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Voice of America is an international news and broadcast organization serving Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East and Balkan countries


Asian Rivals China, India Open Two Days of Talks

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 02:47:57 -0400

The leaders of India and China meet Friday amid tensions along their contested border and a rivalry for influence among their smaller neighbors that could determine dominance in Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping is to sit down with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the central city of Wuhan at the start of two days of talks between the heads of the world’s two most populous nations. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said Modi arrived after midnight in Wuhan. The leaders would “review the developments in our bilateral relations from a strategic and long-term perspective,” Kumar said in a tweet. China-India relations date back centuries but in recent decades have been characterized by competition for leadership in Asia. Some of the issues The countries fought a border war in 1962 and last year engaged in a 10-week standoff in the neighboring state of Bhutan. India has also been alarmed by China’s moves to build strategic and economic ties with Indian Ocean nations including Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India’s longtime rival Pakistan. China for its part resents India’s hosting of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and its control of territory Beijing says belongs to it. China claims some 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the western Himalayas. Officials have met at least 20 times to discuss the competing border claims without making significant progress. Following the most protracted standoff in years, India last year agreed to pull back troops from the disputed Doklam Plateau high in the Himalayas, where Chinese troops had started constructing a road.  Economic possibilities Despite such differences, Modi hopes China can help drive Indian economic growth ahead of national elections next year. However, his administration has been reluctant to engage with Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative linking its economies to those of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Modi will be traveling to China again in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. Along with China and India, that group includes the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan as well as Pakistan.

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Consumers Close Wallets, Trim US 1st Quarter Growth

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 01:32:10 -0400

The U.S. economy likely slowed in the first quarter as growth in consumer spending braked sharply, but the setback is expected to be temporary against the backdrop of a tightening labor market and large fiscal stimulus. Gross domestic product probably increased at a 2.0 percent annual rate, according to a Reuters survey of economists, also held back by a moderation in business spending on equipment as well as a widening of the trade deficit and decline in investment in homebuilding. Those factors likely offset an increase in inventories. The economy grew at a 2.9 percent pace in the fourth quarter. The government will publish its snapshot of first-quarter GDP Friday at 8:30 a.m.  Don't lose sleep The anticipated tepid first-quarter growth will, however, probably not be a true reflection of the economy, despite the expected weakness in consumer spending. First-quarter GDP tends to be soft because of a seasonal quirk. The labor market is near full employment and both business and consumer confidence are strong. "I would not lose sleep over first-quarter GDP, there is the residual seasonality issue," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. "Overall the economy is doing very well and will continue to do well this year and into 2019." Economists expect growth will accelerate in the second quarter as households start to feel the impact of the Trump administration's $1.5 trillion income tax package on their paychecks. Lower corporate and individual tax rates as well as increased government spending will likely lift annual economic growth to the administration's 3 percent target, despite the weak start to the year. Federal Reserve officials are likely to shrug off weak first-quarter growth. The U.S. central bank raised interest rates last month in a nod to the strong labor market and economy, and forecast at least two rate hikes this year. Minutes of the March 20-21 meeting published earlier this month showed policymakers "expected that the first-quarter softness would be transitory," citing "residual seasonality in the data, and more generally to strong economic fundamentals." Consumer spending lackluster Economists estimate that growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to below a 1.5 percent rate in the first quarter. That would be the slowest pace in nearly five years and follows the fourth quarter's robust 4.0 percent growth rate. Consumer spending in the last quarter was likely held back by delayed tax refunds and impact of tax cuts. Rebuilding and clean-up efforts following hurricanes late last year probably pulled forward spending into the fourth quarter. "Our new consumer survey found that 37 percent of consumers thought they didn't get any extra income from the tax cut or did not know what to do with it," said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. "It is possible this means that there is a lag in the consumer response to tax cuts." Business spending Business spending on equipment is forecast to have slowed after double-digit growth in the second half of 2017. The expected cooling in equipment investment partly reflects a fading boost from a recovery in commodity prices. Economists expect a marginal impact on business spending on equipment from rising interest rates and more expensive raw materials. "While we do not expect rising rates to crush equipment spending, a slowdown nevertheless appears in store," said Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Higher interest rates will hurt at the margin." Investment in homebuilding is forecast to have declined in the first quarter after rebounding in the October-December period. Government spending probably contracted after two straight quarterly increases. Spending is, however, expected to rebound in the second quarter after the U.S. Congress recently approved more government spending. Trade was likely a drag on[...]

