DFID accused as ‘broken spending promise’ leaves island unable to heal ‘weeping sores’ and end dependence on aid

St Helena’s paymasters in Britain have been accused by councillors of breaking their funding promises in the wake of the airport opening.

Dr Corinda Essex said that with no investment agreed for the island from January 2018, its failing facilities were becoming “weeping sores”.

Another scandal could blow up after the British government insisted on building a wharf in Rupert’s Bay that could not be used, she warned.

And money was needed for a new prison to end human rights failures, she said. Councillor Derek Thomas called the Jamestown prison “a disaster waiting to happen”.

He reported that Andrew Mitchell, who had signed off the contract to build the airport when he was international development secretary, was “livid” to see the island held back by unkept funding pledges.

The Hon. Lawson Henry said ministers were more interested in protecting officials whose blunders left the island without an air service for more than a year.

The accusations were made during a legislative council debate initiated by Dr Essex on Tuesday.

Councillors unanimously agreed to record their “grave concerns relating to the continuing absence of an agreed capital investment programme to address the essential development needs of St Helena after 1 January 2018.”

Several said they would spell out the island’s “critical” situation in a video conference due to take place later in the week with a minister at the Department for International Development (DFID).

Councillors referred several times to promises that DFID would continue to fund investment after the airport was built, to enable the island to build a tourism-based economy.

But more than one councillor said DFID now appeared to be reluctant to keep its promise – possibly because of damaging media coverage of the airport failures.

Opening the debate, Dr Essex said the situation was unacceptable. “How can St Helena be expected to develop and move forward without the capital injection to do so?

“As we look around us, the urgent need for such investment is blindingly obvious.

“We know we have a prison that is not human rights compliant. Yet when it comes to obtaining funding to build a new prison our hands are tied.”

She also cited the jetty at Rupert’s Bay – funded by DFID – which needs to be protected from rock falls before it can be fully used.

“There is a real risk the British press will be able to call the jetty a white elephant with a lot more justification than underpinned their condemnation of the airport, which caused such a sharp reaction in high places in the British government.”

Other councillors said DFID had pressured St Helena Government (SHG) into dropping its plans to improve the wharf at Jamestown, despite being warned of the problems.

St Helena facilities across the island were “inadequate and crumbling”, Dr Essex said.

Deteriorating roads could not cope with the growing traffic, and there were “critical issues” with sewerage, including the Jamestown outfall. House building was being held up because there was not enough money to put in services at the development areas.

DFID had previously advocated a “spend now to save later” policy, said Dr Essex.”It appears there is now a u-turn in their thinking.

“A number of Saints have made significant investments on which they are waiting to receive some return.

“The British government is always urging us to reduce our dependence but how can they expect us to do so without the required resources to address key issues that are becoming weeping sores, undermining sustainable development?”

The Hon. Derek Thomas said a 32-page economic strategy issued by DFID talked about global challenges but made no mention of UK overseas territories, “so you can see we are being left out.”

“Now we are being set up to fail.”

The Hon. Lawson Henry said attitudes changed when “the airport did not deliver on time” because officials did not follow consultants’ advice to conduct test flights to check the alignment of the runway.

“What DFID has done throughout the last 18 months is to protect those who were responsible for making the decisions that were not in keeping with the feasibility study,” he said.

“Everything about St Helena now has to pass what civil servants call the Daily Mail test. The publicity the Daily Mail has given to the St Helena airport has caused huge reputational damage.

“The British public is clearly upset by the publicity. They don’t want foreign aid to be spent on St Helena any more.”

He said a former minister had admitted he preferred to see money spent on his own constituents.

“We did not create this situation,” he said. “We are the victims in this case.”

He said he was convinced from his recent visit to Westminster that “the minister responsible for St Helena is not fully aware of the issues or serious infrastructure requirements that are needed on the island.”

The minister needed to visit to see for himself, he said.

  • Councillors’ video conference with DFID minister Lord Bates took place on Thursday morning. SHG said it was a private meeting and it would not be releasing details of the discussion.

