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Written by Wednesday, 19 September 2018 06:34


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Last week, Manmohan Singh had termed the state of the economy as “deeply worrying” and said that the June quarter growth rate of 5% shows that India is in the midst of a prolonged economic slowdown.

BJP’s ally Shiv Sena has backed former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who recently said that the Indian economy is in a bad shape due to “mismanagement” by the Narendra Modi-government, and said that listening to him is in the “national interest.”

Sena’s support for Manmohan Singh, a noted economist, came after the Centre dismissed his criticism of handling of the economy by the Modi-government. The Sena, through an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana, asked the government to pay heed to the former PM’s warning and not indulge in politics over the issue.

Last week, Manmohan Singh had termed the state of the economy as “deeply worrying” and said that the June quarter growth rate of 5% shows that India is in the midst of a prolonged economic slowdown. “India has the potential to grow at a much faster rate, but all-round mismanagement by the Modi government has resulted in this slowdown,” Singh said in a statement.

However, the government rebuffed Singh’s criticism on Tuesday, saying it does not subscribe to his analysis as India has now become the world’s fifth-largest economy from 11th during his time.

“The economy is in doldrums. Kashmir and economic slowdown are two different issues. A learned person like Manmohan Singh there should be no politics around the economic slowdown and experts should be roped in to repair the economy. National interest lies in listening to Manmohan Singh’s advice,” the editorial in Saamana said.

The Sena said that Singh has the “right” to speak about the economy as he has been associated with Indian finance and economy for over 35 years.

The editorial cited PM Modi’s 2017 raincoat remark on Singh and said, “Prime Minister Modi had said ‘Manmohan Singh bathes wearing a raincoat’, but we don’t have qualms in admitting that he knows about economy and finance. He has worked hard to revive the economy when it was in a bad shape.”

The Sena once again cited demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as the main reasons for the slump in the economy. “The noteban failed and the GST has become a noose around the necks of businessmen and industrialists; there is a state of panic in the industry,” it said. Source : ht

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Saliva test used to test for virus in Australia

Written by Thursday, 15 February 2018 06:10

Melbourne, Jun 29 (AP) Health authorities are using what they describe as a world-first saliva test for coronavirus in Australia's second-largest city where the disease is spreading at an alarming rate.
Officials say 49 people tested positive to COVID-19 in Melbourne on Sunday and only four cases were detected elsewhere in Australia.

Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth told Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday the saliva test was being rolled out in Victoria state, where Melbourne is the capital, and its effectiveness was still being tested.

Coatsworth said the less-comfortable nasal test remained the preferred option and may be more accurate, but the saliva test will be great, particularly for kids.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said authorities were close to losing control of the spread while pandemic restrictions were easing elsewhere in Australia.

l think it's a genuine challenge now. I think we're right at the edge in terms of being able to manage it, Sutton said.

We know that as three-quarters of the country goes back to normal way of living, it becomes even more challenging to tell people that it's not the same here and that they've got to go on with a more constrained life, Sutton added.

Melbourne and Sydney, Australia's largest city, began with the largest numbers of cases because of the large numbers of international travellers they receive, Sutton said.

Melbourne's colder weather during the current Southern Hemisphere winter might also play a part in the city's great community transmission, he said. Source : pti

 

 

 

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India, however, is mulling economic measures, including limiting China’s access to its vast market, even as its armed forces went into a state of high alert to deal with any threat to national security following the significant escalation of the border conflict with China.

With external affairs minister S Jaishankar speaking with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday for the first time since the troop build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) began several weeks ago, people familiar with developments said the focus is expected to remain on bilateral efforts to defuse the crisis.

India, however, is mulling economic measures, including limiting China’s access to its vast market, even as its armed forces went into a state of high alert to deal with any threat to national security following the significant escalation of the border conflict with China after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a brutal clash with Chinese soldiers on June 15.

The army has strengthened its posture across the length of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where reinforcements have been sent, the Indian Air Force is keeping its contingency plans ready and the navy is also on an operational alert in the Indian Ocean region where scores of warships are ready for any task, three military officers said on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.

On the economic front, at least 100 Chinese products are staring at anti-dumping action and future investments from China, including participation of its firms in big and important projects such as the 5G market, could be barred, four government officials said, asking not to be identified.

India will, however, not resort to any knee-jerk reaction. It will take well considered action at an appropriate time, necessary to protect integrity and sovereignty of the country and its national interest, the officials added.

