Ethiopia Premier’s Aide Named to Lead Restive Amhara Region

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Ethiopia’s Amhara Democratic Party (ADP) named the security adviser to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as head of the restive Amhara region on Monday after his predecessor was killed in a violent attempt to seize power there.

Dozens were killed in fighting during the foiled coup by a rogue state militia in Amhara that claimed the life of regional president Ambachew Mekonnen and other top officials. The same night, the army’s chief of staff and a retired general accompanying him were killed in the capital Addis Ababa in a related attack, the government said.

The ADP said on its Facebook page that it had nominated Abiy’s security adviser Temesgen Tiruneh as Ambachew’s successor in Amhara. The party controls the Amhara regional government and is also one of four in Abiy’s national governing coalition.

The Amhara violence was the strongest challenge yet to the rule of Abiy, who has rolled out ambitious political and economic reforms in what was once one of Africa’s most repressive countries since coming to power in April 2018.

Abiy has freed political prisoners and journalists, offered an amnesty for some rebel groups and opened up space for a number of parties ahead of planned parliamentary elections next year in Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.

But his government has also presided over a rise of ethnic violence as regional powerbrokers try to grab more power and territory and air long-held grievances against the Addis Ababa coalition. More than 2.4 million of Ethiopia’s 100 million citizens are displaced.

Temesgen’s nomination is expected to be ratified by the Amhara regional council at a later date, according to an ADP central committee member.

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Guatemala Postpones Trump Summit, Says Will Not Sign ‘Safe Third Country’ Deal

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Guatemala said on Sunday it would postpone President Jimmy Morales’ visit to Washington to discuss Guatemala’s potential designation as a ‘safe third country’ for asylum seekers, stressing it had no plans to sign such an agreement.

In a statement, Guatemala said the planned meeting between Morales and U.S. President Donald Trump this week had been postponed until the Guatemalan Constitutional Court had ruled on legal challenges. Last week, five former senior officials appealed to the court to block any agreement with the United States that would declare Guatemala a ‘safe third country.’ Under such a deal, Guatemala would be obliged to offer asylum to migrants who entered its territory en route to the United States. Migrants from Honduras and El Salvador heading to the U.S.-Mexican border overland usually cross into Mexico via Guatemala.

Over the past week, opposition has mounted to such a designation for Guatemala, which would reshape migration in the region.

“The government of the republic reiterates that at no point it considers signing an agreement to convert Guatemala into a safe third country,” the Guatemalan government said:  A senior U.S. official said: “The meeting is being rescheduled.”

“The United States will continue to work with the Government of Guatemala on concrete and immediate steps that can be taken to address the ongoing migration crisis,” the U.S. official added.


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Study: Healthy Lifestyle May Offset Genetic Risk for Dementia

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A healthy lifestyle can cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia even if you have genes that raise your risk for these mind-destroying diseases, a large study has found.

People with high genetic risk and poor health habits were about three times more likely to develop dementia versus those with low genetic risk and good habits, researchers reported Sunday. Regardless of how much genetic risk someone had, a good diet, adequate exercise, limiting alcohol and not smoking made dementia less likely.

“I consider that good news,” said John Haaga of the U.S. National Institute on Aging, one of the study’s many sponsors. “No one can guarantee you’ll escape this awful disease” but you can tip the odds in your favor with clean living, he said.

Results were discussed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles and published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

50 million people

About 50 million people have dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type. Genes and lifestyle contribute to many diseases, but researchers only recently have had the tools and information to do large studies to see how much each factor matters.

One such study a few years ago found that healthy living could help overcome genetic risk for heart disease. Now researchers have shown the same to be true for dementia.

Dr. Elzbieta Kuzma and colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School in England used the UK Biobank to study nearly 200,000 people 60 or older with no signs or symptoms of dementia at the start. Their genetic risk was classified as high, medium or low based on dozens of mutations known to affect dementia. They also were grouped by lifestyle factors.

By the numbers

After about eight years of study, 1.8% of those with high genetic risk and poor lifestyles had developed dementia versus 0.6% of folks with low genetic risk and healthy habits.

Among those with the highest genetic risk, just more than 1% of those with favorable lifestyles developed dementia compared to nearly 2% of those with poor lifestyles.

One limitation: Researchers only had information on mutations affecting people of European ancestry, so it’s not known whether the same is true for other racial or ethnic groups.