 

 

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Same-sex marriage approved for St Helena: opponent calls for society to embrace the result

Marriage between same-sex couples has been approved by St Helena’s legislative council by nine votes to two – meaning weddings could take place within weeks.

Rainbow island graphic by John Turner

Rainbow island graphic by John Turner

The Honourable Cyril Leo warned of a “deep divide” on the island and said he feared a negative reaction from “homophobic elements” in society.

But he said people should embrace the outcome of democratic debate. Councillors should “make love our greatest quest,” he said.

The Hon. Kylie Hercules, supporting the Marriage Bill, said: “We are dealing with people’s lives and emotions.”

And the Hon. Christine Scipio-o’Dean said: “We cannot discriminate. We must not, and we must strive to ensure equality.”

The Hon. Anthony Green explained that an attempt to present the same bill to the previous legislative council in 2016 had faltered.

A legal challenge to the existing marriage law – passed in 1851 – was due to be heard in the Supreme Court in January 2018 and could be appealed all the way to the Privy Council in London – a process that could take years.

“This law is silent on whether marriage between two persons of the same gender is permissible,” he said.

Barristers from the UK were on standby to represent various parties.

He said that denying same-sex couples the same marriage rights as other people would breach their human rights under the St Helena Constitution.

Cyril Leo and Brian Isaac were the only councillors to vote against the bill becoming law. Dr Corinda Essex abstained.

She said she knew her view would be controversial. “I have no objection to same-sex relationships and indeed I respect them,” she said. “I know a number of people who have entered into them. I am no way homophobic in any respect.

“However I believe that can be achieved through civil partnership.”

She added: “I believe very strongly that marriage was ordained not just in the Christian faith but in all the [main] faiths of the world… [as being] between a man and a woman.”

But she said the public had now had a proper chance to express their views and understand the issue – referring to a series of consultation meetings, and two petitions for and against same-sex marriage.

She said: “The number signing the two petitions was very similar. I had a lot of people lobbying me and saying we have serious concerns about this bill being passed. I do agree that the rights of minorities are important.

“But let us not deceive ourselves that the decision we make is going to be popular whichever way it goes because it is still an extremely emotive and sensitive topic on the island.

“We do need to be aware that worldwide, attitudes are changing and moving forward and we need to be more open minded. … and put our personal views aside and consider the bigger picture.

“As a result of that I will not be opposing the bill.”

The Hon. Brian Isaac said there other issues that caused distress to people on the island and deserved to be given higher priority.

The European Court of Human Rights had already declared that civil unions fully protected the rights of same-sex couples so there was no need for same-sex marriage, he said.

And he pointed out that members of the parliament on Bermuda, another UK overseas territory, had just voted to rescind a law allowing same-sex marriage. St Helena should look to the reasons they had done that, he said.

The Hon. Cruyff Buckley said he was a Christian but supported a change in the law. “This bill ushers in a new level of respect for minority groups,” he said.

The Hon. Derek Thomas said he was one of the councillors who blocked the progress of the bill a year ago because too few members of the public had expressed a view on it. The public had now had a fair say and he saw no justification for objecting.

The Hon. Lawson Henry said the St Helena Constitution – the supreme law of any country – guaranteed protection of equal rights.

“It is simply about equality,” he said “If this house cannot uphold the constitution then why are we here today, and why do we have a constitution? This bill has never been about religion, it is about equality and protection of minority groups.”

Many members sitting round the table had supported human rights legislation, “but some of them seem not to have supported equality,” he said.

He also warned St Helena Government would face heavy costs in the courts if the bill was rejected, and the island’s reputation would be damaged.

“We are a fledgling economy that has just gone into a new form of access,” he said, referring to the opening of the island’s airport.

“People who would like to visit this island will be looking at things like this. If they feel this is an island that can’t uphold its constitution [it] will cause more damage.”

The courts could nullify the existing marriage law and criticise the legislative council because members “can’t protect minority groups under our own constitution.”

Anthony Green, closing the debate, dismissed the reference to Bermuda. “We do not follow the Bermuda constitution,” he said. “We have our own constitution.” He praised Cyril Leo’s call for people to embrace the decision.

