Tag Archives: The Independent

Jerome Starkey: Footage of civilian ‘massacre’ forces inquiry into US attack

America’s most senior soldier in Afghanistan has called for the Pentagon to investigate claims that more than 90 civilians were killed in an American airstrike, after harrowing video footage emerged showing the broken bodies of at least 11 children among the dead.

The grim, eight-minute clip, filmed on a mobile phone in the aftermath of the bombing, shows rows of shrouded bodies laid side by side in a make-shift morgue. Among them are at least 11 children, many of them toddlers.

General David McKiernan, the commander of Nato’s International Assistance Force (Isaf), ordered a fresh investigation led by a Pentagon general after footage was released on Sunday night. In a statement he said: “In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties … I feel it is prudent to request that US Central Command send a general officer to review the US investigation and its findings.”

The top-level review comes just days after he admitted there were “large discrepancies” among accounts of the death toll. American officials claim there were just seven civilians killed. The United Nations, the Afghan government and human rights groups said that the body count was closer to 90. Locals said most of the dead were women and children.

The damning footage was shot by a doctor who visited the morgue, in a building normally used as a mosque, on the morning after the attack on 22 August.

At one point a blanket is pulled back to show the grey, lifeless face of an infant. The dead child’s head is no bigger than a man’s hand. A large section of skull is missing. Women can be heard wailing in the background. One mourner is heard crying for his mother.

The bombs were called in by American Special Forces after their patrol was ambushed in Azizabad, in Herat province, shortly before dawn on that day. Officials said the American soldiers were trying to arrest a suspected Taliban commander.

Days after the attack, American officials remained adamant that just 30 Taliban insurgents had been killed, including their commander, despite detailed claims by Afghan officials that at least 76 people were killed, including 50 children.

Four days after the airstrike, on 26 August, the UN’s senior official in Kabul, Kai Eide, claimed he had “convincing evidence … that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men”.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s President, said relations with the United States had “worsened” in the wake of the raid, which prompted a grovelling phone call from President George Bush.

There has been growing criticism of international troops for failing to curb civilian killings. A report by Human Rights Watch, published yesterday, said civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes by the US and Nato tripled from 2006 to 2007, which have sparked a public backlash.

Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said: “Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces.”

American officials eventually revised their initial body count, on 2 September, but they were still nowhere close to the numbers reported elsewhere. A spokesman said: “The investigation found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were killed. In addition five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured and subsequently treated.”

Mr Eide, the UN’s Special Representative, summoned General McKiernon to his office in Kabul on Friday last week to see the evidence for himself. General McKiernon was furious that the UN had released such an uncompromising statement condemning the raid. But a source close to the Isaf commander revealed he was almost moved to tears when he finally saw the images for himself. “He was shocked and humbled. He left like a little boy,” the military aide said.

If the 90 dead are confirmed, it would be the worst incident of collateral damage in Afghanistan since US and UK forces invaded in 2001.

Missiles fired by US drones killed 16 people, in an attack launched across the border into Pakistan yesteday. The strike targetted a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said. The US has increasingly used drones to make cross broder strikes on suspected Taliban targets in recent weeks. The missile killed 16 people, most of them Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, though four women and two children were also killed, according to a senior intelligence officer.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/footage-of-civilian-massacre-forces-inquiry-into-us-attack-923486.html

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Robert Fisk: Why do we keep letting the politicians get away with lies?

How on earth do they get away with it? Let’s start with war between Hizbollah and Israel – past and future war, that is.

Back in 2006, Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers from their side of the Lebanese frontier and dragged them, mortally wounded, into Lebanon. The Israelis immediately launched a massive air bombardment against all of Lebanon, publicly declaring Beirut’s democratically-elected and US-backed – but extremely weak – government must be held to account for what Hizbollah does. Taking the lives of more than 1,000 Lebanese, almost all civilians, Israel unleashed its air power against the entire infrastructure of the rebuilt Lebanon, smashing highways, viaducts, electric grids, factories, lighthouses, totally erasing dozens of villages and half-destroying hundreds more before bathing the south of the country in three million cluster bomblets.

