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Archive for November 7th, 2009|Daily archive page

US grieves after Muslim doctor kills 13 on army base

In World on November 7, 2009 at 5:15 pm

 US President Barack Obama led his nation in mourning Saturday as shocked Americans struggled to understand why a Muslim army doctor unleashed a massacre at a US military base, killing 13.

Alleged shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, a psychiatrist and specialist in combat stress who had been about to deploy to Afghanistan against his wishes, also wounded 30 people in Thursday’s deadly rampage.

Speculation swirled at Fort Hood, Texas Friday as to whether the alleged shooter Hasan had snapped under the pressure of his job counseling thousands of war-weary troops, or was motivated by deeper convictions.Related article: Jihadist or stressed soldier?

Obama cautioned against making hasty assumptions as an investigation was launched.

“We don’t know all of the answers yet. I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all of the facts,” he said Friday.

US Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. (C) holds a candle during a vigil for those killed and wounded at Fort Hood, Texas.

He ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the White House and federal buildings, as troops here and around the world held a minute’s silence to mourn the dead.

Obama would also attend a memorial service due to be held in the coming days, the White House said.

The bodies of those killed were taken to the same mortuary at Dover Air Base in Delaware that handles fallen soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon said Friday.

Hasan was moved meanwhile from a civilian to a military hospital, in part for security reasons, Fort Hood deputy commander Colonel John Rossi told reporters.

Army chief of staff General George Casey said the attack was “a kick in the gut, not only for the Fort Hood community but for the entire army.”

Hasan was shot and seriously wounded by a female civilian police officer who was being hailed as a heroine for ending his deadly rampage. He remained on a ventilator in a civilian hospital Friday.

Witnesses reportedly heard him shout “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest) as he opened fire in a troop processing center with a semiautomatic weapon and a handgun.

Rossi said investigators believe Hasan fired more than 100 rounds during the incident, and that that accounted for the high number of casualties.

Although “Allahu Akbar” is a Muslim prayer, it has come to be associated with Islamic militants as they carry out attacks or suicide bombings.

A surveillance video aired by CNN showed the major buying breakfast wearing traditional Muslim garb at a base store just hours before the shooting.

But The New York Times reported that on Wednesday and Thursday, Hasan seemed in a hurry to give all of his belongings, including a copy of the Koran, to a neighbor.

“I’m not going to need them,” he told the neighbor, Patricia Villa, according to The Times.

The newspaper also reported that an early search of Hasan’s computer did not indicate any direct exchanges with known terrorists.

But earlier this year, the Times report said, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became aware Internet postings by a man calling himself Nidal Hasan that favorably discussed suicide bombings.

However, the investigators were not able to determine yet whether the writer and Major Hasan were the same person, the paper noted.

The bloodshed dealt a new blow to US forces already under severe strain from repeated combat tours and plagued by a rise in suicides and depression.Related article: Shooting a blow for army

Fort Hood, by area the world’s largest US military base, has borne the brunt of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops based here have suffered the highest number of casualties and have undertaken multiple tours of duty.

Amid the sorrow, the shooting raised delicate questions about Muslim soldiers serving in the US Army, as some Muslim groups feared a huge backlash.

Casey, the army chief of staff, said after a visit to the base that he, too, feared that possibility.

“One of the reasons I told our leaders to keep their people informed and not rush to judgment or speculate until the investigation comes out, I do worry slightly about a potential backlash and we have to be all concerned about that,” he said.

Hasan was born in the United States to Palestinian parents who had moved from a small town near Jerusalem.

His cousin Nader Hasan, writing on behalf of the family as Hasan’s parents are dead, said they were stunned by Thursday’s events and stressed they all considered themselves Americans.

“Our family loves America. We are proud of our country, and saddened by today’s tragedy,” Nader Hasan said in the message posted on The Washington Post website.

Nidal Hasan’s aunt, Noel Hasan, told the daily her nephew had been subjected to harassment about his faith since the September 11, 2001 attacks and had repeatedly sought to be discharged.

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25 wounded in search for US troops missing in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 5:15 pm

A search for two US soldiers missing in northwest Afghanistan continued after 25 soldiers were wounded in what one Western official said may have been a friendly-fire incident during the hunt.

Local police said a party looking for the two missing soldiers clashed with Taliban and that alliance aircraft were called in to provide support.

While the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withheld official comment on how the 25 were wounded, police said the casualties occurred when the air strike mistakenly targeted international troops.

A Western military officer who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP it appeared to be a “blue-on-blue incident,” or friendly fire, with “a huge number of casualties.”

