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Dr Mohammad Al-Onaizi
KUWAIT: The General Coordinator and Spokesperson for the Association of Faculty Members at Kuwait University Dr Mohammed Al-Onaizi called on the Cabinet’s COVID-19 Emergency Committee to value the importance of continuing the educational process on campus, especially for secondary and higher education stages as well as universities, in order to preserve the quality of education.
In a press statement, Dr Onaizi confirmed that the association is calling for the interest of education in Kuwait to be taken into account, especially after online education showed significant drawbacks on the educational outcomes and quality.
Dr Onaizi confirmed that the association is following up on the latest developments related to the emerging coronavirus variant (Omicron) at the local and international levels, indicating that most countries around the world have not taken steps to return to online education.
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By Ahmad Jabr
KUWAIT: Kuwait reported 2,820 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, setting a new record in daily infections for the fourth straight day as the country battles a new wave of the disease. Meanwhile, health authorities reported two new deaths yesterday after recording two days of zero mortalities, and the first time to register more than one death in a single day in months. The last time Kuwait registered two deaths in one day was on September 14, 2021.
On the other hand, the number of patients in ICUs remained at 12 as of yesterday, while the number of patients hospitalized increased from 66 to 87. Total active cases also jumped to 15,140 yesterday from 12,635 the previous day. The percentage of daily new cases to new tests increased from 7.5 percent to 9.1 percent, while the percentage of recovery reached 96 percent, according to the health ministry’s bulletin. The health ministry has announced 313 new recoveries yesterday, up from 247 the previous day.
Daily cases in Kuwait have been on an upward trajectory since Wednesday when the country announced 2,246 new cases; setting a new record and the first time that daily cases crossed the 2,000 threshold since the start of the pandemic. Health authorities reported 2,413 and 2,645 cases on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Following this trend, Kuwait could break the 3,000 mark as early as today.
However, the relatively low number of deaths and hospital occupancy in the current wave caused by the Omicron variant of COVID-19, compared to previous waves, gives reason for optimism. At the time when the previous daily record was registered at 1,993 on July 6, 2021, there were 310 patients in intensive care units, 1,150 patients in hospital, as well as 18,600 active cases. Meanwhile, health authorities had reported 20 deaths on that day.
In the meantime, the high level of vaccination in Kuwait also drives hops of overcoming the current wave despite the rise in daily infections. Latest health ministry statistics show that 522,754 people have received booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of yesterday afternoon. Meanwhile, 3,227,817 people are fully vaccinated (82.3 percent of the targeted category) and 3,343,768 have received the first dose (85.3 percent of the targeted people), according to statistics posted on the health ministry’s website.
Kuwait’s Health Ministry Spokesman Dr Abdullah Al-Sanad had said on Friday that the drop in daily cases of infection with the Omicron variant in South Africa before a new wave of deaths’ increase is a positive indication. “In previous waves, we noticed that the wave would start with an increase in infection rates, followed by an increase in hospital occupancy and deaths,” he said in a televised statement. “What is happening now in South Africa is a drop in cases before the emergence of a deaths’ wave, which gives us a glimmer of hope, but with caution.”
This comes as the Cabinet prepares to discuss several recommendations from health authorities during a meeting this week. Kuwait’s Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs and Ministry of Justice have already re-imposed coronavirus curbs due to the recent rapid surge infections caused by the ultra-transmittable Omicron variant. Mosques around Kuwait followed ministry instructions on Friday, requiring worshippers to observe distancing rules, wear facemasks, bring their own prayer mats and avoid direct contact with others. The ministry instructed mosque officials to keep mosque doors and windows open during sermons and prayer times. It also announced a time-cap of 15 minutes to the Friday prayer’s sermon.
In the same vein, the Ministry of Justice re-imposed social distancing rules during marriage contract-writing ceremonies as of today, during that that only six people could attend such a ceremony. Last week, the Cabinet announced banning all kinds of public gatherings in closed places as of today and until February 28 following the spike in the number of infections in the country.
