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Oil Spill Poses Major Threat to Seafood Industry, Environment

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Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

(NNPA) - As oil from a massive spill caused by an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico continued to pour into Louisiana's ecologically rich wetlands, elected officials and experts wondered about the long-term ecological and economic effects the accident will have on the state and its inhabitants. Those concerns were not eased as storms threatened to frustrate desperate protection efforts. Responding to a crisis that is threatening to spiral out of control, the Obama administration barred any new offshore oil projects until the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster that caused the spill is explained.

To underscore the severity of the spill, some have already compared it to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the colossal Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Gulf Coast environmental groups working in the areas at greatest risk from British Petroleum's catastrophic offshore drilling disaster, joined by Greenpeace USA, urged President Obama to accept their invitation, issued Thursday, to view the crisis with them.

"This is one of the worst environmental accidents in U.S. history," said Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "We need the President's attention."

Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao has called on his colleagues in Congress and the Obama administration to direct every available resource to contain the huge oil slick now beginning to wash ashore along the Louisiana coast. The Congressman flew over the slick on a U.S. Coast Guard airplane with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The absence of an effective response would result in "the worst environmental disaster in Louisiana history, and possibly the history of the nation.

"BP and the administration must understand what's at stake for our wetlands, our commercial fishing industry and our economy," he added. "There is no overestimating the devastation this spill could have if it is allowed to penetrate our already-fragile wetlands, starving oxygen from aquatic life and killing more coast. The potential consequences are truly scary.

"Five years ago, the federal government failed us during Hurricane Katrina. I will not stand by and let the government fail us again."

At least one official warned against gloomy forecasts of the oil spill's long-term implications for the Gulf Coast.

"You are getting ahead of yourself a little when you try to speculate and say this is catastrophic. It is premature to say this is catastrophic," Coast Guard Admiral Mary Landry told the Christian Science Monitor Wednesday. "I will say this is very serious."

Crews in boats were patrolling coastal marshes early Friday looking for areas where the oil has flowed in, the Coast Guard said.

The National Weather Service predicted winds, high tides and waves through May 2 that could push oil deep into the already fragile inlets, ponds and lakes along the coast southeast Louisiana. Waves reaching six to seven feet were pushing tides several feet above normal toward Louisiana's coast, compounded by the continued threat of thunderstorms over the weekend.

Crews were unable to skim oil from the surface or burn it off for the next couple of days because of the weather, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Waves may also wash over booms strung out just off shorelines to stop the oil, said Tom McKenzie, a spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is hoping booms will keep oil off the Chandeleur Islands, part of a national wildlife refuge.

"The challenge is, are they going to hold up in any kind of serious weather," McKenzie told The Associated Press. "And if there's oil, will the oil overcome the barriers even though they're ... executed well?"

A top adviser to President Barack Obama has said that no new oil drilling would be allowed until authorities learn what caused the explosion of the rig Deepwater Horizon. David Axelrod told ABC's "Good Morning America" that "no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what has happened here." Obama recently lifted a drilling moratorium for many offshore areas, including the Atlantic and Gulf areas.

Already grappling with imports of shrimp and other seafood - 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported - the Gulf of Mexico seafood industry is determined to do everything it can to avoid public concern about the safety of U.S.-caught seafood.

Thus far, the seafood is safe since gulf oysters are never exposed to surface waters. That may change, however, should the oil begin to sink. Gulf shrimp, redfish and other species could avoid contamination by simply swimming away from the hardest-hit areas.

However, experts say that the spill could pose a significant danger to the industry if it damages fragile nursery grounds or seeps down into oyster beds.

"If you talk about the sky falling too early, then people stop buying Louisiana oysters, blue crabs, and shrimp, and since we're talking about people's livelihoods you have to be very, very careful about saying things that will get dispersed around the world," Ed Overton, an emeritus professor of environmental science at Louisiana State University told the Christian Science Monitor. "On the other hand, they won't get a paycheck if there's no oysters."

"No one should be worrying about whether the shrimp they're having for dinner is going to have oil on it," Mike Voisin, past president of the National Fisheries Institute, told CNN last week. "[T]hose areas that have oil in them will be blocked by state health officials and not harvested."

Oystermen and shrimpers along the Gulf Coast worked at a feverish pace last week to haul in as much seafood as they could before the slick comes ashore. "We're fighting a losing effort," Louisiana oysterman Mitch Jurasich told The Associated Press.

