Russia and Iran May Restore Rail Corridor Through Armenia - 2007

Step-by-step Moscow is setting up its infrastructure within the southern Caucasus. The announcement to repair of the region's main railroad network , which came about two months before the war between Russia and Georgia during the summer of 2008, has great strategic significance (economically and militarily) not only for the Russian Federation and Abkhazia but also for the Armenian Republic and Iran. This action by Moscow is a severe counter-blow to the western funded railroad project in the south Caucasus (see Turkish news article at the bottom) which seeks to connect Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, bypassing Russia and Armenia.

Arevordi

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Railroad Landing

Russia deployed an extra contingent of its troops in Abkhazia

Russia deployed its railroad construction troops in Abkhazia. Moscow referred to the necessity to repair a railroad that’ll link the breakaway republic to Russia and its Olympic facilities of Sochi. In its turn, Tbilisi regards Russia’s maneuvers as “plotting a military invasion.” The USA immediately sided with Georgia. Nonetheless, according to the information of Kommersant, the deployment of Russia’s units in Abkhazia may be a part of Moscow’s preparation for a meeting of Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Mikhail Saakashvili planned for this week.

Road to war

“With the pretext of restoring a trunk-railway in Abkhazia, Russia conceals its preparation for a large-scale military operation aiming at annexation and occupation of Georgia,” stated Deputy Defense Minister of Georgia Batu Kutelia. “We consider the activity of Russia as another act of aggression directed against the territorial integrity of Georgia. No doubt, the Russian party is consolidating the military infrastructure to start a military intervention,” Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia Grigol Vashadze echoed Mr Kutelia. “No one deploys railroad construction troops on the territory of another state unless a military intervention is plotted.” Mr Vashadze reported that due to the recent activity of Russia a 59th note of protest will be handed over to Russia’s ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko. “In spite of the fact that it’s hard to find the Russian ambassador on occasions like this, we’ll find him, bring to the MFA and hand over the note,” Mr Vashadze added with irritation.

It is Russia’s deployment of its railroad construction troops in Abkhazia, which Russia’s Defense Minister announced Saturday, that aroused the indignation of the Georgian government. “According to the order of the President of the Russian Federation on rendering assistance to the republic of Abkhazia, work on restoring railroad lines and infrastructure has been started, where unarmed units and machines of the Railroad Construction Troops of the Russian Federation are engaged,” reported the Ministry’s Press-Service. In other words, the military justified their activity with the orders that Vladimir Putin gave to the government in April. By the way, Thursday Commander-in-Chief of the Railroad Construction Troops of the Russian Federation Lieutenant General Sergey Klimets stated that his subordinates are ready to provide aid to Abkhazia “in case a corresponding political decision is made.” It means that the decision to send Russian troops to Abkhazia was taken at the top level.

Yesterday Foreign Office Chief of the breakaway republic Sergey Shamba told Kommersant that some 400 Russian military were deployed in Abkhazia. However, Saturday Batu Kutelia stated that, apart from the railroad construction soldiers, 500 Russian commandos landed in Abkhazia. Curiously, on that day Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that a routine rotation of its peace-keepers was carried out in Abkhazia from May 25 to May 30, with “the total number of those replaced amounting to 500 people,” which equals to the figure given by the Georgian Defense Ministry’s experts.

Tbilisi has already promised to rebuff “the Russian railroad landing.” “If Russia keeps on with that sort of activity, we’ll respond harshly to it,” Batu Kutelia threatened and promised that the international community will side with Georgia. A few hours later State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said, “The United States is dismayed by Russia’s Defense Ministry announcement on May 31 that it intends to send more military forces into the Georgian region of Abkhazia without the consent of the Georgian Government. We have expressed our concerns to the Russian government and are in touch with the Georgian government about this latest announcement of a Russian military buildup,” emphasized the American diplomat.

