A century of oppression: The Kurds and the Turkish state

May 18th, 2021


 In recent weeks, the autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved to ban the pro-Kurdish left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and jailed the 14th member of the party’s 56-strong parliamentary caucus. Erdogan’s attack is the latest iteration of repressive, and at times genocidal, anti-Kurdish policies that go back to the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The banning of the HDP will mark the transition of Turkey to outright dictatorship.

Not coincidentally, Turkey has also just quit the Istanbul Convention on violence against women — this, as the writer Elif Shafak warns “in a country where three women are killed daily and femicide is a huge crisis.” The HDP’s strong pro-feminism contrasts starkly with Erdogan’s crude misogynism.

HDP MP Mr Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was stripped of his parliamentary immunity on March 17 and given a one-year prison sentence for a social media post he made five years ago. The party’s imprisoned co-leaders, Leyla Guven and Selahattin Demirtas, are facing decades behind bars—Demirtas up to 132 years.

The indictment against the HDP MPs alleges support for terrorism — a catch-all charge applied at the whim of Erdogan’s ruling party, the Law and Development Party (AKP), to any opponent of his corrupt and repressive government and enforced by his creatures in the judiciary.

Hopes of reform dashed

Earlier hopes that Erdogan was a liberalising reformer have been dashed. Under pressure from the European Union at a time when Turkey wanted EU membership, Erdogan had lifted restrictions on the Kurdish language and in 2013 opened peace negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Now, he has thrown all of that into reverse; the price of EU membership being too steep.

The HDP ban and withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention cap a wave of terror that began in 2016 when elements of the Turkish military staged an abortive coup, allegedly in concert with followers of Erdogan’s former ally, the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. The HDP unequivocally opposed the coup, but this did not save it from Erdogan’s confected wrath.

In effect, the coup was Erdogan’s Reichstag Fire moment, giving him the pretext to repress his real and imagined enemies, particularly the Kurds, despite the HDP’s unequivocal opposition to the conspirators. There have been vast purges of the civil service, schools and universities, and Islamist functionaries have replaced secular officials and academics. Simultaneously, there has been an enormous increase in government funding for religious education — 68% in 2018 alone — as Erdogan seeks to overturn the original secular character of the Republic and usher in clerical fascism.

The repression has raged most fiercely in the majority Kurdish districts of southeast Anatolia, centered on the city of Diyarbakir. The military and police have attacked Kurdish towns and villages, including with artillery and jet fighters. 

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How Biden funded Colombia’s deadly police regime

May 18th, 2021


Biden played a key role in empowering the ESMAD police force that is now being used to crush dissent in Colombia. This is all the more reason the U.S. Left must make solidarity with the Colombian working class a priority.

In the last week, Colombia has exploded in nationwide protests and work stoppages against the government of President Ivan Duque. With over 19 people killed by state forces in the last week, and with image after image of brutal police repression going viral across the world, the protests have sparked international outrage and concerns about human rights abuses. Joining this chorus of voices is a growing number of organizations and politicians urging Joe Biden’s government to take direct action to curb police violence in Colombia and stop its continued funding of the country’s brutal riot cops, commonly referred to as ESMAD. For its part, the U.S. Department of State issued a mealy-mouthed statement condemning the violence and upholding the people’s “unquestionable right to protest peacefully” while also supporting “the Colombian government’s efforts to address the current situation through political dialogue.” 

What has received far less attention, however, is the central role the United States has played in creating the very conditions that have sparked this heroic struggle. While the Biden administration offers gestures of performative indignation over the battle scenes coming out of cities like Cali and Bogotá, it conveniently ignores the fact that Joe Biden himself spearheaded the very policies that trained and funded the Colombian armed forces that are currently murdering and repressing the Colombian people with impunity. 

Strikes and protests began spreading throughout Colombia on April 28. These uprisings come in response to a tax reform pushed by the country’s far-right government.

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Ayn Rand-inspired ‘myth of the founder’ gives big tech CEOs tremendous power

May 18th, 2021


Ayn Rand compares entrepreneurs to Atlas, the Greek god who holds up the world.
PHOTO/Richard Drew/AP

It poses real risks to democracy.

Coinbase’s plan to go public in April highlights a troubling trend among tech companies: Its founding team will maintain voting control, making it mostly immune to the wishes of outside investors.

The best-known U.S. cryptocurrency exchange is doing this by creating two classes of shares. One class will be available to the public. The other is reserved for the founders, insiders and early investors, and will wield 20 times the voting power of regular shares. That will ensure that after all is said and done, the insiders will control 53.5% of the votes.

