Joe Biden stresses international cooperation ahead of meeting with UN secretary general

President Biden on Monday hammered home the theme of his two-day trip to the United Nations by stressing the need for international cooperation ahead of his meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“The enormity of the task already ahead for each one of us and it’s real, but the vision of the United Nations has never been short on ambition,” Mr. Biden said moments before the meeting.

“Ambition matters,” Mr. Biden continued, calling on world leaders to work together and deliver “economic prosperity, peace and security” across the globe.

Mr. Guterres praised the president for his “strong commitment” to the United Nations and multilateralism.

“The cooperation between the U.S. and the UN is a fundamental pillar of the work of the UN,” he said. “The U.S. with its strong commitment to human rights, its strong commitment to peace and security around the world, its strong commitment to development, cooperation and now, with your leadership, a very strong commitment on climate change, the U.S. represents a fundamental pillar of our activity,” he said.

“And I’d like to assure you, Mr. President, that we want to deepen that cooperation,” he said.

Neither responded to questions shouted by the press.

Mr. Biden’s meeting with Mr. Guterres comes ahead of his first speech as president to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday morning.

The president will talk about how ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan has opened up a new era of “intensive diplomacy” with nations working together to solve issues such as COVID-19, climate change and infrastructure.

Mr. Biden also will hammer home his message that “America is back” after what he has previously described as the unreliable leadership of his predecessor, Donald Trump. That message has been dented, however, by his foreign policy missteps.

The president ignored pleas from other nations to extend his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to exit Afghanistan, and France is furious after the U.S. undercut a multi-billion submarine pact it had struck with Australia.

Reaction from world leaders after Mr. Biden’s speech could suggest whether they are willing to move on or still harbor grievances over how those events played out.

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Malaysia’s government signs cooperation pact with opposition in boost for PM

FILE PHOTO: New Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves from a car, as he leaves after the inauguration ceremony, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 21, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

September 13, 2021

By Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s coalition and the main opposition bloc on Monday signed a cooperation pact to ensure stability during the COVID-19 pandemic, an agreement that could also help the premier win a confidence vote.

Ismail Sabri took office last month with a slim parliamentary majority, becoming the third prime minister in as many years, but the constitutional monarch has called for him to face a vote of confidence to prove he has majority support in parliament.

The legislature reconvened on Monday but no date has been set for the confidence vote.

The bipartisan pact signed on Monday covers six areas including strengthening a COVID-19 plan, transformation in governance, parliamentary reforms, and freedom of the judiciary, Ismail Sabri said in a statement.

“The government is confident that this will not only see political differences being put aside but also ensure the national recovery will be inclusive and holistic,” he said.

Ismail Sabri, however, did not say whether the agreement included his previous offer to the opposition to introduce political reforms https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/malaysian-pm-proposes-political-reforms-woo-opposition-2021-09-10 including laws to prevent defections and to limit a prime minister to 10 years in office.

His offer on Friday had also included: bipartisan agreement on every bill to be introduced in parliament, input from opposition parties on a national recovery council and immediate lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 from 21. He also said the opposition leader would get the same pay and privileges as a cabinet minister.

Malaysia has seen political instability since the election defeat in 2018 of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had governed for more than 60 years since independence, after a string of corruption allegations.

Two governments had collapsed since then and Ismail Sabri’s appointment restored the premiership role to UMNO.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)





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Beijing Says Sino–US Cooperation on Afghanistan Conditional on Washington’s ‘Attitude Toward China’

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Aug. 29 said Washington’s “attitude toward China” would decide how the two countries would work together on Afghanistan, during a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

Yi not only set the condition for bilateral cooperation, but also accused the United States of “fighting terrorism selectively,” according to a statement published by the Chinese foreign ministry.

While the Chinese ministry’s statement detailed Yi’s demands for the United States, State Department spokesperson Ned Price issued a brief statement on the call.

Blinken and Yi spoke about “the importance of the international community holding the Taliban accountable for the public commitments they have made regarding the safe passage and freedom to travel for Afghans and foreign nationals.”

Price’s statement did not offer any other details about the call.

Yi said the U.S. attitude would be measured by its actions: Stop “smearing and attacking” Beijing and stop “undermining” China’s sovereignty. Additionally, Yi said that the United States “should take seriously” China’s “two lists” and “three bottom lines.” Doing what China said would bring bilateral ties “back on track” to meet Beijing’s wishes, Yi added.

It’s unclear what smearing and attacks Yi was referring to. In July, the Chinese regime also accused Western journalists of “smearing China” after they published reports critical of Chinese policies on local floods. The accusation, promoted through China’s state-run media, resulted in Chinese citizens harassing and threatening Western reporters covering the disaster on the ground.

