Archive for January, 2021

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi & senior officials DETAINED amid fears of military coup – reports

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi & senior officials DETAINED amid fears of military coup – reports

Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and several high-profile officials have been detained amid rising tensions with the military, Reuters reported, citing spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy party.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner was reportedly “taken,” and escorted away early Monday morning, Reuters reported, citing spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party,  Myo Nyunt.

Nyunt added that several other senior civilian officials, including formal head of the the state - Myanmar’s President Win Myint - were allegedly taken into custody.

Nyunt, who told Reuters that he expected to follow in their footsteps, urged the public to refrain from any response to the developments that could put them in violation of the law.

"I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law," he said.

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France & Germany threaten AstraZeneca with legal action if they favored UK over EU when distributing Covid-19 vaccine

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on France & Germany threaten AstraZeneca with legal action if they favored UK over EU when distributing Covid-19 vaccine

Tensions in a row between AstraZeneca and the EU over vaccine shortages have heightened further as Paris and Berlin said the company should face penalties or even legal action if it turns out it preferred Britons to Europeans.

“I am not saying that there is a problem but if there is a problem and that [they] have favored other destinations, other countries – for example the UK – over us then we will defend our interests,” France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune told the French Radio J on Sunday, adding that the company is now facing “serious accusations” and that is not something that Brussels treats “lightly.”

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European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, Brussels, Belgium, January 8, 2021
EU publishes AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine contract as executive chief Von der Leyen claims orders are ‘binding’

The official then said that the British-Swedish vaccine manufacturer could face “penalties or sanctions” if found to have prioritized its British clients over the European ones. Beaune added that Brussels could punish the company by refusing to order any supplementary doses or imposing penalties “foreseen by the contract.”

The EU has struck an advance purchase agreement with AstraZeneca worth €336 million ($407.8 million) but not all of the money has been paid to the company. Beaune admitted that there is an investigation into AstraZeneca that is still ongoing and the Europeans first need “clarity and transparency.”

Still, he said, “if there has been a preference granted to the British, then that’s a problem.” A similarly stark rebuke came from Germany, where the Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Die Welt daily that “if it turns out that individual companies are not complying with their obligations, a decision must be made about legal consequences.”

Under no circumstances should you give preference to another country over the EU.

The EU has been embroiled in a bitter row with AstraZeneca over the manufacturer’s decision to slash the EU’s initial vaccine supply from 80 million to 31 million doses. The EU officials then called on the company to divert the vaccines, manufactured in the UK, to the EU. The bloc also suspected the pharmaceutical giant of prioritizing its contracts with other nations like the UK at its expense.

AstraZeneca meanwhile maintained that it would fully honor its obligations to the UK government and blamed the EU’s vaccine woes on production issues at its European plants. Brussels reacted by imposing export controls on all vaccines produced inside the bloc, including those of AstraZeneca itself. Any manufacturers would now need to first get their exports greenlighted by Brussels before sending any doses anywhere outside the bloc at least until the end of March.

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FILE PHOTO.
EU ABORTS plan to restrict vaccine exports through Northern Ireland, after drawing scorn from London & Dublin

Brussels even apparently considered triggering an emergency mechanism in the divorce deal with the UK to unilaterally restrict movements of goods, including the vaccines, from the EU into Northern Ireland. Yet, it promptly backtracked after facing a backlash from London, Belfast and Dublin.

On Sunday, the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that the sides have reached some progress in resolving the situation and that AstraZeneca agreed to “deliver nine million additional doses in the first quarter,” raising the total amount of jabs to be delivered over that period from 31 to 40 million, and to “expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe.”

Not everyone welcomed the news, though. Former EU Commission adviser Pierre Dechamps said that such an outcome could hardly be called a success since the pledged amount is still way smaller than the initial 80 million doses. He also accused London of virtually “nationalizing” the vaccine manufacturer to serve its own interests.

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Israeli minister’s order to postpone vaccination of Palestinian prisoners was illegal, High Court rules

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Israeli minister’s order to postpone vaccination of Palestinian prisoners was illegal, High Court rules

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana didn’t have the authority to order the delay of coronavirus jabs to Palestinian prisoners, who were in the second priority group to get vaccinated, the Israeli High Court of Justice said.