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Thousands Protest Killings of 3 Mexican Film Students

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 01:15:23 -0400

Thousands of people gathered in Mexico’s second-largest city Thursday to protest the deaths of three film students who were killed and dissolved in acid in a case that has highlighted the disappearance of the country’s youth amid a vicious drug war. The students were abducted March 19 on the outskirts of Guadalajara after working on a film project for school at a location that authorities say was being watched by members of a cartel. Their disappearance had become emblematic of Mexico’s 35,000 missing people and drew the attention of celebrities, including Oscar-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. Mexicans were horrified by this week’s announcement by prosecutors that they had been killed and their bodies dissolved in acid. “We demand justice, not only for our three colleagues but for the thousands of missing” in the state of Jalisco and the country, said Oscar Juarez, a student leader at ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara. The protest wasn’t as large as some protests for the 43 students at the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in Guerrero state who disappeared in 2014, but local media reported about 12,000 participants in Guadalajara and in another demonstration in Mexico City. At the end of the Thursday’s march, organizers said: “Our dreams and our voices will not be dissolved in acid.” Youth disappearances Human rights monitors say the case highlighted a problem that successive Mexican governments have failed to solve: the disappearance of Mexico’s youth. According to federal statistics, at least 15,516 people between the ages of 13 and 29 are officially listed as missing in the country, representing about 43 percent of the disappeared of all ages. The number of minors missing is more than 7,000, according to statistics from the Interior Department. Juan Martin Perez, director of an NGO known as the Rights to Childhood, said the disappearance of children, teens and young adults is attributable to factors including organized crime, lack of protection by the government, corruption and authorities’ complicity with criminal groups in many places. Alarming trends Perez called youth disappearance an “epidemic” and said the statistics reveal certain trends that are particularly alarming: Between 2012 and 2014 the number of adolescent women who disappeared spiked 200 percent. There is a “pattern of negligence and omission in searching” by authorities, accompanied by common tendencies to criminalize victims, and to try to “cook the numbers” on disappearances by officially declaring victims dead before investigations are concluded and waiting 48 hours to begin investigating, even though experts say that period is the most vital if the victim is to be found alive. Perez said another problem is gangs’ use of teens as essentially disposable labor. His organization estimates that between 30,000 and 35,000 adolescents are “victims of forced recruitment” by cartels and should themselves be considered victims of violence.

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Amazon Delivers Profits, a $20 Prime Hike, NFL Games

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:32:31 -0400 Inc. more than doubled its profit Thursday and predicted strong spring results as the world’s biggest online retailer raised the price for U.S. Prime subscribers, added U.S. football games and touted its cloud services for business. The results showed the broad strength of the company, which has been expanding far beyond shipping packages, the business that has drawn the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump. The forecast beat expectations on Wall Street, sending shares up 7 percent to a new record in afterhours trade and adding $8 billion to the net worth of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and largest shareholder. Seattle-based Amazon is winning business from older, big box rivals by delivering virtually any product to customers at a low cost, and at times faster than it takes to buy goods from a physical store. It is expanding across industries, too, striking a $130 million deal to stream Thursday night games for the U.S. National Football League online and working to ship groceries to doorsteps from Whole Foods stores nationwide. Sales jumped 43 percent to $51.0 billion in the quarter, topping estimates of $49.8 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. Prime now $119 Prime, Amazon’s loyalty club that includes fast shipping, video streaming and other benefits, has been key to Amazon’s strategy. Its more than 100 million members globally spend above average on Amazon. The company announced Thursday it will increase the yearly price of Prime to $119 from $99 for U.S. members this spring. The fee hike is expected to add a windfall to Amazon’s subscription revenue, already up 60 percent in the first quarter at $3.1 billion. “We do feel it’s still the best deal in retail,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s chief financial officer, said on a call with analysts. He said the number of items Prime members can get within two days had grown fivefold since the last price increase four years ago. Advertising and the cloud Despite the surge in shopping, Olsavsky gave credit for Amazon’s $1.6 billion profit last quarter to two younger businesses: advertising and Amazon Web Services. Revenue from third-party sellers paying to promote their products on was an unusually large bright spot during the quarter, with sales in the category, which includes some other items, growing 139 percent to $2.03 billion. This included $560 million from an accounting change. Amazon Web Services (AWS), which handles data and computing for large enterprises in the cloud, won new business and saw its profit margin expand. It posted a 49 percent rise in sales from a year earlier to $5.44 billion, beating estimates. Amazon remains the biggest in the space by revenue, and its stock trades at a significant premium to cloud-computing rival Microsoft Corp. Amazon’s shares have also outperformed the S&P 500, rising 30 percent this year as of Thursday’s market close, compared with the S&P’s less than 1 percent decline. More workers, spending Notorious for running on a low profit margin, Amazon has still reaped rewards for shareholders as it has bet on new services like voice-controlled computing and has expanded across continents and industries. Global headcount was up 60 percent from a year earlier at 563,100 full-time and part-time employees, thanks to a hiring spree and an influx of workers from Whole Foods Market. The company plans to increase its video content spending this year, Amazon’s Olsavsky said, with a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” in the works. The third quarter will also see extra spending to prepare for the busy holiday season. Amazon is working with JPMorgan Chase & Co and Berkshire Hathaway Inc to determine how to cut health costs for hundreds of thousands of their employees. And it is expanding its retail footprint outside the United States, particularly in India. Amazon’s international operating loss grew 29 percent to $622 million in the first quarter.