This contact was under the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on India-China border affairs. The people cited above said WMCC and the Special Representatives mechanism are among several bilateral mechanisms that can now be used to carry forward efforts to address the border issue.

“If needed, there can also be bilateral contacts at a higher level,” said one of the people.

India has traditionally kept away from multilateral forums to address bilateral issues, particularly border disputes. This was the reason why US President Donald Trump’s recent offers to mediate between India and China were immediately rebuffed by New Delhi. However, the possibility of quiet back channel contacts with other countries to get China around to a negotiated settlement is something experts haven’t ruled out.

On Wednesday, the UK expressed concern at the border stand-off. A British high commission spokesperson said: “We encourage China and India to engage in dialogue on issues relating to the border – violence is in no-one’s interest.”

China is interested in a solution because of the economic stakes it has in India. Over the past two decades it is the country’s economic prowess, not military might that has made China a global superpower, and the country recognises that. Those stakes could be it.

 

“ Hopefully, good sense will prevail (upon China). We have several options and we will not hesitate to exercise them depending on the situation,” one of the government officials said.

But New Delhi is hoping that the two countries will be able to work out a solution at the diplomatic level that doesn’t compromise India’s interests or position, the people cited in the first instance added. They described the call between the two foreign ministers as an effort to clear the air after Monday night’s violent face-off .

THE DIPLOMATIC TOUCH

Though there have been behind-the-scenes contacts involving the two foreign ministries and the Chinese mission in New Delhi and the Indian embassy in Beijing, the first public diplomatic contact between the two sides on the border stand-off was the video conference between joint secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava and his Chinese counterpart Wu Jianghao on June 5.

Already, with this latest Chinese offensive, the chances of Chine telecom equipment maker Huawei’s participation in the multi-billion dollar 5G project in India are bleak, a second official with direct knowledge of the matter said. “Besides economic interests, this project also involves serious security concerns,” this person added.

A third official said the Beijing’s aggression is ill timed for China. “It came at a time when New Delhi is aggressively pursuing an economic policy of self-reliance, anti-China sentiments have gripped major global economies such as the United States, and it is the prime suspect for spreading the Covid-19 virus,” he said.

Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has launched a campaign against China, its national co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan said.

Traders are also against China. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a powerful lobby of 70 million local traders, has decided to step up its nationwide movement against the boycott of Chinese goods, CAIT national secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said. CAIT has released a list of over 450 commodities that can be sourced locally: fast moving consumer goods, toys, textiles, builder hardware, footwear, apparel, kitchenware, luggage, hand bags, cosmetics, gift items, electrical and electronics.

Both ministries of finance and commerce are already taking action against the influx of Chinese goods that is injuring domestic industry. “Imports of more than 100 goods are under various stages of anti-dumping action,” a fourth official said.

India could extend anti-dumping duties and safeguards on more than two dozen Chinese goods this year that range from calculators and USB drives to steel, solar cells and Vitamin E amid concern that a flood of imports would kill domestic manufacturers who will lose duty protection soon against such products. Anti-dumping duties on these products were imposed five years ago and are expiring this year.

Email queries sent to ministries of finance and commerce did not elicit any response.

But Mohit Singla, chairman at the Trade Promotion Council of India (TPCI), said economic decisions must be driven by pragmatism and practical consideration and it was a wrong call to boycott Chinese products as many industries are dependent on imports from that country.

Singla added that India should not ignore any investment from China. “Any equity investment is about adding value to the Indian companies, which is much more important and needed,” he said.

Anupam Manur, assistant professor at Takshashila Institution, said, “As much as the popular sentiment and political will dictates, India is not in a position to hurt China economically, and therefore we should carefully consider our economic position. The key question to ask would be the cost imposed on our own society in an attempt to hurt another country.”

He said by attempting to boycott Chinese goods, India will hurt its own citizens more than the Chinese government. “Every essential item that we import from China will become more expensive and the reality is that we cannot find credible domestic alternatives overnight.”

On curbing Chinese investments, he said, “Chinese investment is a lot trickier than import of goods, as in many cases, it is impossible to distinguish between a private player and the Chinese government.”

“Nonetheless, at a time when India’s investment rate is low and falling, it would be unwise to turn away investments. Therefore, instead of a blanket ban on Chinese investments, the Indian government can use a lot more discretion based on the sector and the level of investment. Sensitive sectors such as banking, telecommunications and defence should attract greater scrutiny, while investment in ‘dumb’ infrastructure such as roads can get an easier pass,” he said.