"If there is any good news, it's that all of our seafood harvest is below deck, so to speak," Ed Overton said. "But if the nursery grounds are destroyed, the harvest this year may not be affected, but years out it will. If you destroy food habitat, this just tumbles and tumbles."

Louisiana's commercial fish industry hauls in $1.8 billion annually, second only to Alaska. Forty percent of the seafood that is caught in the continental U.S. comes from the Gulf of Mexico.

"Depending on what happens in the next few days, this could have a relatively small impact on coastal Louisiana or significant long-term effects, including closed fishing areas, oiled wildlife, and worse," Mark Schexnayder, regional coastal adviser for Louisiana State University, told Business Week.

Two Air Force C-130s were sent to Mississippi late last week and were awaiting orders to start dumping chemicals onto the oil spill. The Navy did its part by sending equipment for the cleanup. Meanwhile, Pentagon officials huddled with the Department of Homeland Security to determine other ways the military might assist in the clean-up.

The leak from a blown-out well a mile underwater is reportedly five times bigger than first thought. Traces of oily residue were spotted near the Mississippi River delta late Thursday, encroaching on the Louisiana shoreline in long, thin lines. The thicker oil was farther offshore. Officials have said they would do everything to keep the Mississippi River open to traffic.

The Coast Guard defended the federal response to the oil spill last week. Asked by all three major television networks Friday if the government is doing enough to force British Petroleum PLC to plug the underwater leak and protect the coast, Brice-O'Hara said the response led by the Coast Guard has been quick and unrelenting and has adapted as the threat grew since a drill rig exploded and sank two weeks ago, causing the seafloor spill.

The oil slick has the potential to become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening to dwarf even the Exxon Valdez in size and scope. It endangers hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world's richest seafood resources, overflowing with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.

"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press about the spill. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

Oil can harm seabirds by causing their feathers to stick together, leaving them without insulation. When the birds preen, they ingest the oil. Nils Warnock, a spill recovery supervisor with the California Oiled Wildlife Care Network at the University of California-Davis, said that extensive contact with the skin can cause burns. Oil swallowed by animals can cause anemia, hemorrhaging and other problems, said Jay Holcomb, executive director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center in California.

"The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico related to the sinking of the BP Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig threatens to impact our coastline, which is a major concern for our seafood industry," Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said. "The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board wants to assure Louisiana seafood lovers around the world that our fisherman are committed to supplying quality Louisiana seafood to consumers and restaurants.

"At this time, we are not sure of the impact that it will have as the oil continues to move towards parts of our coast. Our coastline is more than 300 miles long, and our fishermen continue to fish in waters that are not being impacted by the oil spill. Many of our fishermen have partnered with British Petroleum's Vessel of Opportunity Program which will pay fishermen for the use of their fishing vessels to assist in the ongoing efforts to protect our coastline. Fishermen have allocated some of their vessels to take part in this program. "Louisiana produces more than 30 percent of the nation's domestic seafood and leads the nation in production of shrimp, crawfish, blue crab and oysters. We are committed to keeping the nation in supply of our seafood. In addition to the seafood that continues to be landed on docks, our suppliers have inventory in stock that is available."

The massive oil flow - estimated to be about 210,000 gallons a day - comes from a well drilled by the rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in flames April 20 and sank two days later. BP was operating the rig that was owned by Transocean Ltd. The Coast Guard is working with BP to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water's surface.

The leak from the ocean floor proved to be far bigger than initially reported, contributing to a growing sense among some in Louisiana that the government failed them again, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. President Obama dispatched Cabinet officials to deal with the crisis.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, worried that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the government or BP.

"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive," he told The Associated Press. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."

BP has reportedly requested more resources from the Defense Department, especially underwater equipment that might be better than what is commercially available. A BP executive said the corporation would "take help from anyone." That includes fishermen who could be hired to help deploy containment boom.

Congressman Cao said an effective response will require both short-term emergency action and long-term investment. Cao announced he will introduce legislation calling for accelerated oil revenue sharing with the federal government.

The bill would speed up the timetable for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas to begin receiving larger of revenue from drilling leases and royalties under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GOMESA). Under the current timetable, the states are set to begin collecting 37.5 percent of royalties from new leases in 2017. Currently, they receive little or nothing. Cao's bill will call for the revenue sharing to begin immediately.