Governor Lisa Phillips will now be asked to ratify the bill and make it law, giving people on St Helena the same rights as same-sex couples on Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and most other UK overseas territories outside the Caribbean.

Speaking later in the traditional adjournment debate, Lawson Henry said it was a great day for St Helena.

St Helena’s 2017 Marriage Bill does not compel ministers to marry same-sex couples if it conflicts with religious doctrine. It also deals with other aspects of marriage law, including allowing weddings to take place outside places of worship.

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Gay marriage rights close to becoming law on St Helena

A bill to allow same-sex marriage on St Helena was approved by the island’s executive council on 5 December 2017 – raising the possibility that gay couples could legally wed within weeks.

The same bill will allow people to have their marriages solemnised at venues such as The Castle, the governor’s residence at Plantation House and hotels.

Exco’s vote cleared the way for a new marriage law to go before the legislative council for final approval at its sitting on 15 December 2017.

The decision was made only a day before Australia legalised same-sex marriage, provoking scenes of celebration that were reported around the world.

The existing law had resulted in a challenge in court – because it apparently assumed that any marriage would be between a man and a woman, leaving it unclear whether gay couples could marry.

A new law would settle the matter without the need for a court ruling.

The issue had sharply divided opinion on St Helena, with two petitions drawing similar levels of support for and against gay marriage.

If passed, the Marriage Ordinance 2017 will allow clergy to decline to perform a marriage ceremony if it is forbidden by their branch of religion.

This is the second attempt to pass a new marriage law addressing equality. An earlier version went before the previous legislative council in December 2016 but was withdrawn during later committee discussions.

After the 2017 general election, the new social and community development committee  (SCDC) was asked to look at the matter again.

Seven public meetings were held in October and two public petitions were organised – one in favour of equal marriage, the other opposing it.

A St Helena Government statement said: “Overall, there was no clear majority view, with similar numbers expressing support for enacting the marriage bill and for enacting legislation for civil partnerships.

“The marriage bill expressly permits two people of the same gender to marry; thereby ending the uncertainty that is the subject of current court proceedings. Although that is the most conspicuous feature of the bill, it also deals with other aspects of marriage.

“The bill provides that clergy may decline to solemnise a marriage (for instance between two persons of the same gender) if such a marriage is not in accordance with the rules or customs of the relevant communion or denomination.”

If the new law is passed, rules for approving non-religious premises for civil weddings and solemnising marriages will need to be approved by the executive council.

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Airport begins to receive weekly flights

The airport on St Helena has begun to receive weekly flights from South Africa. There are hopes that this development will increase tourism on the island, and boost its economy.

Before the airport was built St Helena was only accessible via a boat journey from Africa which covered thousands of miles and took weeks to complete. This made it difficult for people to reach the island. The building of an airport on the island did not initially solve this problem, as dangerous wind conditions delayed the start of regular flights.

Now, with the introduction of weekly flights, islanders and tourists alike can more easily reach St Helena. This increased flow of visitors could provide a much-needed boost to the island’s economy.

Tourists can, among other things, go diving, visit the various sites paying homage to St Helena’s long and varied history, or experience a tour of downtown Jamestown with guide Basil George.

A recent visitor to the island was a journalist from The Associated Press, a global online news platform based in New York City.

Read the original story here.

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St Helena’s airport: a boon-what? We’re boggled…

It took a week for Donald Trump’s favourite news outlet to get round to reporting on the first commercial flight to St Helena. But when it did so, Fox News introduced an interesting new word for the airport project.

It said it was “condemned last year by British taxpayers as a boondoggle.”

Various online dictionaries define a boondoggle as an American word meaning a pointless, wasteful project. Fox News might (not) like to put that to Governor Lisa Phillips, and see if she has another good word for them.

Urbandictionary.com helpfully gives an example of the correct use of the word:

“You’re such a Boondoggle, all you like to do is drink urine while staring at the dead corpse of your grandma.”

It’s also what American boy scouts use to hold their neckerchiefs in place. British scouts call this a woggle, another term that doesn’t really describe an airport.

The Fox News piece actually offers some good insights into St Helena life and heritage, including the wrangling over whether jury trials can ever work on the island.

