Archive for April, 2010

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Štefan Füle – European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

April 30, 2010

Well dear readers, here is a speech with my own highlighting of points that will be interesting to monitor over the next 12 months:

Exchange of views on South Caucasus and Ukraine

Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), European Parliament

Brussels, 28 April 2010

Mr. President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

It is a pleasure and honour for me to share with you my personal impressions from the recent trips that I made to the three South Caucasus countries and to Ukraine earlier this month.

Let me start with the South Caucasus. I am particularly keen to have this exchange with you after your own deliberation and adoption of the report on South Caucasus

There was a clear and loud message to Europe that I heard throughout my trip to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Presidents, Prime Ministers, parliamentarians, opposition and civil society all confirmed that they wanted a closer, deeper and fuller relationship with the EU.

My message to my interlocutors in Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku was that the EU is also prepared to step up a gear and to develop concrete areas where a strengthened relationship can make a real difference for people in the South Caucasus and in the EU.

With the Eastern Partnership launched in Prague last year, my ambition is to make sure that this framework can deliver on a number of fronts.

First of all, we aim to upgrade our contractual relations with our Eastern partners. With Ukraine – that I will come to later – we have already been negotiating an Association Agreement for a couple of years and negotiations with the Republic of Moldova were opened early in 2010 and are continuing at cruising speed.

Today, I am pleased to report that the negotiating directives for Association Agreements with the South Caucasus countries will be presented for formal adoption at the Foreign Affairs Council on May 10. This will pave the way for the EU side to prepare for the launch of negotiations. These Agreements will allow for close political association between each of the partners in the South Caucasus and the EU, building on common values and shared principles.

Closely linked to the Association Agreements, the EU’s offer to establish deep and comprehensive free trade areas is also an immensely important opportunity for those South Caucasus countries that have fulfilled the preconditions. Such agreements of economic integration will provide access to the EU market of 500 million consumers and will help increasing trade flows and investments.

The area of visas and facilitating the mobility of persons is a field where the partners in the South Caucasus are calling for more from the EU, feeling the pressure from citizens experiencing complicated and lengthy procedures. The visa facilitation and readmission agreements for Georgia have already successfully been negotiated. Georgians can soon benefit from lower fees and easier visa rules. Following the example of Georgia, Armenians and Azerbaijanis would similarly like to start discussions with the EU that will facilitate travelling for citizens.

It is clear that the demands are high from our partners in the South Caucasus. But so are also the EU’s requirements on these partner countries to make sure that their legislation is in place and their administrative capacities strong enough to turn political ambitions into actual delivery of results. My message to the leaders in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia has been and will always be that the responsibility for the internal reform processes and the strengthening of democracy and rule of law lie firmly in the hands of the governments and politicians of those countries. The Commission will provide technical and financial assistance to help the partners meet their objectives notably through the new Comprehensive Institution Building programmes that we are designing together with our partners in the East.

Honourable Members,

The developments within the partner countries will also play a significant role regarding the speed and impact of reforms as well as the possibilities for a deeper and more comprehensive association and integration with the EU.

In Armenia I urged all political leaders to advance political reforms, to improve electoral standards and to speed up the process of addressing some of the political issues emanating from the post-presidential elections of March 2008 allowing for national reconciliation and thus unblocking the full potential of the society.

Regarding the domestic political situation in Georgia and in particular the upcoming local elections in May, I had the opportunity to listen to both government representatives and the opposition parties. I stressed to both sides the clear need for adhering to international electoral standards, the importance of real political pluralism, a vibrant civil society and an open media environment as essential factors to consolidate democracy.