Meanwhile, Chinese state-controlled media have been publishing their own negative reports about the United States, such as labeling America as an unreliable partner given its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Beijing handed the lists and three demands to the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, when she traveled to China in late July to meet with Yi and his deputy Xie Feng. One of the lists asked the United States to correct its “wrongdoings,” including revoking U.S. sanctions on Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (L) and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi sit together in Tianjin, China, on July 26, 2021. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo)

One of the demands requires that the United States not “interfere” in the Chinese Communist Party’s management of issues in the troubled regions of  Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. Many Western governments, including the United States, have called out China for its human rights violations in the three regions, particularly over the detention of over a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The communist regime has turned Sherman’s China visit—as well as the March meeting in Alaska when Yi and China’s foreign policy official Yang Jiechi dressed down Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan—into a propaganda coup.

It was the second talk between Blinken and Yi over Afghanistan this month. According to the State Department, Blinken and Yi talked about the “security situation” in Afghanistan during the earlier call on Aug. 16 after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

During that call, Yi said China was ready to “have communication and dialogue” with the United States on issues related to Afghanistan, but he criticized the swift U.S. withdrawal as having a “severely adverse impact” on the war-torn nation, according to China’s foreign ministry.

It remains to be seen how much China would actually benefit from a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“I’m not sure that China is actually going to benefit because Beijing now has to do something that it’s never done before, which is to manage a very difficult security situation outside his borders,” said Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” during a recent EpochTV webinar.

Aside from Afghanistan, Yi also accused U.S. intelligence officials of “cooking up” their report on the origins of the CCP virus, during the latest call with Blinken, according to the Chinese statement. He also demanded that the United States stop “politicizing” tracing the origin of the virus.

The U.S. intelligence report, which was released on Aug. 27, stated that it couldn’t come to a conclusive assessment about the pandemic’s origins, given China’s refusal to cooperate.

The CCP virus originated in China’s central city of Wuhan. The report concluded the virus could have either come from an infected animal or a “laboratory-associated incident.”

China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), home to one of China’s highest-level biosafety P4 laboratories, has been under scrutiny for being the source of the virus. U.S., Canadian, and French funding to the lab for controversial gain-of-function research has also come under scrutiny.

A State Department fact sheet released in January stated it had reason to believe that “several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

Frank Fang

Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master’s degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.



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Nigel Farage: ‘No way’ U.K. parliament will approve military cooperation with U.S. under Biden

Former Brexit party leader Nigel Farage blasted the Biden administration’s relations with the United Kingdom in the midst of the evacuation from Afghanistan, saying that “there is no way” parliament would vote to cooperate militarily with the U.S. under a Biden or a Harris administration.

Farage was asked by Fox News on Tuesday how the U.S. looks on the world stage. “Never been worse,” he said. “I mean, we have been beside you for 20 years. We’re a smaller country than America, but the U.K. has put in the same money, and suffered the same human loss. And we’ve never ever quibbled about that. We understood the reasons for the mission.

“And we, too, after 20 years, were tired of being there, but how you withdraw, the method by which you withdraw, is just as crucial with a military operation as how you go in.

“And for President Biden, unilaterally, without consultation with us or the rest of the NATO allies, just to announce America is going, to effectively fly the white flag to the Taliban, to see that dramatic takeover of these barbarians of the country … right now, why would we ever trust America in any international mission, given they make decisions without consulting their closest friends?”

Farage criticized the Biden administration for betraying the U.K. and “treating us with contempt” during the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“The medium-term problem is the resurgence of international terror, already evidence that extremist jihadi groups all over the world have taken great cheer from what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan,” Farage told Fox News.

During “the last few years, we’ve not seen major terrorist atrocities in the West,” he added. “But if they start to happen again and we start to think, well, how do we go out again and try and stop these cells that are spreading international terror? How can we do it with the Americans? How can we do it with an ally that is treating us with contempt and betrayed us and, into the bargain, many of our own citizens?

“Certainly, if it’s a Biden or Harris administration, honestly, there is no way, there is no way a British parliament right now would vote for military cooperation with America led by this administration. And that’s a very sad thing to say, because since 1917, the U.K. and America have been side by side in virtually every major conflict.

“We’ve been the closest allies in terms of military action, in terms of intelligence sharing, in terms of culture, in terms of business. You couldn’t have a better ally in the world. And right at the moment, I’m sorry, but there’s no way we could enter into another operation with you.”



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Russian defence minister praises cooperation with China at joint wargames

Russian army members take part in the Sibu/Cooperation-2021 joint drills in Qingtongxia, Ningxia Autonomous Region, China, August 13, 2021. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

August 13, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu praised military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing on Friday and suggested it could develop further, after flying to China for joint manoeuvres involving more than 10,000 troops.