Coinbase will join dozens of other publicly traded tech companies – many with household names such as Google, Facebook, Doordash, Airbnb and Slack – that have issued two types of shares in an effort to retain control for founders and insiders. The reason this is becoming increasingly popular has a lot to do with Ayn Randone of Silicon Valley’s favorite authors, and the “myth of the founder” her writings have helped inspire.

Engaged investors and governance experts like me generally loathe dual-class shares because they undermine executive accountability by making it harder to rein in a wayward CEO. I first stumbled upon this method executives use to limit the influence of pesky outsiders while working on my doctoral dissertation on hostile takeovers in the late 1980s.

But the risks of this trend are greater than simply entrenching bad management. Today, given the role tech companies play in virtually every corner of American life, it poses a threat to democracy as well.

All in the family

Dual-class voting structures have been around for decades.

When Ford Motor Co. went public in 1956, its founding family used the arrangement to maintain 40% of the voting rightsNewspaper companies like The New York Times and The Washington Post often use the arrangement to protect their journalistic independence from Wall Street’s insatiable demands for profitability.

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Arundhati Roy: We need a government

May 17th, 2021


Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO/PTI

An appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Please step aside.

We need a government. Desperately. And we don’t have one. We are running out of air. We are dying. We don’t have systems in place to know what to do with help even when it’s on hand.

What can be done? Right here, right now?

We cannot wait till 2024. Never would people like myself have imagined the day would come when we would find ourselves appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for anything. Personally, I would rather have gone to prison than do that. But today, as we die in our homes, on the streets, in hospital car parks, in big cities, in small towns, in villages and forests and fields – I, an ordinary private citizen, am swallowing my pride to join millions of my fellow citizens in saying please sir, please, step aside. At least for now. I beseech you, step down.

This is a crisis of your making. You cannot solve it. You can only make it worse. This virus prospers in an atmosphere of fear and hatred and ignorance. It prospers when you clamp down on those who speak out. It prospers when you manage the media to such an extent that the real truth is only reported in the international media. It prospers when you have a prime minister who has never held a single press conference in all his years in office, who is incapable of fielding questions, even now in this moment of numbing horror.

Hundreds of thousands of us will die, unnecessarily, if you don’t go. So, go now. Jhola utha ke. With your dignity intact. You can have a great life ahead, of meditation and solitude. You yourself have said that’s what you want. That won’t be possible if you allow this mass dying to continue.

There are many in your party who can take your place for now. People who know they must get on even with political opponents in this moment of crisis. Whoever that person is – from your party, with the approval of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – can head the government and a crisis management committee.

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Dog fighting, drug deals and tattoos: The hidden lives of Iran’s criminal underworld

May 17th, 2021


A collage featuring a selection of photographs from Crime Wave Tehran and the print series Gangstehran by Pouria Khojastehpay. PHOTO/Pouria Khojastehpay

Crime Wave Tehran is a visual research project turned 100-page documentary photo book exploring some of Iran’s most notorious gangsters

Nicknamed “The Eagle of Iran” by his peers because of the golden eagle tattoo on his back, Vahid Moradi was a notorious gangster who spent most of his life in and out of Iranian prisons.

Not much is known about his upbringing or childhood, but throughout his life, The Eagle served multiple prison sentences for various crimes, including gang-related fights and being a member of a criminal organisation. 

Moradi is also one of the men profiled in Crime Wave Tehran, a research project and photo book on Iran’s criminal underworld, edited and published by Iranian-Dutch artist and researcher Pouria Khojastehpay in 2018. 

Khojastehpay describes “The Eagle” as “a real and respected gangster in every sense”. “He was the main inspiration for the book and my print series,” Khojastehpay told MEE.

In one photograph, Moradi stands with a hand placed respectfully over his heart. He would blend seamlessly into the surrounding crowd were it not for the tattoo of a gun on his hand and the other of a tear drop below his left eye.

Known for being somewhat of a “survivor”, he managed to endure several bullet wounds, before his luck eventually ran out. 

In 2018 The Eagle was arrested for the murder of an associate during a party thrown to celebrate his prison release. Soon after, back in jail, he was killed by fellow inmates following a dispute in the prison yard. 