India-China bilateral trade is heavily tilted in favour of China. According to trade figures released by the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) in mid-January 2020, India’s trade deficit with China was $56.77 billion in 2019; bilateral trade amounted to about $92.68 billion last year, a 1.6% annual increase.

But even as it discusses an economic route to hurting China, New Delhi is ensuring its armed forces are prepared.

THE MILITARY RESPONSE

The government has given financial powers to the armed forces to make critical purchases to plug capability gaps and emergency procurements are likely to be fast-tracked, said one of the military officers cited.

He added that the armed forces were prioritising key purchases to stay prepared for any eventuality. Chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat is responsible for integrating and prioritising the acquisition requirements of the three services.

The officer said that the possibility of China asserting its so-called claims in other sectors of the LAC cannot be ruled out, given the current belligerent stand of the neighbour and its unwillingness to de-escalate in the Ladakh sector.

“We have improved our posture in all sectors, from Ladakh to Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. We are ready for any task,” he said.

He said rules of engagement and standard operating procedures for forward deployed troops were also being revisited to allow soldiers to deal with situations that may unfold along the disputed border.

The IAF is also leaving nothing to chance and it is ready to swing its assets into service at short notice, said the second military officer .

The navy already has warships positioned along critical sea lanes of communications and choke points in the Indian Ocean Region under its mission-based deployment and the vessels could be diverted for any mission, said the third military officer. The navy has its warships deployed from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca and northern Bay of Bengal to the southeast coast of Africa, he added.

While Indian military planners said it was unlikely that Pakistan could resort to any adventurism, all border aspects and developments are being closely monitored. Source : ht

 

 

 

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13 August 2018 Peace and Security

Attacks against children caught in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen must stop, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, appealed on Monday.

In a tightly worded statement, UNICEF pointed out that since Sunday, 28 children were reported killed in Idlib and western Aleppo, located in northern Syria. The death toll included an entire family of seven. Furthermore, three UNICEF-supported health facilities were also attacked, two of which are now out of service.

“The war on children in Syria is putting at least one million children at risk in Idlib alone,” said the statement, attributable to Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. These latest incidents follow the deaths of 21 children in Yemen last week, killed when their school bus was hit during an airstrike. For Juliet Touma, UNICEF Chief of Communications in the region, they represent an escalation in attacks on children.

“There’s obviously a war on children,” she told UN News, explaining that ongoing fighting means children in the two countries are being deprived of basic rights such as access to healthcare and education. The Syrian crisis began nearly eight years ago with civilians continuing “to bear the brunt of a conflict marked by unparalleled suffering, destruction and disregard for human life,” according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.

UNICEF reported that more than five million children there require humanitarian assistance, with nearly half forced to flee their homes.

Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said three years of fighting in Yemen means nearly two-thirds of the population requires some form of aid relief or protection support to survive.

“Across the region there are about 30 million children who need humanitarian assistance,” Ms. Touma said, also referring to the situation in places such as Libya, Sudan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

“So, children under attack…and that needs to come to an end.” Source : un.org

 

 

 

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Deeply alarmed by the escalating violence in Syria’s east Ghouta, the United Nations has reiterated a call for an end to hostilities so that the sick and wounded can be immediately evacuated and humanitarian aid deliveries can reach those in need.

Speaking at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Syria’s conflict-battered east Ghouta, where, he said, “a human tragedy is unfolding in front of our eyes [with] 400,000 people living in hell on earth.”

“I don’t think we can let things go on in this horrendous way,” he urged, explaining that an estimated 700 people in the town, near the Syrian capital, Damascus, need urgent treatment that cannot be provided there.

Since the Syrian Government and their allies escalated their offensive against opposition-held east Ghouta on 4 February, there have been more than 1,200 civilian casualties, including at least 346 killed and 878 injured, mostly in airstrikes hitting residential areas, according to reports documented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR).

The Office, however, underscored that the figures are “far from comprehensive” and represent only those cases it has managed to document in the midst of the “chaos and destruction” in east Ghouta.

Furthermore, only one humanitarian convoy has been able to make its way to the war-ravaged city since November last year, bringing to one of its enclaves desperately needed but overwhelmingly insufficient food and medical supplies – enough only to meet the needs of 2.6 per cent of the population in need.