Head of the Center for Government Communication (CGC) Tareq Al-Mezrem had said on Thursday that the COVID-19 Ministerial Emergency Committee forwarded its recommendations and proposals to be included in the Cabinet’s upcoming meeting’s agenda. He did not mention the nature of the recommendations or whether introducing new restrictions will be on the table of discussion, however.
During a meeting in Seif Palace chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al-Ali Al-Sabah, the emergency committee focused on the pandemic’s development locally and how health measures were implemented to curb the rapid number of COVID-19 cases, the government’s spokesman said in a statement. Health and educational officials updated the committee of the latest happenings in their fields, revealed Mezrem, noting that all proposals were forwarded to the Cabinet’s next meeting for discussion and decisions.
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KUWAIT: His Highness the Crown Prince’s annual camel racing festival, held under the patronage of His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, came to a close yesterday as the camel owned by Nawaf Al-Dousary won the trophy. The camels owned by Hussein Al-Dawwas and Saleh Al-Ajmi came second and third respectively in the 8-kilometer race.
Representative of His Highness the Crown Prince, Governor of Hawalli Ali Al-Asfar expressed his pride for representing His Highness the Crown Prince at this big event. He told reporters that His Highness the Crown Prince’s patronage of this festival embodies the political leadership’s interest in backing these heritage sports activities.
After honoring the winners, Asfar lauded the outstanding organization of the event and congratulated the winning camels’ owners. Meanwhile, Kuwait Camel Race Club’s Chairman Hussein Al-Dawwas extolled His Highness the Crown Prince’s sponsorship of the festival. – KUNA
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KUWAIT: The State of Kuwait, via its various associations, has pursued relief and humanitarian aid to people suffering from deprivation of basic needs in Yemen as part of the ‘Kuwait by Your Side’ campaign, which has been ongoing for seven years.
The Kuwaiti Humanitarian Relief Society overhauled and furnished two high-level schools in the Yemeni city of Taiz; the first such venture by the association this year in the war-stricken country, as part of the campaign. The Yemeni Al-Hekma Society that executed the project said in a statement that it had inked two agreements to maintain and repair buildings of ‘Muadh bin Jabal School’ in Taiz and ‘Martyr Ahmad Mahmoud School’ in the district of Al-Misrakh in the south of Taiz Governorate.
Kuwait built the two schools many years ago. With time, they needed repair and renovation. Al-Hekma Society indicated in the statement that the two schools were equipped with solar energy systems in addition to various equipment and furniture. The Kuwaiti Humanitarian Relief Society launched, last year, 28 educational projects in several Yemeni provinces, including furnishing and maintenance, in addition to granting financial allotments for 100 teachers serving at schools on the island of Socotra — sufficient for a year of work.
Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti Al-Najat Charity distributed winter clothes to 400 relocated families, settling at a camp in Maarib Governorate, also in line with the campaign. Mohammad Al-Saeedi, an official in charge of the relocated camps in Maarib, lauded the substantial Kuwaiti humanitarian assistance for the displaced, who have lost their houses due to the fighting and violence.
Humanitarian needs of the displaced Yemenis have drastically increased due to the military escalation witnessed in Maarib since months ago, he said. A large number of civilians escaped their homes in beleaguered Maarib, seeking shelter in relatively safer areas in Yemen. Some have already been relocated twice as arenas of fighting widens.
Ihab Al-Dabbous, the chairman ‘Fahaheel Alms Committee’, an affiliate of Al-Najat Charity, indicated in the meantime that the aid benefited 396 families settling at the shanty towns in Maarib. Mohammad Al-Senab, the director of the local bureau of ‘Yanabee Al-Khair in Maarib’ society, executor of the relief project for the relocated, said that hundreds of people who lost their homes were in dire need for support, namely dwelling, food and water. – KUNA
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MELBOURNE: Australian border agents held tennis superstar Novak Djokovic for eight hours at Melbourne airport, mostly incommunicado, before cancelling his visa and sending him to a detention centre, his lawyers said yesterday. Djokovic secured a Covid-19 vaccine exemption from Tennis Australia and the Australian government because he had tested positive for the virus in December, which should have qualified him for entry, the lawyers argued.
