Will Notley’s NDP government play hardball with public sector unions?

CALGARY – The head of Alberta’s largest union said he wouldn’t be surprised if the NDP government came to them with a zero per cent wage increase offer.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees represents 87,000 Albertans working in areas including health care, education and government.

Union president Guy Smith said judging by Premier Rachel Notley’s TV address, there is a clear signal the government wants to protect frontline services, but he’s also expecting some tough talk at the bargaining table.

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  • AUPE members vote to ratify deal with Alberta government

    “Our members are aware that employers are playing hardball at the table, but it is something we expect,” said Guy Smith.

    The contract representing around a quarter of AUPE’s members is set to expire next March and the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s four-year agreement runs out at the end of August.

    Political observers said that will be a major test of the NDP  government, considering the NDP and unions were often allies during years of Tory rule.

    “If you listen to Premier Notley’s address on Thursday night, she was talking about controlling costs. But when you looked at the chart, all she was doing was controlling the rate of increase of spending. Given that the largest spending envelopes are in health and education, and given that the largest percentages of both of those are in salaries, that’s where her challenge is going to be,” said Duane Bratt, professor of political science at Mount Royal University.

    Smith said so far, the Notley government has shown ‘a high level of respect’ for AUPE.

    “We know that starting negotiations on that basis is a good place to start because what we did see from the previous government, in particular when Premier Redford was in power, it was a total lack of respect which led to a lot of conflict,” said Smith

    But with tens of thousands of private sector layoffs, the Wildrose opposition has said getting raises in the public sector would be irresponsible and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for a wage rollback for Alberta teachers.

    Bratt predicts that the Alberta’s NDP won’t be as tough on unions as Ralph Klein was when public sector wages were rolled back by five per cent.

    “Her speech was completely opposite of Klein.  And it was designed to be so. They were both dealing with similar economic situations, they both wanted to handle it in a very different way,” said Bratt.

    “To get out of deficit, you can either cut spending, raise taxes – which they have already raised taxes, or you can wait for the price of oil to come back,” said Bratt. “So as much as they’re talking about diversification, I think they’re choosing option C and waiting for the price of oil to come back.”

Would you eat canary seed? Health Canada says it’s safe

TORONTO – Move over, feathered friends: canary seed has been approved for human consumption by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The high-protein, gluten-free grain — similar in size to flax seed and sesame seed — can now be incorporated whole into energy and snack bars and sprinkled on hamburger buns and bagels. It can also be ground into flour for use in cookies, muffins, crackers, breads, tortillas and pasta.

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It’s good news for farmers in Saskatchewan, where the bulk of the world’s canary seed crop is grown and exported.

It’s hoped the approval for human consumption will broaden the market, says Kevin Hursh, executive director of the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan.

Carol Ann Patterson, a food scientist with The Pathfinders Research and Management Ltd., in Saskatoon, had been working with the commission since about 2006 as regulatory approval was sought for the seed to be used as a cereal grain, similar to oats, wheat, barley and rye.

“From a protein perspective, compared to other cereals, canary seed ranks up there,” says Patterson.

“And that’s why it’s so good for gluten-free applications because right now a lot of the flours that are used … don’t have the same nutrient composition as canary seed would have in terms of fatty acids, in terms of the vitamins, in terms of fibre and in terms of protein content.”

Roasted canary seed has a nutty flavour with a pleasant aroma, she says, and many baking trials were carried out using the grain because of its gluten-free quality.

“It provides a bit more taste than some of the other products that go into gluten-free foods. If you’re using it with tapioca starch or whatever other starch types we think that it will probably have an application in the gluten-free market because that has been a growth area,” says Hursh, who grows canary seed at his farm near Cabri northwest of Swift Current.

Another bonus is canary seed can be substituted for imported sesame seed. Sesame has been identified as one of 10 priority food allergens by Health Canada.

However, canary seed may not be suitable for consumers with a wheat allergy because there’s one protein that wheat and canary seed have in common. Canary seed for human consumption will need to be labelled with an allergy warning while research is done to see if the restriction can be removed, Hursh says.