The three judges were unanimous in their ruling, pointing out that Ohana acted “without legal authority” as only the health minister had the power to make such a decision. They also insisted that denying vaccines couldn’t be used as a punishment for inmates.

Justice Menachem Mazuz was the harshest in his explanation of the verdict, saying that the order to postpone vaccination was issued “with blatant lack of authority and illegally, and it is void of all legal validity.”

The prisoners eventually got their shots of the Pfizer vaccine over the past few weeks, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was still pushing for the High Court to evaluate the minister’s behavior.

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Rally in support of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails in the West Bank city of Ramallah. © Reuters / Mohamad Torokman
Human rights activists slam Israel for ‘politically motivated’ decision to postpone vaccination of Palestinian prisoners

In late December, Ohana, who is Israel’s first openly gay minister, faced harsh criticism from human rights groups after saying that the vaccination of Palestinian prisoners will be postponed. The inmates were in the second priority group to receive the injections after the medics, but the order said that shots will be administered to them “in accordance with the progress of vaccinating the general public.”

Around 4,400 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons, with some 300 of them being infected with Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the NGO, Palestinian Prisoner Society.

Israel is undertaking one of the world's most ambitious vaccination campaigns, with more than three million people or 32 percent of the population already getting immunized against the coronavirus.   

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FILE PHOTO. A Palestinian medical worker collects a swab sample from a man to be tested for Covid-19. ©REUTERS / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Israel to send 5,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Palestinians, overturning its much-criticized refusal

The country has long been reluctant to provide vaccines to the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank, but military sources told the local media on Sunday that the transfer of 5,000 doses of the jab to Palestinian frontline medics was approved on the recommendation of Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

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Clashes, arrests as thousands face off with riot police at protest against Covid-19 lockdown in Vienna

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Clashes, arrests as thousands face off with riot police at protest against Covid-19 lockdown in Vienna

Demonstrators staged an unauthorized protest in the Austrian capital, Vienna to show their discontent with the government’s strict lockdown. Police blocked the central Ring Road and sought to disperse the crowd.

Between hundreds to thousands of demonstrators have gathered at the Maria Theresa Square in the center of the Austrian capital, according to various local media reports. The protesters defied the ban on the large protest issued by the authorities.

The demonstrators that soon occupied part of the Vienna Ring Road called the event a ‘Covid-19 walk’. Various fringe right-wing groups, hooligans, and coronavirus skeptics, among others, chanted slogans against the Covid-19 lockdown and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Some reports indicate that a number of protesters arrived from other regions of the country.

The protesters held placards and banners that read: “Media are the virus” and “Kurz must go.” Some of them also waved the flag of Austria. Police demanded the protesters follow the social distancing rules and wear masks, but the demands were ignored, the media said, adding that police declared the gathering illegal and demanded the crowd disperse in 15 minutes.

©  AFP / APA / Herbert Neubauer

Large numbers of police in riot gear were deployed to the scene. They blocked a section of the Ring Road to prevent the crowd from marching to the Austrian parliament and the Vienna State Opera. The protest turned into a tense standoff with the police, with clashes between demonstrators and officers on the sidelines. 

Several people were arrested, according to Austrian media. A video posted to social media shows that at least one journalist was among those arrested.

Earlier, an authorized demonstration took place elsewhere in the capital, but it was only attended by several dozen people. In total, the police banned 15 protests scheduled for this weekend to “keep major dangers to public health at bay.”

Another event organized by the right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) was eventually held online. During the event, former Interior Minister Herbert Kickl called the ban on demonstrations a “completely new kind of censorship,” and accused the Austrian media of collusion, which supposedly involves unanimous contempt in media reports for Covid-19 skeptics and scientists who have differing opinions.

©  AFP / APA / Herbert Neubauer

Austria entered its third national lockdown on December 26, and the restrictive measures have recently been extended up to early February. The government is also expected to review its lockdown policy on Monday and either extend it further, or relax some rules. Currently, all non-essential stores, museums, and schools are closed and entry rules for foreigners are tightened – apparently to discourage foreign tourists from flocking to popular ski resorts.  

