Anna Campbells father: I dont think I had any right to stop her fighting in Syria

Dirk Campbell was shocked when his 26-year-old daughter said she was going to join Kurdish forces in Syria. Following her death in action, he talks about her journey from idealist to freedom fighter

When Anna Campbell told her father of herplan to join Kurdish forces fighting Isis, hemade a joke that he will forever regret. It was May last year, and the 26-year-old had travelled from her home in Bristol to his, in Lewes, East Sussex, to break the news.

By then, I knew enough to know that it would imperil her life, says Dirk Campbell, 67, but all I could think of to say was: Well, Anna, its been nice knowing you. I think I was trying to be funny, but she just looked miffed. I think she wanted me to engage with it and either go, Oh, how wonderful, or to try to argue her out of it. But I sort of just accepted it. Tenmonths later, she is dead.

Anna Campbell died on 15 March when her position was struck by a Turkish missile as she and five other female soldiers helped to evacuate civilians from the besieged city of Afrin in northern Syria. She was one of eight British nationals killed fighting alongside the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) since the first foreign volunteers arrived in the autumn of 2014.

People have called Anna a hero and a martyr, her sister Sara says. But whats really difficult for the public to fathom is that she was also this big walking bundle of love: idealist, activist, dedicated bookworm, lover of insects, storyteller, creator of everlasting childhoods

Dirk Campbell: I was really proud of her. She was a 26-year-old woman. I had to trust her. Photograph: Teri Pengilley for the Guardian

Yet it was as a soldier that Anna died, a beaten-up AK-47 in her hand and a pair of old trainers on her feet. Having smuggled herself into Syria, after being recruited by Kurdish activists online, she had signed up with the Kurdish Womens Protection Units (YPJ) all-female affiliates of the YPG, a guerrilla group in which officers are elected by their troops.

She gave her life defending Kurdish-held territory from a Turkish invasion. Some might call it someone elses war. To Anna, her family says, it was personal.

It was almost as if she was searching for the perfect way of expressing all the values she held closest humanitarian, ecological, feminist and equal political representation, says Dirk. Those were the issues she came to dedicate her life to, and she came to the conclusion that Rojava was where she had to go.

This Kurdish stronghold in northern Syria is in the throes of revolution. Inspired by the ideology of Abdullah calan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, and triggered by 2011s Arab spring, people have organised themselves into grassroots assemblies and co-operatives, declaring their autonomy from the state and their wish for real democracy. Anti-capitalist, Marxist and feminist ideas are flourishing, including a system of co-presidentship whereby a man and a woman share power at every level.

We were shocked when she told us she was going there, says Dirk, a silver-haired man with a warm smile. But we werent surprised.

Anna was 11 when Dirk realised there was something different about her. It seems a small thing, but Iremember when she was at school she protected a bumblebee from being tormented by other kids, he says. She did it with such strength of will that they ridiculed her. But she didnt care. She was absolutely single-minded when it came to whatshe believed in.

We are sitting in the living room ofDirks flat, where three of Annas five sisters and her brother have gathered to support their dad. Sophia, at 28 the eldest sister, brings tea. A gallery of obscure musical instruments hang along the wall, all of which Dirk, a folk musician and composer who was a member of the seminal prog band Egg, can play. Books on ecology, veganism, philosophy and politics some Kurdish line the bookshelf.

The Campbell household was one where politics was always discussed. Her mother Adrienne and I were once arrested for staging a sit-in in Boots after they moved the HQ to a Swiss tax haven, Dirk chuckles.

Most of her early interest in activism came from Adrienne, he says. I remember in 2011, they went to a demonstration at the Houses of Parliament to commemorate the first Suffragette protest. They stormed the Houses of Parliament in Edwardian clothes.

But really, friends say, it was when Anna went to university in Sheffield to study English and French that those seeds of political activism began to sprout. The coalition had just started and the government began introducing cuts and increasing fees, recalls one friend, who prefers not to be named. It was a big thing and there were student occupations all over the country.