The cereal grain originated in the Canary Islands — hence the name — and has been used to feed tame birds for centuries. It’s also been consumed by mainly Spanish and Hispanic cultures in the Mediterranean basin. In recent years, some health-food markets in North America have ground the seed, hull included, and used it in smoothies or soaked it in hot water for a tea, says Hursh.

In Canada, canary seed started being grown in the late 1800s near Indian Head, 70 kilometres east of Regina. It fell out of favour, then was revived in the 1970s and ’80s, says Patterson.

The human food approval in Canada and the U.S. covers hairless (glabrous) canary seed varieties, with both brown and yellow seeds.

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NDP MPs react to vote ousting Tom Mulcair as party leader

As the dust settled following a stunning rejection of Tom Mulcair’s leadership at the NDP convention in Edmonton, at least two of the party’s MPs said they had mixed emotions about the results.

“The work that Tom did is a large part of the reason I’m here,” said Quebec’s Matthew Dubé.

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    “Certainly it’s a loss .. at the same time we do have to have faith in the membership.”

    Dubé had come out in support of his leader in recent weeks, but it wouldn’t be enough. Mulcair failed to clear the bar of 50 per cent plus one support that would have technically kept the party from triggering a leadership race. At 48 per cent support, he fell far short of the arbitrary bar of 70 per cent set by the party’s outgoing president.

    British Columbia MP Don Davies told The West Block’s Tom Clark that he has no doubt Mulcair was the right man to fill the void left by Jack Layton, who died just months after the NDP’s historic “Orange Wave” of 2011.

    WATCH: Quebec MP Matthew Dubé and B.C. MP Don Davies talk about possible run at NDP leadership

    “I don’t think anybody could have stepped in and filled the breach like Tom did,” Davies said.

    “It’s never easy and you can never be happy when you see someone’s work and career rejected, in a sense. So I really feel for Tom.”

    Dubé says it’s not his personal approach to lay blame for a party’s poor election performance at the feet of just one person, but he understands that “that’s part and parcel” of politics. Now, he said, the New Democrats must focus on rebranding and convincing Canadians that they can be not only the “conscience of Parliament,” but also form government in 2019.

    “One or the other is not enough,” Dubé said, echoing the words of other delegates and MPs at the convention.

    According to Davies, those high expectations were in place even before last fall’s vote, and Mulcair fell victim to them. The delay in holding a leadership race will not be due to a lack of talent within the NDP ranks, he added. The party simply doesn’t want to compete with the Conservative leadership race, which will culminate in a vote in mid-May 2017.

    Asked if he would consider running to replace Mulcair himself, Davies replied, “never say never.”

    Watch the full interview with Davies and Dubé above.

Toronto man wanted for first-degree murder in shooting death of friend

Police have released the identity of a man wanted in connection with the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Julian Weekes, who was killed after attending a memorial for a slain friend.

Police say the victim was shot in front of the FUSE Restaurant at 366 Queen Street East in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 2 and managed to make his way to a Shell gas station where he collapsed.

Weekes was found with multiple gunshot wounds and was later pronounced dead on the scene.

Police say the victim was killed just after attending a memorial for a friend who was shot and killed on March 24.

Investigators say the shooter has been identified as 29-year-old Michael Teddy Gibson who is wanted for first-degree murder.

“Do the right thing. Speak to your lawyer and turn yourself into the nearest police station,” said Det. Sgt. Mike Patterson during a press conference Monday morning.

Police have identified Julian Weekes, 27, as the victim a fatal shooting near Parliament Street and Richmond Street on April 2, 2016..

Toronto Police Service/Handout

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Police say both individuals knew each other and that Weekes didn’t consider Gibson a threat.

“We don’t know how deep the friendship ran but they were definitely associates,” said Patterson.

“Mr. Weekes was very comfortable with the people he was with in the area. He didn’t seem to be alarmed at all.”

Patterson said witnesses from the scene and surveillance video nearby helped authorities locate the shooter.

