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Cubans lured to Russian army by high pay and passports

Russia has likely been recruiting Cuban nationals to fight in its army in Ukraine, research by the BBC has shown. In September and October 2023, passport details belonging to over 200 Cubans who allegedly joined the Russian army were leaked online by a pro-Ukrainian platform called InformNapalm. The passport details were obtained, the site said, by hacking the emails of a Russian military recruitment officer in Tula, south of Moscow. A Facebook search has shown that 31 of the names mentioned in the Ukrainian leak match accounts whose owners appear to be in Russia or linked to the Russian army. Some, for instance, have posted photos of themselves wearing Russian military uniform, or in locations that bear Russian street signs or Russian number plates. Others list Russia as their current place of residence. Many of those Facebook users started posting Russia-related content in August 2023, indicating when they might have arrived in the country. Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has suffered heavy losses on the battlefield. A BBC investigation confirmed the names of more than 50,000 Russian troops killed in Ukraine – but the real number is likely to be much higher. Ukraine’s own estimate puts the number of Russian soldiers killed or wounded in the war at 500,000. Recruiting foreigners to replace some of the losses also helps the Kremlin avoid the risks posed by trying to mobilise Russians by force. When Russia declared a partial mobilisation in 2022, hundreds of thousands of men left the country. Bringing Cubans into Russia is relatively straightforward. The two countries have been allies since the Cold War, Cubans do not need a visa to travel to Russia and direct flights to Moscow make the trip easier. Meanwhile, lucrative army contracts offered by Russia appeal to Cuban men desperate to escape the worsening economic crisis on the US-sanctioned island. Documents leaked online and media reports suggest Cuban men are offered monthly payments in the region of $2,000 (£1,600) per month – a huge sum for Cuba, where the average monthly salary is under $35 (£28). The promise of Russian citizenship may also entice some Cubans. Since the start of its war against Ukraine, Moscow has been taking steps to make it significantly easier for foreigners to obtain Russian citizenship after spending time in the army, and the BBC has seen social media posts suggesting that some Cuban fighters received Russian passports within months of signing up. A Russian passport allows visa-free travel to 117 destinations, while Cuban passport holders are limited to 61. A local media outlet in the city of Ryazan, near Moscow, appeared to corroborate this theory last year when it published photos of new Cuban recruits signing contracts with the Russian army. The Cubans wanted to “help our country achieve the objectives the special military operation”, it reported, adding that “some of them would like to become Russian citizens in the future”. But finding a reliable estimate of the number of Cubans that have joined the Russian ranks is difficult. Ukraine’s diplomatic envoy for Latin America and the Caribbean, Ruslan Spirin, put the number at 400 in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. One Cuban officer in Russia, Lázaro Gonzalez, told an exiled anti-government radio station that 90 Cubans were serving under his command. According to him, they were likely to be deployed to already occupied parts of eastern Ukraine rather than frontline positions. “As the Russian army occupies areas in Ukraine, what we Cubans do is support the army in those cities and in those areas that are occupied, that’s all,” Mr Gonzalez told the Miami-based radio station. Numerous reports suggest Cubans have often joined the Russian army after coming into contact with recruiters on social media, but that not all of them appeared aware of the real nature of the job on offer. A popular Cuban YouTube content creator told a story last year of two 19-year-olds from Cuba who claimed they had been offered construction jobs in Russia, but were instead sent to the front line in Ukraine. Their case reflects the experiences of other foreigners who told the BBC they were lured to Russia by the promise of higher salaries – only to end up on the battlefield. Read more from Vitaly: Russia blamed for GPS interference For their part, Cuban authorities have issued conflicting statements on their citizens’ involvement in the Ukraine war. Following a flurry of reporting in September 2023 about Cubans fighting in Ukraine, authorities in Havana said they had arrested 17 people involved in their recruitment. However, soon afterwards, Cuba’s ambassador to Russia, Julio Antonio Garmendía Peña, said his government had nothing against Cubans who wanted to “simply sign a contract and legally take part in this operation alongside the Russian army”. Hours later, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said Havana was against “the participation of Cuban citizens in conflicts of any sort”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities have said they have seen an increase in the number of foreign fighters joining Russian forces in recent months, as well as foreigners among the soldiers the Ukrainian army has captured on the battlefield. Petro Yatsenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s agency for prisoners of war, told the BBC many of them came from low-income countries such as Cuba, India and Nepal, as well as African and Central Asian states. “Every week we capture up to five persons from foreign countries on the frontline as prisoners of war,” he said. Their skills as fighters were low, he added, which meant their life expectancy on the battlefield was not even days, but hours.