Genes are not destiny

The results should give encouragement to people who fear that gene mutations alone determine their destiny, said Dr. Rudy Tanzi, a genetics expert at Massachusetts General Hospital. Less than 5% of the ones tied to Alzheimer’s are “fully penetrant,” meaning that they guarantee you’ll get the disease, he said.

“That means that with 95% of the mutations, your lifestyle will make a difference,” Tanzi said. “Don’t be too worried about your genetics. Spend more time being mindful of living a healthy life.”

One previous study in Sweden and Finland rigorously tested the effect of a healthy lifestyle by assigning one group to follow one and included a comparison group that did not. It concluded that healthy habits could help prevent mental decline. The Alzheimer’s Association is sponsoring a similar study underway now in the United States.

Healthy living also is the focus of new dementia prevention guidelines that the World Health Organization released in February.

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Hawaii Telescope Construction Expected to Draw Protesters, Police

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Police and protesters are gearing up for a fight in Hawaii as construction is set to begin on a massive telescope on Mauna Kea, the islands’ highest peak, considered sacred by some native Hawaiians.

State officials said the road to the top of Mauna Kea mountain on the Big Island will be closed starting Monday as equipment is delivered to the construction site.

Scientists chose Mauna Kea in 2009 after a five-year, worldwide search for the ideal site for the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere. Construction was supposed to begin in 2014 but was halted by protests.

Opponents of the $1.4 billion telescope will desecrate sacred land. According to the University of Hawaii, ancient Hawaiians considered the location kapu, or forbidden. Only the highest-ranking chiefs and priests were allowed to make the long trek to Mauna Kea’s summit above the clouds.

Supporters of telescope say it will not only make important scientific discoveries but bring educational and economic opportunities to Hawaii.

The company behind the telescope is made up of a group of universities in California and Canada, with partners from China, India and Japan.  

Astronomers hope the telescope will help them look back 13 billion years to the time just after the Big Bang and answer fundamental questions about the universe.

It is not clear what the opponents of the project have planned for Monday but Gov. David Ige said unarmed National Guard units will be on hand to help enforce road closures and transport workers and supplies.


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India to Launch Mission to Land on Moon 

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In the early hours of Monday, India is set to launch a mission to an uncharted area of the moon, marking a significant milestone in its steadily expanding ambitions in space.

If successful, India would become the fourth country to land a probe on the moon after the United States, Russia and China and secure its place as a leading space-faring nation.

India’s most powerful rocket launcher is scheduled to carry the Chandrayaan-2, which means “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit, from Sriharikota in eastern India. It will have a lunar orbiter, lander and rover.

The real test of the mission will come about 50 days later, around Sept. 6, when the lander will attempt a controlled landing on the lunar surface at the South Pole of the moon, which no country has attempted so far.

This July 2019, photo released by the Indian Space Research Organization shows its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle MkIII-M1 being prepared for its July 15 launch in Sriharikota, an island off India’s southeastern coast.

South Pole

“The challenge is to demonstrate our capacity to undertake such a complex mission for the soft and precise moon landing on the South Polar region for the first time,” according to P. Kunhikrishnan, director, UR Rao satellite center at the Indian Space Research Organization.

Space scientists say that the moon’s South Pole is interesting because it holds the promise of water.

The lunar rover will operate for 14 days, mapping the moon’s surface and through experiments look for signs of water and assess its topography and geology.

“From a technological perspective it is very relevant because it will be a leapfrog as far as India’s technology level is concerned,” says Ajay Lele at the Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, pointing out that the orbiter, lander and rover have been indigenously designed. “You want your robotic equipment to function on the surface of the moon.”

The Chandrayaan-2 was originally planned as a collaboration with Russia’s space agency, but Indian scientists went it alone after the tie-up was shelved.

Decade after first mission

Monday’s mission is being launched a decade after India’s first in 2008 placed an unmanned spacecraft in an orbit around the moon. That mission helped confirm the presence of water on the lunar surface.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission comes amid a resurgence of interest in the exploration of the moon both in the United States and in Asia and is seen as a signal that India does not want to be left behind in a growing space race. China made a soft landing on the moon in early January and has announced plans for more missions.

“India has a much smaller space program and has limited capacities when you compare it to the U.S. and so on,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “So the kind of things India is trying to do if it becomes successful one with the Chandrayaan 2 mission, that will be a significant achievement for India.”

An employee playfully hugs a cutout of a crescent moon at the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi, India, July 11, 2019. India is preparing its second unmanned mission to the moon, this one aimed at landing a rover near the unexplored south pole.