Road to Sochi

The authorities of Abkhazia explain the activity of Russia’s Defense Ministry with purely economic reasons. “There is no malicious intent in it – many people want our railroad system to be restored, mainly from economic considerations,” Sergey Shamba told Kommersant. In particular, from the Abkhazian Foreign Office Chief’s viewpoint, “one should take into consideration the forthcoming Olympics in Sochi – the railroad can be of use when it comes to transporting cargoes necessary for constructing Olympic facilities.”

Interestingly, May 16 Governor of the Krasnodar region Alexander Tkachev also mentioned the need to organize transportation of different materials from Abkhazia by railroad. On that day Mr Tkachev signed an agreement between his region and the breakaway republic about supplies of building materials for Sochi. The governor believes that it’s more convenient to supply them from Abkhazia rather than from other regions of Russia because the unrecognized republic is just 40 km away from the area where the facilities are erected. These initiatives are supported by the Russian government as well. For example, in March, as Moscow unilaterally lifted the sanctions against the breakaway republic, Head of the Ministry for Regional Development Dmitry Kozak said that Russia saw no hindrance to purchasing building materials and hiring workers from Abkhazia for fulfilling the Sochi project. Yesterday Sergey Shamba told Kommersant that the Abkhazian authorities hope that the restoration works at the railroad will be completed for the most part in three months. Governor Tkachev planned to begin with building materials supplies from Abkhazia to Sochi right at that time.

Road to the South Caucasus

For all that, the restoration of the railroad on the territory of Abkhazia will allow Russia to gain much more than just a cheap transportation route for shipping Abkhazian gravel and sand to Sochi. Moscow has been repeatedly trying to repair the railroad (which was destroyed in the course of the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict) linking it with Georgia via Abkhazia: It will enable Moscow to have a direct railroad communication with its key ally in the South Caucasus – Armenia. As far back as March, 2003 Moscow made its first attempt to do it – the question of restoring the railroad became one of the key points during the talks of Vladimir Putin and Georgia’s president Eduard Shevardnadze in Sochi. That time Russia and Georgia negotiated a bargain: Tbilisi provided for a smooth transit between Russia and Armenia, and Moscow promised to thrash out with Sukhumi the matter of Georgian refugees’ returning to Abkhazia. These negotiations didn’t stop even after the Rose Revolution broke out, and May, 2006 the authorities of Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Abkhazia even set up a consortium to restore the railroad. But the escalation of tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi in the autumn of 2006 prevented the plan from being realized.

According to the information of Kommersant, Moscow has been striving to resume the talks about these agreements. For instance, Vladimir Putin ordered that railroad communications be restored as he suspended his ban on transport links with Georgia in April. Officials with Russian Railways told Kommersant that the matter stalls because a large part of a railroad line is missing from Sukhumi up to the Inguri river that separates Abkhazia from Georgia. Sergey Shamba told Kommersant that the mission of the Russian Railroad Construction Forces is to repair this section – from Sukhumi to Ochamchira. Plenipotentiary Representative of the Abkhazian President in the Gal region Ruslan Kishmaria assured Kommersant that reparation will soon start. According to Sergey Shamba, the question of the complete restoration of the railroad and resumption of communications from Russia in the Georgian and Armenian direction may be raised in the near future. The sources of Kommersant with Russian Railways and Georgian railways confirm it, too. Russian Railways experts are to go to the site soon to give their estimate of the complexity of works and the investments required. Head of Georgian Railways Irakli Ezugbai assesses the program of restoring the Abkhazian railroad infrastructure at $241 mln. Sergey Shamba told Kommersant that so far the Russian government sponsors the works, but Sukhumi doesn’t rule out the possibility of engaging Tbilisi and Yerevan in the project once devised by the consortium.

