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(506) 2223-1327       San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 21, 2009,  Vol. 9, No. 142       E-mail us
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A pyroclastic flow of hot ash slides down the mountain July 7 just before noon after the sidewall around the volcano cone collapsed
.
volcano flow
Red Sismológica Nacional/Luis Madrigal

Experts keep their eyes on a more active Arenal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Volcano experts are keeping an eye on Arenal, which is a bright spot in Costa Rican tourism. The mountain has been more active than normal, but experts say they are not expecting anything cataclysmic.

Periodically, the volcano dumps ash and lava down its slope. The last such event was July 7. This is not to be confused with the continual minor displays of hot rocks and ash at the top of the cone which keeps tourists returning.

The volcano has become more active. The Red Sismológica Nacional reports that starting in March the volcano cranked up the frequency of what are called volcanic tremors, little earthquakes caused by the activity inside the mountain. Typically the volcano experiences 15 to 20 such tremors a
month, but now the activity has ratcheted up. There were 67 tremors in March, 32 in April and 45 in May, according to the Red, which is affiliated with the Universidad de Costa Rica.

A report from the Red shows that large boulders were thrown some distance from the mountain in 1968, and lava reached the plains below the volcano in 1995. The current activity is nowhere near what has happened in the past.

The mountain has been in continual eruption since 1968 with periodic collapses of the cone wall that allows flows of hot ash and lava down the slopes.  The Red raised the level of alert to yellow in March with the increased activity.

Meanwhile, the lava flows, best seen at night are generating some additional tourist activity in the area and the community of La Fortuna.


Another neogtiating round on Honduras planned
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez is not giving up yet on trying to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the Honduran political crisis.

Monday he sent Bruno Stagno, the foreign minister, to Panamá to meet with representatives of interim President Roberto Micheletti. The delegation traveled there after negotiations in the Rohrmoser home of Arias failed to bear fruit Sunday.

Stagno was supposed to return Monday night. It appears Stagno was able to schedule another negotiating session.

Meanwhile, Arias completed the first day of his self-imposed 72-hour period of contemplation during which he was to try to come up with a viable solution to the situation.

Arias had presented the visiting representatives a seven-point plan, but the Micheletti delegation never got past point one where Arias called for reinstalling José Manuel Zelaya as president of the country. Soldiers ousted Zelaya June 28, and the
coup has been roundly denounced all over the hemisphere.

Micheletti seems prepared to wait for new elections in November. Arias suggested moving the vote up to October. Zelaya supporters in Tegucigalpa blocked traffic at key intersections Sunday, but their true numbers are not known. Opinion polls show the country to be split nearly 50-50.

Zelaya repeatedly says he is going to return to the country. But Micheletti has vowed to arrest him.

The Honduran newspaper La Prensa is reporting today that Micheletti's representatives will meet again with Arias here Wednesday afternoon. They cited as a source a lawmaker who was traveling with the four negotiators.

Ramón Custodio, the commissioner of human rights also was quoted saying there was no chance of a civil war. Proponents of Zelaya have been raising the specter of a civil war as a fear tactic to have him reinstated. But Custodio said that 90 percent of the population was peaceful.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 142

Costa Rica Expertise
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Physicians and surgeons

Dr. Marco A. Mora Aguilar, Neurosurgeon
Dr. Mora
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7Legal services

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Traffic control for pilgrims
will go into force Sunday


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic officials begin their work this Sunday to safeguard pilgrims on the way to Cartago. The effort will continue through Aug. 2.

Some pilgrims or romeros as they are called in Spanish already are making the trip on foot to the Basilica de los Ángeles. More than 260 officers will be on duty each shift to keep traffic away from the pilgrims.

This is the annual event that puts as many as 1.5 million pedestrians on the roads and highways. The event will cause some traffic detours.

Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles is the patron of Costa Rica. She is represented by La Negrita, a black rock that has a place of honor on the basilica altar.

The police presence will not only be in the Central Valley. Individuals from all over the country and from other Central American nations make the trip on foot.

A primary route is the 15 miles of the Autopista Floriencio del Castillo between San José and Cartago. Many Central Valley residents will begin their pigrimages early Aug. 1 and spend that night on the road or in the courtyard of the Cartago church. Fuerza Pública already has announced ambitious security plans involving cameras and helicopters.