India, which prides itself on its low cost space missions, is spending around $141 million on the mission. Although the country was a relative latecomer to the space race, it has developed a reputation for conducting its space explorations at a fraction of the cost spent by countries like the United States.

Among other goalposts India has set in the coming years is to put a space station in orbit, an astronaut in space by 2022, a robotic mission to Mars and a mission to explore the sun.

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Tropical Storm Barry Drenches Louisiana Coast

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Barry, which made landfall as a hurricane Saturday along the Louisiana Gulf Coast, quickly weakened to a tropical storm.

The storm made landfall in Louisiana near Intercoastal City, according to the National Hurricane Center, which warned that Barry is likely to bring dangerous storm surges, plus strong winds and heavy rain that could cause “life threatening flooding” in parts of the Gulf Coast and the Lower Mississippi Valley.

The storm had been expected to dump up to 50 centimeters (nearly 20 inches) of rain throughout the state by Sunday. The main threat from the storm is expected to be its flood potential rather than its high winds.

Robyn Iacona-Hilbert walks through her flooded business after Hurricane Barry in Mandeville, La., July 13, 2019.

On Saturday night, Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents across south Louisiana to stay “vigilant,” warning that Barry could still cause disastrous flooding across a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast overnight.

“This storm still has a long way to go before it leaves this state,” Edwards said. “Don’t let your guard down.”

The storm, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season, was briefly a Category 1 hurricane. By late Saturday night, its maximum sustained winds had fallen to 50 mph (80 kph).

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said Barry has collected “a big slug of moisture” and is expected to rain on the region throughout the weekend.

Tourists walk on Bourbon Street during Hurricane Barry in New Orleans, La., July 13, 2019.

Residents in New Orleans fortified their homes and stocked up on supplies as Barry began to roll in from the Gulf of Mexico. However, by late Saturday night, the city had been spared the worst of the storm, receiving only light showers and gusting winds.

By early Sunday, forecasters had downgraded rainfall estimates for New Orleans through the day to between 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters). Forecasters earlier said New Orleans could get up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain.

City officials have advised residents to shelter in their homes, with the exception of two coastal parishes south of the city, where mandatory evacuations were ordered.

Two parishes harder hit

No levees along the Mississippi River failed or were breached, but two levees were overtopped in Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes.

Officials said an estimated 400 people were ordered evacuated in Terrebonne Parish, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of New Orleans. The Coast Guard also rescued a dozen people from flooded areas in the parish. Some had sought refuge on rooftops, a parish spokeswoman said.

Late Saturday night, authorities were trying to rescue a family of five trapped by high water in the south Louisiana town of Franklin, according to KTBS-TV. The National Guard had to halt its initial rescue mission because waters were too high to safely reach the family’s home. Franklin is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Lafayette.

In other parts of Louisiana on Saturday, Barry flooded highways, forced people to scramble to rooftops and dumped heavy rain. Downpours also lashed coastal Alabama and Mississippi.

A man walks through rain in the French Quarter caused by Hurricane Barry in New Orleans, July 13, 2019.

Tourists had largely left New Orleans Friday. Some airlines canceled outbound flights Saturday.

The storm is widely seen as a test of the city’s weather defenses put in place following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which left about 1,800 people dead.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Louisiana Thursday night, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate federal funds and resources to help the state cope with the storm and its aftermath.

Audrey Ulfers stands on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain during Hurricane Barry in Mandeville, La., July 13, 2019.

In Mandeville, a city on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans, storm surge and choppy waters sent waves over the seawall and into nearby communities. Dozens of people waded through knee-high water to take a look at the pounding surf. 

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Refugee Girls’ Choir Touches Hearts

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The power of song can heal the hearts and bring people together.  A girls’ chorus named Pihcintu sings to do just that.  Most members are from war-torn countries and refugee camps around the world. Together they sing as one and spread a message of hope. VOA’s June Soh caught up with the group in Washington and has this story narrated by Carol Pearson 

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Francis Fukuyama on Putin: Even ‘Russia is Liberal in Many Respects’

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This story originated in VOA’s Russian Service.

WASHINGTON — Sometimes history has a funny way of confounding its chroniclers.

In a recent Financial Times interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the liberal world order obsolete.

Sitting with reporters at the Kremlin hours before attending the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, where he roundly condemned open-door policies toward migrants, the Russia leader decried “the so-called liberal idea” as a moribund enterprise at odds with “traditional values” of ordinary people the world over.

“Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable,” Putin said, criticizing immigration policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and touting President Donald Trump’s continued push to build a wall as part of a broader crackdown on migrants.

It was 30 years ago this summer, just months before another wall came tumbling down, that a young economist named Francis Fukuyama published his landmark essay, The End of History?, in which he asked whether liberalism had triumphed over competing ideologies.

Because the highest aspiration of all humans is recognition and acceptance of their rights, he argued, liberalism would inevitably triumph.

But as even the Stanford scholar himself now acknowledges, there are competing elements in human nature, and the sometimes predominant human desire for freedom is eclipsed, especially in the face of tumultuous change and uncertainty, by an equally predominant desire for the security of strongman rule.

VOA’s Russian Service sat down with Fukuyama to get his take on Putin’s latest claim.

The following has been edited for brevity and concision.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as he meets with his Bolivian counterpart at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 11, 2019.

Question: Does Putin’s claim that liberalism has “outlived its purpose” for the majority of the world’s population have any substance?

Francis Fukuyama: Putin is fundamentally wrong about that. In a liberal society, people agree that they’re going to put aside deeply held beliefs, particularly religious beliefs, in the interest of living together. The reason that liberal societies emerged in Europe was that after the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics ended up spending 150 years killing each other. In Germany, a third of the population was killed during the Thirty Years War because people at that time believed that the state had to support a single religious doctrine. I think people should remember that, because today we live in diverse societies with globalization; even if you try to build walls, it’s not really possible to keep people out in the long run. And if you don’t have a society that’s built on a certain degree of tolerance for diversity — religious diversity, ethnic diversity, racial diversity — then you’re going to have a formula for endless conflict.

Those kinds of systems are the ones that have evolved in Western Europe and in North America. In Eastern Europe you had a different situation where, under communism, there was a pretense that you’d achieve this kind of society where religion was not important, where you were open to diverse types of people. But the fact of the matter was that that simply suppressed people’s feelings. When those countries opened up to democracy after 1989 or 1991, there hadn’t been a kind of social acceptance, a kind of tolerance that’s needed to really sustain a liberal society. And so there’s been conflict over refugees, over immigration. These [conflicts over refugees, over immigration] in Eastern Europe tend to be more based on fear rather than any real experience with that kind of diversity. So I think Putin is fundamentally wrong. In fact, I actually think the Russian Federation is liberal in many respects. [Putin] is not imposing Orthodox Christianity as a religion that all members of the Russian Federation have to follow, because a lot of them are Muslim or follow other religious beliefs. So even in his country, liberalism is a key value. And if they don’t observe that kind of tolerance, there’s going to be a lot of conflict within the borders of the Russian Federation. That’s something that people need to keep in mind. That liberalism is really about allowing people to live peacefully while perhaps disagreeing about some of the more fundamental issues raised by religion.

President Donald Trump greets Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, May 13, 2019.

Q: We see a rising tide of nationalism in both the United States and in Europe. Are liberal democracies imperiled? And might it be impossible to balance core values of postwar liberalism with national identities, as Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson recently argued?

Fukuyama: Nationalism oftentimes takes a dangerous form because it excludes certain people within the nation and oftentimes leads to conflicts with other nations. But I think that national identity is nonetheless important. In fact, it’s kind of necessary if you’re going to sustain a democracy, because people must have a common set of values to believe in the legitimacy of their own institutions. So what’s critical, I think, is avoiding the rise of exclusive forms of nationalism. And this is what’s been going on with many populist leaders. Viktor Orban, for example, says Hungarian national identity is based on Hungarian ethnicity. That is very problematic because not everybody in Hungary is an ethnic Hungarian, and, furthermore, there’s lots of ethnic Hungarians living in all of the surrounding countries and in Europe. So I think that what we want is a form of democratic and open, tolerant national identity, where it’s based on shared democratic values but not necessarily on things like race or religion or ethnicity.

Q: Why have liberal ideas seen such a backlash, and can the trend be reversed? Do you anticipate the rise of more illiberal leaders around the world, even in the Western countries?

Fukuyama: I think that part of [the backlash] is created by globalization and the nature of economic change. In our globalized world, people that live in cosmopolitan cities have a lot of opportunities — they’ve done well economically and a lot of people that don’t live in those places have not done as well. So, in almost every country, people who vote for populists tend to be older, less educated, and living not in the big capital city but in, you know, other places. That sets up a kind of social conflict, and I think it’s important for people that are better educated and do accept globalization to understand that not everybody has profited from the kind of world that’s been created. And so I think governments need to take that into account. On the other hand, populist voters tend to be in the declining parts of the society because people continue to move to cities. People continue to get educated. In the end, [populism] isn’t going to be the dominant force in any society.