After firing thousands of old but nonetheless lethal rockets into Israel – where the total death toll was less than 200, more than half of them soldiers – Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, told a lie: if he had known what Israel would do in revenge for the capture of two soldiers, he announced, he would never have agreed to Hizbollah’s operation.

But now here comes Israel’s environment minister, Gideon Ezra, with an equally huge whopper as he warns of an even bigger, more terrible war should Hizbollah attack Israel again. “During the (2006) war, we considered the possibility of attacking Lebanon’s infrastructure but we never (sic) resorted to this option, because we thought at the time that not all the Lebanese were responsible for the Hizbollah attacks… At that time, we had Hizbollah in our sights and not the Lebanese state. But the Hizbollah do not live on the moon, and some (sic) infrastructure was hit.” This was a brazen lie. Yet the Americans, who arm Israel, said nothing. The European Union said nothing. No journalistic column pointed out this absolute dishonesty.

Yet why should they when George Bush and Condoleezza Rice announced that there would be peace between Israelis and Palestinians by the end of 2007 – then rolled back the moment Israel decided it didn’t like the timetable. Take this week’s charade in Jerusalem. The moment Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni announced that “premature” efforts to bridge gaps in the “peace process” could lead to “clashes” (Palestinians, it should be remembered, die in “clashes”, Israelis are always “murdered”), my friends in Beirut and I – along with a Jewish friend in London – took bets on when Condi would fall into line. Bingo, this was Her Holiness in Jerusalem last week: “It’s extremely important just to keep making forward progress rather than trying prematurely to come to some set of conclusions.” “Some set”, of course, means “peace”‘. Once more, US foreign policy was dictated by Israel. And again, the world remained silent.

So when the world’s press announced that Barack Obama’s new running mate, the silver-haired Joe Biden, was “an expert in foreign policy”, we all waited to be told what this meant. But all we got was a reminder that he had voted for the 2003 Iraq invasion but thought better about it later and was now against the war. Well, Goddam blow me down, that certainly shows experience. But “expertise”? No doubt in government he’ll be teemed up with those old pro-Israeli has-beens, Madeleine Albright and Martin Indyk, whose new boss, Obama, virtually elected himself to the Israeli Knesset with his supine performance in Israel during his famous “international” tour.

As one of the Arab world’s most prominent commentators put it to me this week, “Biden’s being set up to protect Israel while Obama looks after the transportation system in Chicago.” It was a cruel remark with just enough bitter reality to make it bite.

Not that we’ll pay attention. And why should we when the Canadian department of national defence – in an effort to staunch the flow of Canadian blood in the sands of Afghanistan (93 servicemen and women “fallen” so far in their hopeless Nato war against the Taliban) – has brought in a Virginia-based US company called the Terrorism Research Centre to help. According to the DND, these “terrorism experts” are going, among other subjects, to teach Canadian troops – DO NOT LAUGH, READERS, I BEG YOU DO NOT LAUGH – “the history of Islam”! And yes, these “anti-terrorism” heroes are also going to lecture the lads on “radical (sic) Islam”, “sensitivities” and “cultural and ideological issues that influence insurgent decision-making”. It is a mystery to me why the Canadian brass should turn to the US for assistance – at a cost of almost a million dollars, I should add – when America is currently losing two huge wars in the Muslim world.

But wait. The counterinsurgency school, which claims links to the US government, is reported to be a branch of Total Intelligence Solutions, a company run by infamous Cofer Black, a former director of CIA counterterrorism, and Erik Prince, a former US navy seal. Both men are executives with the Prince Group, the holding company for Total Intelligence Solutions and – and here readers will not laugh – a certain company called Blackwater. Yes, the very same Blackwater whose mercenary thugs blithely gunned down all those civilians on the streets of Baghdad last year. So Canada’s soldiers are now going to be contaminated by these mercenary killers before they head off to the Muslim world with their unique understanding of “the history of Islam”. How do they get away with it?

