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Cuba: US protest narrative paving way for military incursion

Cuba: US protest narrative paving way for military incursion

Cuba is criticizing the United States and President Joe Biden for a series of statements by senior officials after the unprecedented protests on the island last week, accusing the U.S. government of seeking to justify a military interventionBy ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated PressJuly 22, 2021, 12:48 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleHAVANA — Cuba criticized the United States and President Joe Biden on Wednesday for a series of statements by senior officials after the unprecedented protests on the island last week, accusing the U.S. government of seeking to justify a military intervention.Johana Tablada, deputy director for U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said U.S. officials are painting a false picture of the situation in Cuba, which is struggling with severe economic problems amid a surge in coronavirus infections.“There is a Walt Disney narrative of a bad government and people fighting for their freedom — stereotypes that scare anyone who has never set foot in Cuba, because of their arrogance and disregard for the truth,” Tablada said in an interview with The Associated Press.“They are very interested in fabricating an alternative reality because the riots of July 11 weren’t enough to justify the war that is being waged on us,” she added.Communicating via social networks, thousands of Cubans took to the streets July 11 in various parts of the country to voice complaints over power cuts, long lines at stores, shortages of goods and rising prices, while some called for changes in the government. The protests ended in acts of vandalism, destruction of patrol cars, stone throwing at hospitals and looting.There were also violent arrests of protesters by the police, witnessed by AP, and according to authorities one death. Officials have not released a list of prisoners, but Human Rights Watch said in a reported Wednesday that about 500 had been arrested.The day before, Col. Víctor Alvarez at the Ministry of the Interior said that some detainees had been released when there wasn’t enough evidence to prove they participated in protests, but others were being processed by the judicial system. He did not give any numbers or other details.The protests were the largest in more than two decades, while groups of government supporters also took to the streets, including tens of thousands on Saturday.Authorities suspended cellphone internet data service on the island, charging that a campaign orchestrated from the United States used robot messaging on Twitter and other social media to instigate the demonstrations. Officials also insisted that U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration are responsible for the island’s shortages of food, medicine and fuel.A petition on the Change.org platform created by a citizen in Belgium asking for the U.S. government to invade Cuba has been signed by almost 500,000 people, and some Florida politicians have raised such an action as a possibility.Tablada said that while there are no current U.S. military movements aimed at Cuba, there are signs of extreme aggressiveness, such as those that led to an interventions in Libya and Iraq.“We are at a time when discourse has deteriorated to unprecedented levels,” she said. “From the Biden government in regards to Cuba, we have seen parading several times a day, every day since July 11, senior United States officials saying things that are not true” about Cuba.Biden promised during his election campaign that he would resume President Barack Obama’s policy of rapprochement with the island, but after entering the White House, he kept in place all the toughened sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump, including adding Cuba’s government to a list of sponsors of terrorism.The White House has said a working group has been told to review the U.S. policy blocking Cuban Americans from sending money to Cuba but to ensure that the Cuban government does not serve as intermediary in the flow of cash. Washington says it is also considering increasing the staff at its embassy in Havana to facilitate the participation of civil society.Cuba is going through one of the worst economic crises in its history, a mixture of its own inefficiencies, the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact from U.S. sanctions.