The talks about restoring the railroad from Russia to Abkhazia are likely to focus on other issues as well. “The Georgian government can agree to do it only in exchange for significant dividends, say, repatriation of Georgian refugees to the North of the Gal region, or lifting the Russian embargo of Georgian goods,” opines Georgian political analyst Nika Imnaishvili. Besides, the agreements must provide for the security of the route, especially at the Abkhazian sector. It means that Moscow, Tbilisi and Sukhumi will have to conclude a package agreement. Head of the Georgian Parliament Committee for the Restoration of the Country’s Territorial Integrity Shota Malashhia confirmed it to Kommersant that Tbilisi insists on a package agreement. According to the information of Kommersant, many issues that are to be included in it have been under discussion, for example, peace guarantees in Abkhazia and repatriation of refugees. A personal meeting of Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and his Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili must become a key point in the coordination of the matter. The meeting has been planned for June 6 in the framework of the CIS summit in St.-Petersburg. To make all necessary preparations for it, Deputy Russian Security Council Head Yury Zubakov visited Tbilisi last week. The diplomat is responsible for settling disputes on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Another testimony of the parties’ ability to come to an agreement has been Vladimir Putin’s unexpectedly high estimate of the Georgian President’s plan on resolving the Abkhazian conflict. In his interview to the French Le Monde, Russia’s president said, “I hope that the plan proposed by Mikhail Saakashvili will be carried out, slowly but surely. On the whole, it’s a good plan.”

Source: http://www.kommersant.com/p898706/r_...ian_railroads/

RUSSIA AND IRAN MAY RESTORE RAIL CORRIDOR THROUGH ARMENIA


Russia and Iran are restoring their direct rail connection via Armenia through projects that would enable bypassing two fragments of the former USSR-Iran corridor now blocked due to ethnic conflict. One is the already functioning Port Kavkaz-Poti ferry link, and the second is a combination of several planned projects in southern Armenia which will require the construction of a new railroad bypassing the blocked enclave of Nakhichevan. In this sense, Armenia is increasingly developing its role in North-South transportation and trade.

BACKGROUND: In recent months, several events have taken place relevant to the perspectives of strengthening of the Russia-Armenia-Iran axis. The first was the launching of the Port Kavkaz-Poti railcar-carrying ferry route between Russia and Georgia, a route designed specially for connecting Russia to Armenia. This route enables direct rail car circulation between Armenia and Russia, which has so far taken place through the Ukrainian port of Ilichevsk. It is expected to reduce the current time of transportation of cargoes between Armenia and Central Russia by half, from 20-25 days to 10-12 days, and to make it cheaper by 20 percent. This will to some extent end the severance of rail communication between Armenia and its largest trade partner, Russia, which resulted from the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict in August 1992. Although the ferry belongs to Reserve Capital Enterprising Corporation, a Swiss private company, the governments of Armenia and Russia have undertaken significant efforts to have this route opened. Moreover, the construction of a second ferry is underway, showing that the investor envisages intensifying traffic between Armenia and Russia, and, in perspective, with Central Asia as well.

Secondly, there are declared plans to explore and subsequently extract Armenian uranium reserves by the joint efforts of Russia and Armenia. A preliminary agreement was signed on April 23 during the visit of Sergei Kirienko, the head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency, to Armenia. According to initial assessments made in Soviet times, Armenia possesses deposits of uranium amounting at least 30,000 tons. They will be extracted and, most likely, transported to Russia, as Armenia has no facilities of uranium enrichment, and has declared that it has no intention to start uranium enrichment on its own. The third element is the plan to construct an oil refinery near the Armenian town of Meghri, located in southern Armenia near the Iranian border. As reported after a Russian-Armenian summit in Sochi last January, this refinery was expected to have a capacity to process up to 7 million tons of Iranian oil annually, which would be pumped into Armenia through a special pipeline from the Iranian city if Tabriz, 100 km south of Meghri. Refinery products are expected to be shipped back to Iran by rail. The cost of the whole project, including the factory, the railroad and the pipeline, is reported to be US$ 1-2 billion. Gazprom-Nafta, a subsidiary of Russia’s state-run Gazprom gas monopoly, has said it is considering investing in this refinery, and Iran will also, most likely, invest in this politically motivated project.

Finally, the last few years have witnessed expanding cooperation between Armenia and Iran in the energy sphere. The Iran-Armenia gas pipeline officially inaugurated last March, is to supply gas to Armenia in return for supplies of electric power from Armenia. To this end, a power transition line between Armenia and Iran is to be constructed in addition to the two existing lines, and two hydropower plants on the border river of Araxes are to be constructed in the near future.

