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Burkina Faso Coup Leader Sandaogo Damiba Inaugurated As President

Burkina Faso strongman Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was inaugurated as president on Wednesday, just over three weeks after he led a coup to topple elected head of state Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

In a televised ceremony, Damiba swore an oath before the country’s top constitutional body to “preserve, respect, uphold and defend the Constitution”, the nation’s laws and a “fundamental act” of key decisions approved by the junta.

Damiba was dressed in camouflage uniform and a red beret and wore a sash in the colours of Burkina’s national flag.

The press, but no foreign representatives, attended the ceremony in a small room at the offices of the Constitutional Council.

On January 24, Damiba, 41, led disgruntled officers to force out Kabore following public anger over his handling of a bloody jihadist insurgency.

Last week, the Constitutional Council formally determined that Damiba was president, head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces.

The move confirmed an announcement by the junta on January 31 that Damiba would be appointed to those roles for a transitional period, and be assisted by two vice presidents.

Burkina Faso is one of the world’s poorest countries and one of the most volatile in Africa.

The landlocked Sahel state has experienced repeated coups since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Since the first jihadist attacks in 2015, more than 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP tally, while the country’s emergencies agency says more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes.

– ‘Tough commander’ –

Damiba has had first-hand experience of the insurgency.

Before seizing power, he was commander of the 3rd Military Region, which covers eastern Burkina Faso — one of the worst-hit areas.

A military source after he seized power said he was “a tough commander who has been on the front line with his men”.

Before the coup, Damiba criticised prevailing strategies to fight the jihadists, publishing a book last June called “West African Armies and Terrorism: Uncertain Answers?”

The junta suspended the constitution immediately on taking power on January 24, but later reversed this in the face of pressure from neighbours in West Africa demanding a return to civilian rule.

The military authorities have promised to re-establish “constitutional order” within a “reasonable time” but the issue of a date for elections remains unsettled.

On February 5, the junta announced that a 15-member commission would be tasked with “drawing up a draft charter and agenda, together with a proposal for the duration of the transition period.”

Burkina has been suspended from West African bloc ECOWAS, although it has so far escaped further sanctions, unlike Guinea and Mali. It has also been suspended by ECOWAS, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States.

The UN Security Council on February 9 expressed “serious concern” over the country’s “unconstitutional change of government,” but chose not to describe it as a military coup or even condemn it outright.

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France, European Allies To Withdraw Troops From Mali After A Decade

France and its allies in a European force announced Thursday they would begin withdrawing troops from Mali after nearly 10 years fighting a jihadist insurgency.

A statement signed by France and its African and European allies said that “multiple obstructions” by the ruling junta meant that the conditions were no longer in place to operate in Mali.

The decision applies to both France’s Barkhane force in the Sahel and the Takuba European force that Paris had been trying to forge along with its allies.

“The political, operational, and legal conditions are no longer met to effectively continue their current military engagement in the fight against terrorism in Mali,” the statement said.

The allies, therefore “decided to commence the coordinated withdrawal of their respective military resources dedicated to these operations from Malian territory.”

The announcement was made as President Emmanuel Macron is to travel to Brussels on Thursday for a two-day EU-Africa summit, following an 0800 GMT press conference at the Elysee on the “engagement of France in the Sahel”.

The Mali deployment has been fraught with problems for France. Of the 53 soldiers killed serving in its Barkhane mission in West Africa, 48 of them died in Mali.

France initially deployed troops against jihadists in Mali in 2013 but the insurgency was never fully quelled, and now new fears have emerged of a jihadist push to the Gulf of Guinea.

Even after the pull-out from Mali, however, the allies vowed to remain engaged in fighting terror in other countries including Niger.

“They agreed nonetheless to continue their joint action against terrorism in the Sahel region, including in Niger and in the Gulf of Guinea,” the statement said.

“They have begun political and military consultations with them with the aim to set out the terms for this shared action by June 2022.”

 Critical moment 

French President Emmanuel Macron (2-R), flanked by Ghana’s President Nana Afuko Addo (R), Senegal’s President Macky Sall (2-L), and European Council President Charles Michel (L), holds a joint press conference on France’s engagement in the Sahel region, at the Elysee Palace in Paris on February 17, 2022.  Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

 

The announcement of the withdrawal came at a critical time for Macron, just days ahead of a long-awaited declaration from the president that he will stand for a new term in the April elections.

It also coincided with Macron seeking to take a lead role in international diplomacy as he presses Russia to de-escalate in the standoff over Ukraine.

Especially with the French elections looming, Macron’s priority is to ensure that any withdrawal does not invite comparisons with the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan last year.