A woman walks by a Chinese flag on a street in Belgrade, Serbia, March 1, 2019..

Q: Many argue that countries built on liberal ideals are more economically successful. But what’s your take on, say, economically successful Communist China?

Fukuyama: I think that liberal values are important for a market economy because a market economy depends on the rule of law. It depends on rules that are established, that are clear and transparent and don’t get changed as a result of politics. And that’s not what happens in many of these new populist countries, because the populist takes power, having been voted into office by an election, but then immediately begins to attack the legal bases [or] attack judges. When the law goes against him or her, they try to undermine the law. This has certainly been true of Donald Trump; it’s been true of Orban and many other populist leaders in Europe. In the long run I think that’s a formula for corruption, you know, for a kind of crony capitalism where you don’t have a level playing field for all of the participants. And in the end, I think that is going to hurt economic growth.

And by the way, Hungary looks like it’s doing well economically, but it gets 5 percent of GDP as subsidies from the European Union. And so the performance of that country, if left to its own devices without Europe, would be substantially worse than it is today. And I think that’s what people need to consider when they make the choice of voting for a populist leader.

Q: The Council of Europe, which is based on Western liberal values, recently restored Russia’s voting rights. Some call this an example of Russian successfully undermining Western democratic institutions.

Fukuyama: Russia has been trying to use every means in its power to expand its influence. It’s been very clever at using social media and the internet in order to weaken the confidence of the Western public in itself. And it’s tried to create alliances with these new populists. I think that vote was a big mistake because I don’t think that Russia fundamentally shares the liberal values that are necessary to sustain the Council of Europe.

Q: Putin also told The Financial Times that it seems there are no rules in post-Cold War international order? Are there rules in today’s global order?

Fukuyama: There are plenty of rules, most of them regarding economic interactions. That’s the purpose of the World Trade Organization and the EU and many other trade deals that have been created. What there is not, I think, is a consensus on security issues, because there are fundamental differences between the U.S., Europe, Russia and China. So in that sense we’ve returned to a more multipolar kind of world that existed in the 19th century. That’s not a terrible thing. I think if countries observe certain moderate norms of behavior, that’s the world that can be stable. But I think Russia has been trying to undermine that stability because it feels that it’s one of the weakest of those players and wants to use every means at its disposal to expand its influence.

Q: Parting thoughts?

Fukuyama: The ultimate check on a populist leader is an election, and we’re going to have a very important election in the United States next year when Mr. Trump comes up for a second term. So I think people should pay attention to that, and I think they should also realize that in their own countries elections are important. And if people that support liberal values don’t go out and organize and mobilize and vote, then the populists are going to take over. That’s a lesson all of us need to keep in mind.

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UN Calls for Dismissal of Politically Motivated Death Sentences in Yemen

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The UN Human Rights Office is calling on Yemen’s Appellate Court to dismiss the death sentences handed down on 30 people earlier this week by the Houthi authorities in the capital Sana’a.

Most of the 30 men sentenced to death are academics, students and politicians.  The UN human rights office says they have been affiliated with the Islah party, a group that has been critical of the Houthis.  

The Houthi rebels, believed to be backed by Iran, have been at war with the Saudi-backed Government of Yemen for more than four years.

Human rights spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani says the men have been languishing in prison since their arrest in 2016.   She says they were charged in 2017.  While they have had dozens of hearings in court since then, she says none has been able to present a proper defense.

“The arrests also took place without warrants for the most part and they were held without being brought to a court for several months or up to a year in many cases…And suddenly, in fact it came as a surprise to all of us,” said Shamdasani. “Suddenly on Tuesday, the court read out the judgement and the convictions and the sentencing.”

The 30 men are charged with allegedly participating in an organized armed group with the intention of carrying out criminal, violent acts against Houthi affiliated committees and personnel.  Shamdasani says the convictions and sentences reportedly will be appealed.

“This is why we felt it important to come out now and speak about the high likelihood that many of these charges are politically motivated, that there are very credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment,” said Shamdasani. “Our colleagues on the ground in Yemen have been able to interview some of the detainees and their families and to document these allegations.” 

Shamdasani says it is clear the defendants have been denied their right to a fair trial and due process.  She says the court should dismiss any politically motivated charges and abide by international fair trial standards.



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