Friday, 8 October 2021

Johansson Satisfied with Croatia's Reaction to Reports of Violence Against Migrants

ZAGREB, 8 Oct 2021 - European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson on Friday expressed satisfaction with her talks with Croatian Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović and his announcement of an investigation into reports of illegal expulsion of migrants as well as her dissatisfaction with Greece's reaction.

The Croatian government has taken the reports very seriously and an investigation will be launched promptly, Johansson said, noting that Božinović was shocked and that she believed Croatia was acting as it should, with the clear position that border protection should always be in line with the rule of law and fundamental rights.

The European commissioner held meetings on Thursday evening with Božinović and Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi.

A number of European media outlets on Wednesday evening broadcast disturbing videos of forcible expulsion of migrants in Croatia's territory and Greece. The videos, made with the help of drones, show men wearing balaclavas and uniforms resembling those worn by Croatian police as they drive migrants out towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Johansson said that Croatia would carry out an investigation, using the independent mechanism of supervision established together with the European Commission.

That is the right response, she noted.

On the other hand, she expressed dissatisfaction with the Greek minister's reaction to the media reports, noting that the EC would not tolerate the Greek government's failure to investigate the allegations.

Johansson said that the EU's external borders had to be protected but that the rule of law and fundamental rights had to be preserved in the process.

Asked by reporters what would be done if it proved true that Croatia used the money it obtained from EU funds to control the border for the accommodation of personnel taking part in forcible expulsions of migrants, EC spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said on Thursday that an investigation would be launched.

Jahnz noted that the EC was closely following how European money is spent and if it turns out that it has been used for illegal activities, payments may be suspended, penalties imposed or a refund of the money demanded.

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Wednesday, 7 July 2021

PM Andrej Plenković Strongly condemns violence after LGTBIQ Pride Parade

ZAGREB, 7 July, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Wednesday strongly condemned the violence that had occurred after the LGTBIQ Pride Parade in Zagreb on Saturday. 

"That is unacceptable, Croatia is a free country and everyone should be what they are. Human rights and the rights of all minorities, including sexual minorities, should be respected," Plenković said in an interview with Croatian Radio.

"Croatia is big enough for everyone to be free," he stressed.

Plenković recalled that Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Human Rights Boris Milošević had also condemned the physical assaults on members of the LGBTIQ community, noting that what Milošević wrote in his Facebook post was on behalf of the whole cabinet.

"I totally agree with him. I think that violence and inciting to violence is unacceptable. And now (Bridge MPs) Petrov and Grmoja are crying because they have received threats, they were obviously perceived as some kind of inciters. I receive such threats on a daily and weekly basis and I don't speak about it with anyone. One learns to cope with it, while they are now crying about it," the PM said.

"The worst actors on the scene are those who are exclusive, and I want us to build an inclusive society in which everyone will advocate and stand behind their values and in which everyone will be able to ensure an education for their children based on the values that they have and share. Things should not be imposed on anyone. If someone is different, respect them, they also have their freedom and their choices. We must build a society that is inclusive, that's the most important thing, and I don't see why it should be any different," he added. 

He said that people in Croatia needed a little encouragement to get vaccinated against COVID-19, while certain actors in society needed encouragement to be more tolerant. "That will come about, I am optimistic."

Milanović's double standards

Plenković also talked about the environmental devastation of Vruja Cove on the southern Dalmatian coast and Sunday's protest rally ironically called the Illegal Construction and Nature Devastation Festival, where protesters called out Stipe Latković, a businessman from Split and a friend and donor of President Milanović.

Asked why the government was not acting, given that the property in case is state-owned, Plenković said that the relevant inspectorate had issued a number of decisions, "which obviously were not complied with", and imposed fines,

"Those decisions were made not just this year but for many years, and now these campaigners for (an independent) judiciary, who are accusing the judiciary, as Milanović is, of being under the control of the (ruling) HDZ, are protecting these illegal builders. This is a fantastic example of double standards," Plenković said.