Macron on Wednesday prepared the ground for the announcement with a dinner bringing together the leaders of France’s key allies in the Sahel region — Chad, Mauritania, and Niger.

Officials from Mali and Burkina Faso, which also recently experienced a coup, were not invited to the meeting.

There are a total of 25,000 foreign troops currently deployed in the Sahel region.

They include around 4,300 French soldiers, which under a reduction announced last year are due to fall to around 2,500 in 2023 from a peak of 5,400.

Other forces deployed in Mali are the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA established in 2013 and the EUTM Mali, an EU military training mission that aims to improve the Malian military’s capacity in fighting terrorists.

Some 2,400 French soldiers are deployed in Mali as part of the Barkhane operation as well as the EU Takuba force set up in 2020, which was intended to increase in numbers as French deployment was scaled back.

‘A void’ 

According to a French source, who asked not to be identified by name, even after the departure France will for a period provide MINUSMA and EUTM with air support and medical back-up.

But Paris’ withdrawal could set the stage for other European powers like Britain or Germany to abandon their roles in the multinational missions.

“The departure of Barkhane and Takuba creates a void,” Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara said Wednesday.

In the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea, “national armies will have to deal with problems on our national territories, and that’s our philosophy”, he told broadcasters RFI and France 24.

Relations between France and Mali have plunged to new lows after the junta led by strongman Assimi Goita refused to stick to a calendar to a return to civilian rule.

The West also accuses Mali of using the services of the hugely controversial Russian mercenary group Wagner to shore up its position, a move that gives Moscow a new foothold in the region.

“It is an inglorious end to an armed intervention that began in euphoria and which ends, nine years later, against a backdrop of crisis between Mali and France,” commented the Le Monde daily.

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Biden Warns Putin That Ukraine Attack Will Bring ‘Swift And Severe Costs’

Efforts to defuse the crisis in Ukraine via a frenzy of telephone diplomacy failed to ease tensions Saturday, with the White House insisting that Russia faces “swift and severe costs” if its troops carry out an invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed Western claims that such a move might be on the horizon, calling the idea “provocative speculation” that could lead to a conflict in the ex-Soviet country, according to a Russian readout of a call with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Weeks of tensions that have seen Russia nearly surround its western neighbour with more than 100,000 troops intensified after Washington warned that an all-out invasion could begin “any day” and Russia launched its biggest naval drills in years across the Black Sea.

“If Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia,” US President Joe Biden told Putin, according to the White House.

While the United States was prepared to engage in diplomacy, “we are equally prepared for other scenarios”, Biden said, as the two nations stare down one of the gravest crises in East-West relations since the Cold War.

While the Biden-Putin talks were “professional and substantive”, lasting just over an hour, they produced “no fundamental change” in dynamics, a senior US official told reporters.

Russia’s defence ministry added to the febrile atmosphere by announcing that it had chased off a US submarine that it alleged had crossed into its territorial waters near the Kuril Islands in the northern Pacific.

The ministry said it had summoned the US defence attache in Moscow over the incident, while the Pentagon said only that it was aware of press reports.

Putin began his afternoon by holding talks with Macron that the French presidency said lasted one hour and 40 minutes.

Macron’s office said “both expressed a desire to continue dialogue” but, like Washington, reported no clear progress.

‘Possible provocations’

Russia on Saturday added to the ominous tone by pulling some of its diplomatic staff out of Ukraine.

The foreign ministry in Moscow said its decision was prompted by fears of “possible provocations from the Kyiv regime”.

But Washington and a host of European countries along with Israel cited the growing threat of a Russian invasion as they called on their citizens to leave Ukraine as soon possible.

Britain and the United States also pulled out most of their remaining military advisors while the US embassy ordered “most” of its Kyiv staff to leave.

Dutch carrier KLM announced that it was suspending commercial flights to Ukraine until further notice.

The prospect of fleeing Westerners prompted Kyiv to issue an appeal to its citizens to “remain calm”.

“Right now, the people’s biggest enemy is panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on a visit to troops stationed near the Russian-annexed peninsula of Crimea.

Several thousand Ukrainians braved the winter cold to march through Kyiv in a show of unity amid the growing fears of war.

“Panic is useless,” said student Maria Shcherbenko as the crowd waved Ukraine’s blue-and-yellow flags and sang the national anthem. “We must unite and fight for independence.”

‘Any day now’

Washington on Friday issued its most dire warning yet that Russia had assembled enough forces to launch a serious assault.

“Our view that military action could occur any day now, and could occur before the end of the Olympics, is only growing in terms of its robustness,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned.