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Report: Immigration Officials Seek to Prosecute Parents Illegally Entering US

Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:31:20 -0400

U.S. immigration officials are pushing for a change in policy to be allowed to prosecute parents caught crossing into the country illegally with their children, The Washington Post reported. In a memo obtained by The Post, the officials say that threatening adults with criminal charges and prison time would be the "most effective" way to end illegal immigration. But if enforced, the policy would also split up thousands of families. The memo does say parents who turn themselves in would not be prosecuted. The current policy allows parents to be released and reunited with their children while they await civil deportation proceedings. The memo sent to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday was signed by acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan, Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services L. Francis Cissna and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, The Post reports. The memo warned that the number of attempted crossings by parents with children will continue to rise if Nielsen does not act. It said nearly 700 attempts were made per day last week, the highest level since 2016. It said the Trump administration tried this approach in the Border Patrol's El Paso sector, which covers West Texas and New Mexico, between July 2017 and November 2017. As a result of that experiment, it said, the number of families trying to cross illegally fell 64 percent. The Post quoted the memo as saying, "This decrease was attributed to the prosecution of adults. ... Of note, the numbers began rising again after the initiative was paused."

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Hundreds of Iranian Kurds Join Anti-Government Rally

Thu, 26 Apr 2018 22:04:46 -0400

Hundreds of Iranian Kurds have joined an anti-government rally in a northwestern border town in support of a general strike that has paralyzed the local economy for 12 days. Residents of Baneh who contacted VOA Persian via social media shared images of what they said were around 1,000 people peacefully demonstrating outside a local government building.   WATCH: Demonstrators Chant Slogans Against Local Governor in Baneh The crowd chanted slogans demanding the removal of Baneh’s governor. Residents accuse him of not doing enough to press Tehran to end a blockade of border footpaths that they use to carry goods from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iran for sale in their stores. A lack of manufacturing in Baneh and other parts of Iran’s Kurdistan province has impoverished the population. Many residents have tried to eke out a living by carrying Iraqi goods across the border as porters, also known locally as kolbars. Several Baneh residents said they attended a meeting Thursday with a visiting delegation of the central government in Tehran. They said Iran’s Deputy Industry Minister Mojtaba Khosrowtaj promised to consider reducing import taxes on local traders. But the attendees said they and other local delegates rejected the offers of the Tehran officials as too little. There were no immediate reports of the meeting in Iranian state media.   WATCH: Iranian Kurdish Children Hold Protest Signs in Baneh At Thursday’s rally, some men and boys held signs calling for the border footpaths to be re-opened and saying they have no money or food to eat. Shopkeepers throughout Baneh have kept their stores closed since April 15 in a prolonged general strike that is unprecedented in the region for its length. The strike has caused anxiety among some local residents who have struggled to buy and sell everyday goods.   WATCH: General Strike in Baneh Stretches into 12th Day Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Baneh’s deputy governor Nejad Shahidi on April 15 as saying that the government blocked the footpaths at Iraq’s request to “bring order to border trade and preserve security in border areas.” Many residents have rejected that explanation because of what they see as Tehran’s deep influence over Iraqi affairs. This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service. Michael Lipin contributed additional reporting from Washington