He said that this was not the only "brilliant" example of double standards, citing the cases of Constitutional Court judge Andrej Abramović, who used a garden hose to pour water on his neighbours, SDP MP Marina Opačak Bilić, who is suspected of economic crime, and Sisak mayor Kristina Ikić Baniček who failed to provide requested documents to USKOK anti-corruption investigators.

"All these are double standards of campaigners for an independent judiciary, and here I mean Milanović," the prime minister said.

 Bačić's arrest not pleasant for either HRT or Parliament

Commenting on the arrest of the director-general of the HRT public broadcasting service, Kazimir Bačić, on suspicion of corruption, Plenković said that the judicial authorities were acting completely independently and impartially.

"I don't want to speculate about anyone's responsibility, but the situation is not pleasant either for the HRT or for the Croatian parliament which appointed Bačić," he said.

The parliamentary Media Committee is meeting today to discuss the proposal to relieve Bačić of his duties and appoint an acting director-general. 

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Monday, 5 July 2021

Zagreb Gay Pride 2021 Analysis: Issues Still Exist, Pride Celebrates History and Present Equality

July 5, 2021 - Gay rights in Croatia still have challenges ahead, but even if all problems are resolved, Pride should remain a commemorative event. A look at the history of gay culture in Croatia and the current climate in this Zagreb Gay Pride 2021 Analysis by TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac.

Zagreb Pride is the oldest pride in Croatia. First held in 2002, it attracts more and more people every year, from LGBTQ members, straight people that support gay rights to NGOs, human rights activists, and even politicians from the left and liberal specter. Over the years, the event grew from a one-day pride to Pride month, full of educational and entertaining events regarding LGBTQ issues and a chance for people with the same preferences to meet and celebrate who they are.

Pride month is marked in June in honor of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan.

„The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets, and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world“, reminds History.com.

When it comes to LGBTQ in Croatia, as you can expect with the ideological divide Croatians generally experience, there are mixed feelings on the issue.

From street violence to a family event  

Participating in the first Pride in 2002 required that if you are a man loving a man ready to openly admit it, you had to have balls.

The attacks by skinheads and other „morally concerned citizens were fierce and violent. Participants truly needed police protection which was provided but also needed to be careful to not get hit by the incoming rocks that were thrown among the participants.

skin_arrest.jpg

Police arresting violent skinhead at the first Zagreb Pride in 2002, screenshot / Zagreb pride

But, at least for Zagreb, the situation got better and more open. Today, pride is the forthcoming celebration of love and freedom, and entire families can be seen to join the picnic at Ribnjak park to teach their children tolerance and that people are not sick or different from others because of their sexual preference. Other larger cities in Croatia, such as Split, slowly but surely, do follow that path too, and Rijeka, the pinnacle of liberal Croatia, is also a very gay-friendly city.

Of course, a political counterstrike is expected and quite strong. The first most notable one was the 2013 referendum, where it was voted that the Croatian constitution declares marriage as a „community between a man and woman“. The goal was to deny LGBTQ couples the same rights as enjoyed by straight people.

However, the bill on life partnership outplayed that attempt.

In the meantime, LGBTQ couples can also adopt children in Croatia, as Constitutional Court concluded that gay couples fostering children is not against the Croatian Constitution.

That decision and along with the general openness of Croatia towards LGBTQ was followed by a controversial carnival in Imotski where an effigy of a gay couple was burned. President Zoran Milanović demanded an apology from the organizers, and SDP's MP Arsen Bauk filed charges against the organizers.

Counting pluses and minuses, the report on Croatia being the 39th best country for LGBTQ visitors still seems to uphold. No changes for the better, but at least Croatia is still in the top third for this category of tourists.

 Haters strike back

2020 and 2021 sadly saw the uprise of violence towards LGBTQ in the Croatian capital. Apart from the occasional tearing down or burning of the rainbow flag, Croatia was shocked with an attempt of burning a man in Maksimir Forest Park as well, with his sexual preference being the sole motive for the attack.