On a quite separate matter, you might ask the same of Conrad Black, languishing in a Florida prison after his business convictions. Responding to an enquiry from Murdoch’s grotty New York Post into body searches and other appalling humiliations at the jail, Uncle Conrad, as I like to call him – for he is among the rogues I would love to have interviewed (others include the younger Mussolini and the older Yeltsin) – responded that the Florida facility was not oppressive, that “many of the people here are quite (sic) interesting” but – AND HERE IT COMES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! – “if saintly men like Gandhi could choose to clean latrines, and Thomas More could voluntarily wear a hair shirt, this experience won’t kill me”.

Now when Uncle Conrad likens himself to the assassinated Mahatma, the apostle of India, that is mere hubris. But when he compares himself to England’s greatest Catholic martyr, a man of saintly honour if ruthless conviction, this is truly weird. “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first,” More reportedly said on 6 July 1535, before they chopped off his head on Tower Hill. And many are there among Uncle Conrad’s enemies who might wish the same fate for the former owner of The Daily Telegraph. After all, Henry VIII didn’t let Thomas get away with it.

The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisks-world-why-do-we-keep-letting-the-politicians-get-away-with-lies-913244.html

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The Independent: Echoes from another era of American liberalism

History never repeats itself exactly. But long before the electrifying appearance of Ted Kennedy at the Democratic convention it was evident that, with the rise of Barack Obama, American politics might be approaching a moment comparable to when another Kennedy took the presidential oath of office on the steps of the Capitol that icy January day in 1961.

“This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans,” the cancer-stricken Kennedy, the last survivor of his own family’s most glorious generation, declared on Monday evening, reprising the luminous words of his slain brother’s inaugural address 47 years ago. But Ted Kennedy, whose final convention this will surely be, was also passing on a torch of his own – the seal of approval of the Democrats’ first family.

In its time, this approval was conferred upon Bill Clinton, though relations between the Clintons and the Kennedys, while friendly, were never especially close. Last January the blessing was transferred, as the old liberal lion embraced not Hillary Clinton, but a young and Kennedy-esque senator from Illinois, in the race for the White House. The endorsement did not immediately affect the campaign, as Hillary easily won the Democratic primary in the Kennedy fiefdom of Massachusetts. But it was a signal of the impending power shift at the summit of the party.

The parallels between 1960 and 2008 are striking. Kennedy broke new ground by becoming the first Catholic President. An Obama victory in November would, of course, constitute a far more remarkable historical breakthrough, with the election of the first African American to the White House, a prospect utterly unimaginable in John Kennedy’s day. Both are young – indeed a President Obama would be five years older than JFK when he took office. Both have grace, charm and elegance. They share a cool, at times sardonic, detachment.

Should Obama win, it might also well be in circumstances similar to that of 1960. We often forget that Camelot in Washington, DC, was born of a squeaker of an election, which some to this day maintain was only resolved by shady machinations on the part of Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley that handed the vital state of Illinois to Kennedy, not Richard Nixon. If the current dead heat in the polls between Obama and John McCain is an indication, it could be an equally close-run thing in November 2008.

A genuine watershed

But the similarities must not be overstated. The legend that now encrusts the 35th President obscures the fact that 1960 was not a watershed election. John Kennedy’s freshness might have been a radical departure from the stale country-club Republicanism of his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower. But in the sweep of history, it was merely prolongation of a Democratic era that began with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.

By contrast, 2008 has the makings of a genuine watershed. An Obama victory would signify the end of more than a generation of Republican dominance ushered in by Ronald Reagan and continued by Bush father and son. The overwhelming sense today is that American conservatism has run its course, bankrupt in ideology and devoid of leaders. A turning point is at hand, towards more regulation, more government intervention – an age in which “liberalism” is no longer a dirty word and when, miracle of miracles, universal healthcare might turn from distant dream into fact.

