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I’m at an event in Redmond this morning where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and general counsel Brad Smith (pictured speaking at right) are announcing a new company initiative.

Smith says the company is here to address “a growing problem that we at Microsoft have had the opportunity to witness first hand.”

He says “it’s really young people who have been perhaps the hardest hit of all” from the global economic turmoil, with a significantly higher-than-average unemployment rate.

Microsoft is creating jobs that have become increasingly difficult to fill, Smith says. The company is taking steps to help close an “opportunity divide,” he says.

Ballmer is expected to detail the new program shortly.

Update: Ballmer comes on stage, refers to Microsoft “big bold bets,” says the company wants to close the “opportunity divide” for 300 million people around the world over next three years. He announces “YouthSpark” — new program to connect young people with education and entrepreneurship, and other resources.

The company says it will redirect the majority of its cash giving to programs that focus on youth.

“We think we’re uniquely positioned to make a major impact,” Ballmer says.

Other parts of the initiative include “Give For Youth,” a global micro fundraising campaign to raise funds for NGOs that focus on youth; and an online YouthSpark hub to support the overall program.

Microsoft product tie-ins include Office 365 for education and Skype in the classroom. Smith says the company is investing half a billion dollars over three years, and donating technologies to make the total value multiple billions.

The event is now over.

Update: Awkward timing? A report just out from Bloomberg News says Microsoft “used aggressive international tax maneuvers to avoid billions of dollars in taxes over the past three years.” The report isn’t yet online, but Business Insider has details.

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