"Every day, Louisiana sacrifices its coast and puts its environment at risk to feed the nation's insatiable appetite for oil," Cao said. "Fifty percent of all oil reaching the nation's refineries crosses Louisiana's coastline. It's only fair that the state be compensated for the costs we are incurring to produce so much energy."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and instructed officials to begin preparing for the oil's impact. He also sought federal permission to call up 6,000 National Guard troops to help.

Rwandan President In U.S. Escapes Lawsuit In Oklahoma

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – Lawyers for the widows of two African presidents whose deaths set off a genocidal war, failed in their attempt to serve Rwandan President Paul Kagame with legal papers during his recent U.S. visit.

The Rwandan leader was in Edmond, Oklahoma, attending the graduation last week of 10 Rwandese students at Oklahoma Christian University. He slipped away before legal papers could be served.

A leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Kagame’s group had been in a power struggle with the Hutu-led government of Pres. Juvenal Habyarimana. The shoot-down of a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira in April 1994 by unknown assailants set off a horrific killing spree. Ironically, both were returning from a regional peace meeting in Tanzania.

The $350 million wrongful death lawsuit accuses Kagame of ordering the plane to be shot down. Peter Erlinder of the International Humanitarian Law Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota, is handling the widows’ claims. Kagame's government has denied the accusations.

Racist Belgian Comic Book To Be Tried In Court

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(GIN) – Capping a three-year effort, Congolese national Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo may finally get his chance to pull a racially insulting comic book “Tintin in the Congo” off of library shelves.

A trial is scheduled to begin this week in Brussels, the city where Tintin's creator, pen-named Hergé, once lived. Mbutu Mondondo, 42, says the book — first published in 1930 — is racist, colonial propaganda and should be banned.

Tinton in the Congo appeared just 22 years after the Belgian-born King Leopold II laid claim to the Congo with Belgian money. In the so-called Belgian Congo, Leopold with his private army, the Force Publique, enslaved and mutilated the population.

Estimates of the death toll range from two to fifteen million.

“(Tintin) served – and still serves to prop up a sanitized account of Belgium’s colonialism. "It twists history to suggest that everything was happy and fun," says Mbutu Mundondo. "In reality, it was a tragic, hurtful time."

The offensive images ranged from Tintin's faithful terrier Snowy being crowned king by the Africans, to a black woman bowing before the blond boy and declaring "White man very great. White mister is big juju man!"

The Brussels court will consider whether the book should be banned, or sold with a warning across the cover that some readers might find the content offensive. In 2007 a British court ruled that “Tintin in the Congo” should be sold with such a warning.

Mbutu has also tried, unsuccessfully, to have the cartoon banned in France.

New Immigration Law in Arizona Reminiscent of King Holiday Repeal

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By Floyd Alvin Galloway, Special to the NNPA from the Arizona Informant –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - In the late 80’s Republican Governor Evan Mecham, set-off a bomb that cost the state of Arizona millions of dollars in tourist and convention business when he repealed the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.

Some protesters of the illegal-immigration bill signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer believe it will have the same effect on an already financially troubled state. On Friday, April 23, Gov. Brewer signed what is called the most stringent anti-immigration bill in the country. They have likened it to the South African apartheid rule when Blacks were required to carry proper papers justify them to be in certain areas or be arrested, beaten or worse.

The governor describes it as "another step forward in protecting the state of Arizona." But, many in the minority community say it will open the gates to racial profiling.

"I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in the state of Arizona," she said.

She also emphasized an amendment to the bill that prevents law enforcement personnel from using a person's race as the only factor in implementing the law. "This protects all of us – every Arizona citizen and everyone here lawfully," she said.

The bill, authored by Sen. Russell Pierce, who is also trying to eliminate ethnic studies in high schools and university, says this bill will take the handcuffs off law enforcement and allow them to do their jobs without restrictions.

Opponents of the law, including Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), have said it amounts to "institutionalized discrimination and abuse." But Brewer defended her decision as her only choice considering the federal government's failure to secure the border.

During the Bush administration, the president tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but was met by opposition from his own party including Arizona senator Jon Kyl. Sen. John McCain had at one time endorsed immigration reform, but during a tough campaign re-election he has changed his tune regarding it to try to gain more support from the conservative side of his party.

On Thursday, April 22, close to a thousand students from high schools around the Valley participated in a hands on civics lesson. They walked out of classes, and marched to the capital to voice their opposition to the Senate Bill 1070. Protesters from as far away as California, Texas and New Mexico picketed at the capital to try and sway the governor to veto the bill.

