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STRONG FINISHERS WANTED

"I am at my best nearing the finish of a race. Until then I am just another mediocre distance runner. Just one of the many run-of-the-mill competitors well back in the pack. Just one more old man trying to string together six-minute miles and not quite succeeding. But with the finish line in sight, all that changes.

Now I am the equal of anyone. I am world class. I am unbeatable. Gray-haired and balding and starting to wrinkle, but world class. Gasping and wheezing and groaning, but unbeatable." So writes Dr. George Sheehan in his book Running and Being (Simon and Schuster, 1978, p. 221).

An accomplished cardiologist, author and marathon runner, George Sheehan lived his life with passion and purpose. Even when confronted with terminal cancer in 1991, he demonstrated courage and determination.

He ran life's race and he finished strong. As the year 2015 is nearing its twilight, it's only natural to look back and reflect on the months gone by. No doubt it's been a year of mixed fortunes for most of us. We've laughed. We've cried. We've lost. We've won. And everything in between. But think back to January. You no doubt were full of optimism and enthusiasm about what the new year had in store for you. Perhaps you were even convinced that this was YOUR year to make great strides and accomplishments. Now, with December fading fast, you might be disillusioned and despondent. Few or none of your aspirations may have come true.

You are nearing the finish line of the 2015 marathon, a marathon you started with much zest and gusto in January. You started strong, but will you finish strong? As with Dr. Sheehan, the day will come for each of us to finish life's race. In 2 Timothy 4, we read how that time had come for Paul. In fewer than one hundred words, he shares with us the hardships of his present life, the heartbeat of his past, and the hope he holds for the future.

In this brief passage, Paul reflects on his entire life and ministry. He looks around, looks back and then he looks ahead. With the finish line in sight, as he picks up the pace, Paul sums up his dynamic life and his hope in death. The lessons we learn from this aging apostle will enable us to run well today, while encouraging us to finish strong tomorrow. Paul's words are dictated, probably to Luke the physician, shortly before his martyrdom at the decree of the Roman Emperor Nero in the year 66 AD.

For thirty years he has traveled, witnessed, worked and preached throughout the Mediterranean world. He has been helped and hated, assisted and attacked, blessed and cursed. Whatever else can be said of his faith and life, it certainly wasn't dull! Enduring imprisonment and anticipating his execution, Paul begins in verse 6 with two vivid metaphors telling us about the hardships of the present. First, Paul sees himself as a "drink offering" about to be poured out. What is the apostle saying? In ancient Rome, banquets commonly ended with a particular ritual: the symbolic act of pouring out on the ground a cup of wine in honor of the Roman gods. Here Paul borrows this oblation imagery.

He says that his life is an offering poured out for the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this fits with Paul's belief that all of life is to come under the Lordship of Christ. All of life is to be regarded as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" as Paul writes in Romans 12. In effect, the apostle is saying, "The Roman authorities will not take my life. Rather I will die living my life, giving my life for the Lord.

I have been a living sacrifice, serving Him, since the day I was saved. Now I will complete that sacrifice by laying down my life for the One who gave His life for me." Second, in Romans 12:6, Paul also relates that the hardships he is facing in the present will soon cease. He writes, "The time has come for my departure." The word "departure" is a word that has many meanings. For one thing, it can mean to hoist an anchor and set sail. It seems that Paul looked upon his present hardships and his impending death as a release from the world. Like a seafaring mariner, he was about to embark on one last expedition – an eternal voyage. Paul saw death as an opportunity to set sail into eternity. Another meaning for the word "departure" refers to striking and taking down a tent.

The apostle longed to be freed from his battered and broken body – his earthly tent – now shackled in prison. He anticipates his martyrdom as a change of address and a journey home. As he told the Philippian Christians, "to live is Christ, to die is gain". Paul awaits his release from his present hardships in order to depart and to be with the Lord. At the same time, Paul affirms God's sovereignty over life and death. He trusts in a personal and compassionate Savior and Lord who will not place on him a burden greater than he with the Lord will be able to bear.

Rather than wrest control from God, rather than alleviate his brief present hardship and suffering by taking his own life, Paul reaffirms his confidence in God's will and way. In this way Paul is determined to wait upon the Lord. In 2 Timothy 4:6, the apostle looks around at his present hardships. Then in 2 Timothy 3:7, Paul looks back on his life. He remembers the heartbeat of his past. For over thirty years, he has faithfully served the Lord. In this verse we find three images drawn from the athletic arena. Paul likens his life and ministry to that of a long distance runner who has competed honorably in the ancient Olympic games.