IMPLICATIONS: These events can combine to lead to the formation of a new North-South railroad corridor between Russia and Iran, to replace the Novorossiysk-Tbilisi-Yerevan-Nakhichevan-Julfa route, which was active in the Soviet times but is now interrupted at two places, one being Abkhazia and the other being the Nakhichevan-Armenia border, due to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The Abkhazian sector is bypassed through the above-mentioned Port-Kavkaz-Poti ferry link, but the Nakhichevan sector is more difficult to bypass. A railroad connecting Meghri to some part of the existing Julfa-Tabriz railroad may be constructed rather easily, as the construction needed may be as little as fifty kilometers. Nevertheless, the problem of connecting Meghri with the rest of the Armenian railways (and hence, with Russia) is a more complicated task. A railroad from Meghri to any other railroad segment in Armenia (bypassing Nakhichevan) will require installing at least 200 kilometers of new rail through a mostly mountainous territory, an undertaking that will be difficult technically and expensive.

However, there are factors which may make its prospects feasible. The first is the uranium issue, as most of the Armenian uranium deposits are reported to be located in the southern Armenian province of Syunik, in which Meghri is also located. As such, Russia (and probably other investors interested in Armenian uranium) may be interested in providing funding for the project of constructing a railroad from central Armenia to the future uranium mine of the Syunik marz and eventually, to Meghri. Preliminary reports about the intention of the state-owned company Russian Railways to make large investments in Armenia may be relevant in this sense. Tehran may also be interested in constructing this link, as it will help Iran to implement its plans of developing the country’s depressed north-western region, in particular, the so-called Aras Free Trade Zone which is adjacent to the Nakhichevan and Meghri sectors of the Iranian border and has its center in Julfa. Besides an important role in restoring the Iran-Russia railroad route, Armenia is becoming an important partner for both from the energy viewpoint as well. Russia has important energy assets in Armenia, and has pledged to help it in building a new nuclear power station. The current station at Medzamor is expected to be closed in 2016, and according to a recent statement of President Robert Kocharian, construction of a new plant could start in 2012. The prospects for exporting Armenian uranium to Russia make such ties even tighter. As for Iran, it is set to increase its import of electricity from Armenia as seen from the above-mentioned joint plans.

CONCLUSIONS: Armenia is developing several large projects in transportation and trade with Russia on the one hand, and with Iran on the other. This may eventually result in the reopening of an important railroad corridor connecting Russia with the Gulf region. Armenia may be an important partner to both regional powers partly as a linking point in that corridor, and because of its involvement in different energy projects within the interest sphere of both powers.

Source: http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/4614


Hope For Rails: Russian Initiative For Abkhazian Section Raises Optimism For Armenian Railroad


Yerevan hails Russia’s plans to seek the restoration of a major part of what used to be a Trans-Caucasian railroad in the Soviet times, which potentially may lead to resumed transportation along the whole Abkhazian section of the railroad – an important gateway for Armenia that has been unavailable because of a regional conflict since the early ‘90s. A Russian company, “South-Caucasus Railroads”, assumed the management of the Armenian railroad on June 1, two weeks earlier than it was originally planned. In the Soviet times Armenia’s railroad networks was part of the Trans-Caucasian railroad linking the Soviet republics of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan not only with all the other regions of the former USSR, but also with Iran (via Azerbaijan) and Turkey (via Armenia).