Stop the ‘monstrous campaign of annihilation’ of east Ghouta – UN rights chief

Also on Wednesday, the UN human rights chief also appealed to the international community to act urgently to save lives.

“How much cruelty will it take before the international community can speak with one voice to say enough dead children, enough wrecked families, enough violence, and take resolute, concerted action to bring this monstrous campaign of annihilation to an end?” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a statement.

“International humanitarian law was developed precisely to stop this type of situation, where civilians are slaughtered in droves in order to fulfil political or military objectives,” he underscored, reiterating his plea to the international community to ensure accountability for the ongoing violations, many of which may amount to war crimes. Source : un.org

 

 

 

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5 February 2018 – Describing January as “a dark month” in crisis-torn Middle East and North Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) director for the region said Monday that the violence has had a devastating toll on children, who were being killed in ongoing conflicts or suicide attacks, or freezing to death as they fled active warzones.

“It is simply unacceptable that children continue being killed and injured every single day,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

In the month of January alone, escalating violence in Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria and Yemen has claimed the lives of at least 83 children.

“These children have paid the highest price for wars that they have absolutely no responsibility for. Their lives have been cut short, their families forever broken in grief,” he added.

Mr. Cappelaere said that as the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year, intensifying fighting has reportedly killed 59 children in the past four weeks.

Moreover, across Yemen the UN has verified the killing of 16 children in attacks and continues to receive daily reports of more killed and injured children amidst escalating fighting.

Additionally, a suicide attack took the lives of three children in Libya’s Benghazi while three others died playing near unexploded ordnance – a fourth child remains in critical condition after the blast.

Turning to the old city of Mosul in Iraq, a child was killed in a booby-trapped house, and in the Palestinian Occupied Territory, a boy was shot dead in a village near Ramallah.

Furthermore, 16 refugees, including four children, froze to death in a harsh winter storm in Lebanon – fleeing the war in Syria – where many more children were hospitalized with frost bite.

“We collectively continue failing to stop the war on children,” stressed Mr. Cappelaere.

He underscored, “not hundreds, not thousands but millions more children in the Middle East and North Africa region have their childhoods stolen, maimed for life, traumatized, arrested and detained, exploited, prevented from going to school and from getting the most essential health services; denied even the basic right to play.”

Mr. Cappelaere maintained that we have no justification, no reason to accept this as a new normal.

“Children may have been silenced. But their voices will continue to be heard. Their message is our message: The protection of children is paramount under all circumstances, in line with the law of war,” he argued.

“Breaching that law is a most heinous crime and jeopardizes the future – and not just for children,” concluded the UNICEF Regional Director. Source : un.org

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16 January 2018 – As the brutal conflict in Yemen nears its grim third anniversary, malnutrition and disease are running rampant in the country and virtually every child there is dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.

“An entire generation of children in Yemen is growing up knowing nothing but violence,” said Meritxell Relano, the head of UNICEF operations in the war-torn country, underlining the gravity of the crisis.

“Malnutrition and disease are rampant as basic services collapse. Those who survive are likely to carry the physical and psychological scars of conflict for the rest of their lives,” she stated.

Since the escalation of violence in March 2015, when conflict broke out between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement, Yemen, already the poorest in the region, has been left on the verge of a humanitarian collapse.

Hospitals, medical facilities as well as water and sanitation systems have been rendered inoperable across large parts of the country, and humanitarian assistance is the lifeline for over three-fourths of the country's population.

Born into War

This dire situation in Yemen, has perhaps had the worst impact on the three million children born in country since the conflict erupted.

In its latest report, Born into War – 1,000 Days of Lost Childhood, UNICEF notes that 30 per cent of that number were born premature, another 30 percent had low birth weight and 25,000 died at birth or within the first month of life.

Furthermore, more than half of all children in Yemen lack access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation, children-under-five represent over a quarter of all cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. An additional 1.8 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including nearly 400,000 severe acutely malnourished children “fighting for their lives” adds the report.

The report calls on all parties to the conflict, those with influence on them and the global community to prioritize the protection of children in Yemen by putting an immediate end to violence and reaching a peaceful political solution.

It also calls for sustainable and unconditional humanitarian across the country and lifting of restrictions on imports of goods into Yemen as well as for sustained and sufficient funding for aid programmes. Source : un.org

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An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders could be deported if the administration goes ahead with the proposal which is aligned with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” vision.

The Trump administration is considering a proposal that could potentially lead to large-scale deportation of foreigners on H-1B visas for high-speciality workers waiting for their Green Card — mostly Indians — and drastically alter the way high-tech companies operate in the United States.