Pacific tsunami possible
of gigantic proportions

By the Durham University news service

The potential for a huge Pacific Ocean tsunami on the West Coast of America may be greater than previously thought.
The new study of geological evidence along the Gulf of Alaska coast suggests that future tsunamis could reach a scale far beyond that suffered in the tsunami generated by the great 1964 Alaskan earthquake. Official figures put the number of deaths caused by the earthquake at around 130: 114 in Alaska and 16 in Oregon and California. The tsunami killed 35 people directly and caused extensive damage in Alaska, British Columbia, and the US Pacific region.

The 1964 Alaskan earthquake – the second biggest recorded in history with a magnitude of 9.2 – triggered a series of massive waves which run up heights of as much as 12.7 meters (about 42 feet) in the Alaskan Gulf region and 52 meters (about 170 feet) in the Shoup Bay.

The study suggests that rupture of an even larger area than the 1964 rupture zone could create an even bigger tsunami. Warning systems are in place on the west coast of North America but the findings suggest a need for a review of evacuation plans in the region.

The research team from Durham University in the United Kingdom, the University of Utah and Plafker Geohazard Consultants, gauged the extent of earthquakes over the last 2,000 years by studying subsoil samples and sediment sequences at sites along the Alaskan coast. The team radiocarbon-dated peat layers and sediments, and analysed the distribution of mud, sand and peat within them. The results suggest that earthquakes in the region may rupture even larger segments of the coast and sea floor than was previously thought.

The study published in the academic journal Quaternary Science Reviews and funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the potential impact in terms of tsunami generation, could be significantly greater if both the 800-km-long (497-milies) 1964 segment and the 250-km-long (155-miles) adjacent Yakataga segment to the east were to rupture simultaneously.

The lead author, Professor Ian Shennan, from Durham University’s Geography Department said: “Our radiocarbon-dated samples suggest that previous earthquakes were 15 per cent bigger in terms of the area affected than the 1964 event. This historical evidence of widespread, simultaneous plate rupturing within the Alaskan region has significant implications for the tsunami potential of the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific region as a whole.

“Peat layers provide a clear picture of what’s happened to the Earth. Our data indicate that two major earthquakes have struck Alaska in the last 1,500 years, and our findings show that a bigger earthquake and a more destructive tsunami than the 1964 event are possible in the future. The region has been hit by large single event earthquakes and tsunamis before, and our evidence indicates that multiple and more extensive ruptures can happen.”

Tsunamis can be created by the rapid displacement of water when the sea floor lifts and/or falls due to crustal movements that accompany very large earthquakes. The shallow nature of the sea floor off the coast of Alaska could increase the destructive potential of a tsunami wave in the Pacific.

Earthquake behaviour is difficult to predict in this region which is a transition zone between two of the world's most active plate boundary faults; the Fairweather fault, and the Aleutian subduction zone. In 1899 and 1979, large earthquakes occurred in the region but did not trigger a tsunami because the rupturing was localized beneath the land instead of the sea floor.

Warning systems have been in place on the U.S. western seaboard and Hawaii since the 1946 Aleutian Islands tsunami. Improvements were made following the 2004 earthquake under the Indian Ocean that triggered the most deadly tsunami in recorded history, killing more than 230,000 people.

Our readers' opinions
Dog with pride and dignity
will benefit all of us

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Known in town for my ability to rehabilitate dogs, I pay acute attention as to the dog behavior I see around me by Gringo-owned and Tico-owned animals.  Your article was absolutely correct in portraying cultural differences at each end of the spectrum.  Yes, the local people are totally correct in that we, Gringos, ought to pick up after our pets and we don’t just because we think that we can get away with ignoring that courtesy.  It’s a small duty and we should be thoughtful of those just steps behind us.  Let’s make that small effort and clear up one of the biggest angers between our two cultures.  Once we can enjoy a level playing field together, we can each address the graduate level of dog ownership at our own comfort rate.

On the one hand, I am totally in awe of the puppies of Ticos that trot along behind their owners; without any prompting these dogs never stop to smell or investigate anything.  How do Ticos instill that sense of mastery into their dogs, I’ve often wondered.  On the other hand, with just the tiniest bit of knowledge and effort, Tico families could embrace the much larger joy of pet ownership known to Gringos.  That is that dogs are quite capable of being both competent guardians and lovable companions at the mere cost of regular feedings and some attention to learning each other’s communication signals.

Rather than simple noise-makers (and dogs can be trained NOT to bark, by the way), dogs can be trained to note and pass along details to their owners that are actually helpful.  On busy weekends when I am occupied with the laundry at the very back of the property, I have often explained to my appointed watchdog that he is to look out for my friend, Patricia, at the front gate and let me know when she arrives.  That’s only one example.

I take the time to walk my property’s perimeter fence before I or we ever leave my place.  Upon my/our return, we walk the same perimeter together.  My dog capably transmits to me all the information I need on changes that have taken place during our absence.  It is very easy for me to extrapolate whether further investigation would be a good idea.  Each dog gifted with an importance, a role, like a child, grows into that responsibility with pride and dignity.  We ALL benefit by this arrangement.

This respect for the abilities of my dogs to learn and adjust their behavior accordingly comes from deep within my childhood in Africa, where dogs take on considerably more responsibilities (like protecting farm animals from wild ones, for example).  I grew up knowing that if you explain graphically enough what you need, a dog is delighted to take on the role of helpmate.  Dogs truly can competently fill the role of being ‘man’s best friend’.
Angela Airey
Jacó

He's preparing petition

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Is it Pesky Pets or Pesky Pet Owners?  As always, Mr. Baker is right on target.  In the past four years I have been involved with “pesky pets,” one involving an emergency room visit and stitches.  Last Friday my dog, while being walked by my maid, was attacked and mauled by a neighbor’s dog. These owners have ignored our written request for a simple apology and the veterinarian’s reasonable fees.

I am now asked by my neighbors to start a carta to help remove a particularly pesky pet.  My neighbors would gladly sign such a petition, but they want the Gringo to initiate the action.  I think the right thing to do is have a knowledgeable attorney initiate the carta and let the Pesky Owner know that the neighbors are no longer willing to simply ignore their culpability.
Tim Montz Graham
San Francisco/Rohrmoser
 
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 142

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Downtown restrictions got back into effect this morning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As expected and predicted, today is the start of vehicle restrictions in the metro area.

Vehicles with license plates ending in 3 or 4 are forbidden from entering the area from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday the forbidden numbers will be 5 and 6.

Violators are subject to multiple 5,000-colon tickets. The penalty goes up to 34,700, about $60, Sept. 23 when the new traffic law goes into effect. Exempt from the prohibition are student vehicles, tourism vehicles and public transport.

The regulation, contained in a presidential decree, is going into effect because the order is expected to be published today in the official La Gaceta newspaper. The Policía de Transito will be out in force.

The restricted zone runs from La Uruca on the west, Cinco Esquinas de Tibás on the north and the Circunvalación to the south and east.
When the Sala IV constitutional court threw out the restrictions in mid-June, government officials said that downtown traffic increased 19 percent as a result. They are basing the regulation on health provisions in that the downtown pollution can be dangerous as can the stress of being stuck in traffic.

The restrictions run until March 31. By then the Óscar Arias administration will be in its last days. The new restrictions are based on technical studies done by traffic engineers, something that was not done when the regulations went into effect in 2008.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte promises to evaluate the results in January.

Restrictions or not, traffic has been a mess in the last few months. There is construction on the so-called old road to Escazú at the building housing the Contraloría de la República. The westbound lane of the General Canãs highway was closed through earlier today while workmen patched holes in the Juan Pablo II bridge and the bridge over the Río Virilla.


Death of San José man could be result of robbery attempt
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators are studying the possible link between a shootout at a business in Calle Blanco, Goicoechea, and the discovery of a body in San Sebastián a short time later.

The robbery took place at the Cofasa laboratory in Goicoechea north of San José, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Two guards shot it out with intruders and both suffered wounds. They were identified by the last names of Medoza and Moreno. This happened
about 1:15 a.m., and the security guards were able to defend the property. The intruders did not take anything, investigators said. One guard was shot in the back and the other in the mouth, they said. Neither wound appeared to be life threatening.

About 2:40 a.m. officials were alerted to the discovery of the body of a 34-year-old man with the last name of Rivera at the door of his home in San Sebastián in southern San José. The home is in Barrio San Martín. He had two bullet wounds in his back.  Agents will try to match the slugs.


Standoff between taxi drivers and porteadores may be ending
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The long-running dispute between taxi drivers and contract carriers may be coming to an end.

Edwin Barboza, coordinator of Foro Nacional de Taxistas, spoke favorably Monday about a proposed law that is being considered by lawmakers. The law would regulate those who carry passengers under private contract.

These individuals are not licensed as taxi drivers. They are called porteadores because they transport people. Taxi drivers have been demonstrating for three years against the porteadores taking their business. At the same time the porteadores have been demonstrating because they fear new laws will run them out of business.
Taxi drivers complain that the porteadores provide exactly the same service. Some porteadores go so far as to have passengers sign small contracts when they enter the car.

Porteadors usually provide service at less than the established taxi rates and sometimes in areas where there is limited taxi service. They are not to be confused with pirate taxi drivers who simply do not have a permit.

The laws surrounding the situation are complex, as José Manuel Echandi, a lawmaker, pointed out. He noted that the government has difficulty regulating private business. He cited a ruling from the Procuraduría General de la República. Barboza suggested that taxi drivers could live with the proposed new law.


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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 142


Sentencing in Curshen stock swindle expected in September
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A stock promoter once based in Costa Rica has admitted participating in a scheme to provide secret bribes to stockbrokers in order to induce the brokers to purchase a particular stock on behalf of their clients.

He is Jonathan R. Curshen. The U.S. Department of Justice said that he would be sentenced in September.

The guilty plea came in federal court in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, the agency said.

According to the one-count information to which Curshen  pleaded guilty and statements made during Curshen's guilty plea proceeding:

He and a co-conspirator sought to defraud investors in Industrial Biotechnology Corp. common stock by engaging a middleman to recruit corrupt stockbrokers who, in return for undisclosed 25 percent commissions, would sell Industrial Biotechnology stock that Curshen and his co-conspirator controlled to U. S. clients of their brokerage firms.  The idea was to stick investors with overvalued stock.

However, the "middleman" was an undercover agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the Justice Department. During the course of the investigation, the undercover middleman arranged for purported customers to purchase about $76,000 of the firm's stock controlled by Curshen his associate, in return for which Curshen wired approximately $19,000, or 25 percent of the value of the
stock, to the undercover as commission, the Justice Department said.

Curshen, 44, of Sarasota, Florida, pleaded guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit securities fraud and commercial bribery.  The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand Sept. 23. Curshen described himself in Costa Rica as an expert in international asset protection.  His associate was identified earlier as Bruce Grossman of Florida.

Investigators here raided Cushen's Centro Colón office last October and confiscated documents for U.S. authorities. The firm was Organización Red Sea/Sentry Global, which is made up of Red Sea Management, Sentry Global Trust, Sentry Global Securities and Global Financial Logistics. Curshen was described as a principal in the company.

Shortly after the raid, the foreign ministry sent out a reminder that Curshen had been stripped of his privileges as a diplomat Oct. 8. He had been honorary consul in Costa Rica for the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. In fact, a former employee said that Curshen bragged that his diplomatic status would prevent any police raids of his offices.

At the time of the raid the judiciary press office said that the amount of the fraud is some $100 million, a sum that clearly puts the investigation in areas other than the stock manipulation. The offices were on the fifth and eighth floors of Edificio Centro Colón.


Trio involved in sweepstakes scam here get prison terms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More participants in a Costa Rican sweepstakes scam have been sentenced in U.S. Federal court.

U.S. District Court Judge Frank D. Whitney of the Western District of North Carolina has sentenced Michael Kearns, 33, of Sacramento, California, to nine years in prison; Herman Kankrini, 44, of Montreal, Canada, to 87 months in prison; and Severin Marcel Stone, 32, of Los Angeles to 90 months in prison.  Kankrini was ordered to pay restitution with other defendants, of $10 million.  Kearns and Stone were ordered to pay restitution with other defendants, of $5 million, said the U.S. Department of Justice.
 
Kearns was the owner of a Costa Rica-based telemarketing call center and the other two men were two employees of another Costa Rica call center. All were sentenced for their roles in schemes that targeted and defrauded thousands of American victims of more than $10 million, said the Department of Justice.

A series of indictments returned by federal grand juries in Charlotte and Asheville, N.C., have charged 46 defendants for their roles in the scheme. 
 
Kearns, Kankrini, and Stone pleaded guilty earlier to conspiring to defraud U.S. residents, most over the age of
55, out of millions of dollars by deceiving them into  believing that each had won a large monetary prize in a sweepstakes contest, said the department.  According to court documents, calls to victims were made from Costa  Rica using voice-over-Internet protocol which utilized computers to make telephone calls through the Internet, thereby disguising the originating location of the calls, the department said.  

Victims were informed that the callers were from the Sweepstakes Security Commission and that to receive their prize, they had to wire thousands of dollars to Costa Rica for a purported refundable insurance fee.  As long as the victims continued to pay, the co-conspirators continued to solicit more money from them, the department said. 
 
To date, 33 defendants have pleaded guilty and three have been convicted by jury trials for their roles in the massive fraudulent telemarketing scheme.  On Sept. 24 telemarketing room owner Giuseppe Pileggi, 48, of Montreal, Canada, was sentenced to 50 years in prison, and  ordered to forfeit $8.3 million dollars. 
         
The investigation is being conducted by a multi-agency task force, which includes law enforcement authorities from Costa-Rica, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Departments of Justice and Commerce, along with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement a component of the Department of Homeland Security. 



Central market makeover
gets merchant support


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As Latin American central markets go, the one in San José is not a disgrace, but officials are planning to make even more improvements there. The municipality considers the market an historical jewel.

San José officials said Monday that an agreement with those who have stores in the market has produced pledges for 786 million colons or about $1.36 million. 

The first project is plumbing and the installation of more sanitary sewers and better restrooms, said the municipality.

Also being installed is a fire-protection system as well as new concrete for the floor of the market, which is on Avenida Central not far west of the heart of the downtown.

Officials and store operators agree that the electrical system is in sad shape, too, so it is getting a makeover. Officials also hope to install a recycling system for the trash.



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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 142


Casa Alfi Hotel

Rewards posted for leaders
in Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Need to make some quick cash?

The U.S. Department of State is offering rewards of up to $5 million for anyone who can provide information for the capture of the top leaders of the Gulf Cartel and its enforcement arm, Los Zetas.

The Gulf Cartel controls most of the cocaine and marijuana trafficking through the Matamoros, Mexico corridor to the United States, the State Department said. The Gulf Cartel figures for whom rewards are offered are: Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Miguel Trevino-Morales, Mario Ramirez-Trevino, Gilberto Barragan-Balderas, Juan Reyes Mejia-Gonzalez, Alejandro Trevino-Morales, and Samuel Flores-Borrego.

Los Zetas evolved from a small group of deserters from the Mexican special forces into a ruthless security force for the entire Gulf Cartel and have become a significant drug trafficking organization in their own right, the agency said. The Los Zetas figures being sought are Jesús Enrique Rejon-Aguilar and Aurelio Cano-Flores, according to the State Department

The Department of State has paid over $44 million in rewards to individuals whose information helped bring to justice many major violators of U.S. drug laws who were responsible for importing hundreds of tons of illegal narcotics into the United States each year, said the agency.

In fact, this program played a significant role in the capture of all three of the original Gulf Cartel leaders — Juan Garcia-Abrego, Oscar Malherbe-De Leon, And Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, it said.


Dallas passport location
is open for business


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Department of State has opened its 22nd domestic passport issuance facility. It is in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Passport Agency is in downtown Dallas and is designed to join the Houston Passport Agency in providing in-person passport services to American citizens throughout the southwest border region, the department said.

The Dallas location provides access to a major domestic and international airport and will be instrumental in helping American citizens with their travel plans, the agency added.

The Dallas Passport Agency serves U.S. citizens who have urgent or emergency travel needs and has the capability to issue passport books on-site to qualifying applicants. Dallas will have the means to issue the U.S. passport card on-site in the near future. With the final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that was implemented in June, this agency will greatly improve the department's ability to meet the travel needs of customers in several states along our southern border, the State Department said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, July 21, 2009, Vol. 9, No. 142


Latin American news digest
Vitamin D deficiency found
even in sunny locations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

While scientists have known for decades that vitamin D deficiency leads to bone diseases like rickets, more recently they have found connections between low vitamin D levels and a wide range of other illnesses, including cancer, autoimmune disorders and caradiovascular disorders.

The human body creates vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, and yet some of the sunniest parts of the world have the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency. Several factors have contributed to dangerously low vitamin D blood levels among people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Healthy bones depend on vitamin D, says Ambrish Mithal of the Indian Society for Bone and Mineral Research.

"Vitamin D is what absorbs calcium into our body and helps it reach the bone. Vitamin D deficiency, therefore, results in weak bones and bones that are soft, that will bend and break."

Getting enough vitamin D should be relatively simple.

"The major source of vitamin D is sunshine," Mithal said. "We make vitamin D under the influence of UV rays that we get in the sunlight. We make it in our skin."

But some of the world's sunniest regions have the highest rates of vitamin D deficiency. That's the finding of a recent report from the International Osteoporosis Foundation, which reviewed research done over the past three decades. Mithal is a coauthor of that report.

"Vitamin D deficiency is a global phenomenon. But certain parts of the world, they're prone to severe vitamin D deficiency — for example, South Asia, like India, or Middle East, like Lebanon. There have been studies from these areas which have shown that almost 80 percent, or maybe even more, of the urban population is significantly vitamin D deficient."

He points to several factors to explain why people who live in sunny areas still may not get sufficient vitamin D.

"Those who live closer to the equator are actually less prone to vitamin D deficiency, but at times this, can be overshadowed by other factors like skin pigmentation, less outdoor activity and more skin cover with clothes," Mithal said.

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