Imprisoned PKK Leader Calls For End to Hunger Strikes

Thousands of prisoners in Turkey ended their hunger strikes Sunday that had been mounted to force Turkey to end jailed militant leader Abdullah Ocalan’s isolation at Imrali Island prison.

Earlier Sunday, Ocalan’s lawyers read a statement from their client calling for an end to the strikes.

“I expect the action to come to an end…” Ocalan said in a statement read by one of his lawyers at a press conference in Istanbul.

An estimated two to three thousand detainees throughout Turkey’s prison system had participated in the strikes.

Twice this month, Turkey allowed the 70-year-old imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to meet with his lawyers after an eight-year hiatus.

PKK had been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Ocalan’s call for an end to the strikes and the resumption of a lawyers’ visits comes ahead of an election in Istanbul.

Analysts say the moves could foreshadow a new peace process, four years after government talks with Ocalan collapsed.

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Israeli President Shocked by German Skullcap Comment

Israel’s president said Sunday he is shocked by a German official’s comment that he wouldn’t advise Jews to wear skullcaps in parts of the country, which is drawing mixed reactions at home.

Felix Klein, the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, was quoted Saturday as saying: “I cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany.” He didn’t elaborate on what places and times might be risky.

“The statement of the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner that it would be preferable for Jews not wear a kippa in Germany out of fear for their safety, shocked me deeply,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.

He added that “we will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism – and expect and demand our allies act in the same way.”

Government statistics released earlier this month showed that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in Germany last year, despite an overall drop in politically motivated crimes.

Germany’s main Jewish leader, Josef Schuster, told news agency dpa “it has long been a fact that Jews are potentially exposed to danger in some big cities if they can be recognized as Jews.” He added that he pointed that out two years ago, “so it is to be welcomed if this situation gets more attention at the highest political level.”

Others were sharply critical of Klein’s comment. Michel Friedman, a former deputy leader of Germany’s main Jewish group, said it was an admission of failure and that “the state must ensure that Jews can show themselves everywhere without fear.”

Bavaria’s state interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said that wearing a skullcap is part of religious freedom. “Everyone can and should wear his skullcap wherever and whenever he wants,” he said.

Klein himself told dpa that his statement had been “provocative” and he “wanted to initiate a debate about the safety of the Jewish community in our country.”

“Of course I believe that there must not be no-go areas anywhere in Germany for Jews or members of other minorities,” he said.

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Anti-Semitic Attacks on the Rise in Germany

Germany’s anti-Semitism commissioner has advised Jews that it may be dangerous in certain parts of the country to wear the kippahs, also known as skullcaps, traditionally worn by Jewish men. He did not specify which areas of the country he was referring to.

“I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany,” Felix Klein told the Funke press group in an interview published Saturday.

Klein’s warning comes amid a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany.

The commissioner said “the lifting of inhibitions and the uncouthness which is on the rise in society” has contributed to the growing number of attacks. “The internet and social media have largely contributed to this, but so have constant attacks against our culture of remembrance.”

Anti-Semitism is “deeply rooted” in German society and “has always been here,” Claudia Vanoni, Germany’s top legal expert on anti-Semitism told AFP, the French news agency. “But I think that recently, it has again become louder, more aggressive and flagrant.”

In an interview with Handelsblatt newspaper, Justice Minister Katarina Barley said the attacks are “shameful for our country.”

Commissioner Klein has blamed the far right for the majority of anti-Semitic attacks. Another contributing factor, he said, is the arrival of a number of Muslim asylum seekers in Germany who may also be influenced by some television stations “which transmit a dreadful image of Israel and Jews.”

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Big Toys and a Sandbox for Grown-Ups at Las Vegas Attraction

Most kids love digging in the sand … and many never outgrow that. A new and unusual attraction nicknamed “sand box for grown-ups” is a big hit among teenagers and adults in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a heavy equipment playground that gives customers a change to operate gigantic, earth-moving bulldozers and hydraulic excavators, get tested on their skills and just have fun. Roman Mamonov tried his hand at operating some of the biggest construction vehicles there. Anna Rice narrates his story.

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Korean Director Wins Cannes’ Top Prize

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s social satire Parasite, about a poor family of hustlers who find jobs with a wealthy family, won the Cannes Film Festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or, on Saturday.  

  

Parasite was the first Korean film to win the Palme. In the festival’s closing ceremony, jury president Alejandro Inarritu said the choice was “unanimous” for the nine-person jury.  

