Rishi Sunak’s flying visit to COP28 – POLITICO

Rishi Sunak’s flying visit to COP28 – POLITICO

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BREAKING THIS MORNING: Israel’s military announced an end to its truce with Hamas, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the militant group did not agree to release further hostages and attacked Israel with rockets this morning, violating the cease-fire. Hamas-affiliated media earlier reported gunfire in the north of the Gaza Strip shortly before the cease-fire was due to expire. Airstrikes have hit southern Gaza, with the Israel Defense Forces saying jets “are currently striking Hamas targets.” The BBC has a liveblog.

Good Friday morning. This is Dan Bloom.

DRIVING THE DAY

COP … OUT: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has arrived at a “human-centric city of the future” in the Arabian desert for his big day at the COP28 climate summit. Well, most of a day.

Blink and you’ll miss it: Sunak’s 11-hour trip to Dubai is shorter than that of King Charles III, Labour leader Keir Starmer, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Spain’s Pedro Sánchez, my colleague Charlie Cooper (who was on the PM’s red-eye flight) writes. Sunak will subdivide his limited time further by talking to leaders about Israel and Gaza.

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GAZA REACTION: Speaking to broadcasters after landing in Dubai, the PM said that he would issue renewed calls for “sustained humanitarian pauses” in Gaza as it emerged fighting has resumed there. “Obviously this is news that has just broken in the past few minutes so I need to get into the detail of it. It wouldn’t be right to speculate so early,” Sunak said. “But I am having meetings with leaders from around the region in a matter of hours to discuss the situation.”

On climate protests: Sunak also gave broadcasters his first response to Thursday’s climate protest outside his house saying “there are people who think we should get to net zero without any regard to the cost on ordinary families. I don’t think that’s right.”

COP WHIRLWIND: The PM’s pool clip should go live any minute. Then he … should be taking part in a family photo about now … listens to Charles’ big speech opening the conference at 8 a.m. … holds meetings with leaders in the region, line-up TBC … stages a short press conference just before lunch … chats to Vietnam about their Just Energy Transition Partnership … and is up and away before teatime.

Brisk: Sunak is also scheduled to give a short leader’s speech to the main hall. COP’s itinerary lists him around 2 p.m. but the details were still moving overnight.

FOUR AMIGOS: In a quadruple act with Foreign Secretary David Cameron, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho and that other British politician — Charles someone? — the PM will call for an “era of action” … while fending off claims that “maxing out” North Sea oil and gas and delaying electric car targets is putting that action at risk.

Rishi’s wishy: No. 10 said the PM will focus on three areas, “forests, finance and energy transition,” to get the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C back on track. Downing Street’s decision to single out China for criticism makes page 1 of the Times.

But but but … Not in recent memory has a U.K. PM flown into a COP summit with his own country’s climate credentials so maligned, at least by some. Ex-Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith has just used Sunak’s arrival to tell Sky News Britain’s “standing has diminished considerably” on this and allies don’t see us as a “reliable or serious partner.”

NOT BOTHERED: Sunak was in a relaxed mood as he faced the press pack on the plane. Wearing gray knitwear and Adidas trainers, he said he would “walk around very proudly” at COP … reeled off previous climate achievements … and stressed his love of nature, telling reporters excitable things like “you should go and look at the Woodland Trust website.” The now-customary plane huddle pic via PA’s Stefan Rousseau is here.

Speaking of the press pack: The visit is so short, they’re getting all the horrors of a foreign trip (sleep deprivation, overwork, sugar lows) without any perks. Some were even due to leave their bags on the plane, like when the bus does a quick stop on a school trip.

FIRST THING TO WATCH: Whether the U.K.’s commitment to “phase out unabated fossil fuels” will hold until the end of the two-week summit — or blend into a softer “phase down” favored by the big oil producers, which my colleagues think is pretty likely. Sunak told hacks: “I’m not going to get into a pre-emption of all these negotiations.”