 On the other side, this year's pride felt to start stronger than ever. The newly elected mayor Tomislav Tomašević joined the parade, along with stating that Zagreb is a city that is open to everyone. This year arranged a bit differently to adhere to corona measures; around 2500 participated in the event.  

„Twenty of our prides made our city and our republic a better, more democratic, and joyous place for the life of all citizens“, was the main message of the 20th edition of Zagreb Pride.

As reported by Index.hr, the Zagreb Pride association representatives stated that the Croatian LGBTIQ community „became a powerful, responsible and self-aware part of the country, but that the fight isn't over“.

„Our constitution and our laws still do not include in a complete and fair way. Our streets and squares are still not free of hate. We didn't forget nor we will forget victims of homophobic and fascist rampage in this year and all previous years“, stated Zagreb Pride.  

Sadly, while Pride itself went without issues, participants of the pride who walked the streets of Zagreb after pride with rainbow flags faced a series of physical attacks on several locations in Zagreb.  

A week ahead of Pride, conservative MOST Party parliament member Nikola Grmoja complained that commercials displayed during EURO 2020 commercials were LGBTQ propaganda and that kids need to be protected from it and announced that he might include it in his anti-pedophile package. Grmoja's statement caused strong disagreements among the Croatian public, with several people (including celebrities) teasing him that if he wants to start battling pedophilia, he should start from church (as Grmoja is quite clerical). Božo Petrov, president of the MOST party, added more fuel to the fire when he supported Grmoja, stating that „minorities can't dictate what my children can learn in school“. He added that minorities need to be aware that they are minorities and that „we tolerate that," sparking more enrage from the public, with many comparing MOST to the controversial Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Zagreb Pride linked the post-Pride physical attacks with Petrov and Grmoja's public statements, and Petrov and Grmoja announced they would sue Zagreb Pride for slender.

 Nikola_Grmoja_lgbt_article.jpg

Nikola Grmoja, screenshot N1

The Law: "Gay is OK". Popular opinion: "Do it in your homes, not on the streets".

In this political escalation, what does the average Croatian think? Looking at the comments on social networks, it seems the majority of Croatians don't mind gays being gays and living how they like (even if they are not always happy with legal rights the LGBTQ community received). But, one sentiment in that „tolerance“ is particularly worrying.

„Live in your house however you want it. You don't have to wave around, like its a best thing ever“, said one of the online comments on Index.hr beneath the news on Petrov and Grmoja.

So it seems the public does not understand why Pride is important. First of all, as evident, the political climate is such that the battle for equality truly isn't over in Croatia, and Pride is the best way for the community to express what issues LGBTQ still face in Croatia. Additionally, pride month is also educational and supportive, and public presence show to other people who feel the same that they are not alone, as they might feel lonely and unable to find people who feel the same in everyday life.

zagreb_pride_fotka_druga.jpg

© Zagreb Pride

But, even if the law and constitution give the same rights and solves the problem of intolerance of LGBTQ people completely, does that mean that Pride should then be canceled? Well, Croatia won its independence and the war in the nineties. Does that mean we should stop commemorating the Homeland War? Or is it nice to honor and celebrate the victory and triumph over all obstacles Croatia had to face in its independence? Pride is a cultural, commemorative event honoring those who were or still are victims and oppressed for their sexual preference, either in Croatia or in the world. Croatia is a democratic country. Every group, national, ethnical, racial, religious, etc. should have the right to gather and honor its heroes. The right to gather and honor its tragedies and their dates and connect with other people who feel the same. If political elites are so concerned with keeping Croatians in Croatia, then they can't afford to discriminate or attack part of Croatian society solely based on their sexual preference. A preference that, unlike being violent or intolerable, can't be chosen.

Learn more about LGBT rights in Croatia and what LGBT tourists should know on our TC page.

For more about LGBT in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Court Grants Constitutional Complaint by Killed Migrant Girl's Family - Večernji List Daily

ZAGREB, 21 April, 2021 - A constitutional complaint by the parents and eight siblings of Afghan migrant girl Madine Hosseini, who died in 2017 after she fell under a train near the Croatian-Serbian border, regarding their application for protection in Croatia, has been granted, Večernji List daily said on Wednesday.