According to Austrian media, the restrictions have demonstrated some effectiveness, since the nation has moved from the 7,000 new cases per day it saw in November to around 1,500 new daily cases this week.

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Protestors rally against the coronavirus disease measures and their economic consequences in Vienna. © Reuters / Lisi Niesner
TEN THOUSAND protesters decry Covid-19 curbs in Vienna, face counter-protest (VIDEOS)

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Thousands of Orthodox Jews violate lockdown to attend funeral of prominent rabbi killed by coronavirus (PHOTOS)

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Thousands of Orthodox Jews violate lockdown to attend funeral of prominent rabbi killed by coronavirus (PHOTOS)

A sea of people filled the streets of Jerusalem as thousands of Orthodox Jews paid their last respects to a local rabbi despite the Covid-19 lockdown. The authorities said it was “a funeral that would lead to more funerals.”

Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, the head of Brisk Yeshiva religious school and a powerful voice in the Haredi society, passed away early Sunday at the age of 99. He was infected with the coronavirus three months ago, but on Friday his condition took a turn for the worse.

© Reuters / Ronen Zvulun

Israel is currently in its third coronavirus lockdown, and the authorities put a lot effort into preventing a large funeral gathering, setting up road blocks and engaging in negotiations with religious leaders to talk their followers out of attending. Twenty busses heading to the ceremony were stopped and turned back by the police, according to local media.

© Reuters / Ronen Zvulun

But it was all in vain as thousands of Orthodox Jews flooded the streets of Jerusalem later in the day. The massive funeral procession departed from Soloveitchik’s home in the Sanhedria neighborhood and proceeded to the Har HaMenuchot cemetery.

The gathering was “very bad in every way,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch tweeted. The Haredi funeral shows that both the public’s attitude to the restrictions and the ability of the police to enforce them are “poor.”

A funeral with a failed health score. A funeral that will unfortunately lead to more funerals. Then they wonder why the lockdown does not reduce the infection rates.

Orthodox Jews have been notable in their opposition to the restrictions during the pandemic, refusing to abide by rules that hinder their religious practices. Orthodox protests occur in the country almost every week, typically ending in clashes and arrests.

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Policemen remove an Ultra-Orthodox Jew during a protest in Ashdod, Israel. © Reuters / Amir Cohen
Orthodox Jews clash with police in Israel as some religious schools open in violation of lockdown (VIDEOS)

The Haredi community was hit hard by the coronavirus, with experts saying that neglecting the health rules and mass gatherings have led to this alarming state of affairs.

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Major blast rocks Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, gunfire reported (VIDEOS)

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Major blast rocks Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, gunfire reported (VIDEOS)

At least one large explosion has occurred in Somalia’s capital city Mogadishu. The blast, said to have happened near a popular hotel, was reportedly followed by intense gunfire.

The incident occurred in the capital city on Sunday. Imagery circulating online shows a large plume of white smoke and dust emitting after the blast.

While there has been no official word on the explosion, local media reports have suggested the blast occurred at the popular Hotel Afrik, located to the north of the city’s international airport. The explosion was followed by intense gunfire, Reuters reported.

The first blast was reportedly followed by up to two more powerful explosions. So far, no information on potential casualties or damage has emerged.

“There must be casualties because the militants first started the attack with a suicide car bomb against the wall,” a police spokesman Sadik Ali told Reuters, revealing that multiple people have been evacuated safely from the hotel. “The operation still goes on, casualties will be known later.”

Some media outlets have already pinned the blame for the apparent terrorist attack on Al-Shabaab – a local hard-line Islamist militant group that has ties to Al-Qaeda. The group’s militants have repeatedly attacked various targets across the capital in the past, including some of its hotels frequented by local political and business elite. However, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

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© Twitter / Mohamed Dek Abdalla @mdeeq16
Cargo plane ploughs into barrier after crash-landing at Mogadishu airport (PHOTOS)

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Huge queues, packed stores & empty shelves after Australian city announces 5-day Covid lockdown over single confirmed case

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Huge queues, packed stores & empty shelves after Australian city announces 5-day Covid lockdown over single confirmed case

Australians posted photos and videos of long queues and overflowing stores after the city of Perth announced a five-day coronavirus lockdown on Sunday.