However, police did not reveal whether the exact shooting was caught on tape.

Investigators are advising the public that Gibson is considered armed and dangerous and is not to be approached.

VIDEO: A 27-year-old man was shot near Queen and Parliament streets and left a blood trail a block away to where police found his body.

B.C. scientists develop alluring way to trap rats

VANCOUVER – Scientists have outwitted the crafty rat with a stimulating new formula that puts sex on the brain.

A team at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., has developed a rat trap that combines synthetic sex pheromones, food scents and baby rat sounds to lure rodents to their deaths.

The bait has proven 10 times more powerful than traditional traps and could be commercialized in about two years, said principal investigator Gerhard Gries.

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“Rats are really intelligent, and in order to manipulate them you have to be intelligent as well, and do that in a way that addresses their needs,” said Gries, a communication ecologist in the department of biological sciences.

“It smells delicious, it smells like rat and it sounds like rat.”

Research outlining the pheromone component of the control tactic was published last week in the international edition of the German peer-reviewed online journal “Angewandte Chemie,” which translates to “Applied Chemistry.” Gries worked for several years with research associates Stephen Takacs and Regine Gries, his wife, to develop the three-pronged extermination technique.

Humans have waged war against the pests for more than 10,000 years, said Gerhard Gries, noting they spread disease, reduce agricultural crop yields and threaten endangered animal species.

But rats are quick learners that have evolved to avoid traps, a behaviour called “neophobia,” he said.

The new trap overrides rodent smarts using a synthetic sex chemical that replicates the pheromones, or chemical messengers, of sexually mature male brown rats. It’s a powerful attractant for female brown rats, Gries said.

Also blended into the bait are aromas of food sources most craved by rats, such as nuts, cheeses and cereals, and electronic sound recordings of rat pups. The fabricated cries trigger the maternal instinct in female rats, Gries said, while male rats will approach the bait believing they’ve discovered a meal.

The trap is styled like a traditional bait box and contains a mechanical snap trap that breaks the rodent’s neck. Its “appealing message” works so efficiently on rats that consumers don’t need to reset the trap multiple times, Gries said.

“By speaking their language, we can manipulate them or guide them to locations where we can kill the responding rat,” he said.

The team is hoping to commercialize the new trap with its industrial sponsor Scotts Canada Ltd. Its research was conducted under Canadian Council on Animal Care guidelines.

Gries said his primary motivation for developing the advanced trap is to reduce reliance on poison bait stations. Rats that consume poisoned bait bleed to death, Gries said, impairing their movement so they become easy targets for wildlife including owls, foxes, coyotes and big cats.

Such predators become sick feasting on the poisoned rats, creating deadly reverberations throughout the food chain. Gries said the new trap is an “earth-friendly” option that kills the rat instantly.

“If we accept the premise that we don’t want rats in and around our homes because they do all kinds of damage,” Gries said, “then there is only one solution.”

What’s more, Gries doesn’t believe the new trap can be outsmarted.

“The rat that has responded to your pheromone message or sound message has really been killed, it cannot transfer that message,” he said.

“There’s no learning effect passed along to next generation.”

Authorities search for those responsible in deadly illegal fireworks display in India

PARAVOOR, India – Medical teams on Monday tended to hundreds of people injured in a massive fire that killed at least 110 people, while authorities searched for those responsible for illegally putting on the fireworks display that caused the weekend blaze at a Hindu temple in southern India.

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Amid the burned wreckage of the Puttingal Devi temple complex in the village of Paravoor, rescue officials sifted through huge piles of dust, wood and concrete for clues about how an unauthorized pyrotechnic display staged before dawn Sunday sparked a fire that swept through the temple as it was packed with thousands for a religious festival.

Police detained five workers for questioning about fireworks stored at the site, hoping to learn more about who owned the fireworks and who had contracted the pyrotechnical display, police constable R. Unnikrishnan Nair said. The five were later released, but Nair did not say whether they were able to help authorities track down any of the 15 temple board members who fled after the accident.