The proposal circulated in the form of an internal memo in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees citizenship and immigration, intends to end the provision of granting extensions to H-1B visa holders whose applications for permanent residency (Green Card) had been accepted.

An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Indian H-1B visa holders could be sent home if the administration decides to go ahead with the proposal which is aligned with President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” vision to boost manufacturing and protect local jobs for Americans.

“If implemented this could lead to large-scale deportations, mostly of Indians, throwing hundreds and thousands of families into crisis,” said an official of Immigration Voice, an advocacy body in San Jose. Immigration Voice is planning to mount a challenge through outreach and sue when a decision is announced, he added.

“The idea is to create a sort of ‘self-deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans,” a US source briefed by homeland security officials told McClatchy DC Bureau, which first reported the proposal.

A response to Hindustan Times requests to both DHS and the US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS) was awaited, but the existence of the memo was confirmed by sources in the US and Indian governments, industry and those that are likely to face action under the new rules.

An H-1B visa is granted for three years, with the provision of three more with one extension after which visa holders return to their countries. If approved for Green Card, they wait in the US using extensions.

For Indians, that wait could stretch for years given the massive backlog caused by the system of per-country annual cap on the number of permanent residencies.

The proposal is based on the power of discretion given to USCIS officials to decide on extensions to be given to H-1B holders waiting for Green Card. They could choose to extend from one to three years, and often chose the maximum of three, and granted some visa holders as many extensions as needed.

“If it has been left to their discretion,” said a lobbyist. “They can theoretically decide not to grant any extension at all.”

The Indian government is watching the development with mounting alarm as it had the administration’s previously announced plans and decisions to tighten H-1B rules and regulations with the objective of preventing its abuse to replace American workers with lower-paid foreigners.

One of the plans in February 2017 was to roll back H-4 EAD — a regulation introduced by President Barack Obama to attract and retain highly skilled foreign workers by granting work authorization to spouses of H-1B visa holders awaiting Green cards. That will impact mostly Indians again.

The administration also plans to redefine high-speciality professionals for the purpose of H-1B visas. And there is a general review of the programme ordered by the President.

The United States grants 85,000 non-immigrant H-1B visa every year — 65,000 to foreigners hired abroad and 20,000 to foreigners enrolled in advanced degree courses in US schools and colleges. An estimated 70% of these visas go to Indians — hired mostly by American companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google and some by American arms of Indian tech giants Infosys, Wipro and TCS.

The US companies, which are large employers of foreign workers but escape the scrutiny facing Indian firms, will be hit the hardest as they are more likely to apply for Green Cards for their H-1B workers than their Indian counterparts, who tend to rotate their workers home at the end of the stipulated period.

These big companies can be expected to push back as well, as could the chamber of commerce. A response was awaited to a request for comments from Compete America, a trade body representing Silicon Valley high-tech firms in Washington DC. Source : ht

 

 

 

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GENEVA (AFP) - The UN human rights chief voiced alarm on Monday (Sept 11) at widespread rights abuses in Venezuela, warning of possible "crimes against humanity" in the crisis-wracked country.

"My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed," Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said at the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, calling for an international probe.

Venezuela's crisis has caused food and medicine shortages, deadly unrest and calls for President Nicolas Maduro to quit.

Clashes with security forces at anti-government protests left 125 people dead from April to July.

"There is a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices," Mr Zeid warned.

He said an investigation by his office had noted the widespread use of "criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, recourse to arbitrary detentions, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of detainees, which in some cases amounts to torture".

Late last month, Mr Zeid echoed international concerns that Venezuela was slipping into dictatorship, cautioning that democracy in the country was "barely alive, if still alive".

His office has previously criticised Venezuela's all-powerful constituent assembly and its "truth commission", which has been tasked with investigating several opposition leaders for treason.

On Monday, Mr Zeid said he supported the concept of a truth commission, but stressed that "the current mechanism is inadequate".

"I therefore urge that it be reconfigured with the support and involvement of the international community," he said.

He urged the UN rights council "to establish an international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela".

Mr Zeid also pointed out that Venezuela currently holds one of the 47 rotating seats on the Human Rights Council, and thus has a particular duty to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights".

Without naming Venezuela specifically, he also called on the council to consider "the need to exclude from this body states involved in the most egregious violations of human rights."

 

 

 

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