The Constitutional Court established that the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) and administrative courts did not establish with sufficient certainty that Serbia was a safe third country and that asylum seekers would not be at risk of being returned to their country of origin.

A complaint filed by the second wife of Madine's father and children has also been granted, so decisions of the High Administrative Court were quashed for a total of four adults and ten children aged one to 15 from Afghanistan and the case was returned to the Administrative Court in Osijek. All of them were represented by lawyer Sanja Bezbradica Jelavić.

After Madeine's death they were returned to Serbia, but in 2018 they re-entered Croatia and applied for international protection. The father and husband who filed the constitutional complaint said that the Taliban had threatened him because he had worked as a police officer and driver for the US military in Afghanistan, so in fear of them, since he had been wounded in one attack, he managed to flee with his family.

After they illegally entered Croatia, MUP rejected their asylum request by applying the safe third country institute. The explanation was that the Serbian constitution guaranteed fundamental human and minority rights.

Administrative courts also confirmed that Serbia's legal framework guaranteed an efficient and fair procedure of international protection, even from chain refoulement. The fact that they had not been exposed to inhumane or similar treatment in the year and a half they stayed in Serbia was also taken in to account.

However, the lawyer said that the evaluation of Serbia as a safe third country had not taken into account the fact that over the past 10 years refugee statuse had been granted to only 47 persons and subsidiary protection to 62, which was negligible in relation to the number of refugees.

The constitutional judges too ruled that it was not enough to examine the legal framework for asylum seekers but also the real situation, Večernji List said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The Serb National Council (SNV): Historical Revisionism, Hate Speech and Violence Against Ethnic Serbs in 2020

ZAGREB, 13 April, 2021 - The Serb National Council (SNV) presented its annual report on Tuesday, warning of cases of hate speech and violence targeting ethnic Serbs, including physical assaults, threats and property destruction, and expressing concern about a slow and inadequate reaction from the state authorities.

The SNV said that historical revisionism and views denying the legacy of the anti-fascist struggle during the Second World War were not rare and were mostly directed against the Serbs, resulting in hatred and violence.

SNV president Milorad Pupovac noted that the legislative framework included provisions that should prevent such manifestations, but they were not applied systematically and uniformly. He cited inconsistent court practice in the treatment of the Ustasha salute "For the Homeland Ready."

Pupovac said that the legislative changes were not sufficient if not supported by appropriate education and media policies. He said that other people too were targeted by hate speech and historical revisionism.

"Rudeness, intolerance and hatred are the three worrying types of discourse  when it comes to any differences, opposed views or identity. They can be stopped only if we fight for tolerance and discussion," Pupovac said.

The author of the report, Tihomir Ponoš, said that the findings were similar to those from previous years, but that the number of attacks was lower than in 2019, possibly partly due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A total of 214 cases of historical revisionism, hate speech and violence against Serbs were recorded in 2020, compared to 400 in 2019 and 381 to 2018.

The most frequent were insults and threats made against Serbs and Serb institutions in Croatia (50 cases), hate speech and ethnic intolerance in the media (3), ethnic intolerance and historical revisionism in statements by public figures (35), graffiti and insignia expressing hate speech and ethnic intolerance (30), physical assaults (21), hate speech and ethnic intolerance at sporting events (8), damaged or stolen property of individuals and Serb institutions (8), damaged or destroyed anti-fascist monuments (7), damaged or destroyed bilingual boards (3).

The SNV also expressed concern about a growing number of ethnic-based physical assaults in the eastern town of Vukovar, and the spraying of Ustasha insignia on the walls of public buildings and monuments.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

The Guardian: Croatian Police Accused of Sexually Abusing Afghan Woman

ZAGREB, 7 April, 2021 - A woman from Afghanistan claims that she was sexually abused by Croatian border police, and even held at knifepoint, after crossing the border, the Guardian said on Wednesday.