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No positive progress in Gaza truce talks

No positive progress has been made in the Gaza truce talks on Saturday, a source from the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) said, reported Xinhua. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Xinhua that the negotiations encountered challenges due to Israel’s insistence on not committing to a (permanent) ceasefire. Hamas demanded in the deal an Israeli pullout from Gaza and a complete end to the conflict, conditions that Israel has been rejecting. An earlier report from Al Arabiya News channel said Hamas had agreed to release 33 hostages, instead of the initial 20, in the first phase of the ceasefire deal, as required by Israel. Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo Saturday to meet the Egyptian mediators on a possible Gaza truce that would see the return to Israel of some hostages.

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Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews is available for Game 7 with Bruins after sitting last 2 games

BOSTON (AP) — Toronto Maple Leafs star and NHL goal-scoring leader Auston Matthews is available for their Game 7 matchup with the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. Matthews missed the last two games while dealing with an unspecified illness and had just four shots combined in Games 3 and 4. He had the Game 2 winner for the Maples Leafs, who are tied with Boston 3-3 in the first-round series. Matthews scored 69 goals during the season. Toronto also announced that goalie Joseph Woll will not play in Game 7 due to an injury sustained in Game 6. Ilya Samsonov will get the nod between the pipes in his place. Samsonov started the first four games of the series when Toronto fell into a 3-1 hole and was outscored 12-6. He was pulled by coach Sheldon Keefe in the second period of Game 4 after he surrendered three goals on just 17 shots. Woll started Games 5 and 6, yielding only two goals. The Maple Leafs are meeting the rival Bruins in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in seven years. The Bruins won the previous two showdowns. Toronto enters 12-14 all-time in Game 7s. Boston is 15-15. The Maple Leafs outscored the Bruins 4-2 in wins in Games 5 and 6. ___ AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

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‘Unprecedented’ demand for rain barrels in Calgary leads to shortage

As Calgarians prepare for possible water restrictions this summer, the city is facing a rain barrel shortage. People lined up Saturday morning in the parking lot of the Dalhousie Co-op at a Green Calgary rain barrel sale. The sale wasn’t schedule to start until 10 a.m., but some people were there at 6 a.m. determined to go home with a much coveted barrel. For those who came later, the hefty demand rained on their parade. They went away empty handed and on waiting list. “With the forecast for a drought and very little rain this summer, I thought I’ll do what I can and come get a rain barrel, but I was too late,” said Calgary resident Rowena Campbell, who added she’s now on a waiting list. “I would say the demand for rain barrels this year is unprecedented,” said Lex van der Raadt, executive director of Green Calgary. Sale organizers had definitely anticipated an increase in demand, van der Raadt said. “But we didn’t anticipate as high of an increase as there is. I think a lot of that is that people are concerned about drought and we don’t know what water restrictions are going to look like.” Green Calgary said it will have some additional sales coming in May. With no sign of sales drying up, van der Raadt said Green Calgary is working with the City of Calgary and has ordered barrels from Ontario for the first time. “Ours need to be constructed so we do that throughout April May, and June and that’s still ongoing,” van der Raadt explained. “The city is helping us get extra raw product to construct them. Then we also have ones that are pre-constructed that are coming from another company that does bigger sales than we do and they’re going to bring them in from Ontario.” The Green Calgary rain barrels have been used for food products that have been upcycled as rain barrels. On Saturday, some old rain barrels got an extended life as people brought them in to the Dalhousie parking lot for repair. “I don’t want to throw this in the landfill,” said Doug Borras, who was happy to get his 30-year-old rain barrel fixed. The man doing the repair work on Saturday was Dirk Struck, who is better known as Calgary’s barrel man. He’s been converting food grade barrels into rain barrels designed specifically to handle the prairie climate for 25 years, but he said he’s never been this busy repairing or supplying. “Our forefathers have always done this, conserving water,” Struck said. “It’s really nice to see this. You can’t go wrong with water that comes from the sky.” Green Calgary is hopeful that everyone who wants a rain barrel this year will get one. “The city of Calgary is really dedicated to trying to make sure everyone who wants a barrel will get one by the end of June,” van der Raadt said.