US military assessments had earlier said the Kremlin may want to wait for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games to end on February 20 before launching an offensive so as not to offend Russia’s ally China.

Ukrainian leaders have been trying to talk down the prospects of an all-out war because of the damaging effect such fears were having on the country’s teetering economy and public morale.

But the mood across the country remained tense.

The mayor’s office of Kyiv announced that it had prepared an emergency evacuation plan for the capital’s three million residents as a precaution.

Sullivan stopped short on Friday of saying that the United States has concluded that Putin has made the decision to attack.

But some US and German media cited intelligence sources and officials as saying that a war could begin at some point after Putin concludes talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow on Tuesday.

The German leader is due to travel to Kyiv on Monday and then visit Putin as Europe strives to keep lines of communication open with Moscow.

Russia is seeking binding security guarantees from the West that include a pledge to roll NATO forces out of eastern Europe and to never expand into Ukraine.

Washington has flatly rejected the demands while offering to discuss a new European disarmament agreement with Moscow.

Sullivan also repeated warnings that Russia risked severe Western sanctions and said that NATO is now “more cohesive, more purposeful, more dynamic than any time in recent memory”.

Germany’s Scholz has added his voice to European pledges to punish Russia with severe economic sanctions targeting its financial and energy sector if it attacks.

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US Hails Canada’s ‘Decisive’ Action To Clear Border Protest

The White House on Sunday praised what it said was Canada’s “decisive law enforcement efforts” to end blockades at US border crossings by Canadian truckers protesting Covid-19 restrictions.

US and Canadian officials had discussed the damage created by the protests and “the imperative of taking swift, strong action and deterring future blockades,” White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall said in a statement.

Canadian officials said a key bridge linking the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan was being cleared after a nearly week-long blockade, and would be reopened Sunday, Sherwood-Randall said.

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ECOWAS Suspends Burkina Faso Over Coup

The West African bloc ECOWAS on Friday suspended Burkina Faso following a coup, but will not impose other sanctions for the time being, a participant at a virtual summit said.

ECOWAS is also calling for the new junta to release ousted president Roch Marc Christian Kabore and other officials detained during Monday’s coup, the source said.

The bloc will hold another summit in Accra on February 3, it added.

The summit, which lasted around three hours, also decided to send a mission of ECOWAS chiefs of staff to Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, on Saturday.

This will be followed on Monday by ministerial-level envoys from the bloc, the source said.

Kabore, 64, was elected in 2015 following a popular revolt that forced out strongman Blaise Compaore.

He was re-elected in 2020, but the following year faced a wave of anger over the mounting toll from a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighboring Mali.

On Sunday, mutinies broke out in several barracks and the following day, Kabore was arrested and taken away by troops.

The impoverished Sahel state is being run by a junta led by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who commands military units in the country’s jihadist-torn east.

On the eve of the summit, Damiba made a televised appeal for “the international community to support our country so it can exit this crisis as soon as possible.”

He promised Burkina would “return to a normal constitutional life… when the conditions are right.”

Burkina Faso joins two other ECOWAS countries — Mali and Guinea — where there have been coups in the past 18 months.

Those two countries have been suspended by the regional bloc, which has also imposed an array of sanctions on them, including measures against individuals.

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Morocco, China Sign ‘Belt And Road’ Agreement

Morocco and China on Wednesday signed an agreement sealing a strategic partnership between the two nations as part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

The accord, a roadmap for the joint implementation of the key Chinese project, was inked by Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and a senior Chinese official, Ning Jizhe, during a video conference ceremony.

The partnership is aimed at facilitating cooperation in infrastructure, trade, investment, industry, agriculture and more, a Moroccan government

It aims to promote access to Chinese financing to carry out large projects in Morocco, the Moroccan MAP news agency added.

Under the agreement, Beijing has committed to encouraging Chinese businesses to invest in Morocco, which in 2017 became the first Maghreb country to join the initiative.

Ning Jizhe said China’s direct investment in the country had reached $380 million.

The accord also provides for tripartite cooperation with Africa, in particular in sustainable development.

Launched in 2013, Beijing’s vast, trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative aims to improve trade links with countries across the world by building ports, railways, airports and industrial parks.

 

AFP

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Tanzania Speaker Resigns After Feud With President

The speaker of Tanzania’s parliament quit on Thursday after a very public falling out with President Samia Suluhu Hassan, exacerbating divisions within the ruling party.

Job Ndugai, who is no stranger to controversy, had infuriated Hassan last week when he criticised her over what he called Tanzania’s “excessive” foreign borrowing.