In Azerbaijan, there was a shared ambition of political leaders to embark on a concrete dialogue on broadening the EU-Azerbaijan cooperation beyond the energy sector. While we agreed that the “locomotive” of the EU-Azerbaijan cooperation is indeed energy we exchanged views on ways to modernise Azerbaijan, to diversify the economy and to strengthen development in the provinces. In this context, I called for further democratisation efforts and highlighted the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Honourable members,

Throughout my trip to the South Caucasus I felt the presence of regional tension and the effects of armed conflict which have so dramatically impacted on people’s lives. I appreciated in particular the possibilities to speak to internally displaced persons in Georgia and in Azerbaijan; and to learn at its headquarters about the challenging work of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia outside Tbilisi. I firmly believe that the personal accounts and stories of human tragedy have helped me to better understand the challenges facing the people of the South Caucasus. Conflicts have haunted the South Caucasus for a far too long time. In my meetings I conveyed that the EU’s overall goal for the region is a stable, secure and prosperous South Caucasus.

The Armenia-Turkey normalisation process is very important and, while I note the new development of last week, I am pleased that Armenia remains committed to pursue this process. On Nagorno-Karabakh, the EU will aim to step up its support to ongoing peace efforts. As for Georgia, it is clear that the existing Geneva talks – as the only forum where all partners sit together – must continue and lead to concrete results beyond incident prevention. The Georgian strategy with its principles of “engagement through cooperation” is a laudable initiative which the EU supports.

Let me now turn to Ukraine.

Last week I visited Kyiv. This involved a number of useful and constructive meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, members of the opposition and with representatives from business and civil society. The visit built on that of the High Representative and me to Kyiv on the occasion of President Yanukovych’s inauguration in February, as well as President Yanukovych’s own visit to Brussels on 1st March.

I also made a particular point of meeting with the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and with the chair-persons of a number of Parliamentary Committees including Boris Tarasyuk, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration and Co-Chair of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Co-operation Committee.

The visit was timely as it coincided both with the government’s preparations of its reform programme which are to be finalized by June and the announcement of an agreement on gas and on the lease of the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol.

I presented to the Ukrainian side a list of key reforms which Ukraine needs urgently to develop together with possible incentives and responses from the EU. This list covers areas like political reforms, macro-financial stability, trade and business environment, mobility and energy. It has been developed together with several Commission services, following discussions at previous Foreign Affairs Councils.

This will serve as a concise tool to provide a political steer to the government’s reform programme. It will help to maintain momentum in the reform process. It will also help to anchor Ukraine to the wider process of European integration, building on other agreed key documents such as the future Association Agreement and the related Association Agenda.

On the Association Agreement, a strong desire was expressed to sign the Agreement in 2010. I explained that more work was needed particularly on the deep and comprehensive free trade area by the Ukrainian side but underlined our strong commitment to completing negotiations as soon as possible.

On the issue of visa dialogue, I explained that the Commission was working towards a “road map approach” but further “homework” was needed on the Ukrainian side. On our side, constructive initial discussions have taken place with EU Foreign Ministers but these need to continue. We are hoping for further progress in the run up to the EU-Ukraine Summit in the autumn.

I also underlined the importance of inclusivity in implementing the process of European integration across the political divide and with civil society. Opposition leaders confirmed their commitment to supporting those reforms related to European Integration. I passed over copies of the reform list to leaders of the opposition and underlined the need to collaborate closely within the Parliament on the implementation of the reform agenda.

I have been informed about the new deal on gas with Russia and the extension of the lease of the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea. As those of you who have followed the Parliamentary debate in the Ukraine yesterday know, these are controversial issues with strong opposition domestically.

On the government side, I understand that the re-negotiation of the gas deal was essential to ensure Ukraine’s future economic stability. The new Agreement should make it possible for Ukraine to adopt a budget for 2010 and to re-launch negotiations with the IMF on the standby arrangement with Ukraine. However, opposition leaders criticized the new agreement on the Black Sea Base as giving away sovereignty.

I underlined that these decisions are sovereign matters for Ukraine. As regards gas, the agreement would be assessed by the EU ultimately against (a.) the need to ensure security of supply (b.) the principles of predictability and transparency and (c.) the need to ensure the rehabilitation and modernization of the gas transit system.