“The date of the first positive Covid PCR test was recorded on 16 December 2021,” his legal team said in a 32-page submission ahead of a federal court hearing Monday to appeal the visa decision. Djokovic, who touched down in Melbourne on Wednesday night after a 25-hour trip via Dubai, had asked for a time to rest and consult his lawyers the following morning, his lawyers said. But after a border official initially agreed, his superiors successfully pressured Djokovic to allow them to take an immediate decision on his visa, the lawyers said.
Foreigners are still mostly banned from travel to Australia, and those granted entry must be fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption. The tennis star has been held since Thursday morning in a Melbourne detention centre “notwithstanding his requests to be moved” to another facility to train for the Australian Open, they added.
Although Djokovic has won a legal reprieve from deportation, it is unclear whether he will play in the January 17-30 tournament. If successful, he will be gunning for a 10th Australian Open crown and a record 21st Grand Slam title-a milestone that Spanish great Rafael Nadal is also chasing. In an internal video leaked yesterday, Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said his organization had done “everything they possibly could”.
“There is a lot… of blaming going on but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job,” he said in a video published by the Sunday Herald Sun newspaper. A second tennis player who was headed to the tournament-Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova-had her visa cancelled after initially being allowed into the country, her government has confirmed. She was also placed in the Melbourne centre, and is widely believed to have left the facility yesterday. AFP photo and video images showed a woman who appeared to be Voracova in a vehicle leaving the centre.
“They bring me food and there’s a guard in the corridor… I feel a bit like in prison,” 38-year-old Voracova told Czech media before her departure. Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine sceptic, thanked fans for their support on Instagram. “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” the 34-year-old nine-time Australian Open champion said. More than 100 fans and anti-vaccine protesters, who were banging drums and chanting “Novak”, rallied outside the Melbourne immigration holding facility yesterday.
‘Making a stand’
At an anti-vaccine rally attended by hundreds of people in another part of the city, some voiced support for Djokovic. “I don’t want to see my grandchildren vaccinated,” said Margaret Beacham, a 67-year-old former primary school teacher. “Novak is making a stand and it’s a worldwide opportunity for him to say something about vaccination status and how ridiculous it is.” As much of the country tightened restrictions to battle an Omicron-fuelled wave, the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, posted a daily record of 51,356 cases yesterday.
The centre holding Djokovic, previously the Park Hotel and officially known as an “alternative place of detention”, houses about 32 migrants trapped in Australia’s hardline immigration system-some for years. Detainees cannot leave the hotel and nobody is allowed in or out except staff. The five-storey centre gained notoriety last year when a fire forced migrants to be evacuated, and maggots were allegedly found in the food. Djokovic’s family have said the hotel is “dirty”.
Australian star Nick Kyrgios, who has feuded with Djokovic in the past, praised him in a news conference yesterday. “If he’s allowed to play the Australian Open, I don’t want any bar of him. I reckon he’s going to be pissed off,” Kyrgios said in Sydney ahead of a warm-up tournament before the Australian Open. “You don’t become a great champion like that without being able to overcome some adversity like this.