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The ill-fated idea to move the nation’s capital to St. Louis

May 17th, 2021


As part of the nation’s westward expansion motives, some Midwesterners wanted to move the capital to St. Louis ILLUSTRATION/Meilan Solly

The U.S. House of Representatives will likely pass legislation today calling for the District of Columbia to become the 51st state. It marks the farthest the push for D.C. statehood has gone in the more than 200 years of its existence. The bill’s fate in the U.S. Senate is unclear, though its prospects for passage are mixed, at best.

One of the consistent objections raised by the legislation’s opponents is that the residents of D.C. have an undue influence on Congress. Merits aside, unspoken by these opponents is a 160-year-old idea: Disassemble the Capitol building, the White House and the rest of the district’s government buildings and ship the entire headquarters of the federal government to the middle of the country. More specifically, St. Louis, Missouri. An absurd premise, perhaps, but one that was given a close look in the years after the U.S. Civil War.

“They imagined they would move the real buildings themselves,” says Adam Arenson, a historian at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, and author of The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War. “The image is kind of fantastical but also intriguing.”

The idea of numbering the blocks of the Capitol building for reassembly hundreds of miles away was very much of its time.

“The whole thing is only thinkable in the aftermath of the Civil War, when you have had these kinds of massive logistical innovations and when they’ve moved so many people, but also so much stuff, around on the railroads,” says Walter Johnson, historian at Harvard University and author of The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States.

The fact that many people at the time could imagine that this might really work also suggests just how much the nation was in flux following the war. Johnson notes that D.C. may have seemed less inevitable as the nation’s capital given that Richmond, Virginia, the center of the Confederacy, had just hosted “a capital that a lot of people believed was a real capital.”

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Weekend Edition

May 15th, 2021

US cruelty on full display as Israel terrorizes Palestinians

May 15th, 2021


VIDEO/Al Jazeera/Youtube

Every few years, the caged and helpless Palestinians reach the limits of their endurance suffering Israeli atrocities. They fight back and sustain more deaths, devastation, and deprivation. The United States, which never tires of preaching “human rights” “democracy” and other such noble values act as if the Israelis have cut off the US president’s tongue.

Metaphorically, this is true when looking at the power the Israel Lobby (1) exerts over the corrupt congresspersons. The US presidents’ voice returns when the Israelis have carried out their agenda. Even if they open their mouths in between, most of the time it is to support the Israeli hideousness.

On 12th May, President Joe Biden , answering a reporter’s question on the current flare-up of Palestinian frustrations and Israel’s precise and deadly attacks, blamed Palestinians without mentioning Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians, including a great number of children:

“My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”

Biden doesn’t say that he’ll order Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – one of the most heinous leaders on the world stage today – to stop these war crimes immediately. Instead he’s talking about the rockets being fired by Hamas. In reality, Israel’s Iron Dome shield has stopped most of the rockets.

Look at the number of casualties: over 140 Palestinians killed, while only 10 Israelis have been killed as of Sunday morning Jerusalem time. The conflict keeps raging on.

VIDEO/TRT World/Youtube

The disproportionately high Palestinian casualties are a result of Israel’s technological advancements and cruel disregard for the indigenous inhabitants of the land they are stealing.

Figures from the last big conflict which took place in 2014: Palestinian casualties: 2,220 (armed groups 605, 1492 civilians, 123 unverified) versus Israel’s 71 (66 soldiers, 4 civilians, which included 1 child, and 1 unknown).

Israel has a right to defend itself” has become a kind of Biblical verse which US politicians chant whenever Israel indulges in violence. The corporate media follows the same pattern without detailing as to why the desperate and terrorized Palestinians fight back.

There is no danger at all to Israel, Palestine is no match for Israel’s arsenal. Israel is a nuclear power in possession of 200 nuclear weapons.

In an email to Jeffrey Leeds, his business partner, former US secretary of state Colin Powell wrote about Netanyahu’s warning to US Congress against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

“Anyway, Iranians can’t use one [a nuclear weapon] if they finally make one. The boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we [the United States] have thousands. As [Iran’s President Mahmoud] Akmdinijad (sic) [said], ‘What would we do with one, polish it?’ I have spoken publicly about both nK and Iran. We’ll blow up the only thing they care about – regime survival. Where, how would they even test one?”

Back in 1986, when Biden was a US Senator, he had defended Israel thus:

“It’s about time we stop apologising for our support for Israel.” “There’s no apology to be made. It is the best $3[.1] billion investment we make. If there weren’t an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”

In 2016, then-president Barack Obama raised the annual free money — or as John V. Whitbeck puts it a “tribute” — to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion, despite the fact that Netanyahu had humiliated Obama in 2015 on a visit to the US where he addressed the joint session of the US Congress that was not approved by Obama. Israel is the largest US aid recipient in the world. Between the late 1940s and November 2020, Israel has fleeced the US taxpayers of $146 billion. Then there are donations from US citizens amounting to tens of millions of dollars.

