Ilham Aliyev attended the opening of the International Humanitarian Forum

10 october 2011, 10:00

The International Humanitarian Forum “21st century: hopes and challenges” was held at the Gulustan Palace in Baku.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva attended the opening and the first plenary session of the forum.

The Baku International Humanitarian Forum is a reputable platform where issues of humanitarian cooperation are broadly discussed. Azerbaijan, a country possessing long-standing traditions of cooperation between cultures, civilizations and faiths, is an ideal venue for events in this format. The decision to conduct the forum was made at the First Azerbaijani-Russian forum on humanitarian cooperation held in Baku in 2010.

The forum is being attended by representatives of over 20 countries and influential international organizations, including people of culture and arts, managers of the leading mass media and public figures.

The head of state delivered a speech at the forum.

Speech by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev 

- Dear guests!

Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear friends!

Let me salute you all and welcome to Azerbaijan!

A very significant forum will be held in Baku today and tomorrow. All the guests attending the forum are dear to us. I am sure that the exchange of opinions and the suggestions to be made at the forum in the next two days will contribute to a further deepening of humanitarian cooperation.

I can say that the First Baku International Humanitarian Forum was conducted at the initiative of Russian and Azerbaijani intellectuals. And the leadership of Azerbaijan and Russia supported that initiative. Our country has regularly hosted international events on humanitarian cooperation in recent years. The Baku process was launched in 2008. The foundation of the Baku process was laid in 2008 when we invited representatives and ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to a meeting of Council of Europe culture ministers in Baku, and a joint international event was held for the first time. In 2009, ministers from Council of Europe countries were invited to a meeting of ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Baku. So a foundation for this tradition was laid. In 2010, Baku hosted the world summit of religious leaders, and I remember that event very well. The discussions and decisions passed at that summit contributed a lot to strengthening the dialogue between civilizations. Last year Baku hosted other international events. Finally, the Forum on Intercultural Dialogue held in Baku in April this year also went down in history as a momentous event. So this is already a wonderful tradition.

I hope that today's event and subsequent meetings, the forthcoming international forums to be held in Azerbaijan will turn our dreams into reality. And our dream is to enable all countries and peoples of the world to have warm relations with each other, deepen mutual understanding and create favorable conditions for international cooperation.

It is no coincidence that all these activities, humanitarian reforms are associated with Azerbaijan. People belonging to different cultures have lived in Azerbaijan like one family for centuries. Irrespective of the sociopolitical system, peoples have always lived like one family in Azerbaijan. There have never been any confrontations and misunderstandings on ethnic or religious grounds in Azerbaijan, discrimination has never been tolerated. And today, independent Azerbaijan is committed to these traditions.

I believe that our experience demonstrates that people belonging to different cultures and religions can live in peace, friendship and cooperation. So it is quite natural that such events are traditionally conducted in our country, and I am very glad that prominent public figures who have accepted our invitation to participate in the forum are our guests today. I am sure that the discussions and contacts to be established during the forum will bring us even closer together. At the present stage and in this globalizing world, such events are highly important.

Azerbaijan’s geographical location has certainly had an impact on the country’s development. Azerbaijan is a country where cultures and civilizations meet and blend. Our strength is in unity. National and religious diversity multiplies our strength. Azerbaijan is a multiethnic and multi-confessional country. Representatives of all religions have equal rights. All religious monuments are protected, restored and built by the state. The stability and the atmosphere of friendship observed in our country in the years of independence certainly further reinforce Azerbaijan as a regional country.

All the reforms carried out in our country, both political and economic, pursue one the same goal: to enable Azerbaijani citizens to live even better and Azerbaijan to build up its capacity. To do that, economic reforms alone are not enough. This requires a sound climate in society. To do this, of course, all the people of Azerbaijan, as ever, must live in an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation.

The history of Azerbaijan, our past shows that this is possible. Today, Azerbaijan, as an independent state, is a member of the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Azerbaijan is one of a handful of countries that are a member of both organizations, and an active member. I think that our country is doing a lot to unite civilizations, religions, and to deepen cooperation. Most importantly, these efforts are yielding fruit. Otherwise, Azerbaijan’s experience in this sphere would not cause interest.

The Baku process has been successfully developing since 2008. I am sure that further activities within this process framework due in the coming years will be of great support for our cause.

In general, our country has always paid great attention to the humanitarian sphere. This area is still a priority for our government. The development of science and education, the development of healthcare, culture and sports in Azerbaijan contributes to the development of the entire humanitarian sector. The country has specific programs on these areas, and they are being implemented. This area will continue to be a priority, and we will strive to fulfill all our tasks.

Humanitarian issues are very important for any country. Of course, to devote more attention to the humanitarian sphere, the country should also have financial resources. In the early years of independence we experienced great difficulties. Azerbaijan was in both economic and political crisis. Perhaps this area did not receive proper attention in the early 1990s. Not because it was neglected but because we did not have financial capabilities. Today, Azerbaijan is the most rapidly developing country in the world in economic terms. Humanitarian development is our top priority. We have the capacity to develop this area. It is no secret and we all know that the successful development of any country is ensured not by natural resources but by humanitarian factors. Therefore, the investment made in education and science in Azerbaijan is and will be giving results. The thesis of “transforming black gold into human capital” we put forward a few years ago is already a reality. Thousands of Azerbaijani boys and girls are receiving education in leading universities around the world. I am sure that the educational reform under way in Azerbaijan will soon produce good results. At the same time, we are implementing specific programs to develop science and attract young people to it. This is the objective of the recently adopted State Program “Azerbaijani Youth in 2011-2015”.

The successful development of countries is and will be determined by scientific and technical progress. Our advantage is that Azerbaijan is rich in natural resources, and we use them rationally. Over the past seven years the number of people living in poverty in Azerbaijan has fallen five times, i.e. 500 per cent. This is the result of the fact that, as I said, we are converting material resources into human capital. Very serious steps will be taken in the humanitarian sphere in the future too. But along with all the positive trends in the humanitarian field, there are also difficulties. Our biggest difficulty is that Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory has been under occupation for many years. This is a major humanitarian disaster. One million Azerbaijani citizens are living in their own homeland as refugees and IDPs. Azerbaijan has been exposed to a policy of ethnic cleansing. Armenian aggression has dealt a severe blow to Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has suffered both material and moral damage.

We hope that the conflict will be resolved and Azerbaijan's territorial integrity recognized by the international community will be restored in the near future. There is a strong legal basis for that. There are four UN Security Council resolutions which explicitly state that Armenian armed forces should unconditionally withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani lands. The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution. The European Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, that is all international organizations have passed very important decisions and resolutions on the conflict, thereby strengthening our cause. Unfortunately, however, these decisions have yet to be fulfilled. Let me repeat that along with all the difficulties, this was a major humanitarian disaster because unfortunately, for the number of refugees per capita Azerbaijan is in the first place in the world.

An end must be put to this conflict soon and our citizens must return to their native lands. This is their right, a basic right. Justice must finally be restored. The development experienced in all areas of life in Azerbaijan in recent years certainly inspires us, but at the same time it increases our responsibility. Today, Azerbaijan’s initiatives in regional affairs are of great importance not only for our country, but also for the region. Our economic and political initiatives pursue one goal: first of all, to enable the people of Azerbaijan to live even better. On the other hand, we want to be in constant communication with neighboring nations. The purpose of our regional initiatives is to further strengthen our ties with neighboring countries. Today this is the case. Azerbaijan has very sincere and constructive relations with its neighbors. Our relations with all countries are based on a very sound footing. These are relations of friendship and partnership, equal relationships. This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our independence. In 20 years our country has come a long way. And the forum we are gathered for today is further confirmation of my words. The forum has been joined by well-known and respected public figures from all over the world.

Each one of us, public figures, politicians, people enjoying public respect, must strive to further strengthen ties between nations in the future. There is a great need for that. This is not just a slogan or trendy words. This is a necessity. We see that in our country. If Azerbaijan had experienced an unpleasant incident on ethnic or religious grounds, it would be a great disaster for our country. Our public policies and, at the same time, the existing atmosphere in society and the political order of society require that we must pay constant attention to these issues and confidently and successfully carry out our policies. There is an extensive debate about multiculturalism in the world today. Multiculturalism is on the agenda of this forum. This is natural because there have been various discussions on this issue in recent years. I can say that multiculturalism is a relatively new concept. But we in Azerbaijan have lived in an atmosphere of multiculturalism for centuries. Our lives, in particular our experience of the last 20 years as an independent country, show that multiculturalism has a future. We are saying this with full confidence. Multiculturalism has great traditions not only in Azerbaijan but also in many countries, neighboring states. So I think it is inappropriate and harmful to question multiculturalism or talk about its failure now because there is no alternative to multiculturalism.

The alternative to multiculturalism is self-isolation. I don’t believe there is a political force in the 21st century, in a globalizing world that would try to pursue the policy of self-isolation. This is a road to nowhere. The values, the foundations of multiculturalism must be reinforced. Multiculturalism means respect for representatives of another nation, respect for another religion. Respect for one’s own religion begins with respect for another religion. Multiculturalism does not tolerate discrimination. In fact, it unites all the peoples. At the same time, each country has its own rules and traditions. Everyone, both citizens of a country and visitors, must certainly respect these rules and traditions. I am sure that as a result of a synthesis of these factors the pessimistic thoughts about multiculturalism being expressed in various circles today will be eliminated. Today’s forum is proof of multiculturalism, its triumph.

Dear friends, very valuable ideas will certainly be expressed during the discussions today and tomorrow. I am sure these ideas will contribute to our common cause. Once again, let me salute you all in Azerbaijan. I am very pleased that the First Baku International Forum is starting today. I am sure that the forum will produce serious results and excellent decisions. At the same time, you will have a good opportunity to see Baku and Azerbaijan. Those of you who have come to Azerbaijan for the first time will get acquainted with our city. You will probably have your own impressions about our country and the development ongoing in the country.

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the organization of this forum, put forward and supported this initiative.

I wish the forum every success.

Thank you.

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The head of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation, Sergey Naryshkin, thanked the Azerbaijani leadership for organizing the forum at a high level and for the hospitality.

Then Sergey Naryshkin read out a message of congratulation on behalf of Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev to the forum participants.

The message says: “Dear friends!

I would like to heartily salute the participants and guests of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum.

Humanitarian cooperation plays an important stabilizing role in the present-day world. It contributes to sustainable development, has a positive effect on relations between countries and permeates almost every sphere of human activity – from economics, science and culture to legal policies and security issues.

Humanitarian cooperation is rightly called “soft power” as it helps remove barriers to the dialogue of civilizations, uniting nations and peoples on the basis of the values of justice and tolerance, solidarity and mutual respect.

The need for humanitarian filling of international relations has become more apparent in recent years. New inter-state mechanisms are created and serve as an example of effective cooperation among creative elites. And, of course, special role belongs to public initiatives and movements that have made significant contributions to the formation of a new humanitarian space. I am sure that the Baku forum will take a rightful place among them.

I wish all participants fruitful work and all the best.

President of the Russian Federation Dmitriy Medvedev.”

Noting that the Baku forum is in the focus of the world elite, Sergey Naryshkin touched upon the relevance of the topics to be discussed at the forum’s plenary sessions and panels.

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The ninth President of Turkey, Suleyman Demirel, said many developments unfolding in the world do not bypass people’s lives, so all the initiatives pertaining to humanitarian issues are worthy of attention.

After expressing satisfaction with visiting the beautiful city of Baku again, Suleyman Demirel said he was glad to come here on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the restoration of Azerbaijan’s state independence. “In 20 years Azerbaijan has become a mature and worthy member of the international community and, as a country possessing even greater potential, achieved a high level of development and lasting stability. Under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan is confidently moving forward. I must pay tribute to the memory of the late President Heydar Aliyev. He was the father of his people. I always remember our good relations, meetings and discussions. His wise, courageous and farsighted policy saved Azerbaijan from difficulties and tensions. It is thanks to the efforts of Heydar Aliyev and President Ilham Aliyev that Azerbaijani-Turkish brotherhood has become a unique and historic reality. The “One nation, two states” adage is now part of real life.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have excellent relations in all areas today. The relations we started 20 years ago have a strong and solid foundation and are developing successfully,” he said.

Suleyman Demirel drew the forum’s attention to the importance of eliminating the risks posed to human life, achieving millennium development goals in a timely and urgent manner. The ninth President of Turkey thanked the Azerbaijani President for leading such an authoritative process.

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US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza read out a message of former US President Bill Clinton. The message says that about a billion people around the world live in poverty, and such activities play an important part in preventing negative processes on the planet and mitigating their impact.

Bill Clinton thanked the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia for supporting this initiative.

Matthew Bryza also expressed confidence that the Baku forum would contribute to a deepening of international humanitarian cooperation.

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The Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said coexistence was the biggest humanitarian challenge. He said the promotion of intercultural dialogue is in great demand in the world today and the implementation of related plans is highly important. Along with that, prevention of xenophobia and extremism requires great humanitarian support, as they are among the biggest problems of modern Europe, and related initiatives can be very effective.

Describing the presence of refugees in many countries, including Azerbaijan, as one of the factors impeding humanitarian cooperation, Mevlut Cavusoglu said, “Speaking about refugees, as Mr. President highlighted, we must not forget that there are refugees and IDPs in Azerbaijan. It is because of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the occupation of Azerbaijani lands that Azerbaijan has one million refugees and IDPs. I know that Mr. President and his government are doing everything possible to improve the living standards of those in a difficult situation. In particular, we must not forget that women and children still live in very difficult conditions.”

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The Assistant Director-General for UNESCO's Communication and Information Sector, Janis Karklins, thanked President Ilham Aliyev on behalf of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova for the high level of organization of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum.

Highlighting the importance of the forum from the standpoint of a comprehensive exchange of views on the progress of science, preservation of traditional values and ethics, Janis Karklins said, “The Baku International Humanitarian Forum is a perfect platform for managing complex challenges. I cannot think of another city that would be so suited to discuss these issues. The forum agenda is rich and interesting. At the same time, all this is very important in terms of identifying perfect ways of resolving problems.”

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General Manager of ISESCO Abdul Aziz Othman al-Tuwaijri, explaining the fact that international activities are frequently held in Baku by the growing authority of Azerbaijan and President Ilham Aliyev in the world, said, “The Baku International Humanitarian Forum will enable us to meet our objectives and fulfill the humanitarian agenda. In a globalizing world humanitarian activities are conducted internationally. And this is a very progressive matter, an important component of Azerbaijan’s initiative towards strengthening the dialogue between civilizations. Azerbaijan’s new initiatives aim to resolve the issues of concern for the international community.

After His Excellency Mr. Ilham Aliyev came to power, Azerbaijan’s economic development accelerated and very important conferences that facilitated progress and understanding were held. I want to emphasize that these events serve dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation in this globalizing world. ISESCO supports all of Azerbaijan’s initiatives and is pleased that such important events are organized jointly.

Today, the world's attention is again focused on your beautiful capital, Baku. The Baku International Humanitarian Forum has confirmed again that Azerbaijan has a lot of experience and potential to implement such projects.

I am absolutely convinced that the Baku platform will serve the preservation and development of humanitarian values in a globalizing world.

Let me salute the Baku International Humanitarian Forum and wish it every success. Thank you for your attention.”

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After the speeches, the forum participants and outstanding public and political figures thanked President Ilham Aliyev for supporting such a magnificent process.

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In conclusion, a picture was taken.

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Then the International Humanitarian Forum continued its work in the second plenary session.

Addressing the meeting, the rector of Moscow State University, Viktor Sadovnichiy, stressed the importance of discussing issues of humanitarian cooperation between nations and peoples at such an important international forum.

Touching upon the multifaceted nature of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia, the rector praised the development of relations between our countries, especially in the sphere of education. He pointed to a close cooperation between the Moscow State University and Baku State University in the development of these ties. Reminiscing about his meetings with nationwide leader of the Azerbaijani people Heydar Aliyev in Baku and Moscow, V. Sadovnichiy pointed with great satisfaction to President Ilham Aliyev’s speech at Moscow State University and his decoration with the title of Honorary Doctor of the institution.

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Saying that the Baku forum is a good opportunity for the discussion of scientific, cultural, sociological and humanitarian issues, the former President of Romania, Emil Constantinescu, expressed his confidence that this international event would contribute to the dialogue between religions, cultures and civilizations. He noted that in order to reach a consensus on humanitarian issues among nations and states, it is necessary to meet more often.

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The winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, Ahmed Zewail, said that thanks to information and communication technologies and the rapid development of the Internet, the transfer of information between countries, regions and continents in a short time has become possible. He said 2 billion people on the planet are using the Internet. The scientist pointed to the importance of joining the efforts of people living in different parts of the world in solving humanitarian problems.

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The winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, James Mirlis, indicated that the purpose of the economy is to improve people's living standards. Currently, however, some countries are facing severe economic problems. “While paying attention to economic development, we must also consider such factors as health, environment, education, etc. From this standpoint, it is necessary to monitor developments in all areas,” he said.

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Saying that he was boundlessly proud to participate in the forum and visit Baku, the former Bulgarian President, Zhelyu Zhelev, expressed his satisfaction with the dynamic development of Azerbaijan. “Today I visited the grave of the great leader of the Azerbaijani people, Heydar Aliyev. It is gratifying that the great leader’s dreams are being successfully implemented by the Azerbaijani people,” he said.

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Praising the role of writers in the development of humanitarian cooperation and focusing on the problems of society, the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, said that they could easily find common ground on these issues.

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Expressing his satisfaction with the opportunity to participate in the forum, the former President of Slovakia, Rudolf Schuster, thanked President Ilham Aliyev for the high level of organization of such a grand event. Noting that as a result of frequent natural disasters in various parts of the world there is a danger of food shortages, R. Schuster emphasized the importance of strengthening measures to protect the environment.

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Expressing his gratitude for the invitation to attend such an important event in Baku, the former President of Bulgaria, Petar Stoyanov, said the forum would mainly focus on global warming and poverty. Stressing President Aliyev’s words that “there is no alternative to multiculturalism”, Stoyanov said it was necessary to avoid misunderstandings and build mutual confidence.

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Speaking at the third plenary session of the Baku International Humanitarian Forum, the president of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, Academician Mahmud Karimov, noted that thanks to the rapid socioeconomic, cultural and spiritual development of our country it has turned into a leading regional state and become a venue for international forums on problems of intercultural dialogue and integration in this globalizing world. He emphasized that all the people and religious communities of our country have made an invaluable contribution to the formation of Azerbaijani culture, which has historically combined western and eastern values.

The academician said the approach to the problems being discussed in the aspect of humanitarian principles is an important ideological trend of the forum. One of the key objectives of the forum is to discuss a model of social and cultural development of society based on humanitarian values.

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The director-general of the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, Vitaliy Ignatenko, said the forum discusses very serious issues that concern the contemporary world. He said it would also consider issues of journalistic ethics and safety of journalists in military operations. The ITAR-TASS director-general said it was important in hi-tech conditions to create a balance in the transmission of information into social networks by the traditional media and news agencies.

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The Chairman of the Board of Bilkent University of Turkey, Ali Dogramaci, said he was very proud to be in Baku again. He expressed his deep gratitude to President Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva for the high level of organization of the humanitarian forum. Emphasizing that information and communication technologies are rapidly developing in the present-day world, he pointed to the importance of training highly qualified professionals under such circumstances. “To achieve our goals we need to effectively use modern information and communication technologies,” A. Dogramaci said.

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The chairman of the Russian-Azerbaijani friendship society, rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University, a corresponding fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yefim Pivovar, paying special attention to multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, said that these factors are even more relevant in today's world. Stressing that Azerbaijan and Russia have extensive experience in the field of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism, Pivovar noted the importance of education for a further deepening of relations between nations and peoples.

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The special representative of the Russian President on issues of international cultural cooperation, Mikhail Shvydkoy, said science has a great impact on society. Nevertheless, he said, the fundamental problems of our life cannot be solved by science and technology or economic models alone. The susceptibility of all public structures and concepts to change is a fundamental issue. Stressing that the forum is associated with traditional values in post-modern cultures, he stressed the importance of discussing these issues by scientists and writers from different countries.

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The Secretary-General of the Council on Cooperation of Turkic states, Halil Akinci, described the forum, being conducted at the initiative of President Ilham Aliyev in the conditions of a globalizing world, as a commendable event. Saying that the role of regional and international organizations in identifying common interests, maintaining peace and stability in the region has increased in the 21st century, Akinci spoke about the activities of the organization he is leading. He pointed to the importance of humanitarian projects on the Council’s agenda.

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A corresponding fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Mikhail Kovalchuk, spoke about the convergence of sciences in the modern world. He noted that one of the main factors enriching cultural values is the technosphere. Pointing to a need for a new development ideology in the modern world, the scientist wished the forum every success.

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The Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a specialist in genetic engineering and biotechnology, Konstantin Skryabin, pointed to significant advances in the study of genetic information over the past 10 years. Indicating that biotechnology has extensively developed in recent years, the scientist stressed the importance of the forum for the discussion of pressing issues and expressed his appreciation for the excellent organization and hospitality.

This brought the first day of the forum to a close.

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The forum will be continued in panel meetings on 11 October.