NATO began its search operation in the barren, rugged area together with Afghan forces after the two paratroopers, from the 82nd Airborne Division, went missing on Wednesday during a routine supply mission.

Afghan police said the two had drowned.

As far as the injured were concerned, an ISAF statement said only that initial reports “indicate more than 25 ISAF and Afghan National Security Force members were wounded” during a joint operation in western Afghanistan.

“The wounded service members were initially treated on the scene and subsequently flown to an ISAF medical facility for further treatment.”

It added that the force was searching for “two missing US Army soldiers”.

“We are committed to taking every measure possible to rescue or recover our missing service members. We continue to do everything we can to find them,” the statement quoted US Navy Captain Jane Campbell as saying.

The deputy police chief of the northwestern province of Badghis, Abdul Jabar Saleh, said the missing men had drowned while trying to recover airdropped packages and that their bodies had not yet been recovered.

He said a number of NATO and Afghan personnel had died as they came up against Taliban militants during the search on Friday and that alliance aircraft carried out air strikes.

“In the afternoon… during the search operation launched to find the two drowned American soldiers, a clash took place with Taliban. Then aircraft mistakenly bombed the Afghan and NATO defence lines,” he said.

Information on casualties was unclear, he said, putting the number of American soldiers “dead or wounded” at seven.

Two Afghan soldiers had been killed and 12 wounded, he said, adding that three Afghan police had also been killed and one other wounded.

“We don’t have an exact breakdown because helicopters came and evacuated the casualties out of the area.”

A Taliban spokesman said the toll was far higher than the Afghan police or NATO were reporting.

“There was… a firefight between Taliban and Afghan and foreign forces in Murghab district of Badghis province. The fighting lasted for hours and was very intense, at a close distance,” said the spokesman, Qari Yusuf Ahmadi.

“By the end of the day, foreign forces bombed the area where the clash was going on, and due to their own bombing, 32 foreign and 43 Afghan soldiers were killed.”

Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said about 200 UN expatriate staff would be temporarily relocated outside Afghanistan in the wake of a deadly rebel attack on a guesthouse on October 28 which killed five UN workers.

“Approximately 200 will relocate to other duty stations in the region,” the UN Secretary General told reporters in New York after briefing the Security Council on his recent visit to Kabul.

“It is not 600 as has been reported by some media,” he added. “We are not evacuating. We will not, cannot and must not be deterred. Our work will continue.”

UN officials said another 400 expatriates were being relocated to safer sites within Afghanistan.

There are more than 100,000 troops under NATO and US command deployed to Afghanistan to fight a Taliban insurgency that is now at its deadliest in the eight years since US-led troops toppled the Islamist regime in Kabul.

US President Barack Obama is currently considering a request from his military commanders to boost troop numbers by up to 40,000, a decision that is not likely to be made public for a number of weeks yet.

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African Union imposes sanctions on Guinea junta

In World on November 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

The African Union has implemented sanctions on Guinea‘s military rulers, AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said Saturday.

“Africa has implemented sanctions against several dozen people in Guinea who are opposing a return to constitutional order,” he said at a press conference on the sidelines of a summit on the Madagascar crisis.

“The list has been sent to AU member states, to the UN Security Council and to the European Union (EU) so that we can harmonize our positions and take appropriate measures,” he added.

Lamamra said that “the hand outstreched to Madagascar to help it return to constitutional order coincides with the implementation of sanctions on Guinea: on the same day Africa is expressing its resistance to anticonstitutional changes of government. Democracy must be promoted everywhere”.

Guinean military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara (R) arrives at a ceremony in Conakry in October, flanked by General Sekouba Konate, minister in charge of national defence

The sanctions include bans on travel and the freezing of assets held outside Guinea by the junta‘s leaders.

They were imposed after junta troops on September 28 opened fire at a rally in a Conakry stadium where protestors were urging junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara not to stand in presidential elections planned for January.

Camara now wants to stand in the elections, despite his earlier committment not to do so and despite demands from the international community that he should not run.

At least 150 people died, the United Nations says. Human rights groups put the toll at 157 dead and more than 1,200 injured, including women who were publicly raped.

The military regime has said that 56 people died and 934 were wounded. NGOs say that between 150 and 200 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded.

The United Nations has announced it will set up an inquiry into the massacre while the International Criminal Court said it will hold a separate preliminary inquiry to determine if war crimes were committed.

Both the AU and the west African economic grouping ECOWAS have already suspended Guinea and both the United States and the EU have imposed sanctions on the junta. ECOWAS has also imposed an arms embargo.