  

The genre-mixing film had arguably been celebrated more than others at Cannes this year, hailed by critics as the best yet from the 49-year-old director of Snowpiercer and Okja.  

  

It was the second straight Palme victory for an Asian director. Last year, the award went to Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, a film also about an impoverished family. 

 

“We shared the mystery of the unexpected way this film took us through different genres, speaking in a funny, humorous and tender way of no judgment of something so relevant and urgent and so global,” Inarritu told reporters after the ceremony.  

  

Many of the awards at Cannes on Saturday were given to social and political tales that depicted geopolitical dramas in localized stories, from African shores to Paris suburbs.    

The festival’s second-place award, the Grand Prix, went to French-Senegalese director Mati Diop’s feature-film debut, Atlantics. The film by Diop, the first black female director ever in competition in Cannes, views the migrant crisis from the perspective of Senegalese women left behind after many young men flee by sea to Spain. 

Sciamma’s period romance

  

Although few quibbled with the choice of Bong, some had expected Cannes to make history by giving the Palme to a female filmmaker for just the second time. Celine Sciamma’s period romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire was the Palme pick for many critics this year. Instead, Sciamma ended up with best screenplay.  

  

In the festival’s 72-year history, only Jane Champion has won the prize. In 1993, her The Piano tied with Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine.  

  

Best actor went to Antonio Banderas for Pedro Almodovar’s reflective drama Pain and Glory. In the film, one of the most broadly acclaimed of the festival, Banderas plays a fictionalized version of Almodovar looking back on his life and career.  

  

“The best is still to come,” said Banderas, accepting the award.  

  

The Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have already twice won the Palme d’Or, took the best director prize for Young Ahmed, their portrait of a Muslim teenager who becomes radicalized by a fundamentalist imam. 

 

The jury prize, or third place, was split between two socially conscious thrillers: French director Ladj Ly’s feature-film debut Les Miserables and Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Bacurau.  

  

Ly called his film an alarm bell about youths living in the housing projects of Paris’ suburbs. Filho viewed his feverish, violent Western about a rural Brazilian community defending itself from a hard-to-comprehend invasion as a reflection of President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil.    

British actress Emily Beecham won best actress for her performance in Jessica Hausner’s science-fiction drama Little Joe. The jury also gave a special mention to Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s It Must Be Heaven. 

  

The Camera d’Or, an award given for best first feature from across all of Cannes’ sections, went to Cesar Diaz’s Our Mothers, a drama about the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s.  

  

The ceremony Saturday brought to a close a Cannes Film Festival that was riven with concerns for its own relevancy. It had to contend, most formidably, with the cultural television force of Game of Thrones. The continuing rise of streaming was also a constant subject around the festival.  

Netflix controversy

  

Two years ago, Bong was in Cannes’ competition with Okja, a movie distributed in North America by Netflix. After it and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories — another Netflix release — premiered at Cannes, the festival ruled that all future films in competition needed French theatrical distribution. Netflix has since withdrawn from the festival on the French Riviera. 

 

This year, bowing to pressure from 5050×2020, the French version of Time’s Up, the festival released gender breakdowns of its submissions and selections. Cannes said about 27% of its official selections were directed by women. The 21-film main slate included four films directed by women, which tied the festival’s previous high.  

  

The 72nd Cannes had its share of red-carpet dazzle, too. Elton John brought his biopic Rocketman to the festival, joining star Taron Egerton for a beachside duet after the premiere. And Quentin Tarantino unveiled his 1960s Los Angeles tale Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, 25 years after the director’s Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or.  

  

Tarantino, who attended the closing ceremony, didn’t go home empty-handed. On Friday, a prominent pooch in his film won the annual Palme Dog, an award given by critics to Cannes’ best canine.

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Why Americans Obsess About Their Grass

In the United States, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day, a holiday that honors people who died in military service during wartime.

The end of May also marks the beginning of a less serious kind of war. It is one many living Americans fight each summer. It is a battle for – and about – the perfect lawn. That’s right, the lawn: the grass around most American houses.

Virginia Scott Jenkins is an expert on Americans’ extreme interest in lawns. In fact, in her book on the issue, she calls it an “obsession.”

She says that, in the minds of many Americans, the perfect lawn looks like a soft, green carpet. “One height, one color, one type of grass, one consistency.”

Many Americans believe such a lawn does more than make a house or neighborhood look good.

“An orderly front lawn is supposed to be representative of an orderly household,” Jenkins says. “Good neighbors have good front lawns, good citizens have good front lawn(s).”