A 24 year old Black California resident came with a group called the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “My parents are from Nigeria and they went through something similar in the 70’s and I think it’s wrong. All it does is promote hate and fear.” The out of state contingent chanted, “Arizona We Got Your Back.”

Dory, a Black Arizona State University graduate student was protesting with 125 other people outside the downtown Sheraton Hotel in downtown Phoenix where the governor was speaking at a dinner for Chicanos Por La Causa.

“I heard about the bill I think it is an embarrassment. I think it’s wrong to be racial profiling people, and that’s what this bill will do. I’m an immigrant; I just don’t look like an immigrant. I think its wrong and I wanted to be heard.

Before Brewer signed the bill, President Obama called it "misguided" and said the legislation demonstrates why Congress must act soon to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He has ordered the Justice Department to look at the bill.

At a Rose Garden naturalization ceremony Friday for members of the American military, President Obama warned that the bill "threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."

The bill will make it a state crime not to carry proof of legal immigration status and will require Arizona's state and local police to ask about a person's immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that he or she is in the country illegally. There are expected to be numerous challenges in the courts to the bill.

Obama's Nuclear Energy Proposal Sparks Debate Among Black Environmentalists

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By Eboni Farmer, NNPA Special Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Dr. Robert Bullard sees the red flags waving when it comes to the nuclear reactors President Obama has pledged government aid to construct in the town of Shell Bluff which is located in Burke County, Ga. The first red flag: Burke County is 51 percent African-American and already has nuclear reactors at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle.

"After looking at environmental injustices over the past 30 years I can't help but question why these reactors are being built in Burke County," says Bullard, an environmental injustice expert and activist. "When a community gets something good, African-American communities are usually not the first to get it."

In February, Obama announced a proposal of $8.33 billion in guaranteed loans to help build the first new nuclear reactors in the country in Burke County in nearly 30 years. In addition he has proposed tripling the funding for other nuclear power plants from $18 billion to $54 billion in his 2011 fiscal budget.

There are those who are weary to call the placing of the new nuclear reactors in Burke County environmental racism. Proponents of nuclear energy see the building of the reactors as more jobs and clean energy.

However, Bullard said that he cannot ignore the pattern of environmental injustices African-Americans and other minorities have faced.

The only major nuclear reactor accident to occur in the United States is the Three Mile Island accident. It took place in 1979 in Dauphine County, PA. at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, when a nuclear reactor had a partial meltdown. While the reactor did bring itself back under control, there was some radioactive waste released into the environment.

It is primarily the fear that an accident can occur that keeps communities from wanting to have nuclear facilities in their backyards. Residents also fear an increase in cancer rates and contamination of their drinking water.

“At this point it is institutional, everybody wants their lights on but everybody does not want to live next to a nuclear power plant,” Bullard said. “Disproportionately people of color and poor people are the ones who have these facilities unleashed in their communities.”

Bullard’s sentiments indicate that nuclear advocates who desire to expand in the U. S. must work hard to dispel fears.

Anne Lauvergeon is CEO of AREVA, a France-based multi-nation conglomerate that is known around the world for its nuclear energy facilities, including in the U. S. AREVA has invested over $3 billion to rejuvenate the nuclear energy industry in the United States. But, Lauvergeon says she realizes the hurdles that must be overcome as AREVA attempts to expand; especially in or near racially diverse communities.

“Fears about nuclear waste, fears about the technologies are normal. We have to accept it and we have to take it into account,” she said in an interview with the NNPA News Service last summer. She says the key will be continued sensitivity, listening, communicating and coming to a mutual understanding.

“All the concerns of the people, we have to speak [to] that. We have to debate. We have to make sure that all the people understand the situation as it is,” she said after speaking to a “Women in Nuclear” conference in Washington, D.C. last July.

Bullard, who is known as the ‘Father of Environmental Injustice’, began his career in 1978 while researching where landfills were placed in Houston, Texas. He was able to conclude that 100 percent of the landfills in Houston were in African-American communities. He has spent his career tackling other instances of environmental injustice in communities in Houston and Dallas, Tex., Institute, W.Va, and Emelle, Ala.. In each of these communities he found disparities between the hazardous waste that African- Americans were exposed to and those that Whites were exposed to.

“There are certain groups of people who are deciding where hazardous waste producers are placed and people of color are usually not involved in the discussions,” Bullard said.

Bullard said that himself and the environmental injustices people he works with place nuclear power plants into the same category as coal-fired and gas power plants.

According to Bullard, 68 percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared to 56 percent of whites.