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Racism Concerns Spur Street Name Change in Boston

Thu, 26 Apr 2018 22:01:49 -0400

Boston city officials made the controversial decision Thursday to rename a street named for the late owner of the Red Sox baseball team because of his perceived racism.  Yawkey Way runs just outside Fenway Park and will revert to its original name, Jersey Street. It had been renamed for Tom Yawkey, who owned Major League Baseball's Red Sox from 1933 until his death in 1976. But the Red Sox was the last major league baseball team to put a black player on the field when it signed Pumpsie Green to a contract — 12 years after the legendary Jackie Robinson broke the sport’s color barrier and long after every other team had hired black players. Critics say it was Yawkey’s contempt for African-Americans that kept blacks off the Red Sox.  “The spirit of Boston, I think, is being renewed to the city that I knew when I grew up in this area as a very welcome one,” said Walter Carrington, former head of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.  ​But those who wanted to keep the street named for Yawkey say he was a philanthropist whose charitable foundation helped thousands of people, including children of all races.  “Tom and [wife] Jean Yawkey treated everyone alike. Through the Yawkey Foundation, they left almost all of their wealth for people in need, regardless of their color,” a foundation statement said. The name change is the latest high-profile decision by officials of U.S. cities to scrap monuments and statues that critics say honor racists, including monuments to Civil War Confederate generals across the southern U.S.

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North, South Korean Leaders Hold Historic Meeting

Thu, 26 Apr 2018 21:30:24 -0400

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed an interest in visiting South Korea at a historic summit Friday with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in. The two leaders are taking a lunch break before resuming their talks. Earlier Friday, the North and South Korean leaders exchanged a warm handshake over the demarcation line that divides the two countries before the beginning of the summit. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un then crossed the border with Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea. “I am happy to meet you,” Moon said. Kim then invited Moon to cross briefly north with him before they returned to the southern side. WATCH: Highlights from the opening ceremony It is the first time a member of the Kim dynasty has set foot on southern soil since the end of the Korean War in 1953 in the latest bid to settle the world’s last Cold War standoff. This will be the third inter-Korean summit — the summits in 2000 and 2007 were held in North Korea. The White House released a statement late Thursday, shortly after the two leaders shook hands. “We are hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula. The United States appreciates the close coordination with our ally, the Republic of Korea, and looks forward to continuing robust discussions in preparation for the planned meeting between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks.” Kim and Trump are expected to meet in May or June. Pomp and circumstance The greeting of the two leaders was planned to the last detail. Two fifth-grade students from the Daesongdong Elementary School, the only South Korean school within the DMZ, greeted the leaders and gave them flowers. Kim and Moon then saluted an honor guard and military band, the two leaders introduced each other to the officials accompanying them. In the North Korean delegation are Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, and former intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, the top official in charge of relations with the South. ​Missile testing This first inter-Korean summit in over a decade marks a dramatic turn towards diplomacy to resolve the growing North Korean nuclear threat, after a two-year period of continuous North Korean nuclear and missile tests. Kim has suspended further tests and declared in November that North Korea achieved its goal of developing the capability to target the U.S. mainland with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM.) The U.S., however, argues that further testing is needed to demonstrate operational ICM capability. Also in the last year U.S. President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign led international efforts to impose tough sanctions restricting most North Korea exports, that may have forced Kim to pursue talks to seek sanctions relief.  Recently North Korea announced it would close its Punggye-ri nuclear test site but analysts are skeptical that these measures would lead to any permanent reduction in the country’s nuclear capabilities. This year North Korea participated in the recent Olympics in South Korea, and Kim subsequently expressed a willingness to engage in denuclearization talks. Joint statement The inter-Korean summit is expected to produce a joint statement committing to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and also a clear definition of what a denuclearization outcome would entail. “It is very difficult to know at what level they will agree on. This is more so because it is not something that can be fully completed at the summit between two Koreas,” said the Inter-Korean Summit Preparation Committee chairman. While North Korea will only make a nuclear deal with the United States, President Moon wants to use the inter-Korean summit to create a framework for talks between Kim and Trump.. “For President Moon Jae-in, he would l[...]