Lawns are so linked to American identity that they are part of some U.S. government buildings overseas. Architectural historian Jane Loeffler notes that the design for the American embassy in Berlin, Germany, for example, includes an outdoor area made to look like “the beloved American lawn.”

Man against nature

Lawns are not only a big deal for Americans – they are also big business.

The Bloomberg news service found that Americans spend about $40 billion every year on lawn care. They pay for lawn mowers to cut the grass and chemical fertilizers to make it grow. Many also pay other people to help keep their lawns thick and green.

These things are all weapons in a war against natural forces that, in time, may make lawns look wild or brown. So why do so many Americans fight such a war each summer?

“People have grown up believing that that ’s what [a lawn] is supposed to look like,” Jenkins says. “Because of tremendous advertising campaigns and pressure from the lawn care industry, which is a multi-million dollar business.”

Jenkins says that lawns also show a person’s social position. “Do you know how much money it takes, and time and effort, to grow a perfect front lawn?”

A major reason why lawns are so much work is because they are completely man-made, she adds. “There is not anything natural about them.”

Even the grass seed historically comes from Europe and Africa.

Man against neighbor

Of course, not everyone accepts traditional American lawn culture.

In recent years, another front on the lawn war has formed. It is between people who want to control their lawns, and those who want to let native plants grow naturally.

In 2014, in an area of Virginia about 80 kilometers outside Washington, D.C, a couple entered into a legal fight with their neighborhood about their lawn. The couple’s house is on about 2.2 hectares of land. They cut and care for the grass on part of that land, but they permit the rest to grow naturally into a meadow, with tall grass and wildflowers.

The couple, Michael and Sian Pugh, told the Washington Post newspaper that they enjoy watching the butterflies, birds and deer that visit the meadow.

But the Pughs are part of a homeowners association – a group that cares for and governs a neighborhood. The homeowners association, or HOA, makes and enforces rules about that area. One rule that is common among HOAs across the country is that members must keep their grass short and green. The Pugh’s HOA says their meadow violates this rule and is not fair to their neighbors.

One concern is that the meadow might reduce the value of other people’s homes in the area. People who sell property say a well-kept lawn is an important part of making a house attractive to buyers.

Another concern is that the neighborhood will no longer feel pleasant – or even safe – to the people who already live there.

But the Pughs and their supporters say meadows such as theirs add value because they are better for the environment. The native grasses have deep roots and can protect against flooding. And the wildflowers invite bees and butterflies, which help crops and other plants grow.

Alternatives to the traditional American lawn

Activists in other places have made similar environmental arguments.

They say the chemicals that “feed and weed” traditional lawns can hurt people and animals. They criticize the water waste involved in keeping lawns green, especially in places that face drought.

They also note that some kinds of lawn mowers use gas and pollute the air. And they say that, in general, keeping lawns under control takes too much time, and is a job that few homeowners really want to do.

In answer to these arguments, some people have found other ways to use the area around their houses. They use plants that grow easily. Or they put in vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Or, like the Pughs, they permit nature to take over and hope their neighbors w ill come to accept a new definition of “lawn.”

By the way, the Pugh’s case was never fully resolved. The HOA decided not to go to court. But HOA officials are also re-writing the rules so that no one else tries to grow a tall, wild meadow in a place where neighbors prefer a short, orderly lawn.

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Four More Countries Vote in EU Election

Voters in Slovakia, Malta, Latvia and the Czech Republic are casting ballots Saturday in European Parliament elections.

The stakes for the European Union are especially high in this year’s selections, which are taking place over four days and involve all 28 EU nations.

Many predict nationalists and far-right groups will gain ground, and would try to use a larger presence in the legislature to claw back power from the EU for their national governments.

Moderate parties, on the other hand, want to cement closer ties among countries in the EU, which was created in the wake of World War II to prevent renewed conflict.

Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands have voted, and the Czech Republic started voting Friday and continues Saturday.

Slovakia, Malta and Latvia are holding their European Parliament elections Saturday, and all the other nations vote Sunday.

Official results will be released Sunday night, after all countries have voted.

A Dutch surprise?

Voting in the Netherlands may have already produced a surprise. An Ipsos exit poll forecast a win for the Dutch Labor Party, and predicted that pro-European parties would win most of the Netherlands’ seats in the European Parliament, instead of right-wing populist opponents.

Overall, the European Parliament’s traditional political powerhouses are expected to come out with the most votes. But the center-right European People’s Party and the center-left Socialists & Democrats look set to lose some clout and face their strongest challenge yet from an array of populist, nationalist and far-right parties skeptical of the EU.

