Tag Archives: European Financial Stability Facility

EU to Greece: No More Solidarity If You Vote No

On the eve of perhaps the most significant vote in the Greek parliament since the return of democracy to the country in 1974, the European Commission has warned Greek deputies that if they do not vote the right way, then “everything changes” as to whether “EU solidarity continues”.

“The only way to avoid immediate default is for parliament to endorse the revised economic programme.”

Olli Rehn

The Greek parliament opened debate on Tuesday on a draconian package of public spending cuts, structural reforms and a massive €50 billion sell-off of state assets imposed by international lenders. The Greek parliament is due to vote on the mid-term package on Wednesday and hold a second vote on its implementation on Thursday.

In a stern public statement issued the same day, EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn said there are only two options for the country: pass the mid-term package or default, the EUobserver.com reports.

“The only way to avoid immediate default is for parliament to endorse the revised economic programme,” he writes in a communique to reporters, read  by his spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj-Tardio.

“To those who speculate about other options, let me say this clearly: there is no Plan B to avoid default.”

In recent weeks, a range of commentators, including mainstream and heterodox economists have recommended a range of other paths out of the crisis than those on the table.

The EU executive however dismissed such ideas as unrealistic.

“According to press reports over the last hours, there seems to be an illusion that there will be other plans on our desk,” Altafaj-Tardio says.

“This should be clear in all journalists, politicians and markets’ minds.”

Pressed whether the commissioner’s words meant that if the vote is defeated, Greece will be allowed to go bankrupt, the spokesman said: “If Greece does everything to take the objectives set a year ago, then EU solidarity continues. If not, then of course everything changes.”

He refuse to answer whether a country can default and still be a member of the eurozone.

“We are not putting ourselves in a scenario without Greece at this point in time,” he says.

However, a euro zone source close to talks on the subject confirmed toEUobserver that there are indeed “half-formed” ideas about emergency measures to take in the event that the Greek parliament votes down the measures.

“It would be extremely irresponsible if there were no Plan B. There have been discussions on what to do, a contingency plan in the event that Greece doesn’t vote the right way,” the source says.

Ideas include a show of public support, possibly with the European Financial Stability Fund directly purchasing Greek government debt – an option that has until now been forbidden.

One idea would involve allowing Greece to miss a payment and the EFSF then swooping in and buying up debt at a significantly discounted rate, but with very strict conditions, according to the EUobserver.com.

Another possibility is that Greece could return to the private sector for funding, although such a move would entail borrowing at acutely high rates.

A market analyst speaking to this website also confirmed that in theory, there is nothing preventing Athens from selling debt to private creditors, at least for a short period.

“In the event of a failed vote, Greece could still make the repayments due in July and August by borrowing in the short-term money market, albeit at a very steep interest rate,” Sony Kapoor, the director of international economic think-tank Re-Define, says.

“This would buy two more months of negotiation time.”

In the same statement, the commissioner again told opposition forces to drop their resistance to the mid-term package and forge “the necessary political consensus”.

Read the full post at EUobserver.com.

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EU: Drifting Towards Default, Destabilization And Disaster

Once again Satyajit Das at the eurointelligence.com presents us with an amazingly comprehensive in-depth analysis of the European debt crisis. Here’s the answers to everything you want to know, but are afraid to ask: How much money do Europe really need? What will happen to the major European economies if Greece is forced to restructure its finances? Who will suffer the biggest losses? And what will eventually be the final outcome?

“Having falsely linked the problem of over indebted states with the canards of the survival of the Euro and the Euro-zone itself, Europe is increasingly drifting towards an inevitable, disastrous and destabilizing debt crisis.”

Satyajit Das

You may not like what you read in this article. You may not agree with Mr. Das’ arguments and conclusions. But you can’t dispute the facts: EU need about 1,5 – 2,0 trillion euro to ensure a credible ability to bailout the embattled economies. Three or four times the amount of the newly established stabilizing mechanism (ESM). No euro-government will ever approve a bailout fund of that size.

Author, and former derivative trader,  Satyajit Das is a hard hitting analyst.

He doesn’t use gloves, no matter how unpleasant it may be, and there is no doubt about what he’s saying.