"I have fought the good fight." The word "fight" in the original text comes from a word which may refer to any athletic contest in the games. This phrase carries a much broader meaning than we commonly associate with a fight or a boxing match. The word is agon from which we derive our English word "agony." It pictures an athlete coming off the field, having given it his all and given it his best. Here Paul is truthfully saying that he has given his all for Christ. "I have run the race." Having given his best, Paul now sees himself as crossing the finish line. It is easy to begin a race.

It is easy to run hard for a few miles. But it is much harder to finish a long distance race, and harder still to finish strong. I believe that Paul is telling Timothy and each of us that the Christian life is not a sprint competition. Rather it is a long distance race, a marathon-type challenge, beckoning us to run well, to keep a healthy pace, to stay focused and to finish strong. There are too many strong starters but very few strong finishers. Too many people start with much aplomb and fanfare, but are nowhere to be seen at the finish line.

Years before Paul stated his life's purpose to the Church in Philippi, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." Here in 2 Timothy 4, Paul looks back and he is able to say "I have run the race to the finish." In both of these passages, the word for "race" is the word dromon.

It is a word that has a notable place in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Historians tell us that in the year 490 BC, a Greek dromo, a runner-messenger by the name of Pheidippides was dispatched by a Greek general to inform the citizenry of Athens that the Persians had been defeated at the Battle of Marathon. Pheidippides supposedly ran a route that took him south along the coast and up and across a series of coastal foothills before descending into Athens, a distance of about 26 miles from the plains of Marathon.

According to legend, as he arrived in Athens, Pheidippides announced, "Rejoice. We conquer!" Then he fell down dead! (see Hal Higdon, Marathon, Rodale Press, 1993). In honor of Pheidippides, the ancient Olympic games, of which the Apostle Paul was familiar, held several long distance runs. But it was the modern Olympic games, which resumed in Greece in 1896, which actually initiated the modern marathon of 26.2 miles in honor of the legendary Pheidippides. During the year 1998, figures show that approximately 450,000 American runners began and finished a marathon race of 26.2 miles.

Someone has said that the marathon is the most accessible ultimate challenge around – it is like a Mount Everest climb in a city near you! Perhaps some of you reading this have run marathons in recent years. There is a Gaborone Marathon, for example, that has run intermittently the last few years. These events are usually a blend of joy and pain, and hopefully more of the former than the latter. Still, many runners can relate to the sentiment of the great American marathoner and 1972-76 Olympic medalist Frank Shorter. While running in the marathon trials for the 1971 Pan American Games, at about 21 miles, just before dropping out of the race, Frank Shorter was really struggling. He had "hit the wall" and was fading fast.

As he was being passed by U.S. Olympian Kenny Moore, Shorter groaned one of the more famous quotes in running lore when he muttered at mile 21, "Why couldn't Pheidippides have died here?" (Higdon, Marathon, p. 😎. Although Frank Shorter and many other great marathoners have had to drop out of a particular race, the Apostle Paul never did. He stayed the course. He kept digging deep despite the temptation to quit. He saw his own life and ministry as that of a dromo, as a long distance runner and messenger for his Lord and Leader. Like Pheidippides, he had to make sure he delivers the message at all costs, even if it came at the ultimate cost – paying with his life.

Paul could claim, "I have finished the race." Then the apostle concludes his look back on his life by stating, "I have kept the faith." If we understand this statement in the context of the ancient Olympic games, Paul is telling us that he has run the race according to the rules. History reveals that the early Greek and Roman athletes took a solemn oath before the games. They pledged that they would compete honestly and honorably. Here is Paul, at the end of the race, affirming that his vows have been kept. And to whom were these vows made? To his Lord.