Videos showed mega-lines forming outside several Woolworths supermarkets in a final rush to panic buy supplies after a single confirmed case of Covid-19 from a quarantine hotel security guard prompted the city to announce a new lockdown.

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020.
Australia approves Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine but warns supply issues could impact distribution

Unlike most of the world, Australians have enjoyed a relatively relaxed environment during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Western Australia – where Perth is situated – had previously not recorded even a single case of the virus locally for 10 months.

Clips showed the majority of shopping trolleys stacked with large packs of toilet paper as the shelves were stripped bare, and huge crowds of mostly maskless Western Australians could be seen congregating in the stores with very little social distancing.

Even items like fresh fruit, milk, and eggs were panic bought off the shelves, despite the fact that supermarkets will remain open.

The lockdown, which was announced by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan and is in place from Sunday evening until Friday, temporarily forbids restaurants, bars, gyms, schools, and other social venues from opening, limits exercise, allows only essential travel, and enacts mandatory face masks in public.

At a press conference, McGowan said that although “for many Western Australians this is going to come as a shock,” the state "cannot forget how quickly this virus can spread, nor the devastation it can cause" and must “deal with” the threat “very, very quickly and harshly” when it arises.

The majority of Australian Covid-19 cases have been recorded in and around the city of Melbourne and its state of Victoria, which has had over 20,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. Western Australia, in comparison, has recorded just 903 cases and nine deaths.

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FILE PHOTO: Australian and Chinese flags are seen at the third China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China November 6, 2020.
New Zealand trade minister calls on Australia to ‘show respect’ to China amid Beijing-Canberra trade war

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Israel to send 5,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Palestinians, overturning its much-criticized refusal

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Israel to send 5,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Palestinians, overturning its much-criticized refusal

Israel, currently the leading country in Covid-19 immunization, has finally agreed to deliver some vaccines to Palestinians. The disparity had been condemned by the UN, which said it violated international law.

The office of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz confirmed on Sunday that the Jewish state is to transfer 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to Palestinians. The drug will be used to immunize frontline medical workers, the statement said, offering no further details.

Israel is the world leader in rolling out its Covid-19 vaccines, with over three million of its 9.3 million inhabitants already having received at least one dose. However, it had refused to cover the West Bank and Gaza – the territories internationally recognized as being under Israeli occupation – with the exception of Israel's Arab citizens and Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

Israel cited the Oslo Accords from the 90s, which give the Palestinian Authority oversight of public health, to argue that it has no obligation to protect Palestinians from Covid-19.

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A general view picture shows people waiting to receive a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a temporary healthcare maintenance organisation (HMO) centre at an underground parking lot in Givatayim Mall, near Tel Aviv, Israel January 19, 2021
Israel’s failure to inoculate Palestinians against Covid should be considered a war crime under international law

The refusal was criticized by medics and international organizations. Two weeks ago, UN human rights body OHCHR reiterated that, as an occupying power, Israel is obligated under the Geneva Conventions to maintain Palestinian health services, including “to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”

The keystone document states that if necessary, Israel should involve third parties to provide relief, the UN said, adding that the Geneva Conventions have more power that Israel’s peace agreement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is outlined in the Oslo Accords. Israel denies being an occupying power in the Palestinian territories.

Israel controls many aspects of life in the West Bank, the territory under the Palestinian Authority, and together with Egypt it maintains a decade-old blockade of the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas movement is in charge. It means all international supplies to both places depend on Israel’s goodwill.

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A medic holds the vial of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19. © Sputnik / Government of Buenos Aires
Palestine approves Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine ahead of others in Middle East

The Palestinian Authority said it hoped to receive Covid-19 vaccines through the international program COVAX, which aims to balance access by supplying poorer nations. It has also negotiated to receive Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, though the first shipment of 5,000 doses is expected only in mid-February, after “technical issues” postponed the delivery from the initial scheduled date of January 14. The UN warned that, due to the current situation, vaccines ordered by the Palestinian Authority “may not be delivered en masse to the West Bank and Gaza for many weeks.”