I take away from this mission a number of key thoughts. Firstly it is very early days for the new administration. The leadership has communicated strong signals concerning its commitment to the process of European integration and reform. We will know much more on this once it publishes its reform programme in June. The reform matrix, as well as other tools such as the Association Agenda, will allow us to judge the extent to which promises on reform are matched by actions. This will be one of my top priorities in the coming months.

Secondly, it is clear that the EU must be ready to engage with Ukraine if and when it does implement reforms. Again the list I mentioned before provides examples of possible responses to positive steps by the Ukrainian side. These range from further economic and financial assistance through to progress in the area of mobility and greater economic integration into the EU.

Thirdly, it is important that we engage not only with the government but also other key players, including the Ukrainian Parliament, members of the opposition, business and representatives of civil society in the process of European integration. European integration should be an inclusive process. I was encouraged by the commitment of the opposition to support reforms which take forward European integration.

In taking forward our work in the South Caucasus and Ukraine, and indeed throughout the European Neighbourhood, I believe the European Parliament, this Committee and the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee have a very valuable role to play. I am therefore grateful to have had the opportunity to brief you on these missions today.

In line with the practice of previous years, the Commission will continue to monitor developments in the neighbouring countries, through our annual reports on the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy. This year’s ENP reports will be a mix of praise as well as indications where further efforts are needed to fulfil the objectives of the Action Plans. I am looking forward to coming again to the European Parliament on 17 May, only a few days after the issuing of the ENP reports, to discuss developments with you.

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Independent in the middle of it all

April 30, 2010

Well dear reders, as you know I am fairly tolerent and not politically extreme in my views…….which is just as well in Ukraine as even more central politicians are pretty useless without looking towards the whack-jobs on the extremes of the political spectrum here.

So thinking about the changes since the new President and parliament majority took power I thought I would provide a bit of a recap.

The first thing we have to do is accept the new President won fairly…….or at least any vote rigging was equally matched by the opposition……making his victory genuine…..as acknowledged by the international community.

The forming of the new majority was contrevertial but again recieved no condemnation from anyone in the international community and did not really rally any public angst in Ukraine either.

The extention of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which I am personally not in favour of, I can understand due to the immense problems with the Ukrainian economy and the gas price reduction was desperately needed to get the GDP debt to a level within the parameters of acceptability to the IMF…….and IMF resumption with regards to loans is absolutely critical.  A 9 year short term gain as far as gas prices go over a 25 year long term pay-off.

The short term gain I will concede is vital right now but how it will be viewed when recovery arrives is a different matter.

I will also concede that a large majority in Crimea are pleased with the lease extention…….but then why wouldn’t they be?  The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been in Crimea for 300 years whereas Crimea has only been part of Ukraine for 44 years.  Historical links to the RBSF are certainly far more firmly set than historical links to Ukraine.

The lack of effective and organised opposition is worrying.  Not that there is no opposition, but it is headed by Yulia Tymoshenko who is not even a Member of Parliament, is poplist to say the least and in no way can she be called a uniting figure amongst the opposition parties.

An effective opposition is necessary for a democracy.  It does not change the passing of laws or policies as of course it is the opposition.  If it had enough votes to do so it would be the majority and would force its way into power after all. 

The opposition role is to challenge government policy when it disagrees and provide an alternative policy.  Unfortunately at present, as seen in the RADA a few days ago, the Ukrainian opposition provides no alternative solutions to getting a budget the IMF could live with and acts like children in the school playground.

If they ever regain power in their current form, who will take them seriously outside of the RADA in the international community?

All well and good and it would appear I can understand, even if I do not agree with, the current parliament policies on everything……until we get to my “soap box issue” of local elections.

Two days ago the President told PACE that they will be held in 2011.  This is an absolute outrage as they are due next month.

Yet again I must concede that it was not the party of the President that submitted the motion to delay them until 2011.  That was done by a female deputy from the OU-PSD (ex-President Yushenko’s party……and opposition coaltion party with BYuT of Yulia Tymoshenko)……BUT the PoR went along with it as the majority in the RADA.