There are too many dishonorable men around; too many willing to cut corners; too many all too ready to try to cheat the system. I used to run middle distance, up to 10 km. I know firsthand the rigors of distance running. Paul is saying that throughout the long, lonely, difficult and demanding race, he has kept Christ uppermost in his heart and mind. His life goal for thirty years has been to be obedient to Christ's call. His faith, though tested, has grown stronger. And the Lord Jesus, in whom Paul has trusted and for whom Paul has lived, has kept and carried Paul through thick and thin. The Lord's grace is sufficient for his every need! Thus far, we have seen in verse 6 how the apostle looks around at his present hardships.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul looks back on his life, remembering the heartbeat of his past. Then finally, in 2 Timothy 4:8, the aging apostle looks ahead and writes about his hope for the future. "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." In the ancient Olympic games, a winning athlete was rewarded with the coveted laurel wreath or a garland of oak leaves. With this the victor was crowned. To wear such a crown – a crown of victory called stephanos – was the greatest honor that could come to any athlete. But this crown, in a few short days, would wither. Paul knows that there is for him a crown which would never fade, and this crown of righteousness is God's reward to those who are faithful and obedient to His Son. As Paul writes to Timothy, he knows that in a very short time he will stand before the Roman judgment seat and that his trial will have but one outcome. He knows what Nero's verdict will be.

The judges in Rome were not righteous. If they were, they would have released Paul. Worse still, Nero was one of the most despotic and cruel emperors the ancient world had ever seen. Paul knew that Nero would have him beheaded. How many times had he been tried in one court after another! Yet now he faces his last Judge, his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the righteous Judge who always judges correctly. William Barclay once observed that a person who is dedicated to Christ is ultimately indifferent to the verdict of any human court. He cares not if they condemn him so long as he hears his Master's voice saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant." This is Paul's hope and joy as his life nears its end. He looks ahead with confidence and certainty.

He shares his joy with Timothy, reminding his young friend and protégé that this crown awaits not only him, but also Timothy and all others who trust, serve and live for Christ. Consider your own life. Do you have this same kind of hope and assurance? You may feel pressed and pressured on every side.

The challenges, at times, may seem relentless. You may feel a lot like Paul must have felt. Yet, do you have the hope and assurance which he knew as his death neared? Do you have the strength and the stamina to see your race out? Whether your race has just begun, is reaching the midpoint or is nearing the finish, you can have the peace of God in your life, and you can be at peace with God. How? Do what Paul did. He confessed his sin and admitted his need for God's forgiveness. He accepted God's love and accepted God's Son, Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of his life. That is what Paul did and that is what each of us must do. Only with the Lord will we be able to run life's race to the very best of our ability, and only with the Lord will we be able to finish strong.

The story of Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic 400 meter gold medalist, is widely known through the 1981 Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. Liddell, the son of Scottish missionaries to China, himself became a missionary serving Christ in China. Like Paul, Eric Liddell was imprisoned and died for his faith and witness for Christ. Like Paul, Eric Liddell was also committed to "run for God and let the whole world stand in wonder" (a quote from Chariots of Fire, 1981). As you and I run the race set before us today and tomorrow, take time to reflect on your running. Remember Paul's words to Timothy. Realize that with the Lord, you, too, can fight the fight, run the race and keep the faith. 2015 is ending but has not yet ended. You might be on your last legs, but you can still finish whatever unfinished business you still have. Sadly, and this is a fact of life and not a prophecy of doom, some will not finish this year. None of you reading this piece is guaranteed 2016. You still have the now – 2015 – to finish. With the Lord, you can run well and finish strong!

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Opinions

Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.”

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties — ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswana’s democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogae’s assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.  This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in the Bulela Ditswe dispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswe was an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties – ruling and opposition — have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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Opinions

The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022
piracy

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumer’s piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswana’s, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they don’t imagine that their one download will do anything to the production house’s pocket or make a dent in the actors’ net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musician’s music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that “illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth”.

As Botswana’s creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africa’s respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswana’s economy are being diverted.

“Why can’t our local creative industry grow?” “Why don’t we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana?” are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswana’s local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the country’s economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, it’s imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economy’s growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artist’s music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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Opinions

Our Strength is our Unity

18th March 2022
Craig-Cloud

Putin Chose War.  We Remain United with Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador Craig L. Cloud

This is a dangerous moment for Europe and for freedom-loving people around the world.  By launching his brutal assault on the people of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has also committed an assault on the principles that uphold global peace and democracy.  But the people of Ukraine are resilient.

They’ve had a democracy for decades, and their bravery is inspiring the world.  The United States, together with our Allies and partners across the globe, will continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country.  By choosing to pay for a war instead of investing in the needs of Russians, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will be a strategic failure for the Kremlin and ravage the future of the Russian people.

When the history of this era is written, it will show that Putin’s choice to launch an unprovoked, unjust, and premeditated attack left the West more unified and Russia exponentially weaker.