Rifts have emerged recently in the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) as the party prepares for new elections, although the ballot is not due to take place until 2025.

Ndugai, 58, said in a statement he had written to the CCM’s secretary-general informing the party of his resignation from the post he has held since November

“This is my personal and voluntary decision for the interest of my country, government, and my party CCM,” he said.

Hassan, who took power in March last year, had on Tuesday hinted that she would be carrying out a cabinet reshuffle to expel ministers she suspects of siding with rival politicians in the party for the election.

The speaker’s remarks last week triggered a debate over the country’s debt levels, but many people including Hassan’s supporters in the CCM lashed out at him for criticising the president.

“I did not expect someone who leads a pillar of the state to utter such words,” she said, insisting that the government would continue borrowing for development projects.

‘Begging Bowl’ 

According to figures published by Tanzania’s central bank, the country’s private and public external debt stood at almost $28 billion in November, with government borrowing accounting for more than 70 percent.

Total debt amounted to $36 billion in November, it said, while gross domestic product stood at $64.7 billion at the end of 2020.

“Is there any pride in taking around a begging bowl?” Ndugai asked at a public meeting last week. “We have resorted to borrowing every day. There will come a day when this country will be sold off.”

Ndugai, who was a strong supporter of Hassan’s late predecessor John Magufuli and had also served as deputy speaker from 2010 to 2015, apologised to Hassan on Monday, saying his remarks were misunderstood.

Tundu Lissu of the main opposition Chadema party, whose leader was arrested in July and charged with terrorism offences, described Ndugai as “the most despicable speaker in the 96 years of our parliament”.

“His forced resignation, though, confirms that Tanzania has only one omnipotent & untouchable arm of the State: the President. A new democratic Constitution is an urgent & imperative order of the day!” he said on Twitter.

In June last year, Ndugai was subject to ridicule after he ordered a woman lawmaker who was wearing trousers to leave parliament because of her “strange” attire.

He also angered Chadema in May when he refused, in defiance of Tanzanian law, to expel lawmakers whose membership of the party had been revoked.

Hassan became president of the East African country after the death of Magufuli, who was nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his authoritarian leadership style and who oversaw a crackdown on dissent during his rule.

She has sought to break with some of Magufuli’s policies, but fears remain about the state of political and media freedoms in the country.

AFP

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Ignazio Cassis Elected As Next Swiss President

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis was elected by parliament Wednesday as the country’s next president, set to lead in 2022 amid deepening tensions over the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cassis, who will take on the largely symbolic role on January 1, insisted in his acceptance speech that “we will not allow ourselves to be divided”.

The choice of Cassis came as no surprise since it was his turn among the seven members of the Swiss government to take on the rotating one-year presidency.

The 60-year-old member of the conservative Liberal Party, who joined the government in 2017, will continue serving as Switzerland’s top diplomat while carrying out his presidential duties.

He will replace Economy Minister Guy Parmelin at the helm.

Cassis was elected with 156 out of 197 possible votes — a relatively poor score for the foreign minister, who has faced significant criticism for gaffes and inconsistent messaging.

Both he and Parmelin have been attacked for the handling of Switzerland’s relations with the European Union, after Bern in May abruptly ended years of talks aimed at sealing a cooperation agreement with Brussels.

As president, Parmelin delivered the bad news, but Cassis was widely blamed in the media for the debacle and accused of minimising the fallout from the rift with the country’s biggest trading partner.

During Wednesday’s rubber-stamp vote, the parliament also elected Health Minister Alain Berset to serve as vice president next year, positioning him to become president in 2023.

As the main face of Switzerland’s Covid response, Berset has faced widespread abuse by those opposed to measures and restrictions, and has even faced death threats.

Opponents slammed a requirement to present a so-called Covid certificate to enter many public venues, claiming it created an “apartheid” system.

They triggered a referendum last month against the law behind the pass, but following a tense campaign marked by unprecedented levels of hostility in the usually tranquil country, 62 percent of voters came out to support it.

Cassis voiced optimism Wednesday that the divisions could be healed, insisting the Swiss could rise to the challenge and would find themselves “stronger and more united than ever.”

A medical doctor by training, Cassis will be only the fifth politician from Switzerland’s Italian-speaking minority to serve as president.

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Scholz Succeeds Merkel As Chancellor, Vows ‘New Beginning’ For Germany

Olaf Scholz became Germany’s new chancellor on Wednesday after 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm, pledging his centre-left-led coalition would offer a “new beginning” for Europe’s top economy.

Scholz was officially named the country’s ninth post-war leader by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who urged him to “ensure that the pandemic does not keep us firmly in its grip for another year” as a fourth wave of the coronavirus outbreak rages.