UN figures put the number of Covid-19 cases in Palestinian territories it designates as occupied, including in East Jerusalem, at over 176,000, with almost 2,000 deaths linked to the virus.

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Anti-lockdown protesters stage torch-lit march in Denmark (VIDEOS)

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on Anti-lockdown protesters stage torch-lit march in Denmark (VIDEOS)

Hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters have hit Denmark’s streets condemning the government’s coronavirus-induced restrictions during a fiery torch-lit march.

The fiery protest was staged overnight in Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark. The march was organized by a group, calling themselves the ‘Men in Black’, who oppose the country’s enduring anti-coronavirus measures.

Many protesters showed up for the march with lit torches and flares. Some of the protesters got rowdy and launched several fireworks at the police who closely monitored the gathering.

At least one person was arrested during the protest, while several others were briefly held by the police for questioning and “educational” talks.

Several large banners were displayed at the event, taking jabs at the government’s anti-coronavirus policies. ‘Close Christiansborg, open society’ one of the banners read, referring to the government building in Copenhagen.

Denmark has recently toughened its anti-coronavirus restrictions, reducing gatherings’ limit to five from 10 people. Entertainment venues, as well as restaurants and bars, remain closed across the country.

Another banner was aimed personally at the country’s PM, reading ‘Better a dead mink as a playmate than Mette Frederiksen’. The ‘Men in Black’ group appears to hold a strong grudge against Frederiksen and last Sunday it went as far as burning an effigy of the PM during a protest.

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Anti-lockdown protesters march in Copenhagen, Denmark, January 23, 2021 © AFP / Mads Claus Rasmussen
Anti-lockdown protesters in Denmark burn effigy of PM, brawl with police (VIDEOS)

The mink reference apparently poked fun at the country’s mink disaster, which unfolded late in 2020. After the animals at multiple farms contracted coronavirus – passing it back to humans afterwards – Denmark’s government took an unprecedented move and ordered extermination of the entire stock.

Mass graves of the minks, which dotted the country, have prompted widespread concerns about groundwater pollution. Moreover, several burial sites have seen mink literally rising from their graves due to corpse gases and had to be reburied, while tons of animal corpses were left unaccounted for.

So far, Denmark has registered nearly 200,000 cases of coronavirus including more than 2,100 deaths. While figures remain relatively low compared to the worst Сovid-hit countries, they are still quite sizable for the 5.8 million Nordic nation.

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WHO’s Covid-19 fact-finding mission visits ill-fated animal market in Wuhan

Posted by RT on January 31, 2021  |   Comments Off on WHO’s Covid-19 fact-finding mission visits ill-fated animal market in Wuhan

A team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic has visited a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan which was linked to the first detected clusters of the disease.

The team visited the now-shuttered Huanan Seafood Market on Sunday. The sprawling market has seen its security tightened, with additional barricades erected and more guards deployed in the area ahead of the high-profile inspection.

The experts spent around one hour at the location before leaving it in convoy. The team did not approach the press, who had amassed outside the market’s security barrier.

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New Year's Eve celebrations in Wuhan
As Wuhan returns to normal a year after lockdown, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for US media

The WHO’s fact-finding mission began its work in China’s Wuhan on Thursday after getting discharged from a two-week quarantine. The experts have already visited several hospitals and markets, as well as an exhibition commemorating Wuhan’s battle against the initial outbreak of coronavirus.

Huanan Market made the headlines late in 2019, when the facility was shuttered after four cases of mystery ‘pneumonia’ – which turned to be Covid-19 – were linked to it. The market itself, as well as the controversial trade in such exotic animals as bats and pangolins, has been widely theorized to be the root of the pandemic, though no solid proof for such claims has emerged as yet. Moreover, mounting reports suggest that the dreaded virus was present in multiple countries around the world months before it was first detected and identified in Wuhan.

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FILE PHOTO.
‘We may never find patient zero’: WHO urges to be ‘careful’ about attributing start of Covid-19 pandemic

The ongoing pandemic, which has been plaguing the globe for over a year, has already killed over two million people and heavily battered the world’s economy. More than 100 million people have contracted the disease, the latest figures by the Johns Hopkins University show.

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