Virus slams Cuba as it races to roll out its new vaccines

Virus slams Cuba as it races to roll out its new vaccines

The COVID-19 pandemic is slamming Cuba like never before, even as the country races to roll out its homegrown vaccines — the only locally developed shots widely used in Latin AmericaBy ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 7:46 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleHAVANA — The COVID-19 pandemic is slamming Cuba like never before, even as the country races to roll out its homegrown vaccines — the only locally developed shots being widely used in Latin America.The island had seen far fewer infections that most other Latin American nations over the first year or so of the disease, imposing strict quarantines, isolating the infected and shutting down its tourism industry despite devastating economic consequences.But new cases have been soaring in recent weeks, with an average of about 6,000 a day being reported in the country of 11 million people. The first three weeks of July have accounted for about 100,000 of the nearly 300,000 infections recorded altogether in Cuba since the first case arrived some 16 months ago.Cuba’s national director of epidemiology, Francisco Durán, said Tuesday that 717 people have died so far this month in Cuba — a heavy share of the 2,019 who have died in all.Anxiety over that spread was one of the factors that fed into the wave of street protests that broke out across the country on July 11.Durán said transmission is “very elevated” now, especially in the central provinces of Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Ciego de Avila, as well as in Guantanamo, to the east. There’s also been a rise in Havana, the capital.“Of course we are worried, because we see there is a high incidence in the population, above all in young children,” said Yurizam Martínez, a 53-year-old nurse in Havana. “I feel affected psychologically because we have been working for more than a year and we still don’t see the result we had hoped for. … But we have to keep on.”Cuba has been trying to rapidly roll out the two vaccines that it has approved for massive use, Abdala and Soberana, both of which require three jabs. The government reported that both, particularly Abdala, have proven highly effective.Duran said 18.8% of the population is already fully vaccinated and 30.1% has gotten at least one dose. Officials say they hope to have 80% vaccinated by the end of August, and children by September.The surge — Cuba’s first real wave of the virus — appeared to start slowly after some restrictions were relaxed around the start of the year and new variants began to spread around the world.Authorities blamed the delta variant for at least part of the problem in Matanzas, where hospitals were flooded with patients and authorities mobilized brigades of physicians to treat the ill.Pianist Regla de la Caridad Mesa, 60, said she trusted that the island’s vaccine campaign will begin to lead to reduced deaths and critical cases.“We Cubans are a beautiful people, a people who like parties, we like groups. … We have come through worse things.”———Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

Cubans wonder what's next after antigovernment protests?

Cubans wonder what's next after antigovernment protests?

HAVANA — Less than a week after a rare series of antigovernment protests were broken up by police and government sympathizers, and elicited self-criticism from President Miguel Díaz-Canel, things appear calm in Cuba. But many wonder for how much longer?Squares and parks were occupied by government sympathizers with flags on Friday, and the circulation of traffic and people was normalizing. But mobile internet data service – which authorities cut on Sunday – remained limited.“There is political and social erosion … There is a lot of disgust, we must talk more, do more things and things that were done wrong should be rectified,” said Abel Alba, a 50-year-old civil engineer. “The president has tried to smooth things over a bit” but he waited “too long” to listen to the demands of the people in the streets.The protests began Sunday when thousands of Cubans marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere to protest food and medicine shortages, power outages and some even calling for political change. The protests continued in smaller numbers into Monday and Tuesday.Díaz-Canel initially responded by looking for culprits, pointing to U.S. economic sanctions, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a social media campaign by Cuban American groups. But he later acknowledged some responsibility by Cuba’s leaders.With this in mind, Cuban Cabinet ministers announced a mix of measures including permits for travelers to import food and medicine without limits and allowing the emergency registration of Cubans’ supply books by people outside their place of origin.“The Cuban government has just shown that it could have allowed the entry of food and medicine without quantity limits or tariffs all along but chose not to do so for more than a year of the pandemic,” wrote José Jasan Nieves, director of the independent digital newspaper, El Toque. “People twisted their arms.”Authorities reiterated their intentions to finish authorizing the operation of small and medium-sized companies as a source of employment as well as a program for state companies to pay more than the current salary scale.What officials also made clear is that they are not willing to make changes to the island’s political model.Street vendor Marlén Rodríguez, 66, was not optimistic following the government’s announcements. “There are no medicines, there is nothing, there is no food.”According to Díaz-Canel, there were four sectors involved in the protests: radical supporters of the United States who waved that country’s flag during the protests and demanded a humanitarian intervention from Washington, criminal groups who took advantage of the situation to loot, people genuinely desperate due to the impact of the crisis on their daily lives and young who have no projects in society.The marches turned violent with police clashing with protesters, patrol cars being destroyed, shops looted, windows broken, stones thrown and violent arrests and injuries.Some Cubans were upset by the vandalism and groups of government supporters took to the streets and clashed with protesters.“They were coming down the Calzada de San Miguel (del Padrón) while we were going up. We tried to persuade them, but these comrades were violent and threw stones at us,” said Julio César Pérez, a Communist Party member and employee of the Ministry of Construction. He said several members of his group were injured in the brawl.One government opponent died in the protests and the exact number of people arrested is not known. Government opponents have said on social media that the number is more than 100.On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the release of the protesters.The measures announced by the government “are positive measures, but they are insufficient,” said Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez.“Without affecting the ideology, there is a lot of space in which the State can take action,” he said, mentioning permits for private entrepreneurs to import goods without going through the state monopoly, allowing foreign companies to install retail markets or raising the ceiling for agricultural prices in order to increase supply.But political analysts said the economic challenges are great.“I think the government is just trying to signal to people that it understands their desperation and that it’s going to try to alleviate some of the misery that they’re experiencing. The problem is that the government just doesn’t have much in the way of resources that it can devote to doing that,” said William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at the American University in the United States.LeoGrande said the unrest in Cuba and the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse have put the Caribbean back on the agenda of U.S. President Joe Biden.“There is no question that the demonstrations in Cuba and the assassination of Haiti’s president and the resulting unrest there have pushed the Caribbean to the top of President Biden’s foreign policy agenda, even though they would have preferred that it stayed on the back burner for a much longer time,” he said. “What the administration will do on Cuba is still very much up in the air.”