Camara seized power in the mineral-rich west African state on December 23 last year, just hours after the death of Guinea’s long-serving ruler Lansana Conte, who was an autocratic army general.

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10 percent jobless rate adds to pressure on Obama

In World on November 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

The jump in US unemployment above 10 percent for the first time since 1983 will pressure President Barack Obama to find additional stimulus to keep a fragile economic recovery on track, analysts say.

The weaker-than-expected Labor Department report Friday showing an official jobless rate of 10.2 percent also suggests the Federal Reserve will maintain near-zero interest rates and other efforts to pump up credit to spark growth, say economists.

The Labor Department report, seen as one of the best indicators of economic momentum, showed job losses narrowed last month to 190,000. Revisions also showed fewer job losses in August and September.

The improvement was not enough, however, to prevent the jobless rate from surging to the first double-digit level for more than 26 years, from 9.8 percent in September.

People wait in line at a job fair sponsored by that attracted hundreds of people in New York City.

Obama called the numbers “sobering” and said his administration was considering “further steps” to spark job growth.

“To that end, my economic team is looking at ideas such as additional investments in our aging roads and bridges, incentives to create jobs and steps to increase the flow of credit to small businesses,” he said.

Analysts said the rise above 10 percent represents a setback for the recovery and Obama’s efforts to lift the economy out of recession.

David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates, said the economy remains in peril even after the impact of a 787 billion-dollar stimulus enacted earlier this year.

“The return to job creation is as elusive as ever,” he said.

“It is hard to fathom that, according to the White House estimates earlier this year, the stimulus was supposed to help cap the unemployment rate at 8.5 percent. Here we are today with both an unemployment rate and a fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio both north of 10 percent.”

Cary Leahey, senior economist at Decision Economics, said the rise in joblessness poses new challenges for Obama.

“If you’re a politician in Washington of the Democratic variety, this is far worse than last month,” he said.

“This report is a soft start to the fourth quarter,” he said. “It is consistent with a double-dip (recession) or W-shaped recovery.”

Leahey said that even though the labor market is showing improvement, “the 10 percent figure will grab all the headlines.”

Robert MacIntosh, economist at Eaton Vance, said the overall report was “not all that bad,” with revisions but that “the headline of 10 percent was huge psychologically.”

“This means a slower, more frustrating economic recovery,” he said.

The jobless rate rise occurred even with a downward revision to the number of job cuts in the prior two months.

Non-farm payrolls fell by 219,000 in September (instead of the prior estimate of 263,000) and by 154,000 in August (revised from 201,000).

Overall, the monthly report was worse than expectations for a 10 percent jobless rate and 175,000 job losses despite the improving trend.

“The headline number of 10.2 percent will be shouted from the mountaintops and from the voters,” said Andrew Busch, analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

“The Federal Reserve and the US Treasury are in the glare of the klieg lights to get something done to arrest the job losses.”

Fred Dickson at DA Davidson & Co. said the report “continues to point to an economy that is struggling, but the picture is not nearly as dire as seen at the beginning of the year.”

“Slowly, the trajectory is improving, but, given the huge number of unemployed and underemployed, our view of a very slow economic recovery in 2010 and 2011 remains very much in place,” he added. “This report will not do much to encourage the Fed to raise rates anytime soon.”

The number of unemployed persons increased to 15.7 million. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed has risen by 8.2 million, the Labor Department said.

The world’s largest economy grew at a seasonally adjusted 3.5 percent annual rate in the July-September period. The increase was the first since the second quarter of 2008.

For the US economic community, the recession will not be over until it is declared by a research panel, National Bureau of Economic Research, recognized as the official arbiter of business cycles.

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World leaders needed at talks to cut climate deal

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 5:13 pm

 After two years of tough U.N. climate talks often pitting the world’s rich against the poor, negotiators said Friday a new global agreement now rides on industrial nations pledging profound emissions cuts next month in Copenhagen.

Negotiators from industrial nations, including the United States, said eleventh-hour promises are possible and a global warming pact can be reached.

But developing countries complained that pledges so far were nowhere near enough to avoid a catastrophe, and that world leaders need to take part in the 192-nation conference on Dec. 7-18 to cut a meaningful deal.

“Part of the frustration is that a deal is so close … all the elements are there,” said Kevin Conrad, the delegate from Papua New Guinea. “But it’s absolutely conceivable for senior people to come together and spend a week and clean all this up.”

An activist of the environmental group Avaaz wearing costume representing an alien delegation mingles with UN delegates during the UN climate talks in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, Nov. 6,

The United States was universally seen as the linchpin to a deal, but it has been unable to present its position or pledge emissions targets because of the slow progress of climate legislation in Congress. “Everyone else wants to calibrate against” the Americans, Conrad said.