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Walker Art Center’s Keith Haring exhibit lives up to its title: ‘Art Is For Everybody’

“Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody” is a particularly apt name for the new traveling exhibition of the late artist’s work, which is on display through Sept. 8 at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. “Those are his words,” said his sister Kristen Haring, who visited Minnesota for the opening. “It’s not just a marketing ploy. It’s a common phrase in Keith’s journals. One of his goals was to be accessible.” The retrospective features more than 100 works and rarely seen archival materials from the artist, who died at the age of 31 from AIDS related complications in 1990. It includes major paintings, sculptures, drawings, video, photographs and source material from Haring’s personal journals. A Pennsylvania native, Haring rose to fame thanks to the chalk graffiti he drew in New York City subways and while he went on to earn top dollar for his paintings, the prolific artist made his work widely available. Between 1982 and 1989, he produced more than 50 public artworks, many created voluntarily for hospitals, day cares and schools. After Haring stopped his graffiti work — largely because people were taking them and selling them — he opened the Pop Shop, a small retail shop in Soho that sold his art at reasonable prices along with his imagery on everything from t-shirts to buttons to skateboards. As he once told the New York Times: “I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art.” Haring’s father taught him how to draw Kristen Haring, who is on the board of the Keith Haring Foundation, is the youngest of Haring’s three sisters. He was 12 years old when she was born and he took her under his wing. Growing up in what Kristen called a lower-middle class home, the pair shared a room. “When I was born, he was just starting to make his own identity and break from the family,” she said. “I had no preconceived notion of who he was, that’s how he explained it to me. He was always showing me new things and teaching me new things. We spent a lot of time together. He’d take me in my stroller to the public library. And we continued to maintain a relationship after he moved to New York.” Without much disposable income, Keith’s father entertained him and his sisters by playing games based on drawing. “They would draw on the newspaper with crayons and draw on scrap paper. They used to practice drawing together. My father would say ‘How close can you get to drawing a perfect circle?’ or ‘Close your eyes and try drawing something,’ ” Kristen said. He moved like a dancer Haring’s work can come across as simplistic, but the exhibit crucially includes video footage of him at work. He did not sketch in advance, but instead would draw a border and then create with a free hand, using paint, chalk, marker and other media. He also worked quickly, translating the image from his head onto the canvas in front of him. “To see him in motion … I think he moves his body almost the way a dancer does,” Kristen said. “He could paint a three-foot diameter circle in one sweep of his arm. I have heard people who are in the arts say there’s something very special about the quality of his line and the way he could draw like that.” Dancing figures, barking dogs and crawling babies are among the recurring motifs in Haring’s most famous work, but he also addressed any number of societal issues, from environmentalism to religion to race. He was active in the nuclear disarmament and anti-Apartheid movements as well as the HIV/AIDS crisis, which became especially personal after he was diagnosed with HIV in 1987 and AIDS the following year. “If you look at his artwork through the lens of 2024, you would think he was always out (of the closet),” Kristen said. “He wasn’t always out. Outside of a limited circle, he did not have — nor did other queer people have — the space and safety to say he was gay. It really was HIV/AIDS that made him finally take the stance that someone’s got to say something.” “Art Is for Everybody” includes public service posters he created for National Coming Out Day and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), the grassroots political group that worked to end the AIDS pandemic. “He was not just doing drawings for ACT UP, he was at the meetings, at the rallies, writing letters and giving money. When he said in an interview with Rolling Stone that he was HIV positive, he had friends who stopped calling him. It took guts and not everyone stood up and responded to him in the most gracious way,” Kristen said. The Walker made an impact on Haring The exhibit acts as a sort of homecoming for Haring, as the Walker commissioned him for a residency in 1984. At that point in his career, his work was in galleries in New York, Europe and Japan. Almost all were commercial venues. The Walker residency changed that. “It was the first time he was received by an institution on American soil and it meant so much to him to be taken seriously in his own country,” Kristen said. “After he visited the Walker, he kept talking about it to me with a magical quality. That visit made a real impact on him.” Kristen said her brother had a wonderful spirit and presence. Prior to his death, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, which controls and licenses his work. It has also given away nearly 50 million dollars, with a dual focus on helping to enrich the lives of underprivileged children and supporting organizations that engage in HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care. “He wasn’t a saint and I don’t mean to be unrealistic about the fact he was a complete human being, but he had an amazing energy and real warmth. He was very present. And when he was a 31-year-old who was staring death in the face, he decided the way he wanted to leave the world was by continuing to do charitable projects.” ‘Keith Haring: Art Is for Everybody’ When: Through Sept. 8 Where: Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Mpls. Tickets: $18 More info: 612-375-7600 or walkerart.org