Cuban leaders beef up police patrols after rare protests

Cuban leaders beef up police patrols after rare protests

HAVANA — Cuban police are out in force on the country’s streets as the president is accusing Cuban Americans of using social media to spur a rare outpouring of weekend protests over high prices and food shortages.The demonstrations in several cities and towns were some of the biggest displays of antigovernment sentiment seen in years in tightly controlled Cuba, which is facing a surge of coronavirus cases as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades as a consequence of U.S. sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.Many young people took part in Sunday’s demonstrations in Havana. Protests were also held elsewhere on the island, including in the small town of San Antonio de los Baños, where people objected to power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.Authorities appeared determined to put a stop to the demonstrations. More than a dozen protesters were detained, including a leading Cuban dissident who was arrested trying to attend a march in the city of Santiago, 559 miles (900 kilometers) east. The demonstrators disrupted traffic in the capital for several hours until some threw rocks and police moved in and broke them up.Internet service was spotty, possibly indicating an effort to prevent protesters from communicating with each other.“We’ve seen how the campaign against Cuba was growing on social media in the past few weeks,” Díaz-Canel said Monday in a nationally televised appearance in which his entire Cabinet was present. “That’s the way it’s done: Try to create inconformity, dissatisfaction by manipulating emotions and feelings.”In a statement Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said Cuban protesters were asserting their basic rights.”We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said.The U.S. urges the Cuban government to serve their people ‘’rather than enriching themselves,” Biden added.U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq on Monday stressed the U.N. position “on the need for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to be respected fully, and we expect that that will be the case.”The demonstrations were extremely unusual on an island where little dissent against the government is tolerated. The last major public demonstration of discontent, over economic hardship, took place nearly 30 years in 1994. Last year, there were small demonstrations by artists and other groups, but nothing as big or widespread as what erupted this past weekend.In the Havana protest on Sunday, police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted, “Freedom!” “Enough!” and “Unite!” One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.“We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here,” one middle-age protester told The Associated Press. He declined to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.Later, about 300 pro-government protesters arrived with a large Cuban flag, shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some assaulted an AP videojournalist, smashing his camera. AP photojournalist Ramón Espinosa was then beaten by a group of police officers in uniforms and civilian clothes; he suffered a broken nose and an eye injury.The demonstration grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed. AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon Sunday.On Monday, Cuban authorities were blocking Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram, said Alp Toker, director of Netblocks, a London-based internet monitoring firm.“This does seem to be a response to social media-fueled protest,” he said. Twitter did not appear to be blocked, though Toker noted Cuba has the ability to cut it off if it wants to.