READ MORE: ‘It was complete chaos’: fireworks explosion kills more than 100 at Indian temple

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that police were investigating six people – missing temple board members and associates of firework contractors – for possible charges of attempted murder and culpable homicide, both punishable by life imprisonment, and illegally storing a cache of explosives.

As of Monday afternoon, the death toll from the disaster stood at 110, with more than 380 injured, including many with burn injuries and others hurt when an adjacent building storing fireworks collapsed, police said.

Following the fire, which broke out around 3 a.m. Sunday, villagers and police pulled many of the injured out from under slabs of concrete and twisted steel girders. They were taken to hospitals in the Kerala state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, about 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of Paravoor, as well as the nearby city of Kollam.

VIDEO: Fireworks blaze kills over 100 at temple in India

Scores of worried relatives crowded the Kollam District Hospital on Monday, searching for loved ones still missing.

“We are just trying to calm them down so that they can give us the information, with which we can help them find their missing relatives,” said K. Shijil, a help-desk worker at the hospital who was giving out emergency kits that included a towel, clothes, drinking water and cookies.

Among a throng of people crowding the help desk was Somraj, a grey-haired man in his 50s. He was looking for his son-in-law, Anu Lal, who had been watching the fireworks show with him when the disaster occurred.

“We were about to return home, when Anu said, ‘Let’s watch for a few more minutes,”‘ recalled Somraj, who like many in southern India goes by one name.

“Then came this loud explosion, and everything went dark. I’ve been searching for him everywhere.”

The fire started when a spark from the fireworks display ignited a stash of fireworks that had been stored at the temple complex.

Scores of devotees ran in panic as the massive initial blast cut off power in the complex. Flames trapped many devotees inside the compound. More explosions sent flames and debris raining down, with some chunks of concrete falling as far as 1 kilometre (half a mile) away, a witness said.

“It was complete chaos,” villager Krishna Das said. “People were screaming in the dark. Ambulance sirens went off, and in the darkness no one knew how to find their way out of the complex.”

TV channels showed video of huge clouds of white smoke billowing from the temple, as fireworks were still going off in the sky.

Most of the 110 deaths occurred when the building where the fireworks were stored collapsed, according to Kerala state’s chief minister, Oommen Chandy.

Most of the bodies have been identified, officials said, though there were still at least 11 unknown victims charred beyond recognition.

District authorities worried about safety had denied permission to the temple this year for its annual competitive fireworks show, during which different groups put on displays at the end of a seven-day festival honouring the goddess Bhadrakali, a southern Indian incarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali.

“They were clearly told that no permission would be given for any kind of fireworks,” said A. Shainamol, the district’s top official. She said officials had worried that the competing sides would try to outdo each other with more and more fireworks, and nearby residents had complained that the shows were a nuisance and a fire hazard.


Associated Press writers Nirmala George and Katy Daigle in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Alberta father whose son died from meningitis testifies at trial

LETHBRIDGE – A father accused in his toddler son’s death from bacterial meningitis said he thought his son had the flu.

David Stephan, 32, was the first witness called by the defence Monday, in the Alberta trial for him and his wife on a charge of failing to provide the necessaries of life to the nearly 19-month-old boy.

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    Stephan said his wife, Collet, only mentioned the possibility of it being meningitis the night before Ezekiel stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital in March 2012. He testified that he knew very little about meningitis but from what his wife told him, the symptoms were much more severe than those from a viral infection and that within 24 to 48 hours, whoever contracts it will end up experiencing a medical crisis.

    He said many of the symptoms overlapped with those of the flu and that “there was nothing alarming, nothing severe about it.”

    READ MORE: Parents of Alberta boy who died from meningitis thought he had cold or flu: defence

    Stephan said they weren’t the kind of parents who would abuse a child and he became alarmed when he was told there was an investigation underway.

    The Crown said the couple didn’t do enough to make sure Ezekiel received the treatment he required.

    Stephan said the couple still held out hope, even when doctors at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary warned them that the child’s prospects were bleak.