I know the arguement will be that there was no State budget until a few days ago……and the State budget could not be passed until the gas price issued had been resolved allowing for resumption of IMF assistance…….but local elections would cost no more than $50 million which is a small drop in a very big bucket of debt and would continue the democratic process in a timely fashion as laid down by the Constitution of Ukraine.

Of course there has been little noise from the opposition about this……at least yet……and this revolves around self interest first and foremost.

From an OU-PSD perspective, should they retain the 5% support they had nationally in the Presidential elections, their days in local government are over……hense it was them who submitted the motion to delay the local elections in the first place.

From a BYuT perspective, it is likely they will lose some seats to Yatensiuk and Tigipko’s respective parties in local government……and currently under the instructions of Yulia Tymoshenko, all BYuT party members are to resign their posts in local, regional or national government offices because she does not believe they can be in government and opposition at the same time……which is what you would expect from a leader who cannot be in any form of government office because she is no longer an MP……..together with regional and local politics being well beneath her……..unless there is a poplist cause to jump on of course.

None of this though, in my view, validates the delay of local and regional elections until 2011.  Quite simply there is no real excuse to do so as when drawing up the budget of $ billions, allocating a small figure of $50 million could easily have been written into the budget, even at the expense of a longer term project which could have been delayed until 2011.

It is completely wrong and unjustifyable…….unlike most of the other actions of the current government, which although I may disagree with some actions, I can see the rationale behind such actions in the short term.

I can understand from a PoR viewpoint that delaying the local elections after extending the RBSF lease allows a cooling period of public opinion……although the majority of public opinion against the extention comes from regions where the PoR have a snowballs chance in hell of winning anyway.

It maybe, however, there is a better reason to delay it and allow public opinion to cool.  That would be a more calm setting for local elections and can be used as a fairly accurate guide to an early parliamentary elections called if it seems PoR and Tigipko (in particular) would gain…….or BYuT would lose more seats to Yatseniuk with the added bonus of OU-PSD getting slaughtered and ceasing to have any political presence of note in the RADA, further weakening the BYuT opposition coalition.

That would certainly be my advice to the PoR if I was a political strategist, as if it looks grim for them, they simply do not call early parliamentary elections and soldier on until 2012 when they are due anyway…….hoping for an uplift in the economy and reduction of unemployment……subjects the vast majority of Ukrainians care far more about than the RBSF lease extention.

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IMF relations seem back on track for Ukraine

April 29, 2010

Interfax-Ukraine The parameters of the Ukrainian national budget for 2010, which were adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on April 27, were agreed with the International Monetary Fund, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Iryna Akimova told journalists in Kyiv on Tuesday.

“Last week we actively discussed the main components of the budget, as the budget’s adoption with the standards set by the International Monetary Fund was one of the major requirements [for further IMF funding]. The majority of the standards were taken into consideration, in particular, the macroeconomic indicators the budget is based on. They were discussed and agreed with the International Monetary Fund,” Akimova said.

Just so you know dear readers, amongst a sea of useless politicians in this nation, Irena Akimova is actually a quality politician, internationally educated in economics and is an exceptionally capable woman.  She is definitely the sharpest tool in the Ukrainian political toolbox from any party.

If she stood for President, I would vote for her over and above any other politician in this country.

 

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Eggs and Smoke Bombs……Getting ready for Round 2!

April 29, 2010

Well dear readers, after yesterday’s national embarrassment in the RADA orchestrated by the opposition, expect a few more similar episodes over the coming months as particularly difficult issues are dealt with……..despite President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Mevlut Cavusoglu condemning “barbaric actions” by opposition lawmakers at a session of the Ukrainian parliament on April 27. 

Errrr, yes, that would be the opposition that claims to be the “democratic forces” in Ukraine.

No less a devisive issue amongst those which must be tackled, is that of the question of langauge.

Now there is no plans to make Russian the official second language of Ukraine (despite what the western press like to relay), but there is plans to adopt laws underlining the agreements that Ukraine entered when signing and then ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages a few years ago……and under a different administration.