It opens by listing some of the quirky place names to be found on St Helena, including The Gates of Chaos (that one’s always seemed apt) and Old Woman’s Valley.

They’re a lot more sensible than “boondoggle”.

If they wanted quirky place names, why no mention of Half Tree Hollow – which isn’t hollow, and doesn’t have half a tree?

(Does anyone know how Half Tree Hollow got its name? Maybe it was the half-tree that was hollow?).

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New course offers hope for fishing industry

A new maritime training course is being created to increase the rates of young pepole entering into the fishing industry on St Helena.

This is a response to concern about the future of the industry, because not enough young people are taking up fishing to sustain it.

St Helena’s education committee received a report from St Helena Community College, which would run the course, at its meeting on 16 October 2017.

Business teacher Fraser Stone told the committee was was planning to introduce a new enterprise and marketing course through the college “in the coming weeks”.

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‘World’s most spectacular airport’ makes global news. Mostly good

The Daily Mirror headline read: ‘World’s most useless airport’ finally gets its first commercial flight – and it’s LATE.

Well, it was an irresistable line.

The paper’s report of St Helena’s first commercial flight included a nice quote from tour operator Libby Weir-Breen, who had flown specially from Scotland. “I’ve never felt so emotional in all my life,” she said.

Japan, Germany, New Zealand, America… even the UK: the story pretty much flew round the world.

And people on the island helped tell to tell it. A video of the landing, shot by Geoff Cooper from one of the public vantage points, was re-tweeted to 12 million followers of America’s ABC News.

A picture by Ed Thorpe of the Devil’s Hole Black Rocks, on a part of the island few tourists will ever see, gained international exposure from Associated Press, which told of champagne and chocolates being handed out on the island-bound flight.

The historic flight from Johannesburg made all the BBC’s national radio news bulletins.

Ed Cropley’s piece for Reuters, transmitted to news platforms and print publications worldwide, declared that the airport brought Saints “another step closer to their inclusion in the 21st century.”

Then he spoiled it a bit by saying the island got the internet only 18 months ago – though it was true that the mobile phone network went public just days after the very first aircraft flight arrived from Africa in 2015 (a bit of a nuisance for reporters at the time).

He told how Craig Yon of Into The Blue took a booking from a group of Swedish divers within minutes of them reading online that the first flight had touched down safely.

But he might have been teasing, just a little, when he quoted Craig saying, “Things are really picking up. Before, I’d only check my emails once a day. Now I have to check them in the morning and the afternoon.”

The story in The Times was written by Michael Binyon, who spent several weeks on St Helena as a media adviser and knew what to make of it all. He disclosed that the Embraer aircraft took on enough fuel at Windhoek to allow it to circle the island for two hours if wind shear presented a problem.

The Times’s headline called the flight “nerve-shredding” – but then, Michael was quite candid about feeling nervous when walking in the steeper parts of St Helena. The headline contrasted with the comment made by one American passenger quoted by Michael: “Wind shear – my ass.”

Britain’s Daily Telegraph carried a lengthy preview piece, but noted that its travel team had been able to find unsold tickets for the inaugural flight on ebookers.com at £395 one-way.

Sadly, its piece was accompanied by a picture of St Helena’s Church on the island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel: not the first time that image has featured in St Helena coverage.

The story turned up in some surprising places. DeathRattleSports.com was unusual in acknowledging the “colossal civil engineering challenge” involved in building the airport, though it didn’t convey the enormous scale of the achievement.

A write-up in Dive Magazine had some complimentary things to say about the island and its surrounding waters, especially the presence of whale sharks, following writer Mark “Crowley” Russell’s visit in early 2017. The magazine is somewhat specialised, but there could be strong interest among its readers in visiting St Helena.

Chris Morris’s opening paragraph for fortune.com might have caused a few disappointed sighs at the St Helena Tourism office.

“Ever wanted to visit the British island of St. Helena?” it ran. “Of course you haven’t. Virtually no one does. But now you can.”

Actually you always could, Chris – and lots of people did.