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Genealogy Site Used in Hunt for Serial Killer Suspect

Thu, 26 Apr 2018 21:15:45 -0400

More than three decades after his trail went cold, one of California’s most prolific serial killers and rapists was caught by using online genealogical sites to find a DNA match, prosecutors said Thursday. Investigators compared the DNA collected from a crime scene of the Golden State Killer to online genetic profiles and found a match: a relative of the man police have identified as Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who was arrested at his suburban Sacramento home on Tuesday. Authorities didn’t give the name of the site, one of many that allows people to send in their DNA and find long-lost relatives, like Ancestry and 23andMe. They also didn’t outline the rest of the investigative process — how they used that match to home in on DeAngelo, the former police officer accused of being California’s notorious Golden State Killer. Despite an outpouring of thousands of tips over the years, DeAngelo’s name had not been on the radar of law enforcement before last week, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said. Contacted Friday, both Ancestry and said they weren’t involved in the case. ​Suspect in 13th killing, many burglaries Investigators also revealed Thursday that DeAngelo is the prime suspect in the 1975 killing of a community college teacher, raising the total number of his alleged victims to 13. Detectives are trying to link Joseph DeAngelo to the slaying and about 100 burglaries that occurred in Visalia, in Central California, while DeAngelo served as a police officer in nearby Exeter, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said. The police chief said he believes DeAngelo is the so-called Visalia Ransacker, who terrorized the farming community about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Fresno from early 1974 until late 1975. Authorities alleged that he was responsible for 12 murders and dozens of rapes in California from 1976 to 1986. The suspect, they said, was tied to many of those crimes through DNA. The Ransacker’s crimes have not yet been added to the tally announced Tuesday in Sacramento because there is no DNA evidence connecting DeAngelo to the Visalia crimes, Salazar said. DeAngelo is suspected of shooting to death journalism teacher Claude Snelling after Snelling caught him trying to kidnap his 16-year-old daughter, Salazar said. DeAngelo matches the description of Snelling’s killer, and the serial burglar operated the same way DeAngelo is alleged to have operated in the other crimes, Salazar said. The Visalia suspect used sophisticated “pry tools” to gain entrance to locked homes, just as DeAngelo is alleged to have used in the other crimes, Salazar said. The Visalia suspect was seen wearing a ski mask and eluded capture because of an apparent deep-knowledge of police work. “He was very elusive and always had a good escape route,” Salazar said. Visalia police also have fingerprints and shoe tracks that will be investigated for matches to DeAngelo. Detectives will look to see if items taken during the Visalia burglaries are uncovered during the investigation of DeAngelo, Salazar said. ​Gathering evidence Also Thursday, investigators searched DeAngelo’s home, looking for class rings, earrings, dishes and other items that were taken from crime scenes. Authorities were seeking weapons and other items that could link the suspect to the crimes, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Belli said. He declined to say what, if anything, investigators had found. Investigators backed two vehicles, a motorcycle and fishing boat out of the home’s three-car garage and installed tarps to block prying eyes and news cameras. Retired FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said he and others have speculated that the serial killer had police or military training because of the sophistication of the crimes and the suspect’s abilit[...]

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Federal Agency Loses Track of 1,474 Migrant Children

Thu, 26 Apr 2018 20:58:27 -0400

The Department of Health and Human Services lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed with sponsors in the United States, an agency official told a Senate subcommittee Thursday. The children were taken into government care after they showed up alone at the Southwest border. Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence and domestic abuse. The agency learned the 1,475 children could not be found after making follow-up calls to check on their safety, the committee was told.  The news has raised concern that the children could fall into the hands of human traffickers or be used as laborers by people posing as relatives.  “You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don’t even know where they are,” said Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. “We are failing. I don’t think there is any doubt about it. And when we fail kids, that makes me angry.” Since the dramatic surge of border crossings in 2013, the federal government has placed more than 180,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.  An AP investigation in 2016 found that more than two dozen of those children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay. Since then, the Department Health and Human Services has boosted outreach to at-risk children deemed to need extra protection, and last year offered post-placement services to about one-third of unaccompanied minors.  But advocates say it is hard to know how many minors may be in dangerous conditions, in part because some disappear before social workers can follow up with them, and they never show up in court.  Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio gave HHS and the Department of Homeland Security until Monday to deliver a time frame for improving monitoring. “These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked,” said Portman, who chairs the subcommittee. “This is all about accountability.”

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