With the U.S. position still unclear, expectations at this week’s U.N. talks in Spain shifted toward a political agreement in which rich nations would pledge to reduce emissions and to finance aid to help the world’s poorest cope with the effects of Earth’s rising temperatures.

Under such a deal, nations would agree to stick to their promises while negotiating the treaty, taking as long as a year. If world leaders come to Copenhagen to endorse the deal, those promises would carry more weight, delegates said.

At least 40 leaders are expected, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Former Vice President Al Gore said he believes President Barack Obama will attend, although the White House has not confirmed that. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil has indicated he may come, and a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she is keeping the date open.

Yvo de Boer, the U.N. official who is shepherding the talks, said negotiators still hoped to achieve a significant agreement setting specific goals.

“Governments can deliver a strong deal in Copenhagen,” de Boer said, adding that it would be hard for developed countries “to wiggle out” of any written commitments.

The deal may take the form of consensus decisions, including an overarching statement of long-term objectives, along with a series of supplemental decisions on technology transfers, rewards for halting deforestation, and building infrastructure in poor countries to adapt to global warming, delegates said.

Developing nations were mistrustful of any result that did not hold wealthy nations to legally binding targets, citing past broken promises in development aid and famine relief.

The aim of the negotiations has been to broker an agreement building on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Without a new one, carbon emissions will have no international regulation, which would hinder the ability of industry to factor in the price of carbon and plan future business.

While some countries, such as Germany and Britain, are meeting their Kyoto emission-reduction targets, others have not. Canada’s emissions grew by more than 25 percent from 1990 to 2007, U.N. figures show, although it committed to reduce them 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. Japan‘s grew 9 percent in that period, compared with a target of minus 6 percent.

De Boer was looking to Washington to announce a clear emissions target for 2020, saying “a number from the president of the United States would have huge weight.”

“The United States is interested in the strongest possible agreement we can get from this process,” said Jonathan Pershing, the chief U.S. delegate to the talks. He showed impatience with developing nations for wanting to hold rich nations to legally enforceable targets while arguing they should be exempt from them.

“We are looking for parallelism. We are not looking for imbalance,” he said.

He declined to say whether the U.S. will be ready to submit a target for the Copenhagen accord, adding that Obama has the authority to make a commitment without congressional approval, “but a decision on whether or not we will do it has not yet been made.”

U.N. scientists say rich countries must cut carbon emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent Earth’s temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above its average temperature before the industrial era began 150 years ago. Anything rise beyond that could trigger climate catastrophe.

So far, reduction pledges total 11 percent to 15 percent. But those could be seen as negotiable.

The wider issue of ending the Copenhagen conference without a legally binding agreement disappointed developing nations already suffering droughts, floods and other disasters blamed on rising temperatures. Those countries urged negotiators not to give up on a binding pact in Copenhagen.

South Africa‘s chief negotiator, Alf Wills, warned against promoting a watered-down text, saying “we will not accept a weak, green-wash outcome.”

The European Union said it wanted the most ambitious deal possible. “We are going to change the fundamentals of industrial civilization, so it’s no wonder there is a lot of activity going on in a negotiation like this,” said Anders Turresson of Sweden.

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G-20 officials to wrestle over economic imbalances

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Rifts among the world’s top financial officials are threatening to stymie their attempts to secure future global growth and break a deadlock over who bears the cost of fighting climate change.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 rich and developing nations meeting here also face divisions on whether it is too soon to pull the plug on the extraordinary stimulus measures to boost economic growth.

Host country Britain, still mired in recession, is keen to continued international effort to support a still fledging recovery, while other G20 nations, including the United States, Japan and Germany, want to debate ending measures to boost growth.

British Treasury chief Alistair Darling urged the group ahead of a working dinner on Friday to maintain the collective approach forged in more dire circumstances at summits in London in April and in Pittsburgh in September.

“There can be no room for complacency amongst G-20 countries this weekend,” Darling said in a speech in Edinburgh on his way to chair the grouping that represents around 90 percent of the world’s wealth, 80 percent of world trade, and two-thirds of the world’s population.

Darling acknowledged that plans for recovery must eventually be coordinated, but said “as we draw up our plans, we must accept that the biggest risk to recovery would be to exit before the recovery is real.”

Saturday’s talks among officials — holed up away from the blustering Scottish winds in a seaside golf resort — are focused on tackling the financial cost of climate change.