But then, Chris seems to have been a bit confused about the nature of islands, telling readers that St Helena “is literally in the middle of nowhere, floating in the Atlantic ocean between Brazil and the African coastline.”

Islands don’t actually float, Chris. And “literally” literally means… oh, never mind.

Emma Weaver’s well-researched preview of the flight in The Guardian says travel companies are actually showing interest in St Helena, “in a world where remoteness is seen as a luxury”.

The BBC also got muddled up about its seasons, stating that safety tests happened “in the summer”. Could the piece have been knocked out by a journalist in London who didn’t know that August is winter time in the southern hemisphere? (And this was on the BBC Africa pages!).

Bizarrely, the mistake was then repeated on the Radio New Zealand website, which apparently got it from The Guardian.

The Mail Online carried a lengthy, fact-filled piece alongside two agency reports, detailing the island’s history and attractions but also references to the amount of aid the island receives (the Daily Mail has a thing about overseas aid). Sadly, it blew up in the final few words:

“St Helena is a remote volcanic outpost covering just over 75 miles squared,” it declared.

On an island measuring ten miles by six at the widest points, that would involve a neat bit of land-reclamation, even for Basil Read. And “miles squared” is not the same as square miles: 75 miles squared is, let’s see… 75 times 75… that’s 5,625 square miles.

The website’s multi-level headline also muddled up the flight time and the length of the sea voyage to St Helena:

“The British overseas territory was previously only reachable by a six-hour boat,” it said. At that speed, no wonder the RMS has had propellor problems.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 21.59.44

The BBC said the RMS was “a ship that sailed every three weeks”. So what did it do the rest of the time?

Inevitably, many outlets recycled the “world’s most useless airport” tag, without saying who was being quoted, or where the quote came from. It started appearing in various newspapers in May this year, and keeps cropping up. A parliamentary committee report called the airport “useless”, but “world’s most useless” is a big step up.

Governor Phillips had a firm response to all that. “I’ve seen the headlines about the world’s most useless airport,” she told Reuters, “but for St. Helenians, this has already been the most useful airport. It’s priceless.”

Ed Cropley, who is Africa bureau chief for Reuters, tweeted a departing shot of the runway that bestowed an even more flattering tag: “St Helena airport, certainly world’s most spectacular airport.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 21.36.58

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BBC slideshow paints a bleak picture of a beautiful island

BBC Africa’s online slideshow on the first commercial flight to St Helena might be felt to misrepresent the island’s beauty. It opens with Gianluigi Guercia’s striking image of the aircraft wing, with the looming bulk of The Barn in the background.

A few airport shots follow, and then the piece closes with the gloomiest possible quotation from Napoleon, whose view of St Helena was hardly going to be positive:

“In this accursed island… there is neither sun nor moon to be seen for the greatest part of the year. Constant rain and fog. It is worse than Capri.”

And that’s the end of the slideshow. No jaw-dropping images of the island’s green heartland, or the spectacle of Sandy Bay, or the colonial charm of Jamestown. None of the BBC’s famous “balance”.

Many of the media reports dwelt heavily on the reasons for the long delay in opening the airport, with very little description of the island.

Mail Online and a few others carried spectacular photographs, which went some way to telling readers why they might actually want to visit.

The Travel Pulse website was one of the few to devote any words to the island’s attractions, including Napoleana, hiking, stunning landscapes and “interactions with marine life”.

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Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door

HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

SEE ALSO: 
Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

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UK recycles £290,000 on South Atlantic rubbish

Britain’s environmental bosses have been rebuked in the past for failing to engage with the UK overseas territories; now they might be criticised for doing so.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has committed £190,000 to increase paper and cardboard recycling on St Helena.

Crudely, that’s a little over £40 per Saint.

It is also spending £99,000 to bring in a waste management strategy on Ascension Island, said minister Therese Coffey in answer to a parliamentary question.

Those who have seen the rubbish tipped over the cliff at Ladder Hill Fort might see this as a good use of funds, especially given the need to tidy up St Helena in readiness for the arrival of flying tourists.

Probably best not to tell the Daily Mail, though: it has a very different idea of “waste”.

(Source: theyworkforyou.com)

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