The message is crystal clear.

And – as demonstrated many times before – his analysis is based on an extraordinary in-depth research, rarely seen elsewhere.

In addition, Mr. Das seem to have a real “fingerspitzgeful” when it comes to understanding how ordinary people – those  most economists refer to as “consumers” – feel and behave in times like this. Also rare.

That makes his line of arguments rock solid and very difficult to oppose.

Here’s his latest publication, syndicated by www.eurointelligence.com:

A “Wagnerian” Drift to Default

In Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell memorably remarks that: “To lose one parent… may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” The Euro-zone’s need to rescue three of its members (Greece, Ireland and Portugal) with three others (Spain, Belgium and Italy) increasingly eyed with varying degrees of concern smacks of institutionalized incompetence.

In little over a year since the announcement of Greece’s debt problems, the European debt crisis has ebbed and flowed with markets oscillating between euphoria (resolution) and despair (default or restructuring).

The European Union’s (“EU”) “confidence boosting”, short term “liquidity enhancement” programs, unfortunately, have failed to resolve deep-seated structural problems.

The most recent concern about the peripheral countries was triggered by concern about Greece. Having repeatedly failed to meet economic targets prescribed by the EU, European Central Bank (“ECB”) and International Monetary Fund (“IMF”), Greece needs additional financing or a fresh bailout to meet its financial commitment.

An immediate concern was the suggestion that a further tranche of Euro 12 billion might be withheld making its impossible for Greece to meet its commitments to repay lenders on a maturing bond in mid-July.

The debate has several separate and conflicting dimensions.

The first is whether Greece can or will implement the required actions to rehabilitate its economy and finances at tremendous cost to its population. A related issue is whether the plan, entailing further austerity, will actually succeed.

The second is whether commercial lenders, who helped fuel Greece’s debt binge, should accept some losses, bearing some of the cost of the restoration of Greece’s finances.

The last is the cost of any default or major restructuring to Greece and the Euro-zone.

On the last two issues there are divisions between Germany (investors should take their share of losses) and France and the ECB (lenders should be spared to avoid financial Armageddon).

The same issues are relevant for all the other deeply troubled Euro-zone members.

While an immediate crisis may be avoided, the stage is now set for a slow, Wagnerian drift towards a future debt restructuring for some of these peripheral countries and a European banking crisis.

Greek interest rates of around 18% (for 10 years) and 30% (for 2 years), Irish and Portuguese rates of over 12-13% (for 2 years) and around 10% (for 10 years) testify to this trajectory.

Markets put the chance of a Greek default at 80 per cent chance. The chance for an Irish and Portuguese default is around 40-50 per cent.

Executed with Northern European creativity, charm, flexibility and humility and Mediterranean organization, leadership diligence and appetite for hard work, the European rescue plan – “the grand compact” – is failing.

Wrong Medicine

The EU response has relied on two mechanisms – the ECB and the European Financial Stability Fund (“EFSF“).

The ECB has financed the beleaguered countries by buying their bonds in the secondary market (around Euro 75 billion) and also by financing banks, against collateral of increasingly questionable quality such as Greek government bonds.

There are allegations that the ECB and other European central banks have also used the Euro-zone payments system to lend money (around Euro 300 billion) to the crisis-stricken members.

All this while the ECB has publicly been critical of banks, which are “addicted” to and substantially reliant on ECB financing.

The “temporary” EFSF due to terminate in 2013 proved poorly designed. Instead of the touted Euro 440 billion, the fund had only the ability to lend around Euro 250 billion, due to structural flaws.

The EFSF is now to be replaced by the “permanent” European Stability Mechanism (“ESM”) which will have lending capacity of Euro 500 billion, the originally proposed level.

The Euro 500 billion ESM facility too has deep structural flaws. It relies on a similar mechanism to the original EFSF to achieve its AAA rating – a system of separate guarantees and capital.

The Euro 500 billion fund is theoretically backed by Euro 80 billion in cash and Euro 620 billion in guarantees from Euro-zone members. The Euro 80 billion will only be provided over 5 years starting in 2013.

In part, this was a concession to member countries, including Germany, who were reluctantly politically to provide the cash except on deferred terms.