All through the Reagan/Bush era, Ted Kennedy toiled away on Capitol Hill, defending liberal values when they could not have been more out of fashion. He continued to fight for improved public education, better welfare, and, of course, for universal healthcare, despite mostly Republican majorities in Congress, and mostly Republican occupants of the Oval Office. He swam against the tide too with his impassioned opposition to the Iraq war. On that issue as well, he has been vindicated – as has been Obama. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s stubborn refusal to repudiate her Senate vote in October 2002 to authorise the war may have cost her both Kennedy’s endorsement and the Democratic nomination.

On Monday evening, the messenger might have been sickly, but his message reverberated to the rafters. In a shifting, dangerous world, as America faces its worst economic crisis in a generation, today’s young prince faces a far greater challenge than his predecessor of 48 years ago. Like Obama today, candidate John F Kennedy was widely seen as inexperienced and untested. But Americans took the chance, and the gamble paid off. With his very presence on stage, Ted Kennedy was promising that the same can happen now.

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Johann Hari: Do you want free trade – or fair trade that helps the poor?

Whenever the world trade talks begin to seem like a coma-inducing bore-a-thon, I am jolted back to consciousness by the throat-stripping smell of rubbish; miles of rotting rubbish. A few years ago I found Adelina – a skinny little scrap of an eight-year-old – living in a rubbish dump, where this stench made her eyes water all the time. It is this smell – and her sore, salty eyes – that hung over the corpse of the Doha trade talks this week.

Just outside the Peruvian capital of Lima, there is a groaning valley of trash, and, inside it, hordes of children try to stay alive. Adelina spends her days picking through the refuse looking for something – anything – she can sell on for a few pennies. Then she returns to the few steel sheets she calls home to sleep on a crunchy carpet of cans. She has never left the rubbish dump; its walls are the walls of her consciousness. She told me three of her friends had recently died by falling into the rubbish, or being pricked by fetid needles, or slipping on to broken glass. I asked her how often she eats, and she shrugged: “I don’t like to eat much anyway.” She will be 10 now, if she has survived.

When we juggle the dry, dull statistics of world trade, we are really asking if Adelina will remain in her rubbish dump – and if her children, and grandchildren, will live and die there.

The way we – the rich world – organise the world trading system today traps Adelina. But it just broke. This week, in Switzerland, the poor countries of the world refused to play along with the Doha trade negotiations. The mass movement of ordinary people demanding our governments Make Poverty History that rose up in 2005 needs urgently to reconvene.

To help Adelina, we need to start with a basic question: how do poor countries turn into rich countries? The institutions that dominate world trade – especially the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – have a simple answer: all markets, all the time. They tell poor countries to abolish all subsidies, protections and tariffs that protect their own goods. If you fling yourself naked at the global market, you will rise. If the poor countries disagree, they are cajoled to do as we say.

There’s just one problem: every rich country got rich by ignoring the advice we now so aggressively offer. If we had listened to it, Britain would still be an agrarian economy manufacturing raw wool, and the US would be primarily farming cotton.

Look at the most startling eradication of poverty in the 20th century: South Korea. In 1963, the average South Korean earned just $179 a year, less than half the income of a Ghanaian. Its main export was wigs made of human hair, and Samsung was a fishmonger’s. Today, it is one of the richest countries on earth. The country has been transformed from Senegal to Spain in one human lifetime. How?

South Korea did everything we were pressing the poor at Doha not to do. Dr Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean economist at Cambridge University, explains in his book Bad Samaritans: “The Korean state nurtured certain new industries selected by the government through tariff protection, subsidies and other forms of government support, until they ‘grew up’ enough to withstand international competition.” They owned all the banks; they controlled foreign investment tightly. The state controlled and guided the economy to the international marketplace.