She was soon reading less of her beloved English classics in favour of books about anarchism, feminism and ecology. She became vegan and dropped out of university after her first year because, as Dirk puts it, she was much more interested in doing what she was passionate about.

Anna with her mother Adrienne, who died from cancer in 2012. Photograph: Family handout

That same year, 2012, Adrienne died of breast cancer four years after being diagnosed. Anna, then 21, threw herself deeper into the life she had chosen. She had started training as a plumber, but was increasingly drawn to anti-fascist, animal and human rights protests across Europe. She became an anarchist, too, and had the letters ACAB (standing for the punk-era slogan All coppers are bastards) tattooed on her ribcage. She was one of the first people to go into the Jungle in Calais to protect refugees from the gendarmes, says Dirk. She wrote letters to prisoners. She gave blood, was a hunt saboteur, protested the Dale Farm eviction and would always rope me into playing the Highland bagpipes at prison demos.

In 2015, she was beaten unconscious at an anti-fascist march. She told me a woman had been dragged into the crowd by some fascists and no one was helping her, recalls sister Rose, 24. So Anna covered her face so they wouldnt know she was female and ran in head first after this woman. The fascists beat her to the ground with sticks until a policeman dragged her off.

By the summer of 2017, her attentions had turned towards the Middle East, where the war in Syria was entering a bloody new phase. The YPG/J, backed by US airstrikes, had all but flushed Isis from large swaths of Syrias north. But, with the jihadi group now on the run, Turkey saw an opportunity to finally cleanse its borderlands of the Kurdish forces and their revolution. Ankara has long-argued that the YPG/J is linked to its own insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK). The US and EU, however, do not consider the YPG terrorists, and have supported them since 2014.

With the Kurds fight for existence now on two fronts, Annas mind was made up. She didnt tell her friends of her plans, just her family. She made them promise not to tell a soul. Of course, I was seriously worried, says Dirk. Then, the day that she flew out, the Turks bombed a YPJ position and killed 12 women. Ipanicked.

Over the months, Anna stayed inregular touch, sending texts, WhatsApp voice messages and the odd call when she could. The thing is, whenever Anna called, she gave us a false sense of security, says Dirk. Every time she would say: Hiya, everythings fine. Im just growing vegetables, sitting at a lookout post. Im not in any fighting. Its all a bit boring, really. We thought she wasnt actually in any danger, and that she was coming back in a few months.

What he didnt know was that she had, in fact, been deployed to Dier ez-Zor, the stage for Isiss bitter last stand. I think if I had known that she was facing lethal fire I would not have been able to sleep, says Dirk. I would have tried to get there, to be with her. After all, whos going to fire on an unarmed white-haired old man?

Then, on 20 January, Turkish-backed rebels attacked the Kurdish city of Afrin. It was like nothing Id ever seen, another British YPJ fighter, who asked to be known only by her nom de guerre, Ruken Renas, told me from her frontline position last week. The bombing was really heavy, especially just before the city fell. They hit the hospital; people were fleeing. It was chaos. Hundreds died.

Anna (on right) with a fellow YPJ fighter in northern Syria. Photograph: YPJ/PA

Nevertheless, Anna was determined to help defend the revolution she had joined. She dyed her blond hair black, and begged her commanders to let her go to Afrin. Finally, they gave in. Two weeks later, she was killed.

When Dirk thinks about the afternoon when Anna told him she was going to war, emotions conflict. I should have taken her far more seriously, he says. I should have got on the internet and looked up everything that was going on. I just didnt know enough about it. All I knew was that it was a war zone. Perhaps I could have stopped her.

He pauses for a moment. But, at the same time, I was really proud of her. I dont think I had any right to stop her. She was a 26-year-old woman. I had to trust her.

