Mauritania: Hot Heads and Cold Shoulders


As the wealthy upper management of Canada’s Kinross Gold were celebrating Christmas, a large group of almost 300 members of its workforce at the Tasiast operation in Mauritania received the unwelcome news that they were being laid off. The official line is that this was all part of a necessary strategy to cut costs and reduce operational capacity, and is also related to a fall in the price of gold.

The workers in Mauritania say they have not been treated fairly, that collective redundancies are not legal, and that they have a raft of additional issues which need to be addressed. One worker told a local reporter that he received his notice while taking his first vacation from work in six years. Another got the news while still undergoing medical treatment for an industrial injury. Several of those laid off had been encouraged to take out large bank loans, the status of which is now a major problem.

Frustrated by the lack of reaction, a group of workers began an open-ended sit-in outside the Presidential Palace in Nouakchott on December 25 to demand a hearing and request fair treatment under the prevailing law. As usual, a representative from the office of President Aziz came out to receive the demands of the delegation, but returned to say Aziz would not grant them an audience. The protesters remained in place, throughout the bitterly cold nights.

After the sit-in continued for some days without redress from the company or action by the authorities, local activists and concerned members of civil society went to sit with them and show solidarity, and returned on January 5 to take part in a human chain of protest, as shown in the video above, and the photo gallery below.

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The media responded with a blanket of silence – the mining companies in Mauritania are big spenders when it comes to advertising contracts. The parties of the political opposition likewise had little to say.

Then, late on Thursday 9 January, the sit-in had a visit from the police. The mining workers were told they must leave the area because President Keita of Mali was coming to pay an official visit and they were making the place look untidy. Naturally, they refused to budge. Another group of unrelated protesters who were in the same location that evening did comply with police orders to vacate the area.

At around 02:55, the riot squads arrived in eight vehicles and, after talking quietly with the workers for about 15 minutes, launched a sudden violent attack, using batons and tear gas. After two brutal hours of police repression against the workers from Tasiast, and the activists who rushed to their side in support, there were about a dozen people injured. Four men with more with serious injuries were refused treatment, through the combined obstruction of medical staff at the National Hospital and the police. Several protesters were robbed of cash and mobile phones by the police while being searched; an amount of 400,000 MRO has been reported. The police also confiscated blankets, rugs, clothes and cooking gear from the sit-in.

Police released about 10 workers arrested during the raid and the running battle in the streets of Nouakchott which ensued; the rest were released later. There was no media presence the entire time, only activists from Mouvement du 25 Février (m25fev) and La Jeunesse de RFD trying to document events. One of the m25fev activists was injured quite seriously in the shoulder and was detained by police for about 2 hours.

The protests in the capital continued on Saturday 11 January, despite the previous day’s violence.

Protesting mine workers outside Tasiast HQ Nouakchott

Protesting mine workers outside Tasiast HQ Nouakchott

The protesters switched location to stand outside the Kinross office in Nouakchott, but an activist reported to a local journalist that the management there called the police, claiming the protesters were throwing stones – which the activist strenuously denied. Police cordoned off the area and there was an unconfirmed report that tear gas was used again.

This issue is being systematically ignored, while far larger “Islamic” protests are being orchestrated in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou to demand the application of Sharia law against the author of a recent blog post which was critical of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Massive protest march after Friday prayers descended on the presidential palace

Massive protest march after Friday prayers descended on the presidential palace

These protests are growing in size and turning violent. On Saturday 11 January in Nouadhibou, three injuries – including one police officer – were reported after clashes with police. The previous day, that town saw large protests with tyres being burned, cars and shops vandalised, as police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Local journalist Ahmed Salem was beaten and arrested by police. In Nouakchott, hundreds marched to the palace and the president came down to address the crowd, and remind them that Mauritania is an Islamic Republic which already uses Sharia.

10Jan Aziz outside the palace

Aziz dons his turban to address people outside the palace

Deeply reminiscent of the book burning incident of May 2012, this Aziz PR stunt has drawn immediate censure across the board, including from some highly influential commentators. Although the worst of the criticism was reserved for Aziz, there was some remaining for an obviously false claim by one (barely legitimate) news site that Al Qaeda flags had been spotted in the Nouadhibou protests, which is being resoundingly refuted. There is also mounting concern about the decidedly un-Islamic behaviour of robberies and violence being reported.