‘Rules are rules’
Djokovic’s detention has sparked international scrutiny, with the Serbian government demanding explanations. “Djokovic is not a criminal, terrorist or illegal migrant, but was treated that way by the Australian authorities which causes an understandable indignation of his fans and citizens of Serbia,” a foreign ministry statement said. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended revoking Djokovic’s visa. “Rules are rules and there are no special cases,” he said. Judge Anthony Kelly warned the star’s lawyers in a hearing Thursday that justice would move at its own pace through all necessary appeals. “The tail won’t be wagging the dog here,” he said.- AFP
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MELBOURNE: Naomi Osaka pulled out of a warm-up tournament for the Australian Open yesterday, saying her “body got a shock” after playing her first matches for four months, opening the Melbourne Summer Set title door to Simona Halep. Osaka, the reigning Australian Open champion, hit the court this week for the first time since her tearful early exit at the US Open, after which she took a long break to deal with personal matters.
In Melbourne, she played three matches in quick succession and they took a toll. She withdrew before the start of her semi-final on Rod Laver Arena against Russian Veronika Kudermetova. “Unfortunately I have an abdominal injury which I need to rest and prepare for the #AusOpen,” the Japanese superstar and top seed said in a statement released by the Australian Open on Twitter.
Osaka, who has fallen to 13 in the rankings, added on her own Twitter feed that it had been a tough return and she didn’t want to push too hard with the opening Grand Slam of the year starting on January 17. “Sad to withdraw due to injury from my match today, my body got a shock from playing back to back intense matches after the break I took,” she said. “Thank you for all the love this past week I’ll try to rest up and I’ll see you soon.”
The four-time Grand Slam champion had beaten France’s 61st-ranked veteran Alize Cornet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in her first match back on Tuesday. She then demolished Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska 6-1, 6-1 before blasting past Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 6-1, 7-5 to make the semi-finals. Her withdrawal sent Kudermetova into the final with a walkover where she will meet Halep, who crushed Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2. The win ensured the Romanian, whose season was plagued by injury last year, reached a WTA singles final for the 13th straight season.
“I’m really happy that I can play the final for the first tournament of the year. I’m feeling good, and I’m happy with the way I played,” said the two-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one. “Last year definitely was the worst year that I ever had. The toughest mentally also. “But I want to forget about that. I just want to get the feeling from now. I am positive. I am feeling fit on court. I’m moving well. I’m playing good.”
Halep missed Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the Olympics last year with a calf injury and ended her season early due to a knee issue, which culminated in her ranking slumping to 20. There are two simultaneous WTA events being run as part of the Melbourne Summer Set in the lead-up to this month’s Australian Open.
In the other tournament, American Amanda Anisimova swept past 26th-ranked Russian Daria Kasatkina to zero in on her second WTA title, racing through the semi-final 6-2, 6-0. The 56-minute thrashing at Rod Laver Arena set up a final against Belarus’ Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who beat American young gun Ann Li 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-3.
Anisimova, 20, had lost her last 14 matches against top-30 players, but was too hot for third seed Kasatkina, converting seven of 11 break points while dominating on her serve.- AFP
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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan’s strongman leader has ordered experts to find a way to finally extinguish a massive five-decade old fire in a giant natural gas crater in the Central Asian country, dubbed the “Gateway to Hell”. Citing environmental and economic concerns, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov appeared on state television yesterday telling officials to put out the flames at the Darvaza gas crater in the middle of the vast Karakum desert.
In 2010, Berdymukhamedov also ordered experts to find a way to put out the flames that have been burning ever since a Soviet drilling operation went awry in 1971. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said that the man-made crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby”. “We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people,” he said in televised remarks. Berdymukhamedov instructed officials to “find a solution to extinguish the fire”.
The crater was created in 1971 during a Soviet drilling accident that hit a gas cavern, causing the drilling rig to fall in and the earth to collapse underneath it. To prevent the dangerous fumes from spreading, the Soviets decided to burn off the gas by setting it on fire. The pit has been ablaze ever since and previous attempts to put it out have been unsuccessful. The resulting crater – 70 m wide and 20 m deep – is a popular tourist attraction in the ex-Soviet country. In 2018, the president officially renamed it to the “Shining of Karakum”. – AFP
DUBAI: Employees and schoolchildren juggled work and studies with weekly Muslim prayers on the first ever working Friday in the United Arab Emirates as the Gulf country formally switched to a Saturday-Sunday weekend. Some grumbled at the change and businesses were split, with many moving to the Western-style weekend but other private firms sticking with Fridays and Saturdays, as in other Gulf states.