But we are so pickled in market fundamentalist ideology that we have blotted out this history – and even our own. Until the Tudors, Britain was a backward rural country dependent on exporting raw wool. Turning that wool profitably into clothes happened elsewhere. Henry VII wanted Britain to catch up – so he set up manufacturing bases, and banned the export of wool, so clothes were manufactured here. It’s called protectionism. His successors kept it up: by 1820, our average tariff rate was 50 per cent. Within a century, protected British industries had spurted ahead of their European competitors – so the walls could finally be dismantled. Dr Chang explains: “Trade liberalisation has been the outcome of economic development – not its cause.”

The US did the same. By 1820, the average tariff was 40 per cent; Abraham Lincoln then pushed them higher, and they stayed there until the First World War. Yet if Lincoln had been at the Doha trade talks, the United States of 2008 would have described him as a “fool” who was “harming his own people” with “despicable policies”.

Before you make your child work, you give him an education and skills and abilities. Before a country pushes its infant industries on to the world market, it needs to do just that. Nokia, Samsung and Toyota all had to be cushioned with subsidies and tariffs for decades before they made a cent. Every one of these companies would have been stampeded to death on the open market as a toddler otherwise.

Yet the reaction to the poor world’s rejection of Doha in our media has been mostly bemusement. Why have these simple-minded povvos declined our medicine? Are they mad? Amy Barry of Oxfam provides a quiet counter-balance, pointing out that if the agreement on the table at Doha had gone through, Brazil alone would have lost 1.2 million jobs, and “most poor countries would have deindustrialised, or never industrialised at all”.

From the rubble of Doha, a new world trade system needs to be built – on the principle of fair trade, not free trade. If we really want to end extreme poverty, then we need to open up the markets of rich countries, while allowing poor countries to protect and subsidise theirs. It is the recipe that ensured you, today, are not hungry and tilling the fields.

But the WTO can only ever achieve half of that goal, at best. It is built on the market vision that there should be no trade barriers or “distortions” anywhere. That means opening up rich markets, which is great. But for each step in that direction, they demand a symmetrical concession from the poor. It is like telling Bill Gates and Adelina they both have to make sacrifices – and Gates won’t shift until she does.

Here in the EU and US, there are hefty forces determined to smother fair trade in its cot. The current system works well for corporations, who get to wrench open poor economies without any risk of local competitors rising up. It works well for some slivers of workers here too, who thrive on rich-world subsidies. These forces are regrouping, but their system is lying in a crunched-up heap by the side of the road.

Our governments will always find a way to put these powerful sectional interests first – unless we, the people, make them do otherwise. Today, Adelina needs Make Poverty History to rise again to demand fair trade, not on a few fancy supermarket shelves, but as the principle governing world trade. Let the poor do what we did. Let them rise. Otherwise, those rivers of rubbish will be home to generation after generation of Adelinas the world over, and the stench will never clear.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-do-you-want-free-trade-ndash-or-fair-trade-that-helps-the-poor-882551.html

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Robert Fisk: ‘Theatrical return for the living and the dead’

Yesterday was the last day of the 2006 Lebanon war, the final chapter of Israel’s folly and Hizbollah’s hubris, a grisly day of corpse-swapping and refrigerated body parts and coffin after bleak wooden coffin on trucks crossing the Israeli border, which left old Ali Ahmed al-Sfeir and his wife, Wahde, stooped and broken with grief. Ali had a grizzled grey beard and stood propped on a stick while Wahde held a grey-tinged photograph of a young man – her son Ahmed, born in 1970. “He was a martyr, but I do not know which lorry he will be on,” she said. In the slightly torn picture, he looked whey-faced, unsmiling, already dead.

That could not be said for Samir Kuntar – 28 years in an Israeli jail for the 1979 murder of an Israeli, his young daughter and a policeman. He arrived from Israel very much alive, clean shaven but sporting a neat moustache, overawed by the hundreds of Hizbollah supporters, a man used to solitary confinement who suddenly found himself idolised by a people he had not seen in almost three decades. His eyes moved around him, the eyes of a prisoner watching for trouble. He was Israel’s longest-held Lebanese prisoner; Hizbollah’s leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, had promised his release. And he had kept his word.