With the start of the Karabakh movement in 1988-1989, Turkey and Azerbaijan fully blocked all railroad gateways from Armenia and the Abkhazian section of the Trans-Caucasian railroad was blocked in consequence of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. Thus, Armenia found itself in a total ‘railroad isolation’ from the outside world. Only one train plies between Yerevan and Tbilisi today. The main purpose of transferring the Armenian railroad under Russian management is considered in the context of Moscow’s efforts to de-block the Abkhazian section of the railroad, i.e. to ensure an immediate railroad link between Sochi, Sukhumi, Tbilisi and Yerevan. Recently, the Russian side introduced railroad troops to Abkhazia in order restore traffic along the Sochi-Sukhumi section, which elicited an angry reaction from official Tbilisi, which accused Moscow of introducing military personnel not engaged in peacekeeping missions into Georgian soil. “The problem of the idling Sochi-Sukhumi-Tbilisi railroad, no doubt, is a political problem,” Armenia’s Minister of Transport and Communications Gurgen Sargsyan said at a press conference in Yerevan. He also pointed out that the intention of the Russian side to restore the Sochi-Sukhumi connection will have a positive effect on a possible restoration of traffic along this section in the future.

According to the Armenian minister, the Russian side has already started to ship new electric locomotives and carriages for passenger conveyance to Armenia. The concessionaire, i.e. the Russian side, has pledged to invest up to $600 million in the development of the Armenian railroad, with a third of this investment to be made already in the first five years of operation. The Armenian minister also emphasized that Armenia attaches great importance to the construction of a railroad in the direction of Iran, as its importance will grow if traffic resumes along the Sochi-Sukhumi-Tbilisi railroad. “It will take Armenia seven years to build a railroad to Iran,” said Sargsyan, adding that both the Russian and Iranian sides show interest in the construction of the Armenia-Iran railroad.

Source: http://www.armenianow.com/?action=vi...g=eng&IID=1189


NATO Chief Urges Withdrawal of Russian Rail Troops From Abkhazia

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Tuesday Russia should pull its unarmed railroad troops out of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia. "These forces should be withdrawn, and both Russia and Georgia should engage quickly in a high-level and open dialogue to de-escalate tensions," he said in a statement on Tuesday. The unarmed troops were deployed to the region on May 31 to repair rail tracks "fully in line with Russian-Georgian agreements," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. "This deployment is clearly in contravention of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said the NATO head however. The presidents of Russia and Georgia discussed the issue over the telephone earlier Tuesday. "Russia's aid in repairing railroad tracks in Abkhazia using its railroad troops was discussed. The necessary clarifications were provided on the issue," the Kremlin press service said, adding that Dmitry Medvedev and Mikheil Saakashvili had agreed to resume discussions on the sidelines of an economic forum in St. Petersburg due on June 6-8. Tensions between Russia and Georgia have been consistently strained since Western-leaning President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in the South Caucasus country in early 2004. The long-running row over Georgian breakaway regions, along with Tbilisi's plans to join NATO, have been major factors behind the dispute.

Source: http://en.rian.ru/world/20080603/109175875.html


Russia And Armenia Will Work to Resume Operation of Railway Communications in Caucasus

Russia and Armenia will work to resume the operation of railway and other communications in the Caucasus, says the joint statement of the Armenian and Russian Presidents. Serzh Sargsyan and Dmitry Medvedev said they “will coordinate their activities with a purpose to strengthen security and stability in the South Caucasus.” The document also says that Yerevan and Moscow stand for soonest peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict on the basis of an agreement acceptable for all sides and welcome the endeavors of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Source: http://www.panarmenian.net/news/eng/?nid=26423


Russia Backing Iran-Armenia Rail Link


Russia could participate in the construction of a major railroad linking Iran and Armenia, according to the president of Russia Railroads. President of Russia Railroads Vladimir Yakunin, said the company is ready to participate in the construction of the rail line should Iran, Armenia and Russia agree on the project's finance, Fars News Agency reported. Armenia's Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsyan has said that the rail link would cost approximately $2 billion, announcing that the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have both shown interest in the project. Armenia currently has only one working international rail link that runs via Georgia, as rail tracks linking Turkey and Azerbaijan are inactive.

Under Review

The proposed link would require around 80 kilometers of new railroad construction in northwestern Iran, from the Armenian border on the Aras River to the Iranian city of Marand where the track would be connected to the Tabriz-Jolfa line. The railroad, which has been discussed since initial proposals were submitted in 2006, would be a major boost to the development of trade between the two countries. Armenia would also benefit from being able to use Iran as a transit route for transport links with the rest of the world. Sargsyan said the railroad's construction can take up to five years. Presently, three projects are under review. The first originates from Yeraskh, the second from Vardenis and the third from Gagarin, extending for 443, 449 and 397 km respectively. Armenia favors the project that starts from Gagarin and then through Gavar, Martuni and Jermuk.