There is provision for speeding up payments into the funds if required, for example, by the need for additional bailouts.

The facility also provides for member countries to provide cash to support the ESM, where its credit rating falls below a specified threshold to reduce the performance risk.

As with the EFSF, the reliance on Euro-zone members guaranteeing each other is problematic.

Some of the guarantors are themselves are vulnerable with the real and contingent liabilities.

For example, every Euro 100 billion provided by the ESM increases Italy’s potential liabilities by Euro 18 billion, equivalent to 1% of the country’s GDP, and Germany’s potential liability by Euro 27 billion, also equivalent to 1% of GDP.

Drawings on the facility may result in a spiral of credit downgrades and cash calls.

For weaker guarantors, their financial position may be undermined, potentially encouraging them to withdraw from the ESM itself.

For stronger members, it places increased pressure on their support and weakens their credit rating and finances.

The position is made worse by the fact that non-common currency EU members may not be part of the new structure.

The UK has indicated that it will not be part of the ESM, depriving the Euro-Zone members of a significant source of funding and support (around 14% of the EFSF).

The ESM perpetuates existing and introduces new problems.

Access to the ESM funding requires unanimous agreement amongst the Euro-zone members.

The ESM can provide loans only where the country agrees to accept EU/ IMF prescriptions for reformation of public finances and the economy. It will lend to the troubled country or purchase its bonds in the primary market, but not in the secondary market.

Unlike the EFSF arrangement, ESM funding would be senior to existing government debt (a standard feature of IMF rescues and bankruptcy financing, which was surprising excluded in the initial bailout condition).

The ESM stipulates that restructuring is a requirement in the “unexpected” instance the government in question is determined to be “insolvent”.

In addition, from 2013, all future government bonds issued by Euro-zone nations will need to include collective action clauses (“CACs”), designed to make restructuring mandatory under certain conditions.

If the current financing pressures on the troubled economies continue, then the existing support mechanisms may be inadequate.

The countries, which have already sought bailouts, may need to seek additional support if commercial financing sources remain unavailable to them.

Maturing debt and projected budget deficits for Greece, Ireland and Portugal will require around Euro 300 billion in new funding between 2011 and 2013.

If Spain needs to resort to the EU Funding mechanism, then the ability to provide additional would be severely strained.

In reality, an EU support mechanism of something in the order of Euro 1.5-2.0 trillion would be needed to ensure a credible ability to bailout the embattled economies.

Some European Finance Ministers have already called for an increase in the ESM to Euro 1.5 trillion. At 3 to 4 times the existing arrangements, the political support for and economic viability of a facility of this size is unlikely.

At the same time, the terms of the ESM, especially the subordination of existing lenders to bailout funding and the mandatory Cas will increasingly force lenders and investors to avoid funding vulnerable countries.

In effect, this will ensure that the peripheral economies becoming increasingly dependent on EU support, triggering the negative spiral described.

Skin in the Game

The EU bailouts have always primarily focused on protecting European banks from the effects of a default by borrowers such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

In total, banks in Germany, France and the UK have exposures of over Euro 500 billion to these three countries.

If exposure to Spain is included, the total increases to around Euro 1 trillion. The position is complicated by complex cross-lending arrangements.

For example, banks in Spain, which may require support, have a Euro 70 billion exposure to Portugal and a Euro 13 billion exposure to Ireland.

Central to the European debt problems is the credit boom that took place following the introduction of the Euro.

Prior to monetary union in 1999, interest rates charged on loans to individual countries better reflected risk of loss – from currency movements and ability to repay debt.

The introduction of the Euro eliminated currency risk. Surprisingly, credit spreads fell sharply, reflecting a lack of differentiation between the credit quality of individual nations.

The mis-pricing of risk was driven by a belief that the entire Euro-zone was AAA rated because of the “implicit” support of Germany.

An additional factor was the fact under Basel 1 and to a lesser extent under Basel 2 banking regulations, lending to sovereign nations attracted favorable capital treatment.

The combination of these factors drove lending to the peripheral countries and their banks fueling large credit booms which are now unwinding.