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Arvinder Lovely leads four rebels to BJP, NCP loses city head to Congress

In a significant turn of events for Delhi’s politics just weeks before the city votes in the Lok Sabha polls, former Delhi Congress president Arvinder Singh Lovely and four other rebel leaders joined the BJP on Saturday. This comes days after Lovely quit as state chief on April 28. He had said then: “At the moment, I am not going anywhere, not joining any party. I will, however, discuss the matter with the party members to decide my next step.” The others exited over the last 10 days. They blamed the Congress alliance with AAP and the decision to field “outsiders” Kanhaiya Kumar and Udit Raj from the Northeast and Northwest Lok Sabha seats, respectively. On the other hand, former Delhi Assembly Speaker Yoganand Shastri returned to the Congress. Lovely, former Delhi Minister Raj Kumar Chahuan, ex-MLAs Neeraj Basoya, Naseeb Singh and former Delhi Youth Congress president Amit Malik were welcomed into the BJP by Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, BJP general secretary Vinod Tawde, and Delhi BJP chief Virendra Sachdeva. “I joined the Congress at the age of 18, when Indira (Gandhi) ji had famously said ‘Mere khoon ka katra katra desh ke liye hai (Each drop of my blood is dedicated to the nation)’; today katra katra has been replaced by tukde tukde,” Lovely told The Indian Express, taking a swipe at Kanhaiya Kumar. “BJP has declared its (Lok Sabha) candidates; I have not come for a ticket or the post of minister. I do not care about gaining or losing anything. I rejoined the BJP with more clarity than last time in support of the nationalist cause, come what may,” he added. Speaking at the event, Lovely pledged “contribution to the nation’s development and the fight against corruption in Delhi” and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi “gave us an opportunity when we were politically lost”. This is the second time that Lovely, Chauhan and Malik have joined the BJP; all three previously spent periods ranging from eight months to a year with it between 2017 and 2018. What are BJP’s plans for Lovely? BJP sources said the former Congress leaders were being viewed as potential candidates for the 2025 Delhi Assembly polls; Lovely, a political strongman from East Delhi, however, would have “additional responsibilities” as its Sikh face. “He had left (the BJP) due to issues with a few junior leaders in Delhi but that will not be a problem this time; we have larger plans for him. Lovely will be the face of our trust in Sikh-led governance and experience with administration,” a senior BJP leader said. Lovely’s resignation as Delhi Congress chief came a day after over a thousand members of the Sikh community were inducted into the BJP in national president JP Nadda’s presence. Lovely met Nadda after his induction. “He (Lovely) is our solution to exit the limitations of gurdwara politics which Sikh representation has been limited to in Delhi. He will also elevate our pitch against the Congress on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, particularly targetting the Congress’s ‘Nyay guarantee’ in the context of riot victims.,” the leader added. Reacting, interim Delhi Congress chief Devender Yadav called Lovely “an opportunist” while a senior Delhi Congress leader alleged he had “joined the BJP under pressure” in relation to “old criminal cases against him”. Meanwhile, 81-year-old Shastri, a former Assembly Speaker and three-time MLA considered a close aide of former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, returned to the Congress three years after he joined the Nationalist Congress Party as its Delhi president in 2021. “This is not ‘ghar wapsi’. I was in the next house to this one. both homes have almost the same principles and beliefs. it is everyone’s duty to fight the evil forces seeking to break the country. trying to do Hindu-Muslim to get the vote of the majority is disgusting,” Shastri said.