The Sibu/Cooperation-2021 wargames concluding in China’s Ningxia region on Friday have been watched by other nations for signs that China and Russia are expanding military ties as they spar with the West.

“We have achieved a high level of interaction between our armed forces on land, in the air and at sea,” Shoigu said in a Defence Ministry statement. “This increase is an important trend towards further activity.”

Russia and China have conducted joint drills since 2005, but Shoigu – a close ally of President Vladimir Putin – noted that it was the first time the Russian military had taken part in an event of this kind in China.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper this week said the drills also marked the first time Russian soldiers had used Chinese weapons.

Russia this week completed joint drills in Tajikistan with Uzbek and Tajik forces near the border with Afghanistan, where rapid advances by the Taliban as the United States withdraws its troops are creating a global security headache.

Moscow pivoted to China in 2014 as its political ties withthe West sank to post Cold-War lows over the annexation ofCrimea from Ukraine. China is Russia’s biggest trade partner.

Russian Railways this week said the first railway bridge between Russia and China, over the Amur River, would open soon, a boost for bilateral trade.

Separate Russian drills with Indian forces in the Russian city of Volgograd involving around 500 soldiers ended on Thursday, Zvezda TV said.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; editing by John Stonestreet)





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Mexico and U.S. vow to expand cooperation to address immigration in high-level talks

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MEXICO CITY — Top Mexican and U.S. officials discussed increasing bilateral cooperation to address immigration during a meeting in Mexico City, the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday evening.

Mexican Foreign Ninister Marcelo Ebrard met in Mexico City with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, Juan Gonzalez.

“The delegations agreed to expand cooperation in order to manage orderly, safe and regular migration flows with respect for the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers,” the Mexican foreign ministry said in a statement following the meeting.

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After the gathering, Ebrard said on Twitter that Mexico’s relationship with the United States was “going very well” and that the meeting had been “productive.”

At a news conference earlier in the day, Ebrard said the talks would encompass efforts to reopen the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as measures being put forward by the United States aimed at containing immigration from Central America.

The talks came after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday, discussing migration, the fight against COVID-19 and the need to strengthen Central American economies.

During their call, the United States agreed to send Mexico 3.5 million doses of drugmaker Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine and up to 5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Ebrard said, noting that the vaccines would likely arrive in August.

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Ebrard added that he did not expect the U.S.-Mexico land border to reopen by Aug. 21, and that more time would be needed to resume transit for so-called nonessential trips, including for those who cross the border to work or attend school.

Speaking at the news conference, Lopez Obrador said that Harris agreed with him on the need to reopen their shared land border, but did not provide a specific timetable.

Ebrard said Lopez Obrador and Harris had also discussed plans to revive, in early September, a forum for bilateral talks known as the high-level economic dialog, which is aimed at improving economic integration and boosting growth.

When asked what such discussions could encompass, Ebrard noted that North America was gearing up for technological changes, such as the transition to electric cars, underlining the importance of companies like Tesla Inc in the industry.

“Obviously we’re interested in being a part of that,” he said. (Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Raul Cortes Fernandez in Mexico City Editing by Dave Graham, Matthew Lewis and Michael Perry)



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New law limits Illinois police cooperation with ICE, closes detainment centers

Local law enforcement agencies will be limited in how they cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and migrant detainment centers across the state will be closed after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 667 into law. Critics of the legislation say it will cost jobs and makes Illinois a sanctuary state.

Known as the Way Forward Act, the bill was filed by state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, to provide what he said was protection for immigrants who might be in the U.S. illegally from local law enforcement officers.

The legislation was an initiative by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel with the immigrant rights group, said the legislation is the product of years of hard work.

“This law is the culmination of ten years of hard work to try and set a limit on collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Tsao said.

The new law will help communities by taking the fear out of dealing with the police, Tsao said.

“This legislation allows immigrants to safely interact with their local police departments,” he said. “If an immigrant is a victim of criminal activity or a witness to criminal activity, they can go to the police without fear of coming under suspicion.”

The legislation will restrict local police departments ICE from working with ICE agents in the state. Restrictions on participation in raids, sharing of information and the end of detainment camps will be some of the new rules for local police and immigration.

State Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Teutopolis, has taken issue with the Way Forward Act, specifically with the closing of detainment centers across the state. The closure of these centers, Niemerg said, could lead to job cuts and revenue losses for the counties that house them.

“Look at Pulaski County, there are about 80 jobs with the detainment center in a county of about 5,000 people,” Niemerg said. “These good-paying jobs are going to be lost due to this legislation.”

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Harrisburg, also has spoken out against the new legislation, saying immigrants in federal custody will be sent out of state and away from their families once these detainment centers close.