As for the alleged reason for these massive, repeated protests – the offensive article – this is a most unusual situation and one which is perhaps too easily exploited.  The supposed author of the article was arrested over a week ago, and was sent to the High Court for arraignment a few days later, after admitting to writing the item in question. He is said to have been charged with apostasy, which is covered in Article 306 of the current penal code. He can be fined and sentenced to prison if he makes a public apology, or he can refuse and be sentenced to death. He has already issued a written retraction and apology before being arrested (or taken into protective custody, depending on the source). No one has been executed in Mauritania for decades.

These twinned sagas will continue, the redundant Tasiast workers will be ignored, while demanding redress under a law which exists but probably doesn’t apply to their specific situation; and the devout Muslims will be showered with attention, demanding introduction of a law that would be redundant because one already exists and is being applied. By Tuesday, 14 January, the day assigned as the anniversary of the birth of Mohammed (PBUH), this particular powder keg could be set to explode.

ECHELON, PROMIS, PRISM: Global Interception to Global Deception


The history of spying and being spied upon is as old as dirt, but lately there’s this feeling that, left unchecked for too long, it’s got out of hand. We have an equally long history of allowing previous chances to pay attention slip from our grasp. Looking back just a few years, ECHELON is one example:

Global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON)

Global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON)

From the European Parliament website Report (11 July 2001) on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system):

The system known as ‘ECHELON’ is an interception system which differs from other intelligence systems in that it possesses two features which make it quite unusual:

The first such feature attributed to it is the capacity to carry out quasi-total surveillance. Satellite receiver stations and spy satellites in particular are alleged to give it the ability to intercept any telephone, fax, Internet or e-mail message sent by any individual and thus to inspect its contents.

The second unusual feature of ECHELON is said to be that the system operates worldwide on the basis of cooperation proportionate to their capabilities among several states (the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), giving it an added value in comparison to national systems: the states participating in ECHELON (UKUSA states(8)) can place their interception systems at each other’s disposal, share the cost and make joint use of the resulting information. This type of international cooperation is essential in particular for the worldwide interception of satellite communications, since only in this way is it possible to ensure in international communications that both sides of a dialogue can be intercepted. It is clear that, in view of its size, a satellite receiver station cannot be established on the territory of a state without that state’s knowledge. Mutual agreement and proportionate cooperation among several states in different parts of the world is essential.

Possible threats to privacy and to businesses posed by a system of the ECHELON type arise not only from the fact that is a particularly powerful monitoring system, but also that it operates in a largely legislation-free area. Systems for the interception of international communications are not usually targeted at residents of the home country. The person whose messages were intercepted would have no domestic legal protection, not being resident in the country concerned. Such a person would be completely at the mercy of the system. Parliamentary supervision would also be inadequate in this area, since the voters, who assume that interception ‘only’ affects people abroad, would not be particularly interested in it, and elected representatives chiefly follow the interests of their voters. That being so, it is hardly surprising that the hearings held in the US Congress concerning the activities of the NSA were confined to the question of whether US citizens were affected by it, with no real concern expressed regarding the existence of such a system in itself. It thus seems all the more important to investigate this issue at European level.

(my emphasis)

As this excerpt illustrates, there is an established, ongoing programme of mutual cooperation, and individual citizens of their respective countries don’t make a fuss because they wrongly assume they are not targets. The hidden truth here is really sad: neither government or people are concerned about bad stuff happening in other countries. We’re fine with investing, trading, travelling, or studying abroad, but if there’s a problem, we want to scurry home and pull up the drawbridge.

More recently, we heard about “PROMIS” – for example, in this post from 2006 which states:

“National Security Agency (NSA) computers have been downloading financial and personal files of all American citizens as a result of upgrades to the Echelon satellite network and software program which is part of the Prosecutor’s Management Information System (PROMIS).