The weekly day of prayer has always been a free day in the UAE, which had previously observed a Thursday-Friday weekend until 2006. However, mosques appeared busy as worshippers carrying prayer mats arrived as usual, before many of them later headed back to the office. “I’d rather take (Friday) off,” said 22-year-old Briton Rachel King, who works in the hospitality industry and has been living in Dubai for six months. “That is what we all know and love, having a Friday off and going to certain places that are open and we could do things. But now it is going to be Saturday.”
The UAE made the surprise announcement of the weekend switch for the public sector in December as it grapples with rising competition in international business from other Gulf countries. Government bodies and schools will operate four-and-a-half-days per week, closing at 12 pm on Fridays for a fixed prayer time of 1:15 pm, whereas the Muslim prayer schedule usually depends on the position of the sun.
Out of 195 businesses polled by human resources consultancy Mercer, only 23 percent were preparing to follow the four-and-a-half-day week, but more than half would switch to Saturday-Sunday weekends. “Luckily I have the same days off as my kids, but that’s not the case for my husband,” said Fati, who works in an international distribution company, asking not to give her full name. “He works for a multinational that hasn’t changed its schedule for the moment. I hope they will do it quickly, otherwise our family life will be ruined.”
Nearly a third of companies are worried about the impact of being out of sync with other countries in the region, the Mercer poll found. “We work a lot with Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Rana, an employee of an events company who said some of her teams would have to work on Sundays. Dubai’s financial district was unusually quiet on Friday with large numbers working remotely, especially at a time of rising COVID levels when many children are also doing online schooling.
“Today is the first working Friday, it feels a bit weird,” said Ahmad Bilbisi, 34, a banking employee. “It makes sense to me, at least for the banking industry. We are now working on the same day as everyone else in the world.” The new arrangement was a major talking point on social media, with one Twitter user complaining “it just feels so wrong”. “My body and mind have fully acclimatized to having Fridays off. I think today is going to a long hard struggle,” the tweet reads. Sharjah, an emirate neighboring Dubai, has found a simple solution: Mandating Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a three-day weekend. – AFP
WASHINGTON: Three white men convicted of murdering African American jogger Ahmaud Arbery after chasing him in their pickup trucks were sentenced to life in prison Friday in a case that highlighted US tensions over racial justice. Travis McMichael, 35, and his father Gregory McMichael, 66, were sentenced to life without parole, while their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, who had a less-direct role in the murder and cooperated with investigators, was given life with the possibility of parole.
The three were convicted in November of multiple counts of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing down 25-year-old Arbery on Feb 23, 2020 as he ran through their Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, in the southern US state of Georgia. Pronouncing the sentence, Georgia Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley called the murder “a tragedy on many, many levels”.
Weighing the verdict, Walmsley said he kept thinking of “the terror of the young man running through Satilla Shores”. “He left his home apparently to go for a run and he ended up running for his life,” Walmsley said. “He was killed because individuals here in this courtroom took the law into their own hands.”
The Arbery case had added to a burst of nationwide anger and protests in 2020 over police killings and mistreatment of African Americans, sparked initially by the death in May that year of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In June last year Derek Chauvin, the police officer who was filmed pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for murder. Three other now-former police officers who were at the scene will stand trial in March on charges of complicity in the homicide.
Before the sentencing, members of Arbery’s family asked the court to give the three the harshest possible penalty. “They each have no remorse and do not deserve any leniency,” said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. “This wasn’t a case of mistaken identity… They chose to target my son because they didn’t want him in their community.” “The man who killed my son has sat in this courtroom every single day next to his father. I’ll never get that chance to sit next to my son ever again, not at a dinner table, not at a holiday and not at a wedding,” said his father Marcus Arbery.