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Hamas, Qatar teams reach Cairo for talks on Gaza deal: Sources

Cairo, May 5 (IANS/DPA) Teams from the Palestinian militant group Hamas and mediator Qatar have arrived in the Egyptian capital for further talks on a ceasefire and hostage release deal with Israel, sources at the Cairo airport said. Both teams arrived aboard a flight from Qatar on Saturday, they added. Egypt’s state-affiliated broadcaster al-Qahera News also reported the arrival of a Hamas delegation in Cairo and cited “significant progress” in negotiations to reach the deal. The broadcaster, citing what it termed as a high-level source, said the Egyptian security team engaged in the negotiations had reached a “consensus formula” on several contentious issues. No specific details were given. Israel, meanwhile, is reportedly not sending a team to Cairo. A delegation will only be sent to Egypt once Hamas has responded to the current proposed ceasefire agreement, Israel’s Kan radio reported on Saturday, citing a government representative. Israel plans to send a delegation to continue indirect negotiations with Hamas if the militant organization agrees to the draft deal presented, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted a high-ranking Israeli official as saying. Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip from the ground and air since Hamas militants launched an unprecedented attack on Israel in October that left about 1,200 people dead. As part of the latest mediation efforts, Hamas, which abducted some 250 people from Israel on October 7, was presented with a proposal for a ceasefire in return for the release of remaining hostages. A response is still pending. More than 100 hostages were released during a six-day truce in November. It is unclear how many of those remaining in captivity are still alive. As of Friday, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry said the death toll in Gaza from Israeli attacks launched in response to the October 7 attacks stood at 34,622. Months of mediation by Egypt, Qatar and the United States in indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas have yet to result in a breakthrough. A diplomatic push to clinch a deal has picked momentum over the past few days. Late Friday evening, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at an event in Arizona that it was challenging to understand Hamas’ thought process. “The leaders of Hamas that we’re indirectly engaged with through the Qataris, through the Egyptians, are of course living outside of Gaza, living in Qatar or living in [Turkey], other places, and the ultimate decision-makers are the folks who are actually in Gaza itself with whom none of us have direct contact,” he said. Blinken said if Hamas was really concerned about the well-being of the Palestinians, then agreeing to the ceasefire deal that is on the table should be a “no-brainer.” On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it carried out an airstrike on a rocket launch site in the southern Gaza Strip. Fighter jets hit the militant site near the city of Khan Younis after a rocket was fired from there toward the Ein HaShlosha kibbutz on Friday, the IDF said. A mortar launching site in central Gaza was also destroyed, a statement said. The Israeli navy has also conducted strikes along Gaza’s coast over the past day. According to Palestinian security services, the Israeli army attacked a building in the village of Abasan in the east of Khan Younis and shelled refugee camps in the central part of the Palestinian territory. It said at least one Palestinian was killed in the Israeli navy strikes. –IANS/DPA sha