Emulating Trump, Brexiteers

Those parties hope to emulate what President Donald Trump did in the 2016 U.S. election and what Brexiteers achieved in the U.K. referendum to leave the EU: to disrupt what they see as an out-of-touch elite and gain power by warning about migrants massing at Europe’s borders ready to rob the continent of its jobs and culture.

The traditional parties warn that this strategy is worryingly reminiscent of prewar tensions, and argue that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security challenges posed by a China and U.S.-dominated new world order.

Voters across Europe are electing 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when Britain eventually leaves the EU. Each EU nation gets a number of seats in the EU parliament based on its population.

The legislature affects Europeans’ daily lives in many ways: cutting smartphone roaming charges, imposing safety and health rules for industries ranging from chemicals and energy to autos and food, supporting farming, and protecting the environment.

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Vinyl Records Are Back, and So Are Record Pressing Plants

Vinyl records are becoming more popular in the U.S., after almost disappearing from American markets when they were replaced over the years by audio tapes, CDs and digital music downloaded onto phones and other devices. With vinyl records coming back, record-pressing plants are being established, including one just recently opened in Alexandria, Va., a Washington, D.C., suburb. Alina Golinata recently visited the plant and filed this report.

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Report: ADHD May Explain da Vinci’s Procrastination 

Leonardo da Vinci is renowned as a “Renaissance man” for his mastery in art, science, architecture, music, mathematics, engineering and cartography, but he was no master at completing his efforts. 

 

Five hundred years after his death, a professor of psychiatry in Britain has suggested that the reason da Vinci left behind so many unfinished works, including the iconic Mona Lisa, is that he may have had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

 

“I am confident ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo’s difficulty in finishing his works,” Marco Catani of King’s College in London argues in a paper published Friday in the neurological journal Brain.  

 

Catani said historical records show da Vinci’s struggles with finishing tasks were pervasive from childhood.

On the go

Accounts from biographers and contemporaries show he was constantly on the go, Catani said, often jumping from task to task. And like many people with ADHD, da Vinci got very little sleep and often worked continuously, night and day. 

 

“Historical records show Leonardo spent excessive time planning projects but lacked perseverance. ADHD could explain aspects of Leonardo’s temperament and his strange mercurial genius,” the professor said. 

 

ADHD is a behavioral disorder most commonly identified with inability to complete tasks and mental and physical restlessness. It is most commonly recognized in children but is increasingly being diagnosed among adults, including those with successful careers.  

 

“There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life,” Catani said.  He said he hoped that “that the case of Leonardo shows that ADHD is not linked to low IQ or lack of creativity but rather the difficulty of capitalizing on natural talents. I hope that Leonardo’s legacy can help us to change some of the stigma around ADHD.” 

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WWII Code Talker and longtime NM lawmaker dies at 94

John Pinto, a Navajo Code Talker in World War II who became one of the nation’s longest serving Native American elected officials as a New Mexico state senator, has died. He was 94.

Senate colleague Michael Padilla confirmed Pinto’s death in Gallup on Friday after years of suffering from various illnesses that rarely kept him from his duties.

After serving as a Marine, Pinto was elected to the Senate in 1976 and represented a district that includes the Navajo Nation for more than four decades. The region is one of the poorest in the country.

“Words cannot express the sadness we feel for the loss of a great Dine warrior,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, using the indigenous word for Navajo. “He dedicated his life to helping others.”

Born in Lupton, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation to a family of sheep herders. Pinto didn’t start formal schooling until he was nearly a teenager. 

“At the age of 12, I was in kindergarten,” Pinto told the Albuquerque Journal in a 2007 interview. “I guess I did all right.”

Pinto also recalled that his grandparents told of being forced at gunpoint from their land in the 1860s by the U.S. Army in the forced relocation of the Navajo people on foot to southern New Mexico.

After serving as a Code Talker — a group of radio men who translated American coordinates and messages into an indecipherable code based on the Navajo language — Pinto had to take an English test four times before he was finally admitted into the University of New Mexico’s College of Education.

He graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education at 39, and eventually earned his master’s, becoming a teacher and a truancy officer in Gallup.

Pinto delved into politics to address the needs of impoverished indigenous populations. The Democrat won a seat in state Senate in 1976 as one of the state’s first Native American senators.

An unassuming appearance and manner belied Pinto’s political determination that carried him through 42 years in the Legislature. Laurie Canepa, the senior librarian for the Legislative Council Service, said that made him the longest serving senator in state history.