“We would then as a state lose the ability to have oversight on what is going on in those facilities as it relates to detainees. They could end up in another state that might not be as friendly,” Windhorst said.

Lawrence Benito, executive director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee rights, called the new act a win for immigrant communities.

“This marks a win for immigrant communities, as we are one step closer to making Illinois the most welcoming state in the nation,” Benito said. “We thank the senators who listened to our communities and voted yes on Illinois Way Forward.”



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Why American Security Cooperation Must Become More Transparent

In 2017, Congress passed historic reforms to modernize and streamline the U.S. government’s approach to security cooperation—how the United States funds, trains, and equips foreign militaries and police forces around the world.

In the two decades since 9/11, the United States has increasingly sought to build capacity in foreign security forces in an effort to combat threats before they reach the United States. These programs, funded by the departments of Defense and State, continue to increase in scope and cost, but without a clear, overarching strategic framework. The 2017 reforms helped to increase oversight over the U.S. government’s security cooperation efforts and began the process of measuring their impact. This was a small step in the right direction.

But despite those efforts, the world of security cooperation remains persistently opaque. Public reporting on things like deliveries of arms sold by the U.S. government to foreign partners, proposed commercial arms transfers, and detailed breakdowns of the military aid and training provided to foreign security services across the globe remain troublingly scarce. Regulatory changes, like the removal of certain firearms from the U.S. munitions list, have also undermined congressional oversight regimes, eroding key safeguards in the American security cooperation enterprise that are meant to ensure arms transfers align with U.S. values and interests.  

Security cooperation is a risky business. In just the last month, reports have illustrated how foreign military training has implicated the U.S. in two of the most high-profile assassinations of the past decade—the murders of Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Indeed, around the globe, U.S. arms transfers and security assistance have too frequently enabled human rights abuses or contributed to insecurity and instability, whether that’s the war in Yemen, the crackdown of dissidents in Egypt, or the violent “war on drugs” in the Philippines.

In a world where the risks are so high, transparency and public engagement offer indispensable mechanisms for encouraging restraint and responsibility. The availability of existing information on security assistance and arms sales has allowed the public and their representatives in Congress to place political weight behind refraining from sales to certain foreign partners while enabling researchers and academics to assess the consequences of security cooperation. Besides that, the added layer of public accountability creates an added incentive for responsible security cooperation that adheres to American values and objectives.

After all, it was only due to public pressure that the U.S. government finally relented somewhat on its support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. It was only due to media engagement that the public learned of U.S. plans to supply Israel with new weapons in the midst of its campaign in Gaza earlier this year. It was only due to intrepid reporters that we learned of the role of American companies in training the killers of Jamal Khashoggi and President Moïse. And these are only the stories we do know.

We also need more transparency to understand what we still don’t know. As deliberation continues over the current National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), beyond debating the size of the budget, Congress also has an opportunity to build on the 2017 reforms by making security assistance more transparent and accountable through better public reporting, including detailed yearly reporting of U.S. security assistance and cooperation.

Representative Tom Malinowski, who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, understands these challenges only too well. His amendment to last year’s NDAA—the Protecting Security Assistance from Corruption Act—increases transparency for security assistance and arms sales through simple reporting requirements, ensuring the departments of Defense and State are doing minimal risk assessments to ensure security assistance isn’t contributing to corruption in partner countries. A renewed push to insert these provisions into the NDAA would be a critical effort deserving of support on both sides of the political aisle.

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) has also been working toward more transparency. As the congressional office that represented Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, Congressman Connolly has been working on tracking whether anyone trained by the U.S. later goes on to commit human rights abuses. Connolly also introduced the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act, which passed one chamber of Congress and is still pending in the Senate.

Security cooperation and arms sales between the United States and other countries continue to grow, but due to the scarcity of public information, civil society and even Congress are only seeing a fraction of the picture. This should be a deep concern, given how security assistance and arms sales impact foreign policy around the world. We hope this year’s NDAA can take another step toward redressing that.

Lauren Woods is the director and Elias Yousif is the deputy director of the Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) at the Center for International Policy. The Security Assistance Monitor provides the most comprehensive public information available on U.S. security assistance, arms sales, and foreign military training. They tweet @LDWoods3 and @EliasDJyousif.  

Image: Reuters



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Myanmar junta seeks international cooperation over COVID-19 crisis

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Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

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The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.

There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.

Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,964 cases and 338 deaths reported on Tuesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias.

Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.

Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.

The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, particularly if it believes strings are attached, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after the devastating cyclone Nargis in 2008.

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Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.

The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.

But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” army-run MRTV network reported. (Reporting by Reuters Staff Writing by Ed Davies Editing by Robert Birsel)

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