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Orthodox Russians mark Easter with night-time service in Moscow cathedral

MOSCOW — Worshippers including President Vladimir Putin packed Moscow’s landmark Christ the Savior Cathedral for a night-time Easter service led by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an outspoken supporter of the Kremlin. The traditional sung service begun late Saturday, with Kirill delivering well-wishes to Orthodox believers which were broadcast on Russian TV. A procession of white-robed clergy then circled the vast cathedral, rebuilt in post-Soviet times and widely seen as symbolic of Russia’s rejection of its atheist past, as they swung smoking incense censers and chanted the liturgy. Most Western churches observed Easter on March 31, but the Russian Orthodox Church follows a different calendar. In his Easter address, Kirill wished for “God’s blessing over Russia,” its people and all countries where the church has a presence. In a written message published earlier on Saturday on the church’s website, Kirill noted that “awareness of God’s love … gives us strength to overcome the most difficult mental states and difficult circumstances, elevates us above the bustle of everyday life, helps correct previous mistakes and destroys despondency.” The patriarch this year appeared to steer clear from political pronouncements, unlike last April when he lamented “grave events taking place on our Russian historical land,” referencing Moscow’s military actions in Ukraine and reinforcing the Kremlin’s narrative that Ukrainian statehood is essentially a fiction. The service, featuring a mixed-voice choir and standing worshippers holding thin red candles, was set to extend well into Sunday. Putin was shown among the worshippers, standing next to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin as the two joined in the traditional Easter greetings. The Russian leader was later seen exchanging festive gifts with Kirill. Earlier on Saturday, Orthodox Russians headed to churches to have baskets of festive foods, including hand-painted eggs and traditional Easter cakes, blessed by a priest. Putin has been eager to portray himself as defending “traditional values” espoused by the Russian Orthodox Church in the face of what he repeatedly casts as the West’s “degrading” influence. The country has increasingly taken a conservative turn, with attempts to restrict abortion and broad bans against LGBTQ+ activism and gender transitioning that have met with the church’s support.

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Gurgaon nursing student found hanging in hostel; kin allege she faced caste discrimination, was killed

A 20-year-old nursing student was found hanging in her hostel room in Gurgaon Friday morning, said police, adding that it appears to be a suicide though a note has not been found yet. Her family, however, alleged she was murdered and claimed that she had faced “caste discrimination” at the hands of fellow students. Police said the woman, Ritu, a resident of Palwal’s Akbarpur Natol, studied at the Haryana government-affiliated ANM Training Centre in Sector 31. According to police, her parents alleged that she told them she was being taunted by her fellow students in the hostel over her caste as she belonged to the Scheduled Caste. Her parents filed a complaint, demanding an FIR be registered against the warden and students under IPC sections including murder. Police, however, maintained there was no foul play and an FIR has not yet been registered. “Prima facie, it is a suicide; the post-mortem report corroborates this. Her parents alleged she was discriminated against on the basis of her caste. We questioned the warden and students, but didn’t find anything suspicious,” said Manoj Kumar, SHO of Sector 40 police station, adding that they have seized the warden’s phone as part of the probe. The warden was not available for comment. Meanwhile, Ritu’s family and members of social welfare organisation Bhim Sena held a protest and demanded justice for her. Ritu’s father Subhash Chand told The Indian Express she had come to them five months ago after the students allegedly commented on her caste. “She was sad. We visited her hostel and I talked to a few students and told them though they were from different castes, they should not fight over these things. When she called Thursday after dinner, she seemed fine. On being informed of her death, I spoke to her friends who told us she was with them till 11 pm that day. How can she be dead hours later?” he asked. Chand, a labourer, said he had got a phone call from hostel authorities on Friday, who told him that Ritu was unwell. On reaching, he found her body. “They said she was found hanging. I was told the body was brought down. by the students and warden. This is murder,” he alleged in the complaint.

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