United in Our Response

This will not end well for Vladimir Putin.  Together, the United States and our Allies and partners are taking action to hold Russia accountable.  As a result of unprecedented global sanctions coordination, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan, and Canada have removed selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system and imposed restrictive measures on the Russian Central Bank.

President Biden announced sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will damage Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology.  After Putin began his invasion, the ruble hit its weakest point in history, and the Russian stock market plunged.

Along with the United Kingdom and European Union, the United States imposed sanctions on the architects of this war, including Putin himself.

By moving in close coordination with a powerful coalition of Allies and partners representing more than half of the global economy, we have magnified the impact of our actions to impose maximum costs on Putin and his regime.  In response to Putin’s war of choice, we will limit Russia’s ability to do business in U.S. dollars.

We will stunt Russia’s ability to finance and grow its military.  We will impair Russia’s ability to compete in the global economy.  And we are prepared to do more.

In addition to economic penalties, this week President Biden authorized an additional $1 billion over the $350 million of security assistance he recently approved, and a $650 million in 2021, to immediately help Ukraine defend itself, bringing America’s total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year to $2 billion.

We also stand ready to defend our NATO Allies.  President Biden has coordinated with Allied governments to position thousands of additional forces in Germany and Poland as part of our commitment to NATO’s collective defense.

He authorized the deployment of ground and air forces already stationed in Europe to NATO’s eastern and southeastern flanks:  Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.  Our Allies have also added their own forces and capabilities to ensure our collective defense.  There should be no doubt about the readiness of the greatest military Alliance in the history of the world:  NATO is more united than ever.

The United States has also coordinated with major oil-producing and consuming countries to underscore our common interest in securing global energy supplies.  We are working with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices increase.

Putin’s Unprovoked and Premeditated War

This was an attack that Vladimir Putin has planned for a long time.  He methodically moved more than 150,000 troops and military equipment to Ukraine’s border.  He moved blood supplies into position and built field hospitals, demonstrating his intentions all along.

He rejected every good-faith effort by the United States and our Allies and partners to address his fabricated security concerns and to avoid needless conflict and human suffering by engaging in diplomacy and dialogue.

Putin executed his playbook exactly as we had warned he would do.  We saw Russia’s proxies increase their shelling in the Donbas.  We saw the Russian government launch cyber-operations against Ukraine.  We saw staged political theater in Moscow and heard outlandish and baseless claims made about Ukraine in an attempt to justify Russia’s aggression.

Russia continues to justify its military aggression by falsely claiming the need to stop “genocide” in Ukraine – despite there being no evidence that genocide was occurring there.  We saw Russia use these tactics before when they invaded Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008.

And then, at almost the very same moment the United Nations Security Council was meeting to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and forestall disaster, Putin launched his invasion in violation of international law.  Missiles began to rain down, striking historic cities across Ukraine.  Then came air raids, columns of tanks, and battalions of troops, all riding a renewed wave of disinformation and outright lies.

We have been transparent with the world.  We declassified our intelligence about Russia’s plans so there could be no confusion and no cover up.  Putin is the aggressor.  Putin chose this war.  And now his people will bear the consequences of his decision to invest in war rather than in them.

Transatlantic Unity and Resolve Stronger Than Ever

Putin’s goal of dividing the West has failed.  In the face of one of the most significant challenges to European security and democratic ideals since World War II, the United States and our Allies and partners have joined together in solidarity.  We have united, coordinating intensively to engage as one with Russia and Ukraine, provided assistance to Ukraine, developed a broad response, and reaffirmed our commitment to NATO.

Putin has failed to divide us.  Putin has failed to undermine our shared belief in the fundamental right of sovereign nations to choose their destiny and their allies.  And Putin will fail to erase the proud nation of Ukraine.

The next few days, weeks, and months will be incredibly difficult for the people of Ukraine.  Putin has unleashed great suffering on them.  But the Ukrainian people have known 30 years of independence, and they have repeatedly shown they will not tolerate anyone who tries to take their country backwards.

The world is watching this conflict closely, and if Russian forces commit atrocities, we will explore all international mechanisms that could be used to bring those responsible – whether members of the military or their civilian leadership – to account.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia profoundly, both economically and strategically.  The Russian people deserve better from their government than the immense cost to their future that this invasion has precipitated.

Liberty, democracy, and human dignity are forces far more powerful than fear and oppression.  In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake:  Freedom will prevail.

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