To most this will seem like a backdoor way of granting Russian the semi-official State language status……and it will in a way, simply due to the number of Ukrainians who prefer to speak Russian than Ukrainian.  You can absolutely guarantee the opposition will say as much…….but Russian is not the only minority language used in Ukraine even if it is more popular than Ukrainian.

The EU has an interest in seeing these domestic laws adopted also, not only to see a domestic over politicised issue carried through with regards to the ratified Charter Ukraine signed up to years ago…….but because amongst the ethnic minority languages used in Ukraine are 3 relating to EU nations……Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.  It would be fair to say Romania is taking more than a “keen interest” in this issue.

Quite how the opposition will justify any opposition to such domestic laws underpinning the international laws Ukraine has signed up to I do not know…….as the opposition not only lay claim to being the “democratic forces” in Ukraine……as witnessed by their democratic actions yesterday in the RADA……but also claim the label of being a pro-EU force as well.

It is difficult to see how they can fight this issue over Russian without appearing anti-democtratic, also anti-EU ethnic minorities and anti EU law.

If the answer is they cannot “spin their way out of it”……then they will no doubt result to egg throwing, fisty-cuffs and smoke bombs to disrupt the inevitable passing of these new laws.

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A rumble in the jungle? Standing in the crowd at the Nou Camp? No just a RADA session in Ukraine

April 28, 2010

Well dear readers, passions were of course running high yesterday in the RADA where the Ukrainian parliament was set to make two major votes.

The first regarding the ratification of the Russian Black Sea Fleet extention and the second on the adoption of the State Budget 2010……which should have been done by the last administration in 2009.

Watching proceedings unfold live on RADA TV, it was reminiscent of many things.  Smoke flares were set off inside the RADA chambers giving the feel of being a fan at the Nou Camp football stadium on a particularly improtant European football night……or standing in the cordite smelling smoke clouds of an artillery barrage on a “Fire Mission Regiment” request to 12 FH70’s.

As the smoke cleared occasionally, you could see what looked like a re-run of the”rumble in the jungle” with Mohammed Ali in various sections of the RADA chamber whislt various politicans spoke and the Speaker was protected by 3 men holding…….umbrellas……from flying eggs.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8645847.stm#id8640000/8645800/8645869]

This continued for almost an hour until the vote was actually called for when some form of normaility…….at least normality as far as other parliaments are concerned in the Western World are concerned……..namely no more smoke bombs and no more fisty-cuffs.

The vote ratified the RBSF stay with 236 voting in favour……..meaning 5 of the majority coalition either were not there to vote or voted against it.  None the less, the RBSF lease extention was ratified.

Next up, was the State Budget 2010…….very much based upon the gas deal struck against the RBSF lease extention……..and 245 MPs voted for it.

226 votes are required to pass any motion in the RADA as that provides a majority one 1.

I am not sure where the additional 9 MPs who voted for a budget based upon the finances received from the RBSF deal came from……..if they were against the RBSF extention. 

How can you vote against the lease extention of the RBSF but then vote for a State Budget written around the revenue of something you opposed?

Anyway, after these two votes, the opposition left the RADA on mass…….and all other votes obviously passed which took place thereafter……..so let’s hope there was nothing important being voted about!

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The Good, The Bad &……The rest of us

April 27, 2010

Well dear readers, it is not so often that I tell you what I do in any detail…….because it really is none of your business……..and is not the purpose of this blog.

However, here is a true tale published to make us all think about that primevil sense most of us have of right and wrong……..and doing what’s right, even when there is nothing in it for us.

As you will know from previous posts, I know “people” here in Odessa……those “people” happen to sit on both sides of the line when it comes to the law…….however both sides work together on numerous occasions……and here is such a tale.

I will not mention any names as this is a recent incident……but involves a babooshka born in 1929, the police, a prosecuter (who is one of the very few who is uncorruptable……as disliked by police and criminal alike) and the mafia…….but shows what can be done if you have access to the “right people” and are prepared to do something for someone else.