    READ MORE: Should parents be forced to give kids conventional medicine? Alberta case raises ethical questions

    The trial in Lethbridge has heard that the boy had been sick for about two-and-a-half weeks, and his parents gave him natural remedies and homemade smoothies containing hot pepper, ginger root, horseradish and onion.

    After being taken to a local facility, Ezekiel was rushed to the Calgary hospital, where he died a week later from bacterial meningitis and a lung infection.

    READ MORE: ‘Very sick little boy’: Pediatrician testifies in case of Alberta boy’s meningitis death

    Ezekiel Stephan was 18 months old when he died of meningitis.

    Prayers for Ezekiel/Facebook

    In earlier testimony, a pediatrician said Ezekiel had less than a one per cent chance of surviving by the time he was taken to hospital and was probably already brain dead.

    With files from Global News.

Danny Willett wins the Masters after shocking Spieth meltdown

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Danny Willett in a green jacket was hard to believe considering he wasn’t even sure he could play the Masters two weeks ago.

Jordan Spieth was even more stunned.

Nine holes away from history, the defending Masters champion threw it all away in a collapse around Amen Corner that was shocking even by Augusta National standards. He played the opening three holes of the back nine in 6 over par, including a quadruple bogey at the 12th.

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Willet, five shots behind with six holes left to play, birdied three of his last six holes to polish off a round that might not get its due because of Spieth’s meltdown. He closed with a 5-under 67, with no bogeys on his card, to match the best score of the weekend.

READ MORE: Jordan Spieth picks up where he left off at Masters

The 28-year-old Englishman wasn’t even planning to play. His wife was due with their first child on this very day. Their son, Zachariah James, was born on March 30, clearing Willett to a most unlikely path to becoming a major champion.

Willett won in his second Masters, ending Europe’s 17-year drought at Augusta National, and he became the first player from England to win the green jacket since Nick Faldo in 1996.

How fitting. Faldo also shot 67 that day in a final round remembered more for Greg Norman throwing away a six-shot lead.

Spieth, trying to become the first player in history to win wire-to-wire in a major in successive years, ran off four straight birdies to end the front nine and build a five-shot lead.

And then it all fell apart.

READ MORE: Ernie Els’ 6-putt on 1st hole makes history at Masters

A bogey from the bunker on No. 10. A tee shot into the trees on No. 11 that led to another bogey. Willett made birdie on the 14th to get within one shot. Spieth only needed to get past the dangerous par-3 12th hole to settle himself, especially with two par 5s in front of him.

Instead, his tee shot bounced off the slope and into the water. From the drop zone, his wedge was fat and Spieth turned his head. He didn’t even look as it plopped into the water again. He made a quadruple-bogey 7.

On the 10th tee, Spieth was five shots ahead. On the 13th tee, he was three shots behind.

Spieth still had a chance when he birdied both par 5s to get within two shots with three to play. But he missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and his bogey from the bunker ended all hope. He closed with a 73 and tied for second with Lee Westwood (69).

Average farmland prices up 10.1% in 2015: Farm Credit Canada report

CALGARY – A new report says the average price of farmland across Canada increased 10.1 per cent last year as low interest rates and strong crop income helped maintain demand.

The report by Farm Credit Canada says last year’s gains are part of a continuous upward trend that started in 1993.

The gains, however, are lower than in recent years, with the average price increasing 14.3 per cent in 2014 and 22.1 per cent in 2013.

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    The chief agricultural economist at Farm Credit Canada says farmers have to prepare for a potential softening of the market as lower crop prices have already increased volatility.

    J.P. Gervais says farmers didn’t feel the full effects of lower commodity prices last year because of the significant drop in the Canadian dollar.

    But looking ahead, Gervais says 2016 could see more modest farmland value gains of two to four per cent as farmer income, known as crop receipts, start to be affected.

    “The reason that we’re seeing that rate of increase slow down is that it matches the fact that we’re approaching the top of the cycle when it comes to receipts,” said Gervais.

    He said some areas of the country are already seeing farmland prices affected, with some significant variations in price trends within each province.