Of course, there is still the issue ofAnnas body. The Campbells want it back, but with Afrin now under Turkish control, they arent sure where to begin. Theyre not going to be putting bodies in a morgue waiting for someone to identify them, says Dirk. Theyve probably collected them all up, dumped them in a truck and buried them in a mass grave, which means that if shes going to be repatriated, itll depend on DNA evidence. That will take a very long time. There will be a lot of bodies to examine.

In the meantime, he will commemorate his daughter by continuing her fight. I would be betraying Annas memory if I didnt do everything in my power to bring the Kurds plight to the attention of the world. Something must be done. And it needs to be done now, before anyone elses children are killed.

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Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win mathematics’ Fields medal, dies at 40

Stanford professor, who was awarded the prestigious prize in 2014, had suffered breast cancer

Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields medal in mathematics, has died. She was 40.

Mirzakhani, who had breast cancer, died on Saturday, the university said. It did not indicate where she died.

In 2014, Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields medal, which is presented every four years and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel prize. She was named for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.

Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry, the Stanford press announcement said.

Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas in as great detail as possible.

Her work had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist, the university said.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran and studied there and at Harvard. She joined Stanford as a mathematics professor in 2008. Irans president, Hassan Rouhani, issued a statement praising Mirzakhani.

The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending, Rouhani said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.

Irans foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said her death pained all Iranians, the newspaper reported.

The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhanis passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists, Zarif posted in Farsi on his Instagram account.

I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community.

Mirzakhani originally dreamed of becoming a writer but then shifted to mathematics. When she was working, she would doodle on sheets of paper and scribble formulas on the edges of her drawings, leading her daughter to describe the work as painting, the Stanford statement said.

Mirzakhani once described her work as like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.

Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Mirzakhani was a brilliant theorist who made enduring contributions and inspired thousands of women to pursue math and science.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrk, and daughter, Anahita.

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Patients over politics: Sudanese breast cancer clinic that beat sanctions

Khartoum clinic has persuaded US to lift ban on medical equipment but many other challenges remain

For many women living in Sudan, breast cancer means certain death. Treatment is too expensive or they simply feel too embarrassed to seek help.

But until recently, yet another obstacle was seriously hampering efforts to cut breast cancer deaths in Sudan. Since the early 1990s, the country has been on the US blacklist for state sponsors of terrorism imposed for human rights violations and for harbouring Osama Bin Laden.

Even the Khartoum Breast Care Centre (KBCC), the Horn of Africas first and only dedicated breast cancer clinic, has been hit by the sanctions, with a ban on international money transfers and the restriction on imports of medical equipment and spare parts.

Founded by British-trained Sudanese radiologist Dr Hania Fadl, the KBCC offers hi-tech digital mammography screening for a fraction of the usual price elsewhere. Since it opened in 2010, it has treated more the 18,000 patients from across the region and has received widespread acclaim and international support.

Using private funds and a $14m donation from the charitable foundation run by her ex-husband, Sudanese-British businessman Mo Ibrahim, Fadl has managed its 11-year development from start to finish.

However, the US sanctions meant the centre was unable to buy and maintain crucial diagnostic machinery. In February 2014, it decided to begin a year-long application process for a US Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) exemption, which would make it easier to maintain its General Electric digital mammography machine.

Dr David Lawis, medical director of KBCC. Photograph: Yassir Bukhari/Elephant Media

During the application process the machine broke down. It ended up being out of action for 10 weeks. The clinic was paralysed, with doctors forced to use alternative screening methods. The problem is the poor women. You do ultrasounds and biopsies but an ultrasound is not an internationally approved screening modality, Fadl says. There are patients and I have to do something, even if theyll put me in jail. I cant let them wait and risk that their cancers spread.

After heavy campaigning and several trips to Washington by Fadl to meet members of Congress, Ofac eventually issued a blanket licence exempting all medical equipment in Sudan from sanctions.

The result was a welcome surprise to doctors at the KBCC, who say the move is a milestone for Sudanese healthcare in that it has put the needs of patients above international politics.