The coffins – newly hammered together in Tyre before the 200 Hizbollah, Amal militia and Palestinian bodies arrived from Israel – were soon bathed in the Lebanese flag and golden Hizbollah banners, drawn by a flower-encrusted truck towards Beirut. Wahde climbed on to a plastic chair, desperate to see the box containing her son’s skeleton. Old Ali pleaded to stand with her but she told him he was too old, so he stood, head bowed, amid the television reporters and young Hizbollah fighters, with tears in his eyes. Who knows if Ahmed was in one of the boxes?

But it was also a day of humiliation. Humiliation most of all for the Israelis. After launching their 2006 war to retrieve two of their captured soldiers, they killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians, devastated Lebanon, lost 160 of their own – most of them soldiers – and ended up yesterday handing over 200 Arab corpses and five prisoners in return for the remains of the two missing soldiers and a box of body parts.

For the Americans who have supported the democratically elected Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora, it was a day of hopelessness. For Mr Siniora himself, along with the President and all the surviving ex-prime ministers and presidents of Lebanon, and the leader of the Druze community and the country’s MPs and Muslim religious leaders, and bishops and higher civil servants, and the heads of all the security services – along, of course, with the UN’s representative – were at Beirut airport to grovel before the five prisoners whom Hizbollah had freed from Israel. They were flown north by the Lebanese army’s own helicopters.

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Steve Connor: The end of an odyssey – Homer’s epic is finally pinned down

The Odyssey is one of the great works of ancient Western literature, written eight centuries before the birth of Christ and four centuries after the fall of Troy. Generations of classicists have pored over the many lines of Homer’s epic description of the long journey taken by the hero Odysseus to his home island of Ithaca. Now two scholars have found evidence to support the idea that one line, in the poem’s 20th book, refers to a total solar eclipse that occurred on 16 April 1178 BC – the day when Odysseus returned home to kill his wife’s suitors. If true, this would date the fall of Troy itself to precisely 1188 BC.

It takes Odysseus 10 years to reach Ithaca after the 10-year Trojan war. During his time away, his young son, Telemachus, has grown into a man and his faithful wife, Penelope, is besieged by unruly suitors desperate to gain her hand in marriage.

The Odyssey is the story of a long and great journey involving the beautiful nymph Calypso – who enslaves Odysseus for seven years as her lover – helpful divinities such as Athena and vengeful gods such as Poseidon.

Odysseus eventually escapes from Calypso, survives a shipwreck where all his compatriots are drowned and is befriended by the Phaeacians, a race of skilled mariners who finally deliver the hero safely to Ithaca, where he takes on the guise of a beggar to learn how things stand at home.

It is during this later phase of The Odyssey that Homer is said to make reference to a total solar eclipse. The key phrase comes in a speech by the seer Theoclymenus, who foresees the deaths of the unruly young men who sought the hand of Penelope while Odysseus was away. It ends with the words: “The Sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world.”

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Terence Blacker: Oh no! Yet another asinine academic theory…

For a few moments, I am ashamed to say, a new theory being advanced by an American academic set me thinking. Peter Schweizer, who is a research fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has been studying the private lives and attitudes of liberals and conservatives.

Those with left-wing views, he has concluded, are less happy, less generous, more likely to commit suicide, greedier and more selfish than right-wingers. Those that are parents – and, according to Schweizer, many liberals are simply too narcissistic and self-centred to have children – are statistically less likely to hug their children. These and other thoughts are contained in his book, Makers and Takers, which has just been published.

It is tempting, in the manner of someone slightly bored at a dinner party, to follow Schweizer down the dark alleyways of his thought processes to discover where they take us. Could he possibly be on to something? Conservatives, with a greater faith in the individual, may instinctively be more optimistic than those on the left and therefore happier.

On the other hand, liberals look forward rather than backward and believe in some kind of social equality, neither of which qualities suggest misery or lack of generosity. Righties grumble about modern life, but then lefties have a miserablist dependence on state interference. So where do all those contradictions lead us?

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