Police patrol Havana in large numbers after rare protests

Police patrol Havana in large numbers after rare protests

HAVANA — Large contingents of Cuban police patrolled the capital of Havana on Monday following rare protests around the island nation against food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis. Cuba’s president said the demonstrations were stirred up on social media by Cuban Americans in the United States.Sunday’s protests marked some of the biggest displays of antigovernment sentiment in the tightly controlled country in years. Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump’s administration.Many young people took part in demonstrations in Havana. Protests were also held elsewhere on the island, including in the small town of San Antonio de los Baños, where people objected to power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.Authorities appeared determined to put a stop to the demonstrations. More than a dozen protesters were detained, including a leading Cuban dissident who was arrested trying to attend a march in the city of Santiago, 559 miles (900 kilometers) east. The demonstrators disrupted traffic in the capital for several hours until some threw rocks and police moved in and broke them up.Internet service was spotty, possibly indicating an effort to prevent protesters from communicating with each other.“We’ve seen how the campaign against Cuba was growing on social media in the past few weeks,” Díaz-Canel said Monday in a nationally televised appearance in which his entire Cabinet was also present. “That’s the way it’s done: Try to create inconformity, dissatisfaction by manipulating emotions and feelings.”In a statement Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden said Cuban protesters were asserting their basic rights.”We stand with the Cuban people and their clarion call for freedom and relief from the tragic grip of the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” Biden said.The U.S. urges the Cuban government to serve their people ‘’rather than enriching themselves,” Biden added.U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq on Monday stressed the U.N. position “on the need for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to be respected fully, and we expect that that will be the case.”The demonstrations were extremely unusual on an island where little dissent against the government is tolerated. The last major public demonstration of discontent, over economic hardship, took place nearly 30 years in 1994. Last year, there were small demonstrations by artists and other groups, but nothing as big or widespread as what erupted this past weekend.In the Havana protest on Sunday, police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted, “Freedom!” “Enough!” and “Unite!” One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.“We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here,” one middle-age protester told The Associated Press. He declined to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.Later, about 300 pro-government protesters arrived with a large Cuban flag, shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some assaulted an AP videojournalist, smashing his camera. AP photojournalist Ramón Espinosa was then beaten by a group of police officers in uniforms and civilian clothes; he suffered a broken nose and an eye injury.The demonstration grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed. AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon Sunday.On Monday, Cuban authorities were blocking Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram, said Alp Toker, director of Netblocks, a London-based internet monitoring firm.“This does seem to be a response to social media-fueled protest,” he said. Twitter did not appear to be blocked, though Toker noted Cuba has the ability to cut it off if it wants to.

Demonstrators in Havana protest shortages, rising prices

Demonstrators in Havana protest shortages, rising prices

Thousands of Cubans have marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisisBy ANDREA RODRIGUEZ Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 3:35 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleHAVANA — Thousands of Cubans marched on Havana’s Malecon promenade and elsewhere on the island Sunday to protest food shortages and high prices amid the coronavirus crisis, in one of biggest anti-government demonstrations in memory.Many young people took part in the afternoon protest in the capital, which disrupted traffic until police moved in after several hours and broke up the march when a few protesters threw rocks.Police initially trailed behind as protesters chanted “Freedom,” “Enough” and “Unite.” One motorcyclist pulled out a U.S. flag, but it was snatched from him by others.“We are fed up with the queues, the shortages. That’s why I’m here,” one middle-age protester told The Associated Press. He declined to identify himself for fear of being arrested later.Cuba is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, along with a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as it suffers the consequences of U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.An official in the Biden administration tweeted support for Sunday’s demonstrations.“Peaceful protests are growing in #Cuba as the Cuban people exercise their right to peaceful assembly to express concern about rising COVID cases/deaths & medicine shortages. We commend the numerous efforts of the Cuban people mobilizing donations to help neighbors in need,” tweeted Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for state for Western Hemisphere affairs.Cuba’s director general for U.S. affairs, Carlos F. de Cossio, dismissed her remarks in his own tweet: “US State Department and its officials, involved to their necks in promoting social and political instability in #Cuba, should avoid expressing hypocritical concern for a situation they have been betting on. Cuba is and will continue to be a peaceful country, contrary to the US.”The demonstration grew to a few thousand in the vicinity of Galeano Avenue and the marchers pressed on despite a few charges by police officers and tear gas barrages. People standing on many balconies along the central artery in the Centro Habana neighborhood applauded the protesters passing by. Others joined in the march.Although many people tried to take out their cellphones and broadcast the protest live, Cuban authorities shut down internet service throughout the afternoon.About 2 1/2 hours into the march, some protesters pulled up cobblestones and threw them at police, at which point officers began arresting people and the marchers dispersed.AP journalists counted at least 20 people who were taken away in police cars or by individuals in civilian clothes.“The people came out to express themselves freely, and they are repressing and beating them,” Rev. Jorge Luis Gil, a Roman Catholic priest, said while standing at a street corner in Centro Habana.About 300 people close to the government then arrived with a large Cuban flag shouting slogans in favor of the late President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. Some people from the group assaulted an AP videojournalist, disabling his camera, while an AP photojournalist was injured by the police.Demonstrations were also held elsewhere on the island, including the small town of San Antonio de los Banos, where people protested power outages and were visited by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. He entered a few homes, where he took questions from residents.Afterward, though, he accused Cuban of stirring up trouble.“As if pandemic outbreaks had not existed all over the world, the Cuban-American mafia, paying very well on social networks to influencers and Youtubers, has created a whole campaign … and has called for demonstrations across the country,” Diaz-Canel told reporters.