SECOND THING TO WATCH: How Sunak’s “pragmatic” approach that doesn’t “burden ordinary people” — instead of all-guns-blazing pleas to save the planet, like U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres — will go down with fellow leaders. Not to mention King Charles, whose speech was vetted by Downing Street. Can you *really* imagine the green monarch using that line?

Surely he won’t: It looks like Charles will do the big picture heartstrings stuff, given he’s due to say: “I pray with all my heart that COP28 will be a critical turning point towards genuine transformational action.” He’ll tell leaders: “The hope of the world rests on the decisions you must take.”

Don’t expect the king to talk about this either: It’s probably best if no one shows him the front pages of today’s papers.

A DEAL IN THE DESERT: Downing Street says the U.K. will commit another £888 million to international climate finance projects that wasn’t already part of £11.6 billion pledged over five years. It includes £40 million for a “loss and damage” fund for worst-hit regions that was agreed on Thursday. ActionAid isn’t happy though, telling the Guardian splash the latter is “derisory.”

They agree: The Independent splashes a concept front saying 2023 is now the hottest year on record, with the words “What on earth are they all waiting for?” 

LABOUR’S THREE AMIGOS: Labour leader Keir Starmer is in Dubai too and trying to outflank Sunak’s efforts, with Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy and Shadow Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband.

Starmer’s day: Starmer joins investors including Lloyds and Siemens for a roundtable at 11 a.m. U.K. time … records a pool clip around 1.30 p.m. … and meets leaders including the PMs of Barbados and Iceland, and the king of Jordan.

Keir’s frontier: The party wants to tie COP into its overtures to business, claiming it would “set the agenda on green finance.” An overnight release repeated previous pledges like making FTSE 100 firms publish their carbon footprint.

Money -> trees: No doubt he’ll talk about what that £28 billion a year, funded by borrowing and used by the Conservatives as a big stick to beat Labour with, will buy.

Speaking of which: There’s been much coverage of “will the £28 billion happen” (Labour insist it will, but it’s been watered down to only hit that level later in the decade). But what about another question — how many different pledges will end up being squished into the envelope? 

Some examples: The IFS already says £8 billion of the 28 is existing government spending … and the rest includes an £8 billion National Wealth Fund for steel, cars and hydrogen, insulating 19 million homes in a decade, quadrupling offshore wind … the list goes on. Big projects could chew up a sum like that quite quickly. But as ever we’re a little in the dark — Labour is holding back further promises until it can sit down with the books.

WHILE HE’S HERE: Will anyone in the UAE — hack or ruling royal — ask Sunak about the UAE-backed bid to take control of the Telegraph? The government issued a hotly awaited Public Interest Intervention Notice on Thursday night, airing concerns the deal “could affect the free expression of opinion and accurate presentation of news.” A journalist asked the PM on the plane but he wouldn’t bite.

So what will it do? The PIIN refers the takeover to the Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom, which each have until January 26 to investigate. The Mail (whose owner had a rival bid) says if serious issues crop up it could drag out for a further six months.

One point: This only stops UAE-backed Redbird IMI taking control of the titles (for now). It doesn’t stop Redbird helping the Barclay family pay off their £1.2 billion debt, taking the Telegraph out of receivership — which was the first step towards the takeover.

Another point: The PIIN isn’t about the Spectator, which remains under a cloud. 

They can explain it better than me: The Telegraph — and you’ve got to hand it to them, covering your own takeover bid properly isn’t the norm — fills the gaps left by DCMS legalese with a good explainer of exactly what’s going on. It also has a stern op-ed voicing doubts.

EYES EMOJI: Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, who has acted as a middleman in the Telegraph saga, was spotted at Thursday night’s COP28 royal reception in Dubai, my colleague Suzanne Lynch emails to say. Other attendees included media mogul Mike Bloomberg, Tory peer Zac Goldsmith and the king

SHOULD’VE GONE IN THE MOTORHOME: Never mind Sunak, Cameron and Charles taking separate jets. The Telegraph has had a pop at former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s 112,474 air miles in seven years.