SOG says that NSA also has a “7-10 second lead time” which effectively affords the agency the opportunity to delay the release of currency, stock and bond sales transactions which permits a criminal advantage to agency officials and other high-level associates who game the system of the world’s financial markets”

(my emphasis)

These historic reports explain why so many people, myself included, maintain that the current media revelations about PRISM are not actually news. We have been aware for some time that nothing and no one is “safe” from prying electronic eyes. For most of us, this issue is not about having “something to hide”: it’s about exercising the right to go about your business and not have your private and personal life intruded on without good reason by anyone, and especially not the government that is supposed to serve you. Worse, and decidedly more underhand, is the notion of another country’s government spying on you, then sharing that information with your government in some shady secret information exchange deal. It is about being innocent until proven guilty in a public court of law, with the right to defend yourself. Basically, we don’t want our phone conversations, correspondence or bank accounts to be the target of extrajudicial electronic snooper drones. We don’t want government more loyal to its clandestine relationships with other countries than to the electorate.

Are4D7z - ImgurIf you were not previously aware, or not focussed on these risks, you can thank Edward Snowden and the media coverage of PRISM for bringing these concerns to the front page.The PRISM reports are being issued with exceptionally useful timing, coinciding initially with meetings between China and the US, and then just ahead of the G8 summit.  This inevitably leads to speculation over why non-news is being pushed so hard, and whether there is an alternative agenda. We can’t know for sure what the deal is with these PRISM revelations, we can only throw around a few guesses or wait for more information to come to light. There are several possibilities being mulled over, from diverting attention away from other news items, to inciting civil unrest and manufacturing dissent among grassroots movements on a par with the Occupy protests. Proponents of the latter point out that Edward Snowden’s story also contains some subtle, and not so subtle, messages targeting anti-establishment activists. For example, reports mention he had an Electronic Frontier Foundation  bumper sticker on his laptop lid, and his responses in the Guardian’s Q&A include a plug for an upcoming “Restore The Fourth Amendment” 4 July march. The main thing to keep in mind is that all news must be regarded with a critical if not cynical eye. There is enough evidence of news being used to misdirect and manipulate popular opinion; what matters is how, and if, we choose to react.

Photo: New York Daily News

Photo: New York Daily News

Who is Edward Snowden, and why should you care? He is being hailed as a hero by some, a traitor by others, and even an actor of sorts. Apart from establishing his credibility, there is really no good reason to form an obsession about Edward Snowden, especially if that diverts attention away from the far more important content of his message.

Did he really work for the US Government? Evidence that he did can be gleaned from a comment Snowden posted on the Ars Technica forum back in 2006, when he was considering his preferences for being sent overseas for two years on assignment:

“Although I’m not a diplomat, I work for the Department of State. I actually signed up because of the opportunity for foreign travel […] I also don’t see the allure of “Scandinavian” countries, but that’s simply because I don’t want to live in a country where warmth and comfort are only spoken of in bedtime stories. China is definitely a good option career-wise, and I’ve already got a basic understanding of Mandarin and the culture, but it just doesn’t seem like as much “fun” as some of the other places. Who knows where the “needs of the service” will actually end up placing me, though. Azerbaijan, anyone? Scared

Despite his preferences, Snowden was apparently posted to Geneva. Since he already knew some Mandarin, I think that makes Hong Kong a less surprising choice of venue for his initial exile. Snowden may not like cold countries, but a lot has changed since 2006. Perhaps global warming can take care of the rest.

Is he now a wanted criminal? Despite reports that US government is angered by Snowden’s whistleblowing, it has yet to issue an international arrest warrant, meaning he should be free to travel anywhere, with the possible exception of the United States.

*Featured image for this post is from a platoon page on the “Battlefield 3” gaming website for the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell MMO‘s “Third Echelon“.

Petition | #HumanRights Org: Stop misconduct of mining companies in #Mauritania


Please sign the petitions on here:

and on Avaaz here:

We need to urge the government to make these mining companies sustain the environment and preserve the landscape for the future generations. These corporation need to assume social responsibility and take a hand into developing the local communities instead of devastating them…

We aspire to break the government’s shameful silence and indifference towards the atrocities caused by corporations such as KINROSS, MCM and PETRONAS…

By Elycheikh Ahmed-Tolba

KINROSS, the Canadian gold mining corporation (monster) which is leading the Gold Exploitation in Mauritania, has displayed its interest in expanding industrial hegemony over the Tasiast facility. Kinross is considered to be one of the worst mining companies working in Mauritania along with MCM and PETRONAS.  It has no respect for the local people. It has been contributing in the degradation of the environment…

Monday, 04/29/2013, Kinross revealed its decision to expand gold production in Tasiast-Mauritania which will produce 830,000 ounces of gold annually – undoubtedly enough to exhaust gold reserves in the desert. Kinross is acting beyond the limits and mandate of the Mauritanian government…

Our silent military government has turned into deaf ears and blind eyes to Kinross atrocities due the percentages given under the table to the military junta and their lead generals…

Kinross is using these attitudes in Mauritania because of the government’s corruption and involvement in the process of demeaning the Mauritanian population. Kinross has no sense or consideration for CSR: corporate social responsibility…

It’s the burden of intellectuals in RIM to stand up against this monster and disclose its awful intent to ruin the potential richness of the country. We need to work together hand-in-hand to preserve the sustainability of the Mauritanian environment for future generations. —

KINROSS, the Canadian  gold mining corporation (monster) which is leading the Gold Exploitation in Mauritania, has displayed its interest in expending the industrial hegemony over Tazyazet factory. Kinross is considered to be one of the worst mining companies working in Mauritania among MCM and PETRONASS. It has no respect for the local people; It has been contributing in the degradation of the environment... </p> <p>Today 04/29/2013, Kinross revealed its decision to build up a new factory of gold in Tazyazet-Mauritania which will produce 830000 ounces of gold annually which will be undoubtedly enough to dry up the refinery of the gold in the desert. Especially, that Kinross is acting beyond the limits and observations of the Mauritanian government...</p> <p>Our silent military government has turned into deaf ears and blind eyes to Kinross’s atrocities due the percentages given from beneath the table to the military junta and their lead generals...Kinross is using these attitudes in Mauritania because of the government’s corruption and involvement in the process of demeaning the Mauritanian population. Kinross has no sense or consideration for CSR: corporate social responsibility...</p> <p>It’s the burden of the intellectuals in RIM to stand up against this monster and disclose its awful intent to ruin the potential richness of the country. We need to work all together and hand-in-hand to preserve the sustainability of the Mauritanian sole and environment for the future generations.

News from Iran – Week 03 – 2013

Nasrin Sotoudeh

Prisoners’ News

A- Transfers


  • Senior Reformist Abolfazl Ghadiani was transferred to Ghezel Hesar.
  • Asadollah Hadi, political prisoner transferred to hospital for heart surgery.
  • Samkoo Khelghati Kurdish political prisoner, transferred from Evin to Rejaei Shahr.
  • 7 Gonabadi Dervish transferred to solitary in ward 209 from ward 350 of Evin prison.


B- Arrests/Incarcerations


  • Lawyer Manizheh Bohlouli arrested in Miyaneh without an arrest warrant.
  • Student activist Amir Chamani arrested to serve his 7 months sentence – 40 lashes sentence enforced in Tabriz prison.
  • Medical furlough extension was denied for cleric blogger Mohammad Hossein Honarvar, he returned to prison
  • Activist Mohammad Khatibi arrested in a raid of his home and taken to Intel detention in Tabriz.
  • Dr. Foad Moghadam, a Baha’i on-line university official reported to Evin to start serving his 5 years sentence.
  • BIHE (Bahai Virtual University) professor Shahin Negari arrested.
  • Azad Rasoolnezhad, teacher and student in international law, arrested in Oshnavieh.
  • Member of Teachers Union, civil activist Mohammad Tavakoli summoned and arrested by Intel in Kermanshah.
  • Baha’i Shakiba Vahdat has been arrested in Tabriz. She was in Intel detention in Babolsar for 2 days earlier this week.



Nasrin Sotoudeh

Nasrin Sotoudeh reunited with her children after more than 2 years in prison without leave


  • Former Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh released on furlough after 10 months hospitalization.
  • Nazanin Dehimi was released from Evin after serving out her 4 months sentence.
  • After 3 years imprisonment political prisoner Hossein Faraji released on a 3 day furlough.
  • Student activist and Advar member Bahareh Hedayat has been released on 700 million toman bail on furlough.
  • Journalist Mohammad Kimiaei released on bail.
  • Student activist Arash Mohammadi has been released on probation from Tabriz prison.
  • Members of Gonabadi Dervishes Kasra Nouri and Saleh Moradi have launched a hunger strike in Adelabad prison in Shiraz.
  • Human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh has been released on a 3 day furlough on 300 million toman bail.


D-Other News


  • Political prisoner Esmail Barzegari has started a hunger strike.
  • Imprisoned senior Reformist Abolfazl Ghadiani has been banned from visits.
  • Detained Green leader Mehdi Karoubi’s 10 year old granddaughter has been banned from traveling abroad, passport confiscated.
  • Political prisoner Shir-Ahmad Shirani [who is already very ill with kidney disease] has started a hunger strike.

News of injustice in Iran


  • Volunteers of Sarand Camp helping earthquake victims, were sentenced
    • Behrooz Alavi, 2 years and 3 months imprisonment
    • Mohammad Arjomandirad, 6 months imprisonment
    • Morteza Esmailpour, 6 months imprisonment
    • Danial Hasani, 6 months imprisonment
    • Vahed Kholosi, 2 years imprisonment
    • Ali Mohammadi, 6 months imprisonment
    • Hamid Reza Mosibian, 2 years and 6 months imprisonment
    • Milad Panahipour, 6 months imprisonment
    • Farid Rohani, 6 months imprisonment
    • Seyed Hassan Ronaghi Maleki, 6 months imprisonment
    • Seyed Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, 2 years imprisonment
    • Amir Ronasi, 6 months imprisonment
    • Sepehrdad Saheban, 6 months imprisonment
    • Mohammad Amin Salehi, 6 months imprisonment
    • Mohsen Samei, 6 months imprisonment
    • Bahram Shojaei, 2 years imprisonment
    • Mohammad Esmail Soleimanpour, 6 months imprisonment
    • Hooman Taheri, 6 months imprisonment
    • Masoud Vafabakhsh, 6 months imprisonment
    • Shayan Vahdati, 6 months imprisonment.
  • Sentence to execution for young Kurdish activist Reza Mollazadeh confirmed by Supreme Court.
  • One man hanged in Shahrekord on Sunday.
  • One man hanged in Mashhad on Wednesday.
  • One man hanged in public in Sabzevar on Wednesday.
  • Two persons were publicly flogged in Eivanaki on Wednesday.
  • 2 executions in Semnan on Wednesday.
  • 3 public executions in Pakdasht on Thursday.

University – Culture

  • Shokoofeh Derakhshanian, Baha’i, expelled from Tabari University in Babol.
  • Maryam Mirzakhani awarded 2013 Satter Prize in mathematics by American Mathematical Society.
  • Czech Republic rejects Masters students from Iran because of UN nuclear sanctions.


  • Workers from the Khamana textile plant demonstrated in front of the Majlis .

Iran Economics

  • Iran imports 897,000 tons of rice in 9 months.
  • Maserati and Lamborghini pull out of Iran.

Politics in Iran

  • Members of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee will visit Evin and Rejaei Shahr prisons.
  • Grand Ayatollah Sobhani proposes election of president through parliamentary system.
  • Women enter Iran Riot Police.
  • Special units guards and police have surrounded the venue where Gonabadi Dervishes were holding services in Shahrekord.

Iran  abroad

  • KLM to cease flights to Iran in April.
  • Arrests in Spain linked to Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Iranian escalating role in Yemen concerns USA.
  • Canada will resettle up to 5,000 displaced Iraqi and Iranian refugees currently in Turkey by 2018.
  • Syria PM meets Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials in Tehran.


Will Mauritania’s Project Zazou Encourage Vegetarianism?


Getting rid of plastic, which accounts for 10% of total waste and uses 8% of the global oil supply annually, is a great idea, as long as it is done in a sensible, sustainable way. It’s not difficult to make compelling arguments for saving scarce resources and protecting the planet and all forms of life. Yet Mauritania seems to have missed the mark by a mile with a poor choice of material for its Project Zazou (2013) press announcement.

No shortage of foraging donkeys in Nouakchott

No shortage of foraging donkeys in Nouakchott. And goats. Sheep, cows, not so much.

There was a lot of interest when BBC Africa reported on the new ban on plastic bags, informally known as “Zazou” in Mauritania. They highlighted a quote from the Environment Ministry spokesman, who apparently claimed that 70% of cows & sheep that die in the capital Nouakchott are killed by plastic bags. Nouakchott has plenty of donkeys and goats, but is not known for its herds of cows or sheep. How many are being killed in a year? What about goats, donkeys or even camels?

The claim that 80% of all cows slaughtered for food were found to have plastic in their stomachs is another sensational conundrum, as once again they did not say how many head of cattle were involved. But this factoid also leads to the conclusion that more than 80% of cows are not being cared for properly, if they are being left to forage for food in city garbage like wild animals.

Cows in Mauritania are found mainly on the plain, not the pavement

Cows in Mauritania are found mainly on the plain, not the pavement

Did I miss something, and the feed in the Emel 2012 food security programme that killed hundreds of head of livestock and made others sick actually contained plastic? Probably not, as these deaths occurred in the rural areas where the majority of livestock are located. So if this news story conjured visions of Serengeti-sized herds of feral cows roaming the streets of Nouakchott or Nouadhibou, sorry to disappoint.

Plastic makes up 25% of 56,000 tonnes of waste produced annually in Nouakchott, according to the statement issued for this occasion. It is not clear whether that includes the far heavier containers used for liquids like water, soft drinks and oil, hundreds of thousands of which are discarded every year – these are not part of the ban. The detailed SweepNet report on Sold Waste Management in Mauritania [PDF] from July 2010 gives a figure of 20% for all plastics (and 16% for sand!) in 2009. This would indicate a rather different statistic for plastic bags, even allowing for the 6% overall annual growth in solid waste predicted by SweepNet.

Mauritania Solid Waste Breakdown 2009 - SweepNet Report

Mauritania Solid Waste Breakdown 2009 – SweepNet Report

Mauritania’s spokesman also admitted that almost all plastic waste is available to animals because it is not being collected or sent to landfill sites. SweepNet tells us that only 5% of waste is collected in rural areas, and just 30% in cities, of which almost 55% is dumped in the open, including any medical waste that is not incinerated. The small amount of recycling that happens in Mauritania is done by private small-scale craft enterprises or occasional informal projects. If the mythical hordes of urban livestock have just been replaced by new images which result from thinking about livestock feasting on medical waste, I recommend a vegetarian diet.

The most enlightening information in the SweepNet report concerns the financial data and sources of funding for waste management, including a previous “Zazou” project, which I quote here, with my emphasis on the budget figure:

The international NGO, GRET, has completed the ZAZOU Project with funding from the Commission (EC), the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF), the Italian NGO LVIA, the “Fondation Ensemble” and VEOLIA to the amount of 787,000 Euros. This had to do with building and fitting a plastic waste recycling center. The center has become operational in the last few months.

This fact raises some interesting questions, about funding and project risk management for starters. Actually, I have a lot of questions about this ban, and how the overall campaign is being managed and funded. I put some of them to the campaign manager three days ago but he had not responded at the time of writing this post. I’ll post an update if he provides more information.

In Toronto, which also introduced a total ban on single-use plastic shopping bags from 1 January 2013, the move was seen by some as a pointless and flawed exercise that would not yield significant benefits.  One estimate said plastic bags represented less than 1% of total waste in landfills. The lack of consultation on the ban in Toronto heightened concerns but a motion to re-open the debate in Canadian parliament failed to win the vote, to the chagrin of Councillor John Parker:

So Canada has its doubters, but can Mauritania lead the way for environmental protection? Despite the obvious advantages, we should not get our hopes up too soon. 2009’s “Project Zazou” fizzled out after 3 months, so they will need to apply the lessons learned from that time to make this effort a massive success. There is a lot of popular support for the idea, but people will need sustained help and guidance to establish new habits. A stable political, economic and social environment would also be a huge help, but stability would be much more likely with a legitimate government and genuinely democratic system, neither of which exists in Mauritania at the moment.

What about us, you and me? There’s lots we can do as individuals, such as these 16 simple ways to reduce plastic waste. More tips and information in the links below.