Bullard said that in the future he believes there will be more opposition once people realize that the placing of the power plants is disproportionately impacting minorities and poor people.

“Once the issues are uncovered and all of the variables are laid out on the table, there will be more protest,” Bullard said. “Most of the reporting on the $8 billion dollars that Obama put on the table for these power plants has not mentioned that this is a predominately Black county that has a high percentage of poverty.”

On the grounds in Shell Bluff, Georgia Women's Action for New Directions is helping residents of Shell Bluff battle against the building of the new reactors. Not only is Shell Bluff near nuclear energy facilities, but it is also near an old super-fund toxic waste site. According to the Center for Disease Control the cancer rate in Shell Bluff is 51 percent higher than the national average. Some residents believe that the nuclear reactors and the toxic waste site are the cause for the high rate of cancer in the area.

So far there has been no definite research that links the high cancer rate in Shell Bluff to the nuclear reactors or toxic waste site.

“We’ve been fighting this for three years,” Bobbie Paul, executive director of WAND said. “The people of Shell Bluff do not need or want the new nuclear reactors.”

Paul said that some progress has been made. Most recently the Department of Energy, said that it would help the state of Georgia to fund additional independent environmental monitoring of the Savannah River Site. The monitoring will help determine whether or not the nuclear reactors have a negative impact on the health of humans and the environment.

“We still have a long way to go,” Paul said. Meanwhile, the debate heats up.

Patrick Moore, chairman and chief scientist at Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. and one of the founders of the environmentalist group Greenpeace, was once a strong opponent of nuclear energy.

However, now he cannot see the future of the United States without it. He also said he would rather see a nuclear plant constructed in Burke County than a coal-fired power plant.

“The reason they are being put in the south is because that is where the population and demand for energy is growing,” Moore said. “Wind and solar energies are simply not capable of producing all of the energy that we need because they are unpredictable.”

When it comes to safety, Moore believes that nuclear plants are safer than other energy sources that people are not up in arms about like natural gas and coal. He also said that 80 percent of residents living near nuclear power plants approve of them.

“Look what happened at the power plant in Connecticut where five people were killed. More people have been killed in the United States by natural gas than by nuclear energy,” Moore said.

He was referring to the massive explosion at the Kleen Energy Systems plant in Middleton, Conn. in February.

One of the reasons that the nuclear industry in the United States stopped growing is because of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

“This is the most significant nuclear disaster in the United States and there were not any deaths because of it,” Moore said. “It was actually a success because the nuclear reactors did exactly what they were supposed to do, which was to prevent radiation from escaping.”

During President Obama’s speech on the expansion of nuclear energy, he stressed the opportunity to create more jobs through nuclear energy. Emmanuel Glakpe, a professor of Engineering at Howard University, agrees that African-Americans need to figure out how they can become a part of the nuclear movement, possibly through economic opportunities.

“As citizens of this country, African-Americans must be prepared to generate wealth by participating in all aspects of the economic spectrum,” Glakpe said. He concludes that employment is not only an economic opportunity, but also an opportunity to strengthen sensitivities and to protect communities from danger: “Availability of energy to power economic activities of the US is also a national security issue and must be controlled by citizens of the country.”

Last year, Ricardo Byrd, executive director of the National Association of Neighborhoods took a tour of AREVA’s nuclear facilities in Paris, France. AREVA, which has facilities in 43 countries, has locations in 45 states in the U. S. and it employs more than 6,000 people.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, 20 percent of power in the U.S. is generated from nuclear energy. France generates 80 percent of its energy through nuclear power.

“I do not think that within the next 50 years that the United States will get 80 percent of its energy from nuclear sources like France, but I do believe that nuclear energy is essential to the future of this country,” Byrd said.

One thing that Byrd noticed in France is that communities had an intimate relationship with the nuclear power plants. “The nuclear energy here has to be very transparent if they want communities to trust and want to have them in their back yards,” Byrd said.

He was one member of two delegations of African-American and Latino leaders who went on an AREVA-sponsored tour of its France facilities in 2008. A representative of the NNPA News Service was also a member of one of the delegations. The purpose of the trips was to help dispel myths, answer questions, explore safety issues and generally get the facts surrounding nuclear power.

AREVA has attempted to be sensitive to the barriers to racial diversity and inclusion and is trying to establish that transparency and that intimacy, said CEO Lauvergeon. “For me, that’s really a fight that I want to win.”

NNPA News Service Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney contributed to this story.

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