According to a dossier from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the incident occurred on 15 February, in Croatian territory, a few kilometres from the Bosnian city of Velika Kladuša, the British newspaper said.

In the report the woman said she tried to cross the border with a group of four others, including two children, but they were stopped by an officer who allegedly pointed a rifle at them.

The Afghans asked for asylum, at which one of the officers laughed, after which the woman was singled out for a search, the Guardian said, quoting her as saying that she insisted that he should not touch her because she was a woman and a Muslim, after which the officer slapped her.

The officer allegedly touched her breasts and behind, and ordered her to remove all her T-shirts, which she refused. The five migrants were then taken away in a police vehicle, after which the police again hit the Afghan woman, ordering her to strip naked and starting to sexually abuse her, at one point putting a knife to her throat.

The police physically assaulted other migrants from the group as well, and ordered them to walk back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Guardian said.

It added that the European Commission condemned this alleged act and called on the Croatian authorities to investigate all allegations and punish those responsible.

DRC secretary general Charlotte Slente was quoted as saying that despite the Commission’s engagement on the migrant issue on the Croatian border, there had been no progress in recent months either in investigations of reports of brutal treatment by police or in the development of independent border monitoring mechanisms.

According to the Guardian, the Croatian Interior Ministry said there were no recorded dealings with "females from the population of illegal migrants" on the day in question and that Croatian police, by saving the lives of hundreds of migrants from minefields, rivers and snow, showed not only an organised and professional approach in the protection of the state border but humanity as well.

The Interior Ministry says the Croatian police are persistently portrayed as brutal without a single piece of evidence and that illegal migrants, when they fail to cross the border, are ready to falsely accuse those same police of abuse, the Guardian said.

According to the DRC, since May 2019 almost 24,000 migrants have been illegally pushed back to Bosnia, including 547 between January and February 2021.

For more about violence against migrants in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

PM Andrej Plenković: "Decision to Return Child to Biological Family Was Bad"

ZAGREB, 7 April, 2021 - PM Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday, in a comment on the death of a 2.5-year-old girl caused by domestic violence, that the decision to return the child to its biological family was bad and that those who made it should bear the consequences, noting that social care did not require a separate ministry.

"I don't know why the proposal to separate social care from the 'mega-ministry' is being made," Plenković told reporters in the parliament.

He recalled that in 2013, during the term of the Zoran Milanović government, a case similar to the last one happened in Slavonski Brod, and at the time there was a separate ministry of social care.

When they lack arguments, people make banal, nonsensical statements, Plenković said, adding that Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy Minister Josip Aladrović was capable of heading the ministry because the ministry had its services, directors, state secretaries and social welfare centres across Croatia.

"In this specific case with a fatal outcome, the assessment and decision to return the little girl to her biological family was a bad one and for that kind of professional mistake responsibility lies with those who make it," he said.

Plenković went on to say that since the case of an incident on Pag Island in 2019, when a father threw his four underage children from the first-storey balcony of his house, a lot had changed in the social care system.

"During the terms of ministers (Nada) Murganić, (Vesna) Bedeković and now Minister Aladrović, we have worked to strengthen the system of social care. We have worked to raise social workers' wages as well as standards of physical and technical security, so now welfare centres have guards," he said.

The government has increased outlays for social care and allowances and it expects the system to function better and to the benefit of children, he said.

Unfortunately, there are problems, there are dysfunctional families, horrible things are done by biological parents but they will all answer for their actions in a legal procedure, Plenković said, adding that he was appalled and extremely saddened by the latest case.

Speaking of illogical provisions in the foster care law, adopted by his government, Plenković said that every legal solution could be improved.

It is important to speed up foster care procedures and that all children who live in environments that are not appropriate and not safe find a safe place to live. We will improve the law. There is always something to improve, he said.

AstraZeneca vaccine

Plenković also talked about a decision the European Medicines Agency is expected to make on the age groups for which the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is acceptable.