Much of this debt – in the form of sovereign debt, lending to banks and also structured securities based on mortgage and corporate loans – is held by smaller banks in France and Germany.

If Greece, Ireland, Portugal and (ultimately) Spain have to restructure the debt, then these banks will suffer significant losses.

It is unclear whether banks, especially in Germany and France, have sufficient capital and reserves, to bear these losses.

The IMF’s bi-annual Financial Stability Report has consistently argued that the Eur-zone banks have not been recognized losses adequately.

The inadequate 2010 stress tests conducted by European central banks and the ECB did not countenance the prospect of a sovereign default in determining bank solvency.

There are suggestions that the underlying position of some European banks, especially German Landesbanks, is highly problematic.

Default or restructuring of European debt, in all probability, will require State involvement in recapitalizing these institutions.

In essence, attention will switch from bailouts of sovereign nations to bailing out affected national banks.

ECB Hurt Money

Default or restructuring would also affect the ECB, which holds around Euro 50 billion of Greek debt alone.

The ECB’s total exposure to Greece, including lending to Greek banks and loans against Greek government bonds, is much higher – Euro 130-140 billion.

If Greece defaults, then the ECB could suffer losses as high as Euro 65-70 billion (say 50% of the amount advanced).

The losses would almost certainly require recapitalization of the ECB itself by Euro-zone members.

As at 1 January 2011, the ECB had paid up capital of Euro 5.2 billion (due to be increased progressively to Euro 10.8 billion). The ECB is owned by the 17 euro-zone central banks with the combined capital of around Euro 80 billion.

The ECB’s position on whether peripheral countries like Greece should be allowed to default increasingly appears to be complicated by its own vulnerable financial position.

When Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, an Italian board member, stated that a Greek debt restructuring would be “suicide” he may have been referring to the ECB.

Statements about Anglo-Saxon “vested interests” seeking the restructuring of Greek debt are now matched by the ECB’s “self interest” in avoiding the same.

Grand Confusions

The deeply flawed European strategy entailed providing financing to meet maturing debt and budget deficits at a time when markets were not open to the borrower or, at least, at reasonable rates.

The EU/ ECB/ IMF funding would reduce borrowing costs to alleviate the pressure on public finances.

The “temporary” measures would provide the country with the opportunity to reform its public finances and economy to make its debt burden more manageable.

In time, the measures would allow the borrower to regain the confidence of commercial lenders and regain access to markets.

As a corollary, banks would be able to build up reserves and capital against the possibility of some modest write-off as a result of some “minor” restructuring of debt, in the unlikely event that this was required.

Unfortunately, the premise that it was a “liquidity” rather than a “solvency” problem was incorrect.

In reality, markets understood that the EU bailouts were a “get-out-of-jail” pass for poor lending decisions.

There was no way that any of these nations would ever be able to service or repay current and projected levels of borrowing.

The EU facility provided a means for the distressed nations to repay maturing debt and finance their deficits.

In effect, the EU and official bodies have replaced commercial lenders as debt providers.

The bailout plan did not lower the nation’s interest costs or their access to markets.

Interest rates on borrowing for Greece and Ireland are higher now than at the time of their bailouts.

Despite the likelihood of EU support, Portugal’s cost of funds is unsustainable high. Spain and other countries, such Italy and Belgium, seen as vulnerable by investors have seen their borrowing costs rise inexorably.

The bailouts have made its less not more likely that these countries will regain access to markets in the near future.

As existing debts mature, the funding provided official sources, the EU, ECB and IMF, is increasing.

As these countries need additional financing, the absence of private financing will increase this proportion even further, leaving them to bear the bulk of losses in any restructuring.

The lack of confidence reflects the failure of the rehabilitation plans and the continued unsuitability of the debt levels of these countries.

The lack of economic growth and deteriorating public finances is not likely to reversed soon.

Even in the most optimistic scenarios, gross public debt in the most troubled economies will continue to increase as continued budget deficits will require financing.

Greece’s debt to GDP is likely to stabilize at around 160-180% around 2014/ 2015.

Ireland, Portugal and Spain’s debt to GDP will reach 125-140%, 100-115% and 85-100% over the same period.