    Gervais said that roughly half of Saskatchewan farmland saw little price increase or even a slight decrease last year. The Saskatchewan government has introduced stricter measures dictating who can own farmland in the province in an effort to ensure it remains accessible to the province’s farmers and ranchers.

    Roughly 40 per cent of Ontario farmland also experienced scant price increases, or some decreases, last year. But overall, Saskatchewan’s rate of price growth slowed to 9.4 per cent, down from 18.7 per cent the year before, and Ontario saw a 6.6 per cent increase, down from 12.4 per cent in 2014.

    And on a weighted average, all provinces saw increases, with Manitoba having the highest average gains at 12.4 per cent. New Brunswick’s increases were the lowest at 4.6 per cent.

    British Columbia saw prices increase 6.5 per cent, up from 4.2 per cent in 2014, and Alberta saw a hike of 11.6 per cent compared with 8.8 per cent the year before.

    Despite more than two decades of climbing prices, Gervais says he doesn’t see a bubble in farmland values, since the ratio between crop receipts and farmland values isn’t very far removed from what it’s been for the past 50 or 60 years.

    “What this suggests to me is given where the receipts, given where interest rates are, farmland valuations rest on sound economics,” said Gervais.

    He said any increase in interest rates or a strengthening Canadian dollar would likely have a negative effect on farmland prices.

Whyte Avenue mural-alley to highlight talented local artists

EDMONTON – Graffiti doesn’t always have positive connotations. But the City of Edmonton is actively trying to change that with a new mural-alley.

The idea was spurred following the closure of two popular graffiti spots.

A few years ago, a pilot project was launched to give artists a chance to legally express themselves in a safe environment.

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  • Hate crimes officers investigate disturbing graffiti on southeast Edmonton home

    Capital City Clean-Up manager, Don Belanger, explained: “we tried it in Mill Woods in a residential area and we tried it here in Strathcona on the back of Tirecraft to see if we create a free-wall where people could come and do tagging and not be worried about safety or fear being charged.”

    Anyone could paint whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted on the designated free-walls. They were used constantly, with new art popping up daily.

    “People got their wedding photos in front of it,” said The Paint Spot’s owner, Kim Fjordbotten. “There were bands taking that as the background for their promotional pictures.”

    But the city determined continuing with the pilot-project was not financially viable. There was too much graffiti spilling over into the surrounding communities.

    “Enforcement officers being involved in monitoring would cost a lot of dollars,” said Belanger. “The community itself would have to pay dollars to have graffiti removed from their properties.”

    At the end of March, the free-walls were shut down, permanently.

    Not wanting to take away all the opportunities for local artists, the city worked with the Edmonton Arts Council and art-supply store The Paint Spot to come up with a new street-art project.

    “That’s where the street art alley came into being with the transitory and permanent mural art that will line this alley.”

    The first of many murals has already been completed on the back of the Tirecraft on Whyte Avenue. It features a creative alphabet and was designed by three local artists, A.J.A Louden, Clayton Lowe and Evan Brunt.

    Brunt said he’s happy to hear about additional space for artists. “I think the more walls with colour on them or something of substance, the better. It’s something that’s important Edmonton does to stay current with the art scene.”

    Artists are paid for their work on each mural.

    “From a tagging sense, it does protect the wall,” said Belanger, “because art is looked upon slightly differently than a blank wall.”

    Other building owners have already expressed interest in having their own contributions.

    “The church is also very interested in a mural here, so immediately you could see that you’d have a density of murals for mural alley here,” said the Arts Council’s Katherine Kerr.

    Six murals will also be painted on the large purple canvas that is The Paint Spot.

    “From day one I wanted to have an outdoor gallery to showcase the artists that I love and the diversity of art-making,” explained Fjordbotten.

    Dozens of local artists, as well as people from Ontario and the United States applied to be featured.

    “77 applications blew me away. If I could find a home for each and every one of them, they’re all calibre, I’d want them all.”

    Everyone involved in the mural-alley is hopeful a successful project off Whyte Avenue will spur other mural-alleys around the city.

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