He said he would meet today with Health Minister Vili Beroš and the directors of the Croatian Institute of Public Health and the Croatian agency for medicinal products to discuss the information they had, and that later today Beroš would participate in a video conference of EU health ministers.

"The most important thing is that the member states' ministers of health have a consolidated position, whatever the EMA's recommendation, and that there are no different practices. Different practices undermine the reputation of a vaccine, whatever its quality, which has happened with AstraZeneca from the start, unfortunately."

Plenković said the confusion about that vaccine had resulted in some people refusing it, which was not pleasant either for the company or anyone involved in vaccination.

He also responded to criticism that he had promised that a majority of the Croatian population would be vaccinated by spring yet had now postponed this until July.

He said AstraZeneca had promised to deliver 120 million doses to the EU in the first quarter but delivered 30 million. Croatia was to have received 1.7 million doses by 31 March and vaccinated more than 800,000 people, he added.

Plenković said 600,000 doses had been delivered and that 2.6 million would be by 30 June, adding that the government was working on having other vaccines available in case of more problems with AstraZeneca.

"Had we ordered 100% from each company and paid for 25 million doses, then all questions would have been - whose money are we spending and why are we buying three or four times as many doses as we need?"

He said an unforeseen thing had happened, not with a no-name company but one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Central bank governor, fighter jets, former JANAF CEO's arrest

Asked if he had known about central bank governor Boris Vujčić's correspondence with representatives of the Knighthead fund concerning the Agrokor conglomerate, Plenković said the question should be put to Vujčić.

Speaking of the procurement of fighter jets, he said consultations were under way and that a decision would be made in time. All offers are valid and we'll take some more time to decide, he added.

Asked to comment on the new arrest of Dragan Kovačević, former CEO of the JANAF oil pipeline operator, Plenković said everything about it should be said by the USKOK anti-corruption office and the State Attorney's Office.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Amnesty International: Croatia Violent Towards Migrants, But Improves in Fighting Gender-Based Violence

ZAGREB, 7 April , 2021 - Amnesty International says in its report on human rights in 2020 that Croatia continued to be violent towards illegal migrants and that access to abortion was constrained, while commending improvements regarding gender-based violence and a ruling allowing same-sex couples to foster children.

"Aid organizations documented over 15,000 cases of pushbacks and collective expulsions, frequently accompanied by violence and abuse," AI says, singling out the case of 15 migrants allegedly beaten by police while being tied to a tree.

The Croatian Interior Ministry regularly denies allegations of migrant abuse.

Gender-based violence

"In January, legal amendments harmonizing the definition of rape in criminal legislation with international standards and increasing penalties for crimes of gender-based violence entered into force," AI says, adding that "the number of reported rape cases more than doubled" as the changes "significantly expanded the scope of the offence. Proceedings continued to be lengthy, lasting between three and five years."

"Due to the reclassification of domestic violence offences, the number of criminal prosecutions for such offences rose sharply. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, domestic violence continued to be treated as a minor offence attracting minor penalties. Police and courts remained reluctant to enforce protective measures," AI says.

Sexual and reproductive rights

"Women continued to face significant barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information," AI says.

"The widespread refusal of individual doctors and some clinics to perform abortions on grounds of conscience, as well as prohibitively high costs of services and poor regional coverage of authorized providers, presented an insurmountable obstacle to women of lower social economic status."

A new law on abortion was not adopted, AI says, although the "deadline to replace an outdated law set by the 2017 Constitutional Court ruling expired in February 2019."

Roma discrimination

"Roma continued to face discrimination in all walks of life, including education, health, housing and employment," AI says, adding that due to lack of electricity and the internet, "many Roma children were unable to access any remote learning during school closures, thereby further deepening educational gaps between Roma and non-Roma pupils."

Freedom of expression

"Journalists investigating corruption and organized crime continued to face threats and intimidation," AI says, adding that according to the Croatian Journalists’ Association, over 900 lawsuits were filed against journalists in 2020 for “violation of honour and reputation”.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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