Manny Aragon, the state’s one-time Senate president, tells the story of driving to the Statehouse in a January 1977 snowstorm and picking up a middle-aged Navajo man who was hitchhiking in Albuquerque. The hitchhiker was newly elected Sen. Pinto.

“I just thought he was a transient,” Aragon said.

In the Legislature, Pinto advocated for education reform and anti-poverty programs. Receiving a lifetime achievement award in 2016, Pinto recalled going hungry at times as a child while his parents juggled odd jobs and said the experience influenced his work on issues of homelessness as a lawmaker.

Every year, Pinto would sing on the Senate floor the “Potato Song” — a Navajo song about a potato, planted in the spring and visited in the summer until it is harvested. Fellow senators, staff and aides clapped along to Pinto’s rendition.

Lenore Naranjo, the Senate’s chief clerk, says Pinto taught her bits of Navajo language over the decades.

“A beautiful man is all I can say,” Naranjo said.

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Senate Foreign Relations Chief: North Macedonian NATO Accession Vote Possible by June

This story originated in VOA’s Macedonian Service. 

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers may vote to approve North Macedonia as the 30th member of NATO as early as next month, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator James Risch.

“The process is that we need to have a hearing on it in the Foreign Relations Committee, and I have tentatively scheduled that for approximately two weeks from now,” the junior Idaho Republican senator told VOA’s Macedonian Service. “Then, as far as when it will be finalized, it goes to the Senate floor, and we would very much like to have that done in June, and we are cautiously optimistic that we can get that done in June.”

North Macedonia’s long-standing bid to join the military alliance was blocked for more than a decade because of a name dispute with neighboring Greece, which has a province called Macedonia.

North Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia, changed its name under the Prespa Agreement in June 2018 with Greece, opening the path to NATO and EU membership.

North Macedonia’s accession protocol was signed by all member states in Brussels on Feb. 6. The accession process continues in the capital of each allied nation, where individual protocols are ratified according to national procedures.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has praised the country as a “steadfast security partner,” submitted its NATO accession protocol to the Senate for ratification on April 30.

North Macedonia’s full accession to the alliance would represent a blow to Russia, which opposes NATO expansion and, therefore, the country’s accession.

Asked if North Macedonia’s NATO membership can reduce Russian influence or political meddling within North Macedonia, he said “that’s going to be up to the North Macedonian people themselves.”

“But they’ve already spoken on that,” Risch said. “I think the election itself, regarding accession, was a good, clear indication that they don’t want that Russian influence, that they don’t want that Russian propaganda. So, this taking of what would really be a final step into NATO is a final rejection of Russia and what it stands for and the kind of malign influence they bring.”

Last August, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Connecticut Democrat Senator Chris Murphy, sponsored a bipartisan resolution to put the tiny Balkan country on the path to NATO and European Union membership.

Risch also said he anticipates near-unanimous support for North Macedonia’s accession protocol when the bill arrives on the Senate floor.

 

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Turmoil Deepens With May’s Exit in Britain

Theresa May became Britain’s prime minister in 2016 after the country’s vote to leave the European Union prompted the resignation of her predecessor, David Cameron. Now, three years later, May has announced her own resignation,  saying she bitterly regretted failing to deliver a Brexit deal.

“I believe it was right to persevere even when the odds against success seemed high,” she said in a speech given outside her official residence in London. “But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort.”

Her voice cracking, the prime minister struggled to hide her emotions.

“I will shortly leave the job that has been the honor of my life to hold — the second female prime minister, but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.” 

Three attempts

May tried three times to get a parliamentary majority to back the Brexit deal she had negotiated with Brussels. But her Conservative Party had seen enough. The party will choose a new leader after June 7, a process that could take two months or more.

Analyst Fabian Zuleeg of the European Policy Center told VOA via Skype that “the difficulty for any new leader is that the majorities in the House of Commons have not changed.” 

 

More than a dozen Conservative members of Parliament are expected to put their names forward to replace May. Most are demanding a tougher line with Brussels. 

 

“The chances that the EU will substantively reopen the withdrawal agreement are pretty much zero,” he said. “Given how unpopular that deal has proven to be in the U.K., I think the chances of no deal are very high.” 

Many leadership candidates say Britain must walk away with no deal if the EU doesn’t budge from its terms — among them former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, now the front-runner in the race to replace May.

May will still be in office for U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain at the beginning of June. It’s likely to be her final act on the global political stage.

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