Tropical Storm Elsa, back over water, takes aim at Florida

Tropical Storm Elsa, back over water, takes aim at Florida

According to the National Hurricane Center, the conditions in southern Florida have begun to deteriorate as Tropical Storm Elsa took aim at the Florida Keys early Tuesday, prompting a hurricane watch for portions of the west coast of stateBy ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ Associated PressJuly 6, 2021, 9:27 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleHAVANA — The conditions in southern Florida have begun to deteriorate as Tropical Storm Elsa took aim at the Florida Keys early Tuesday, prompting a hurricane watch for portions of the west coast of state, according to the National Hurricane Center.In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the Miami-based center said the peninsula was in danger of life-threatening storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes. A hurricane watch was issued for the west-central and Big Bend coast of Florida from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River.Three to 5 inches of rainfall with localized maximum totals of up to 8 inches of rain are expected through Wednesday across the Keys and into southwest and western portions of the Florida Peninsula. A few tornadoes are possible across south Florida Tuesday morning and across the Florida Peninsula later in the day, the center forecasted.Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday expanded an existing state of emergency to cover a dozen counties that span an area of Florida where Elsa is expected to make a swift passage on Wednesday and President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the state ahead of the storm.A ramped-up rescue effort at the collapsed South Florida condo building faced new threats from the weather as the tropical storm approached the state. On Monday, lightning forced crews to pause the search for victims of the June 24 collapse in Surfside and a garage area in the rubble filled with water, officials said.Elsa’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 60 mph (95 kph) early Tuesday. A slow strengthening is forecast through Tuesday night and Elsa could be near hurricane strength before it makes landfall in Florida. It is expected to weaken after it moves inland. Its core was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Key West, Florida, and 270 miles (435 kilometers) south of Tampa. It was continuing to move to the north-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).Elsa made landfall in Cuba on Monday afternoon near Cienega de Zapata, a natural park with few inhabitants. It headed northwestward across the island, passing Havana just to the east. Rainfall of 5 to 10 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches are expected Tuesday across portions of Cuba which will result in significant flash flooding and mudslides.There were no early reports of serious damage as Elsa passed over Cuba.“The wind is blowing hard and there is a lot of rain. Some water is getting under the door of my house. In the yard the level is high, but it did not get into the house,” Lázaro Ramón Sosa, a craftsman and photographer who lives in the town of Cienega de Zapata, told The Associated Press by telephone.Sosa said he saw some avocado trees fall nearby.Elsa had spent Sunday and much of Monday sweeping parallel to Cuba’s southern coast before heading on to land, sparing most of the island from significant effects. As a precaution, Cuban officials had evacuated 180,000 people against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.Tropical storm warnings were posted for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas and for the west coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Ochlockonee River.A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the Georgia coast and portions of the South Carolina coast from the Mouth of St. Marys River to South Santee River, South Carolina.Tropical storm conditions should continue over portions of central and western Cuba during the next several hours. Tropical storm conditions are beginning in the warning area in the Florida Keys and are expected along the Florida west coast later Tuesday.Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season until Saturday morning and caused widespread damage on several eastern Caribbean islands Friday. As a tropical storm, it resulted in the deaths of one person on St. Lucia and of a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman in separate events in the Dominican Republic.Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

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