PANDEMIC DIARIES

HANCOCK’S ZERO HOUR: Matt Hancock is back at the COVID Inquiry from 10 a.m. Sure, the ex-health secretary can convince himself to be happy about anything. But he’s probably looking at this morning’s papers with some relief. After weeks of merciless slights on his character and honesty, he at least has his side of the story — even if not everyone is convinced.

Hancock the hero: The Times splashes on Hancock saying “with hindsight” Britain should have locked down three weeks earlier to save “many, many lives,” which dominates the Mail spread too. The Times spread goes in on him turning the focus back onto Dominic Cummings’ “culture of fear” in No. 10. His warning that Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme was fueling cases also gets widely picked up.

Hancock the villain: The Mirror spread is headlined “ring of untruth,” on Hancock’s admission that his “protective ring” around care homes was … as it was so delicately put … not an unbroken circle. UNISON claimed he “continues to shirk responsibility for the many lives lost on his pandemic watch.” (More from Playbook PM.)

Sketchwriters’ Christmas: The Critic’s Rob Hutton compares Hancock’s desperation to Ross from Friends … The Times’ Tom Peck says “he was lowered into his own untruths as if they were a sewer of rats” … and the Telegraph’s Madeleine Grant coins the phrase “the empty-domed head of Britain’s anti-Profumo.” It’s not all bad; at least the Mail’s Quentin Letts is pretty forgiving of the “tough little scrapper.”

This sums it up: The Times’ Chris Smyth writes: “Perhaps the clearest illustration of the problem is that so many of those who guided Britain’s response to Covid have devoted so much time to insisting that others running the country were lying.”

Further reading: Times Science Editor Tom Whipple has an interesting analysis of how the U.K.’s 2011 pandemic plan simply wasn’t realistic — as it assumed up to 315,000 deaths, without factoring in how we’d change behavior to stop ourselves dying.

EARS BURNING: An NHS doctor who fought to release pandemic preparedness documents decided to ask the Department of Health what officials were saying about him behind his back. Moosa Qureshi was told it would take *checks notes* a year-and-a-half to collate it. OpenDemocracy has more.

LABOUR LAND

SCOOP — READY FOR POWER? Labour is slowly ramping up its preparations for government after a new “unit” started work in party HQ, insiders tell your author and my colleague Aggie Chambre. It’s trawling through policies line-by-line to “bombproof” them for the manifesto. Chief of Staff Sue Gray has started meeting shadow ministerial teams in recent weeks for similar reasons … and ex-Labour aide Matt Lavender tells Aggie there are meetings about how to dress.

… JUST NOT YET: Where are those “access talks” with the civil service? Senior Labour figures tell your author they no longer expect them to start before Christmas — despite talk of a May election — because the party’s not ready.“We’d be f*cked if there was an election tomorrow,” says one. A more measured official says policies are due for completion by about February, and “we really want to be ready and not caught out.”

Another theory: The opposition’s formal request for talks often comes after a tap on the shoulder from Whitehall. The Times reported last Saturday that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case suggested giving the nod for talks to begin before his medical leave … but was rebuffed. No. 10 has denied talks were blocked.

INSIDE THE ROOM: This is all part of a dive by your author and Aggie into what access talks are really like — airing in this piece and a new Westminster Insider podcast chock-full of anecdotes.

Dogfight! Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s pre-2010 talks with the Home Office were so frosty, they resembled “a bull mastiff and my husky in the park,” says Nick Boles, who headed the Tory implementation team. It was like there was a “pheromone in the air.”

False dawn: Jeremy Corbyn’s Policy Director Andrew Fisher recalls 2017 talks felt like “measuring the curtains” after Labour shot up in the polls — including one session at 9 a.m. on polling day. They even included “where people would want to be based and sit” in Downing Street. All for naught.

Peak Sir Humphrey: Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell remembers his reaction when David Cameron brought up cutting net migration to tens of thousands. “You have to use your eyebrows,” he says, “to give the impression this is going to be very hard.”

IN MEMORIAM: Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said Alistair Darling (tributes via Playbook PM) was “a great friend and mentor.” She told the News Agents podcast: “I would regularly phone him up and ask him for advice.” The Times’ Patrick Maguire has an interesting column on the lessons Labour is taking from Darling, who was himself burned by the mistakes of 1930s Chancellor Philip Snowden.