All of our equipment in the clinic is from a US company, General Electric, as are the majority of advanced medical machines in Sudan. For there to be an exemption from sanctions, our lives as doctors will be much easier and the lives our patients will drastically change, says Dr David Lawis, medical director of the KBCC.

Lawis says access to radiotherapy remains a huge issue, with just two machines in the country. One, in Khartoum a hospital, has been broken for about seven months. The second is in Madani hospital, two hours drive from Khartoum.

Anyone who can afford to pay for treatment abroad usually leaves Sudan to get radiotherapy, but the blanket Ofac licence has the potential to change this. People wont have to leave their country to get the treatment they deserve, says Lawis.

Word of mouth

Other challenges remain, however, and Fadl says the battle to educate and inform women about self-examination and the local availability of affordable treatment is the next healthcare frontier.

We did a little survey to ask the women how they heard about us. We found that the most effective, at 49%, was word of mouth. We are still a tribal community: we trust relatives, friends and neighbours who tell us I went to that place and it is good. We dont have that culture of research on the internet, says Fadl.

This was the case for 60-year-old Sudanese patient Fatma Abdelmajid, who regularly takes a six-hour bus from Atbara in north-east Sudan to Khartoum for treatment after a local doctor told her that one of Atbaras boys worked at the KBCC clinic.

Women wait to be seen at the KBCC. Photograph: Yassir Bukhari/Elephant Media

The mentality around breast cancer here is absolutely wrong. When you tell women in the village that youve been diagnosed, they are so disturbed as if youre about to drop dead in front of them. Its really sad, says Abdelmajid.

They tell you, go to a fakeeh [spiritual healer], who will give you herbs and spiritual remedies to treat you. Ignorance is rife and I really hope and pray that women will come to the centre at least for a simple checkup.

While the Sudanese health ministry keeps no full records, Lawis says that breast cancer accounts for approximately 35% of all cancer cases among Sudanese women. An estimated 60% of the 2,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer who die each year could have survived if given proper care.

Fadl strongly believes that stories like Abdelmajids will help end the taboo that often stops women from seeking a diagnosis. A woman who has the experience of being treated should tell her stories, to new patients here at the centre and women in their villages. The best thing is to have these examples and success stories, she says.

Fadl, who lives above the centre in Khartoum, patrols the corridors every day, greeting patients. If I just walk downstairs and see the patients, see their kindness and deep gratitude, I just cant help but want to help them. Sudanese women deserve everything I do really and truly. I cant tell you enough.

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Open Sesame: particle accelerator project brings Middle East together

In a region racked by conflict and tension, an ambitious research centre is fostering cooperation and scientific advancement

In the sleepy hillside town in al-Balqa, not far from the Jordan Valley, a grand project is taking shape. The Middle Easts new particle accelerator the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications, or Sesame is being built.

In a region racked by violence, extremism and the disintegration of nation states, Sesame feels a world apart; the meditative peace of the surrounding countryside belying the advanced stages of construction inside the site, which is due to be formally inaugurated next spring, with the first experiments taking place as early as this autumn.

Its a miracle it got off the ground in the first place. Sesames members are Iran, Pakistan, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Bahrain. Iran and Pakistan do not recognise Israel, nor does Turkey recognise Cyprus, and everyone has their myriad diplomatic spats.

Iran, for example, continues to participate despite two of its scientists who were involved in the project, quantum physicist Masoud Alimohammadi and nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, being assassinated in operations blamed on Israels Mossad.

Were cooperating very well together, said Giorgio Paolucci, the scientific director of Sesame. Thats the dream.

I dont know how many places there are where all these governments have representatives who have the opportunity to come and talk to each other, he added.

In council meetings, representatives of governments meet and discuss technical issues, and come to agreements, the talks untainted by the perpetual enmity outside the conference halls.