Italy and Belgium already have debt to GDP ratios above 100%, but their budget deficits are lower and they are less dependent of foreign investors.

Italy, burdened with very high levels of debt and low growth, has recently been placed on “negative” credit-watch by Rating agencies.

Even at subsidized interest rates, the debt burden for Greece, Ireland and Portugal looks unsustainable, rendering the countries insolvent.

Spain’s position is better, but problems in the country’s banking sector as the property boom unwinds would strain its finances significantly.

Slower than forecast global growth would place even greater pressure on all these countries.

These concerns about solvency will drive the lack of access to private financing, especially post 2013 because of the subordination provision and the mandatory inclusion of CACs.

The failure of the grand compact will increase pressure to ultimately restructure debt in some form at some stage.

Backsliding

In the near term, the EU and Euro-zone members are likely to persist with the failed strategy.

Portugal’s bailout package will be financed by the EU, EFSF and IMF. Further funding needs will be accommodated as they emerge from the existing facilities as much as possible, until these are exhausted.

The ECB will continue to support the bailout plans.

German insistence on commercial lenders sharing some of the burden has wavered.

Instead a fuzzy idea of a “voluntary” commitment of existing lenders to re-finance existing, maturing debt is now under discussion.

Over time, the palpable failure of the bailout strategy will progressively be revealed.

Pressure will emerge to improve the term of the bailout package.

Already, Greece has received reductions in interest rates on bailout funding and some extension in the terms of the financing.

The need to provide additional funding to Greece of around Euro 120 billion is already under discussion.

In all probability, some deal will be done to provide the funds, against Greek promises that cannot and will not be met.

There will be more and more of the same, in a desperate effort to avoid default or restructuring.

In the end, default or restructuring will become inevitable.

Initially, minor changes, such as lowering coupons and extending maturities, perhaps as part of debt swaps, will be sought to manage the problem.

Ultimately, a major restructuring, involving a significant write off of outstanding debt is likely.

This is the case for Greece and perhaps the other peripheral countries.

Such defaults would be the first by a developed countries since 1948.

As most of the debt is issued under local law, a swift restructuring is feasible by the agreement of a simple majority or super majority (say 2/3rd of lenders).

Based on history, a loss of around 30-70% of the face value of obligations is expected. The longer the time taken over the process, the greater the likely losses to holders of the obligations.

The reason being that unless the debt burden is reduced early, continuing high servicing costs and deficits will continue to increase the level of write off necessitated to restore solvency.

A Matter of Political Classes

European decision making increasingly echoes Shakepeare’s Richard II’s lament:

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”

The EU and major Euro-zone members, notably Germany and France, lack the political courage or will to tackle the problem.

The absence of an “easy” and “painless” solution means that career politicians and Euro-crats see no benefit in advocating the complex and messy process of default and restructuring.

European leaders dissemble that the debt crisis was the result of traders and financial markets.

  • Anders Borg, Sweden’s finance minister spoke of “wolf-pack markets”.
  • José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain’s Prime Minister, blamed “cynical hedge funds”, “cocky credit-ratings agencies” and “neoconservative capitalism”.
  • Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou accused traders of visiting “psychological terror” on his country.
  • Michel Barnier, the European commissioner for the single market. accused financial institutions of “making money on the back of the unhappiness of the people”.
  • Mr. Zapatero also found fault with a duplicitous Anglo-Saxon press.

In short, it seems anybody but the Europeans are to blame.

Cognitive dissonance looms large.

Increasingly, the trajectory of the crisis is driven by political considerations.

The denouement to the European debt crisis, probably some way off, will come via by the “street” or the ballot box.

In the afflicted nations, public protests and disturbances are increasing as the populace rejects greater austerity.

Populist politicians, willing to reject the need for further “sacrifice” and repudiate the country’s debt, hover in the wings.

The argument that the country will be an international “financial pariah” don’t carry much weight when you are already one with no one likely to lend you money any time soon.

It also has less weight when you don’t have a job and the country is on the brink of social breakdown.

For the countries that must provide the bulk of the bailout money, there is angst that the increased level of financing required by the problem borrowers has turned the EU into a “transfer union”.