The former finance minister, who won 395 of the 707 votes cast in the Bundestag lower house, has vowed broad “continuity” with the popular Merkel while making Germany greener and fairer.

“It will be a new beginning for our country,” Scholz pledged as he officially assumed the office from Merkel and thanked her for her lengthy tenure.

“I will do everything to work towards that.”

Merkel wished Scholz luck as chancellor, urging him to “take this office and work in the best interest of our country”.

She then left office by motorcade for the last time as her staff looked on, applauding.

Scholz led his Social Democrats from a deep poll deficit to victory in the September 26 election.

The 63-year-old, who turned emulating Merkel in style and substance into a winning strategy, forged Germany’s first national “traffic light” coalition with the ecologist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, nicknamed after the parties’ colours.

Their four-year pact sealed late last month is called “Dare for More Progress”, a hat tip to Social Democratic chancellor Willy Brandt’s historic 1969 pledge to “Dare for More Democracy”.

The alliance aims to slash carbon emissions, overhaul decrepit digital infrastructure, modernise citizenship laws, lift the minimum wage and have Germany join a handful of countries worldwide in legalising marijuana.

French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Scholz, pledging “we will write the next chapter together” while EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she looked forward to cooperation for a “strong Europe”.

Scholz’s office announced his first official visit would take him to Paris and Brussels Friday for talks with Macron, von der Leyen and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Vladimir Putin said Russia was offering “constructive ties” with the new government, while China’s Xi Jinping said Beijing was willing to work with Scholz to “promote bilateral ties to a new level”.

Gender Balanced

The new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has pledged a tougher line with authoritarian states such as Russia and China after the business-driven pragmatism of the Merkel years.

Greens co-leader Baerbock is one of eight women in Germany’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

“That corresponds to the society we live in — half of the power belongs to women,” Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”, said this week.

Scholz and his team promise stability just as France braces for a bitterly fought presidential election next year and Europe grapples with the enduring aftershocks of Brexit.

However, a vicious fourth Covid wave has already put the incoming coalition to the test.

“We have to make a fresh start while facing down the corona pandemic — those are the circumstances the new government is up against,” Scholz told reporters Tuesday.

More than 103,000 people have died with coronavirus in Germany while new infections have surged since the weather turned cold, filling intensive care units to breaking point.

Scholz has thrown his weight behind making jabs mandatory to get the pandemic under control, as Austria has done, as experts say the worst is still to come for the country’s struggling clinics.

‘Lessons Of History’

Merkel, 67, Germany’s first woman chancellor, is retiring from politics after four consecutive terms, the first post-war leader to step aside of her own accord.

Macron tweeted his gratitude to the outgoing leader.

“Thank you, dear Angela, for never forgetting the lessons of history, for having done so much for us, with us, to move Europe forward,” he said.

She leaves big shoes to fill, with large majorities of Germans approving of her leadership to the end.

Despite being from a rival party, Scholz tapped into that well of popular support in his bid to succeed Merkel while pledging to tackle the gap between rich and poor that widened under her.

Meanwhile, Greens supporters are banking on billions flowing toward climate protection and renewable energy, even as the government pledges to return to a no-new-debt rule by 2023.

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Omicron Travel Ban: Western Countries Are Hypocrites, Says Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday criticised the travel bans imposed by western countries on parts of Africa over the spread of Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant.

Mr. Ramaphosa, who spoke at the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security, said the travel bans signalled western hypocrisy.

The Omicron variant was first identified in Southern Africa but is believed to have been spreading in Europe undetected much earlier.

READ ALSO: BREAKING: NCDC REPORTS THREE NEW CASES OF OMICRON VARIANT

” . . . when South African scientists discovered the new variant Omicron, we immediately took on the responsibility of informing the world. However what was the result?” Mr. Ramaphosa queried.

“The western countries imposed a ban – as it were to punish excellence coming from Africa, preventing our people from traveling. However, this new variant continues to spread across the globe, beyond Southern Africa, including in their own countries.

“And so one asks, where is science? These countries have always said to us that we should base our decisions on science. But when the time comes for them to apply it to themselves, they do not, but resort to their own self-interest.

“We say that these bans must be removed with immediate effect.

“The devastating impact this travel ban will have is well-known. The UN Secretary-General has called it travel apartheid.

“These travel bans will devastate the economies of Southern Africa that are dependent on tourism. They go precisely against what was agreed at the G20 in Italy earlier this year when it was said we must open up travel so the tourism sector can recover.

“Instead they are closing it down in Africa. This is hypocrisy of the worst order and must come to an end.”

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