Advantageous

At a meeting in Sochi in September, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the project with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian as part of a cooperation agreement between the two countries. Russia Railroads' subsidiary South Caucasus Railroad took over the operation of the Armenian rail network on June 1 under a 25-year concession. Iran and Armenia have agreed to set up a working group, in which the Russians may be invited to participate. ADB has allocated about $1.5 million to finance feasibility studies on Armenia's ambitious plans to build a railroad linking neighboring Iran, Yerevan's Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said. "By the middle of next year, we will be able to approve business approaches, calculations of cost-effectiveness and to present documents prepared by the Asian Development Bank to the private sector, which could also participate in the project," Sarkisian added. In an apparent reference to Russia, Sarkisian said Armenia's "strategic partners" can also finance the railroad's construction. "I hope that we will be able to report next year serious progress in this sphere," he said. The project has for years been discussed by the Armenian and Iranian governments. The Armenian authorities have recently signaled their desire to finally get it off the drawing board, with Sarkisian declaring its implementation as one of his administration's top economic priorities. Armenia considers Russia as well as international lending institutions like the World Bank as potential sources of funding for the project. The lack of a rail link between Armenia and Iran is a major obstacle to the expansion of bilateral trade. Officials of the three countries should realize the advantages of the proposed railroad for themselves as well as the region, and make concerted efforts for implementing the project as soon as possible.

Source: http://www.zawya.com/Story.cfm/sidZA...%20Rail%20Link


Russia May Push Iran-Armenia Rail Link

Construction of a rail link to Iran is likely to be pushed forward with Russian backing. At a meeting in Sochi in September, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the project with his Armenian counterpart Serch Sarkissjan as part of a cooperation agreement between the two countries. The Russian Rialways (RZD) subsidiary South Caucasus Railway took over the operation of the Armenian rail network on June 1 under a 25-year concession, but Armenia’s only active international rail link runs via Georgia, as the lines to Turkey and Azerbaijan are out of use. Initial proposals for a line into Iran were first floated in 2006, and feasibility studies for three possible alignments are currently underway. One would start from Eraskh on the line to Ararat, one from the current terminus at Vardenis and the other from Gagarin, to the northeast of Yerevan. The link would require around 80 km of new construction in northwestern Iran, running from the Armenian border on the Aras River to Marand on Tabriz-Djolfa line. According to Armenian Minister of Transport and Communications Gurgen Sargsyan, the line is expected to cost around 2 billion U.S. dollars. Iran and Armenia have agreed to set up a working group, in which the Russians may be invited to participate.

Source: http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=181941

In related news:

Construction Of Turkey Section Of Baku - Tbilisi - Kars Railway To Start In July

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, right, Turkish President Abdullah Gul, center, and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev, left, are seen at a ceremony marking the start of construction of a railroad that will link ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia with Europe bypassing Russia, near Tbilisi, Georgia, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007. The US$600 million rail line will connect the eastern Turkish city of Kars with the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, on the Caspian Sea, via Georgia and its capital, Tbilisi. ANKARA - The construction of the 76km long section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project in Turkey will start in July. Ministry of Transportation officials said on Thursday that the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of Turkey section of the BTK railway project would be held in June with the participation of presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Georgia will build 29 km part of the railway from its border with Turkey to Akhalkalaki and will finish the renovation of an existing line that stretches from there to Tbilisi. The ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the part of the project in Georgia was held in November 2007. Turkey has allocated 380 million YTL for BTK railway project, which is qualified as "iron silk road". The railway will connect Turkey with Azerbaijan and other Turkic republics in Central Asia. The railway is expected to be operational in 2010 and carry about 30 million tons of freight a year.

Source:http://www.turkishpress.com/news.asp..._Start_In_July

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