Graphic cellphone video taken by Bryan showed the armed men following Arbery in their trucks for about five minutes, suspecting with no evidence that he might have been a burglar. Arbery repeatedly tried to avoid them, but was blocked by the trucks and then shot and killed by Travis McMichael. The men claimed they were trying to make a “citizens’ arrest,” which was legal in Georgia at the time.
But a mostly white jury rejected that argument. Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski called their actions “vigilantism”. “Vigilantism always goes wrong,” she said Friday. Speaking outside the courthouse after the sentences were pronounced, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents members of Arbery’s family, said the case would not have been prosecuted without sustained pressure from the community. “Think about all the black people who have been lynched in the history of America, and Georgia, who never got their day in court,” he said.
The investigation into the original incident was stalled by local law enforcement for three months until the video was leaked, sparking national outrage. A local prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, has been indicted for violating her oath of office and allegedly hindering the investigation into Arbery’s death. The sentencing does not end the case, however. Besides the possibility of appealing the Georgia state case, the three men are also facing federal charges of civil rights violations in their pursuit and murder of Arbery. – AFP
ISLAMABAD: At least 21 people died in an enormous traffic jam caused by tens of thousands of visitors thronging a Pakistani hill town to see unusually heavy snowfall, authorities said Saturday. Police reported that at least eight people had frozen to death in their cars, while it was not immediately clear if others had died from asphyxiation after inhaling exhaust fumes in snow-bound vehicles.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid said the military had mobilized to clear roads and rescue thousands still trapped near Murree, around 70 km northeast of the capital, Islamabad. Video shared on social media showed cars packed bumper-to-bumper, with one-meter-high piles of snow on their roofs. “The heavy snowfall caused a traffic jam and the closure of roads,” Babar Khan, a tourist who was stranded for hours, told AFP by phone. “Roads were also closed due to falling trees in many places.”
The website of Pakistan’s National Weather Forecasting Centre said heavy snowfall was expected in the area until Sunday afternoon, while Information Minister Fawad Chaudry said “decades” of weather records had been broken in the last 48 hours. For days, Pakistan’s social media has been full of pictures and videos of people playing in the snow around Murree, a picturesque resort town built by the British in the 19th century as a sanatorium for its colonial troops.
The Punjab province chief minister’s office said the surroundings had been declared a “disaster area” and urged people to stay away. Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was shocked and upset at the tragedy. “Unprecedented snowfall & rush of ppl proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district admin unprepared,” he tweeted. “Have ordered inquiry & putting in place strong regulation to ensure prevention of such tragedies.”
Authorities warned last weekend that too many vehicles were trying to enter Murree, but that failed to discourage hordes of daytrippers from the capital. “It’s not only the tourists, but the local population is also facing severe problems,” Usman Abbasi, another stranded visitor, told AFP. “Gas cylinders have run out and drinking water is not available in most areas – it’s either frozen or the water pipes have been damaged due to severe cold.”
He said hotels were running out of food, and mobile phone services were patchy. “People are facing a terrible situation.” The town of around 30,000, at an altitude of 2,300 m, clings to the sides of steep hills and valleys and is serviced by narrow roads that are frequently clogged even in good weather. Sheikh Rashid said residents had sheltered people trapped in the town and provided blankets and food to those they could reach on the outskirts.
Authorities said schools and government buildings had taken in those who could make it to the town from the clogged roads. Helicopters were also on standby for when the weather cleared. Rescue 1122, Pakistan’s emergency service, released a list naming 21 people it said had been confirmed dead. It included a policeman, his wife and their six children. Hasaan Khawar, a spokesman for the Punjab government, said they had frozen to death inside their snow-covered car. Rescue 1122 said another family, of five, was also among the dead. – AFP
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