Netanyahu was mad at Obama who was trying to somewhat improve the US relations with Iran with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), which Netanyahu vehemently opposed. Israel doesn’t want any other country to emerge strong in the region.

If there were no Israel, the United States would have created one to control the Middle East and its oil. One wonders if Biden is any less cruel or hypocritical than the former president Donald Trump? The only difference being that Trump’s cruelty was out there in the open through his big mouth and on Twitter. Biden neither tweets nor open his mouth much, but cruel he indeed is. But then sometimes you feel pity for US presidents who, in their eagerness to please Israel and the Israel Lobby, lick their boots — although the US is used to getting its boots licked by the rest of the world. In 2015, at an yearly Israeli Independence Day festivity, Biden shamelessly overdid it:

“Everybody knows I love Israel… You know me. You raised me. You educated me.”

With the backing of the courts, police, and military, some Israelis are throwing out Palestinians to take over their houses (video below). Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque and injured hundreds of Palestinians and attacked Gaza, the largest open-air prison in the world.

VIDEO/Middle East Eye/Youtube

US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib tweeted at Biden questioning his silence:

“I was 7 years old when I first prayed at the Al Aqsa with my sity [sic]. It’s a sacred site for Muslims. This is equivalent to attacking the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, or the Temple Mount for Jews. Israel attacks it during Ramadan. Where’s the outrage @POTUS?”

The only congressperson of Palestinian origin, Tlaib, in her speech to the Congress, pointed out the silence, hypocrisy, and callous indifference of the Biden administration for the plight of Palestinians.

VIDEO/Democracy Now/Youtube

When the sadistic Biden government decides it’s time to perform brokering a “ceasefire”, Biden will do something.

Many progressives were impressed with the little crumbs (in the shape of two-year free college, etc.) Biden has thrown at them. I hope they wake up and form a block in Congress that demands substantial changes beneficial to the common people, stops free money to Israel, and brings an end to US imperialism.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at brgowani@hotmail.com


(1) The extremely powerful Israel Lobby grew even more in strength through Trump’s unilateral recognition, even amidst widespread international opposition of the disputed city of Jerusalem claimed by both Palestine and Israel as their capital. (Jerusalem has religious significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims.)

Muna is Palestine, Yakub is Israel: The untold story of Sheikh Jarrah

May 14th, 2021


Israeli forces suppress a Palestinian protest against house evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. PHOTO/Activestills

There are two separate Sheikh Jarrah stories – one read and watched in the news and another that receives little media coverage or due analysis.

The obvious story is that of the nightly raids and violence meted out by Israeli police and Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the devastated East Jerusalem neighborhood.

For weeks, thousands of Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinian communities in Jerusalem’s Old City. Their objective is the removal of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They are not acting alone. Their riots and rampages are directed by a well-coordinated leadership composed of extremist Zionist and Jewish groups, such as the Otzma Yehudit party and the Lehava Movement. Their unfounded claims, violent actions and abhorrent chant “Death to the Arabs” are validated by Israeli politicians, such as Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King.

Here is a little introduction to the political discourse of Ben-Gvir and King, who were caught on video shouting and insulting a wounded Palestinian protester. The video starts with MK Ben-Gvir disparagingly yelling at a Palestinian who was apparently wounded by Israeli police, yet returned to protest against the evictions planned for Sheikh Jarrah.

Ben-Gvir is heard shouting, “Abu Hummus, how is your ass?”

“The bullet is still there, that’s why he is limping,” responds the Deputy Mayor, King, to Ben-Gvir.  King continues, “Did they take the bullet out of your ass? Did they take it out already? It is a pity it did not go in here,” King continues, pointing to his head.

Delighted with what they perceive to be a whimsical commentary on the wounding of the Palestinian, Ben-Gvir and King’s entourage of Jewish extremists laugh.

[Watch the video here.]

While “Abu Hummus”, wounded yet still protesting, is a testament to the tenacity of the Palestinian people, King, Ben-Gvir, the settlers and the police are a representation of the united Israeli front aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians and ensuring Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

Another important participant in the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign in Jerusalem is Israel’s court system which has provided a legal cover for the targeting of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem.