At 130 metres in diameter, Sesames particle accelerator is dwarfed by the Large Hadron Collider, the immense structure in Switzerland that last year detected the God particle, otherwise known as the Higgs Boson, an elementary particle that gives other fundamental particles their mass. But the project is sophisticated and could have many applications and offer research opportunities for a region that has long grappled with funding shortfalls and lack of political will in the advancement of science.

There are so many applications that actually we are somehow limited by our fantasy, said Paolucci. You can study almost anything. Here we can study everything from isolated atoms to human beings and everything which is in between these two extremes is allowed.

A worker looks at research data at the Sesame facility. Photograph: Kareem Shaheen

Sesame is a synchrotron a large device that accelerates electrons around a circular tube, guided by magnets and other equipment, close to the speed of light. This generates radiation which is filtered and flows down beamlines essentially long pipes in which instruments are placed to collect the radiation and perform the various experiments.

Sesames scientists plan to open the synchrotron with three main beamlines, though the project can house up to 20. The first is an X-ray beam which scientists say can be used to analyse soil samples and air particles, identifying contaminants in the environment, as well as, potentially, their sources, in a region suffering from high levels of pollution.

The second will be an infrared beamline, which will allow researchers to study living cells and tissue. Some preliminary tests at the centre have focused on studying the evolution of breast cancer cells, potentially opening avenues that would help with much earlier detection.

The last beamline, currently under construction, will be used in protein crystallography, a technique that would allow scientists, among other applications, to study in more depth the structure of viruses and develop drugs that are better able to target them.

Paolucci also hopes to add an imaging beamline which has a range of uses, from allowing researchers to study archaeological artefacts with more precision and without having to transport them outside the region, to photographing things as subtle as the muscular movements of a fly.

Imaging technology captures the movements of a fly

Archaeologists in Italy have used imaging beamlines in projects as intricate as the study of burnt manuscripts buried in the city of Herculaneum after the legendary eruption of Mount Vesuvius, allowing them to identify the Greek letters in the manuscripts without having to unfold them and risk their disintegration.

Beyond that, Sesames creators hope it will spur scientific progress in a region long beset by conflict and strife, offering access to resources that are plentiful in the west but limited in the Middle East, allowing scientists, whether from Israel or Iran, to come together to study the fundamental elements of nature.

Member states also hope to limit some of the regions brain drain, which is driving young people to research facilities abroad, as well as profit from the expertise they gain from the experiments that will take place.

Those working on the project, which costs over a $100m (75m), have not lost sight of the big picture either.

If you go to any university in the region you see more students than any university in Europe, said Paolucci. Clearly there is a need there to have a centre like this, and with time it will also be beneficial from an economic point of view.

As Paolucci walked around the massive hall housing the particle accelerator, he stopped to survey the intricate equipment and the machine taking shape before his eyes.

Its really amazing the things you can do, he said.

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Abbas Kiarostami death sparks debate on patient’s right to be informed in Iran

Iranian film-maker had undergone four operations but did not know severity of his illness until shortly before he died in Paris

The death of the legendary film-maker Abbas Kiarostami has sparked an intense debate in Iran over the right of patients to be told the truth about their illness after claims that the director did not know the severity of his condition until shortly before he died.

The Palme dOr winner underwent four operations in Iran before his death last week aged 76 but had resisted his familys attempts to transfer him to Paris for treatment until it was too late, relatives said.

The Iranian government has launched an official investigation into the death, and Ahmad Kiarostami, the directors son, said the family was planning a legal claim against the medical team.

There have been conflicting reports about the cause of Kiarostamis death, but family members say they were unable to make potentially life-saving decisions about treatment because they were kept in the dark about the nature of his illness.

We were in a dark tunnel and we were not supposed to be informed about what had happened, Kiarostamis other son, Bahman, told BBC Persian. He said the medical team had refused to give information either to the patient or his family.

Bahman Kiarostami said his father had been angry about this silence before his death. He recalled his father asking: What sort of secret is it that even the patient cannot be informed about it?