With the major UN climate conference in Copenhagen a month away, Darling said that “heavy lifting” was needed to push through a deal on so-called climate finance, which would give developing countries funds to help them cut emissions by switching from fossil fuels to cleaner energy such as wind and solar.

But there have been disagreements about which forum was the most appropriate place to discuss funding to fight climate change.

The push to put it at the agenda here reflects concern that nations will fail to agree on a successor to the Kyoto treaty limiting carbon emissions in Copenhagen on Dec. 6.

The EU, which last week agreed to a euro100 billion annual package of public and private finance by 2020 to help poorer nations develop green industries and adapt to climate change, is keen for the U.S. to clearly lay out its position.

“We need further progress, the Americans have to be more specific and also more clear about their contribution,” Swedish finance minister Anders Borg said on Friday. Sweden currently holds the EU chair.

But the Obama administration has been preoccupied with prickly domestic issues such as healthcare.

The climate issue has been the focus of protests around St. Andrews, a university town on the northeast coast. A “People’s G-20” is planned for the beachfront on Saturday after a small group of protesters blocked the coastal road Friday night between the town and the nearby resort where the meeting was held by chaining themselves together.

Throwing weight behind the gathering of officials, Darling will be joined on Saturday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The finance ministers and central bankers are trying to find a way to make good on a pledge by world leaders at their September summit in Pittsburgh to subject their economic policies to the scrutiny of a peer review. That process would determine whether each country’s efforts were “collectively consistent” with sustainable global growth.

The goal is to avoid repeating problems like huge trade deficits and credit-fueled consumption in the U.S., and massive trade surpluses and savings in China and elsewhere. China’s appetite to fund U.S. debt by buying Treasuries was seen as playing a major role in fueling the U.S. housing boom and subsequent collapse.

Finance officials will seek to decide what economic data each country will submit for review by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF will review the individual country data and submit a report that would form the basis for discussion at the June meeting in Canada.

It is unclear, however, just how detailed and effective the reports will be — given governments resistance to outside pressure to change their economic policies.

Highlighting the problem is resistance to confront exchange rate issues, which could play a key role in correcting trade imbalances. While the weakness of the U.S. dollar and the strength of the Chinese yuan will almost certainly be discussed to some degree, the currency issue is not on the formal agenda.

There also disagreements on banking reform, with Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty acknowledging on the eve of the meeting that there were “disparate views” on how to address the problem of banks being too big to fail. France, meanwhile, is continuing to press for more to be done to stop excessive bonuses in the banking sector, warning that the momentum behind tightening rules on bonuses is flagging.

The G-20 is comprised of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United States and the rotating EU presidency.

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Working hard for a better world: Jackie Chan

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Jackie Chan at the press conference on November 4 in Hanoi. (Photo: SGGP)

Chinese actor Jackie Chan arrived in Vietnam November 4 as ambassador for Operation Smile, a charitable organization that provides free surgery for children with cleft lips and palates.

He visited the Vietnam – Cuba Hospital and met child patients, as well joining in various activities to raise funds.

“Despite that fact that I’ve been to Vietnam twice as ambassador for two different organizations, there’s only one Jackie Chan. I’ll always do my best today and in the following years to help as many children as I can to have a better life,” he said at a press conference on November 4.

He established a fund, the Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, and encouraged his son to join charitable activities with him.

On November 5, before his visit in Vietnam ended, he returned to the hospital to encourage some children before they had surgery to win back their smiles.

Jackie Chan first came to Vietnam as an ambassador for UNICEF.

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Vietnam Airlines to launch Hanoi-Osaka route

In Uncategorized on November 7, 2009 at 5:11 pm

The national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines will launch direct flights linking the Vietnamese capital Hanoi and the city of Osaka, Japan, on January 13, 2010.

Vietnam Airlines reported on Nov. 6 that it will conduct five flights a week, one on every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

These flights will replace those that are currently conducted by Japan Airlines, which are scheduled to be scrapped on January 12, 2010, due to a restructuring of its operations.

Vietnam Airlines General Director Pham Ngoc Minh said the opening of this air route following new domestic flights to Quy Nhon, Quang Binh, Tuy Hoa and Pleiku reflects the great efforts being exerted by the company as the global aviation sector races various challenges resulting from the world economic crisis.

The move also demonstrates the airline’s desire to further promote trade, investment and tourism between the Kansai region and Hanoi in particular and between Vietnam and Japan in general, he added.

The new air route is the fourth from Hanoi to Japan and the eighth between the two countries to be directly operated by Vietnam Airlines.

In the first nine months of this year, Vietnam Airlines accounted for almost 50 percent of the market share of direct flights between Vietnam and Japan which are currently flown by three airlines.

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