Karl Otto Pöhl, the former head of the Bundesbank, stated that:

“The foundation of the euro has fundamentally changed as a result of the decision by euro-zone governments to transform themselves into a transfer union. That is a violation of every rule. In the treaties governing the functioning of the European Union, it explicitly states that no country is liable for the debts of any other. But what we are doing right now, is exactly that. Added to this is the fact that, against all its vows, and against an explicit ban within its own constitution, the European Central Bank (ECB) has become involved in financing states”.

The lack of decisive and timely action has allowed smaller political parties to gain momentum.

Parties like Finland’s True Finns and France’s Far Right, rejuvenated under the leadership of Marine le Pen, have gained electorally on a policy platform of a mix of rejecting bailouts, nationalism, anti-immigration and other sundry forms of xenophobia.

Discontented and angry voters in Germany and other saving nations will at some stage also decide to call time on the fruitless and self-defeating support for the overly indebted Euro-zone members.

Having falsely linked the problem of over indebted states with the canards of the survival of the Euro and the Euro-zone itself, Europe is increasingly drifting towards an inevitable, disastrous and destabilizing debt crisis.

Rather than amputating a gangrenous limb, European leaders risk poisoning the entire body fatally – weakening the financial positions of the stronger Euro-zone members and their economies, which are paying for the bailout and will suffer the losses when the inevitable defaults come.

The effect on wider money markets and the global economy of any defaults is unpredictable.

Depending on the quantum of losses and the recapitalization requirements, the event could create concerns about affected Euro-zone banks, providing a channel for contagion in financial market.

This could destabilize markets, transmitting the shock through high cost and reduced availability of financing, in a manner similar to what happened after the bankruptcy filing by Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Satyajit Das is author of Extreme Money: The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk (due to be published in August 2011).

See also Mr. Das’ 3-part analysis, published in February 2011:

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Problems Mounts as EU Leaders Gather in Brussels – Again

The heads of EU states and governments will start this weekends Summit by discussing economic issues, naturally. Libya is also on the agenda as news reports claims that the protesters are in fact power-hungry terrorists, and the roundtable is expected to announce their official candidate as new chief of the European Central Bank.

Economic matters, migration, the EU’s Southern Neighborhood and Croatia’s accession to the EU are the main themes of the European Council meeting in Brussels on 23-24 June.

They will take stock of the progress achieved on the six legislative proposals on economic governance, the amendment to the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility) and on the future ESM (European Stability Mechanism), which are part of the EU’s comprehensive response to the sovereign debt crisis.

The leaders are expected to conclude the first European Semester (the annual monitoring of budgetary policies and structural reforms undertaken by the member states), nominate Mr Mario Draghi as the future President of the European Central Bank and discuss recent developments in the euro zone.

On Friday the European Council will assess implementation of migration policies and will discuss developments in the southern Mediterranean, focusing on Libya, Syria and the Middle East peace process.

The European Council is also expected to call for accession negotiations with Croatia to be concluded by the end of June.

We can expect the EU leaders to spend most time discussing the recent bailout facility.

It’s probably not a coincidence that both EU President Barrose and EU Council President Van Rompuy meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban before the roundtable meeting.

The Hungarians have been one of the critics of Brussels amongst the peripheral EU states who fear the dominance of the political elite in Germany, France and Belgium.

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1st collector for EU Tops Meet With Hungarian Leader
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Opening Statement by Herman Van Rompuy

“I welcome everybody to this meeting of the European Council. And in particular our two new colleagues, Jyrki Katainen from Finland and Pedro Passos Coelho from Portugal. Welcome!”

“We have important work ahead. First we will talk about the European semester, fiscal consolidation, economic growth and jobs. Later on, we will talk about the current problems in the Euro zone, to put it mildly.”

“Tomorrow we will discuss first asylum and migration and at lunch time the Southern Neighbourhood and the Middle East. So let’s get started.”

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Russia Today reports Friday that increasing casualties amongst civilian  have raised serious misgivings about NATO intervention in Libya, even among supporters of the ongoing aerial campaign.

And while the international community is taking sides in the conflict, it is the Libyan people who suffer most.

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“Rebels” are power-hungry terrorists, say Libya… via williambowles.info
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