A friend of my good lady came to her and tells her a tale of woe relating to an old babooshka in Odessa who has 5 grand children.  One of the grandchildren is a Lieutenant in the Odessa police and is the only person registered at babooshka’s apartment other than babooshka.  This friend knows babooshka when from when they lived in the same apartment block years ago.

Babooshka still works, despite her age, dealing in plants and flowers, every day.

Registration at a premises here is like a will, when someone dies, those registered there inherit the apartment if the registration is permanent.

Suffice to say, the Lieutenant from the police stood to inherit her grandmothers apartment…..yes the police officer is a female.

For the past 3 months it appears she has been requesting babooshka to sign the documents to the apartment over to her…….her method of persuasion being beating to old woman half to death on a dialy basis.  It seems waiing for the old lady to die was not timely enough.  When babooshka’s daughter tried to halt what was going on she was also beaten quite severeley.  Both of course, knowing how corrupt the system is claimed to be and knowing their daughter/granddaughter was police, thought there was nothing they could do…..as they did not know “people”.

Now my good lady is a sensative soul……unless you cross her, when she is an enemy you wished you never had…….and this tale played on her mind.  It played on her mind so much that she met with the babooshka in question who was black and blue from head to toe.  When she came home it was difficult to tell whether my good woman was more upset or livid…..but I can tell when something will not be allowed to drop.

Normally in such cases she would have gone directly to the “family” to sort it out……..and she is blood relations to the “family”…….so we have “family” family…….if you get me.

However this needed a little more thought to get a permanent solution.

I called the only genuine uncorrupt prosecutor I know in Odessa who agreed to meet babooshka, her daughter and us two days later.  Babooshka stayed elsewhere for 2 nights with friends.

We arrive at the Prosecutors office at the agreed time with our blue and purple circa 1929 babooshka.  In a theatrical effort, I advised babooshka to wear all the medals she had from WWII and the USSR days as we are approaching the 65th anniversary of WWII ending, thinking it may add a little sympathy from the prosecuters office.  I needn’t have worried…….he went ballistic as soon as he saw her (as of course I had explained the circumstances to him two days before).

“Who is babooshka to you?” he asked.  “Just a babooshka” was the reply……”but she is human just like you and me.”

Babooshka was then medically examined, photographed and the tales of horror related and recorded both from her and her daughter relating to the granddaughter in the police.  We all then went outside for 20 minutes whilst a criminal case was drawn up……..and babooshka’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when the prosecuter came out to her to sign documents instead of summoning her back inside.  Nobody in authority, she thought, would help and certainly not come to her in the street to sign official documents.

We have to remember that this woman is extremely old and her reading and writing are not brilliant……..as a small matter of WWII screwed up any education she was getting.

All along she kept asking my good lady why she was helping and old and stupid woman who would soon be dead.  What ever happened to human kindness as being a good reason?

Anyway, charges were filed and the less than pleseant granddaughter was dragged from her own police station by the prosectures staff, interviewed, charged and remanded in custody that very same day……now no longer a police officer and is expecting a lengthy prison term.

All OK for babooshka to go home?  Not quite.  Apparently the next door neighbours were “unsocial” in their habbits, which of course the prosecuter could do little about…….so the “family” paid a visit and provided some………”advice”…….. about neighbourliness towards the old lady……..and despite the fact she was old and less that educated, she had “friends” who would get “very upset” if her life didn’t improve.

Today I have just been told her granddaughters registration at the apartment has been cancelled through the courts, she is still in prison and the neighbours are far more “civil”.

All’s well that ends well?  Not quite.  Babooshka now wants to pay for the help……as she says if she doesn’t pay the devil will pay……so I have charged the princely sum of a plant………as in a small green thing you put in a pot and water from time to time……and the things she spends her days toiling over at work.  

Babooshka comes to deliver one of her plants tomorrow…….saves paying the devil it seems……unless I am the devil!

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A Bridge to Nowhere……Not quite, Crimea actually.

April 26, 2010

Well dear readers, the bridge over the Kerch Strait first proposed in 1943, then thought about again in 1994…….seems likely to be built by 2014 between Crimea and Russia from what I hear today.

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