The legal foundation of the Jewish settlers’ constant attempts at acquiring more Palestinian properties can be traced back to a specific 1970 law, known as the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which allowed Jews to sue Palestinians for properties they claim to have owned prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. While Palestinians are excluded from making similar claims, Israeli courts have generously handed Palestinian homes, lands and other assets to Jewish claimants. In turn, these homes, as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, are often sold to Jewish settler organizations to build yet more colonies on occupied Palestinian land.

Last February, the Israeli Supreme Court awarded Jewish settlers the right to many Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Following a Palestinian and international backlash, it offered Palestinians a ‘compromise’, whereby Palestinian families relinquished ownership rights to their homes and agreed to continue to live there as tenants, paying rents to the very illegal Jewish settlers who have stolen their homes in the first place, but who are now armed with a court decision.

However, the ‘logic’ through which Jews claim Palestinian properties as their own should not be associated with a few extremist organizations. After all, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was not the work of a few extreme Zionists. Similarly, the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and the massive settlement enterprise that followed was not the brainchild of a few extreme individuals. Colonialism in Israel was, and remains, a state-run project, which ultimately aims at achieving the same objective that is being carried out in Sheikh Jarrah – the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to ensure Jewish demographic majority.

This is the untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, one that cannot be expressed by a few news bytes or social media posts. However, this most relevant narrative is largely hidden. It is easier to blame a few Jewish extremists than to hold the entire Israeli government accountable. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is constantly manipulating the subject of demographics to advance the interests of his Jewish constituency. He is a strong believer in an exclusive Jewish state and also fully aware of the political influence of Jewish settlers. For example, shortly before the March 23 elections, Netanyahu made a decision to greenlight the construction of 540 illegal settlement units in the so-called Har-Homa E Area (Abu Ghneim Mountain) in the occupied West Bank, in the hope of acquiring as many votes as possible.

While the Sheikh Jarrah story is garnering some attention even in mainstream US media, there is a near-complete absence of any depth to that coverage, namely the fact that Sheikh Jarrah is not the exception but the norm. Sadly, as Palestinians and their supporters try to circumvent widespread media censorship by reaching out directly to civil societies across the world using social media platforms, they are often censored there, as well.

One of the videos initially censored by Instagram is that of Muna al-Kurd, a Palestinian woman who had lost her home in Sheikh Jarrah to a Jewish settler by the name of Yakub.

“Yakub, you know this is not your house,” Muna is seen outside her home, speaking to Yakub.

Yakub answers, “Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back. So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.

Muna: “You are stealing my house.”

Yakub: “And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.”

Muna: “No. No one is allowed to steal it.”

[Watch the video here.]

The untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, of Jerusalem – in fact, of all of Palestine – is that of Muna and Yakub, the former representing Palestine, the latter, Israel. For justice to ever be attained, Muna must be allowed to reclaim her stolen home and Yakub must be held accountable for his crime.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

Originally published in The Palestine Chronicle

Google is leading a vast, covert human experiment. You may be one of the guinea pigs

May 14th, 2021



On January 13 the Australian Financial Review reported Google had removed some Australian news content from its search results for some local users.

Speaking to the Guardian, a Google spokesperson confirmed the company was “running a few experiments that will each reach about 1% of Google Search users in Australia to measure the impacts of news businesses and Google Search on each other”.

So what are these “experiments”? And how concerned should we be about Google’s actions?

Engineering our attention

Google’s experiment (which is supposed to run until early February) involves displaying an “alternative” news website ranking for certain Australian users — at least 160,000, according to The Guardian. A Google spokesperson told The Conversation the experiment didn’t prevent users (being experimented on) from accessing a news story. Rather, they would not discover the story through Search and would have to access it another way, such as directly on a publisher’s website.

Google’s experiment is a form of “A/B testing”, which classically involves dividing a population randomly in half — into groups A and B — and subjecting each group to a different “stimulus”.

For example, in the case of web design, the two groups may be served different web layouts. This could be done to test changes to layout, the colour scheme or any other element.

Performance in A/B testing is judged on a range of factors, such as which links are clicked first, or the average time spent on a page. If group A perused the site longer than group B, the modification tested on group A may be considered favourable.

In Google’s case, we don’t know the motivation behind the tests. But we do know a small subset of users received different results to the majority and were not alerted.

The experiment has resulted in the promotion of dubious news sources over trusted ones, some of which have been known to publish disinformation (which intends to mislead) and misinformation (false claims that are spread regardless of intent).

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