Bahman also said his father believed it was only in France that the family had been properly informed about his condition. In four months, this was the first time that a doctor was giving us information, Bahman said.

The complaint has touched a nerve in Iran, where patients are often not told about the severity of their medical condition. Dariush Mehrjui, an acclaimed Iranian director, lost his temper earlier this week at a tribute to Kiarostami, saying: Im angry over this accident that is the outcome of the carelessness and irresponsibility of the surgeons who killed Abbas Kiarostami.

According to Kiarostamis French doctor, his first operation was to remove bowel polyps, which an Iranian official had previously said was aimed at preventing the spread of cancer. His further surgeries were reportedly due to manage subsequent complications such as blood poisoning and infection (sepsis), arising from this operation, which, according to his family, were the cause of his death.

Maryam Behnam, a GP based in London who trained in Iran, said a patients authority and right to confidentiality, as well as their right to be kept informed, were widely violated in Iran. She said: Sometimes the patient is not told about the diagnosis, but his or her uncle or his or her neighbour might know.

Mania Akbari, a friend of Kiarostami who starred in his film Ten, said she had had a similar experience 10 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was given a mastectomy without her knowledge. Akbari said: [After the first operation] I was still unconscious and they took me in again for a second operation without me knowing. When I woke up I was shocked to see my breasts had been removed.

The Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi speaks at a tribute for Kiarostami. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Dr Majid Hashemi, a senior bariatric surgeon in the UK, said that patients in Iran were not as empowered as they are here. He said: [In the UK] we are told that we have to involve the patient with any decision-making, [that] thats ethically the right thing to do. In Iran I found that that didnt happen.

Dr Pari-Naz Mohanna, a consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St Thomas hospital, London, said withholding information from patients was not standard practice in Iran but that cultural factors meant family members sometimes had greater authority than patients.

She said: The family tends to have control, whereas in the UK the patient is always involved; nothing is carried out without the patients consent unless its an emergency.

In Iran, its a different situation; I wouldnt say its the same across the whole country, but with certain diseases, terminal diseases in particular, the families tend to prefer that the patient isnt informed, so that they arent distressed.

On Tuesday a group of 30 senior doctors, scholars and judicial officials met for five hours in Tehran to investigate Kiarostamis death. A deputy health minister told the semi-official Isna news agency that the findings would be released next week.

Irans ministry of health said this week that Kiarostami should not have gone to France. Overall, our medical team showed no negligence in his treatment, said a spokesperson, adding that the health minister had visited the patient six times, Isna reported.

On Sunday, Kiarostami was buried in northern Tehran after thousands gathered in the capital to pay tribute to a figure who was more celebrated abroad than at home. The Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi praised him for remaining loyal to his country and making its cinema global despite, he said, politicians putting barriers in his way.

First welcome, last farewell, read placards at the funeral, a reference to the fact that such huge crowds had never been allowed to gather for Kiarostami during his lifetime. A red carpet was rolled out at the airport for his body on its return from Paris the first time Kiarostami had officially been on one in his native land.

Since Kiarostamis death, an increasing number of people in Iran have urged authorities to treat the countrys artists with more dignity. Irans most famous traditional singer, Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, currently being treated for cancer, has not been allowed to perform in concerts in recent years, while the sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, 79, was recently barred from leaving the country and had his passport confiscated.

Kiarostami was famous for making films in praise of life, especially masterpieces such as Where Is the Friends Home?, about a schoolboy who wants to return his classmates notebook; and Close-Up, a docudrama about a man who pretends to be the Iranian film-maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Kiarostamis Taste of Cherry won the Palme dOr at Cannes in 1997. Before falling ill, he was involved in training in Cuba and had plans to make a film set in China.

You can learn from gamblers, Kiarostami said in his final days in an audio broadcast by BBC Persian. They say if youre on the losing side, better to change your seat and leave. Im doing just that, going to France.

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