SICKLY SWEET: Polling guru John Curtice has told the i’s podcast that Labour supporters mostly back a return to the EU, and will expect Starmer to reflect their concerns. Perfect timing, then, for Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy to talk up his focus on the EU and say Eurocrats find dealing with Starmer like “honey on toast.” 

Unsurprisingly: This is seen as catnip by the Conservatives, whose Chair Richard Holden tweeted in no time: “You might have thought that the British people would be Labour’s priority.”

TODAY IN WESTMINSTER

PARLIAMENT: Not sitting.

ONE NATION FIGHTBACK: You’ve heard from the New Conservatives … now the center-right One Nation Group has waded in on migration, in a letter seen by (where else?) the FT. George Parker reports “almost 30” MPs have written to Sunak warning they won’t stand for human rights commitments being watered down in the response to the Rwanda policy.

Choose your fighter: The Mail picks up on a little-noticed Home Office note that the number of people granted asylum hit a 40-year record of 38,761 (75 percent) in the last year. Which is fodder if you’re arguing too many people are arriving in the U.K. … *and* if you’re arguing it’s proof the majority of claims are genuine.

WHAT LABOUR WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: The party says it will help at least 350 “banking hubs” (a handful of which already exist) set up on high streets, where they can help customers of multiple banks at the same time. 

What the papers say: Spinners have managed some traction in the regional press (Northern Echo, Burnley Express), but Mail City Editor Alex Brummer says they will “probably speed the demise” of standalone banks.

ENJOY IT WHILE IT LASTS: Hours after RMT rail workers finally accepted a pay deal, General Secretary Mick Lynch told LBC: “If they want to provoke us again, and bring these sweeping changes and cuts to our conditions, we will respond in kind.”

IT DIDN’T LAST: ASLEF members start a nine-day overtime ban today — and walk out at EMR, LNER, Avanti West Coast, Chiltern, Great Northern Thameslink and West Midlands Trains over the weekend.

DATA DUMP: Nationwide should have released its latest house price data about now.

LOCKED IN: Conservative 2019 manifesto writers Robert Colvile and Rachel Wolf both tell the i the pensions triple lock should be scrapped. And both think it won’t happen.

IT’S BACK: Ministers will make a fresh push to ban legal but harmful pornography through a “task force” due to report next summer, reports the Times’ Oliver Wright. PA write-up of the task force here.

NUCLEAR OPTION: The government should ban AI in nuclear command, control and communications to avoid “potentially catastrophic outcomes,” says the Lords’ AI in Weapon Systems Committee (yes, that actually exists).

SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT: Demand for rented housing has tripled compared with pre-pandemic levels, the National Residential Landlords Association finds.

DANCE OF THE SEVEN BINS: Government ambitions to reduce waste costs are being threatened by limited clarity and delays, a Public Accounts Committee report argues.

SW1 EVENTS: The Mission Zero Coalition launches its latest report on industrial decarbonization with speakers including Tory MP Chris Skidmore at 9 a.m.

NOT SW1 BUT: Social Care Minister Helen Whately (11 a.m.) is among the MPs and officials speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference, which kicks off at 10.30 a.m. in Bournemouth.

BARRAGE OF FARAGE

HE’S RUNNING! In case you had any doubt Nigel Farage is considering a comeback, his long-term girlfriend Laure Ferrari has given a big page 3 interview about their relationship to the Mail. She says “he is extremely tolerant of people’s little ways” and “has a great bottom, what’s wrong with that? If you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

And in case you were *still* in doubt: Ferrari says “there is only one person that can do the job” of leading the country, “so if he chose to go into politics again, he would have my support.”

So what should Sunak do? Seb Payne of the center-right Onward think tank writes in the i that the Tories must not repeat David Cameron’s mistakes by dismissing the rise of Reform UK. But nor should they “ramp up caustic rhetoric” to match Reform — instead they should actually solve what’s causing high migration. