Minister did not specify how this would be ensured.

Self employed - Proposals were suggested for a reform to the system for self-employed workers, but on a longer time frame, with Philippe suggesting a "15-year horizon" for the changes. In the meantime, the pension pots that self-employed workers have built up, will not be transferred into the universal system.

The next stage in the process is for the proposals to be presented to ministers on January 22nd, then debated in the French parliament, which will happen at the end of February.

An IFOP poll conducted last week showed that 74 percent of French people support the idea that the country's pension system needs to be reformed, although 64 percent added that they do not trust the current government - which many see as too ' pro business' - to accomplish acceptable reforms.


The French Alps valley where traditional log fires will soon be banned

The Local - 11 December 2019

A fire place seems a prerequisite for an Alpine chalet in winter, but not for much longer, as authorities in the department of the Haute-Savoie are set to ban the use of open fireplaces because they say they produce too much pollution.

The Haute-Savoie préfect, Pierre Lambert, has signed a decree to forbid the use of traditional fireplaces in the Arve valley, reportedly the most air polluted valley in France. The blame is being placed on fireplaces.

Pierre Lambert said in an interview on radio station France Bleue in 2017 that they were causing up to 80 percent of the pollution in winter.

ATMO, a local environmental organization, backed up this claim, stating that “fireplaces contribute up to 70 percent of the fine-particles emission, whereas the industry and transport respectively represent 12 percent and 16 percent”.

Traditional fireplaces are a crucial selling point for many holiday homes.

“Many cottage owners highlight in their advertisements exquisite pictures of traditional Savoyard fireplaces,” said Muriel Auprince from Coll’Air Pur, a residents association fighting against air pollution.

“Tourists enjoy a cosy log fire. I am not really looking forward to getting rid of it,” Jean-Luc, the owner of a bed and breakfast in Saint-Gervais, told Le Parisien.

The decree forbidding the use of traditional fireplaces will come into effect on January 1st, 2022. Forty-one towns in the Arve valley will be affected by this directive.

Since 2012, the French government has been urging residents to modernize their heating systems and get rid of open fires, which are both polluting and inefficient.

For that purpose, the “Air Bois” fund has been set up and offers grants of up to €2,000 for the replacement works.

On the downside, banning wood-burning heating systems removes personal autonomy, and makes homeowners more dependent on external gas and electricity supplies. Fuel oil systems are also being criticized by ecologists.


Dordogne bypass must be demolished - appeal court

Connexion - 11 Dec 2019

An appeal against the cancellation of the controversial Beynac bypass in the Dordogne has been turned down.

A Bordeaux appeal court this week ruled that the Dordogne departmental council cannot continue work on a partially built bypass through a beauty spot valley.

Instead it must demolish it, and put the site back to the state it was in before works began, the court said.

However the department says it will appeal again, to the highest administrative appeal court, the Conseil d’Etat.

The department was given the go-ahead for the bypass by the prefecture in 2018 and has argued that the €32million road is necessary to avoid congestion in the medieval village of Beynac, classed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.

Opponents however say it is a waste of public money on an unnecessary, costly road requiring two bridges and a tunnel in a short 3.2 km stretch, as the village is only congested at the height of the tourist season.

A year ago the Conseil d’Etat ordered work to be suspended pending further review, after finding there to be ‘no imperative public interest’ for the cost and environmental impact.

The Bordeaux administrative court then ordered the work to be dismantled and discontinued. But the department is determined to complete the road, necessary for the safety of inhabitants in Beynac. Environmental issues have been addressed. And Dordogne residents will have to foot the bill if the demolition is imposed.

The departmental council says it will now fight this decision before the Conseil d’Etat and ask for the demolition to be put on hold pending that.


France bans sale of thirty-six products containing glyphosate

RFI - 11/12/2019

In 2018, products containing glyphosate accounted for nearly three-quarters of the total tonnage of weed-killers sold in France for agricultural and non-agricultural uses, according to the French environment agency Anses.

These products "can no longer be used from the end of 2020, due to insufficient or missing data to avoid any genotoxic risk," according to the environmental watchdog Anses.

Anses has initiated a review of all the marketing authorizations for products based on glyphosate marketed in France, following the five-year re-approval of the weed killing chemical by the European Union in 2017.

The process must be completed by the end of 2020.

"Only glyphosate-based products meeting the requirements of efficiency and safety defined at European level, and which cannot be substituted in a satisfactory way, will ultimately be allowed access to the French market," adds the statement.

The French environment agency also refused to authorize the sale of four new products.


Non-binary pronoun ‘they’ sparks French language debate

Connexion - 11 Dec. 2019

A language debate has been sparked after a US dictionary said "they" was now used "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary”

A debate has been sparked in France over the lack of an official gender-neutral French word for “they” and “them”, after the pronoun “they” was voted Word of the Year 2019 in the United States.

In English, the pronouns “they” and “them” can be used not only in the plural to describe a group of people, but also for one person, singular, without determining their gender.

In this way, in English, the pronouns can replace the words “him/her” and “he/she” as a neutral equivalent. As such, within the LGBTQ+ and non-binary communities, the pronouns “they” and “them” have become commonly-used by people who do not identify with one of the usual binary genders (male or female).

The US dictionary Merriam-Webster - the equivalent of the Larousse dictionary in France - has chosen the pronoun “they” as its Word of the Year 2019, in reference to this growing use. Online lookups for "they" increased by 313% in 2019, the dictionary said.

It explained: "This is a special case, and a consequence of shifts in the way 'they' is used."

A new definition in the dictionary says: “Used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is non-binary”. As an example, the definition continues: “The person I was interviewing...they had adopted their gender-neutral name a few years ago…”.

The American Psychological Association has also officially adopted the pronouns as a way to refer to non-binary people, and the American Dialect Society had already named “they” its own word of the year in 2015, for the same reason.

This growing use has sparked a debate in France, as French does not have an “official” way of referring to a gender-neutral or nonbinary individual, as “they” would always be translated as either “ils” (male) or “elles” (female).

The male word “ils” is also used for a group of people of different genders - including male and female - but this is not the same as not specifying a gender at all, and would also not be used to refer to just one person.

In French, people have begun to use the pronoun “iel” (and sometimes “ille”) to refer to a nonbinary person. Linguistically, these are a mix of “il” and “elle”, but they are so far yet to be officially adopted into the French language by the Académie Française.

Some people have also begun to use pronouns in French such as "ol", "al", "ul" or "yul".

Yet, these new pronouns still do not solve the problem of adjectives that align with gender in French - for example, “content” or “contente” - prompting further debate.

As French literature professor Éliane Viennot wrote in newspaper Libération: “[Even if you use ‘iel’ or ‘ille’] you must then choose between ‘iel est content’ ou ‘iel est contente’. Whereas in English, for example, a neutral pronoun can work, because the rest of the sentence is not affected.”


That’s LifeStyle 74 News From the Papers on Thursday, December 12th.

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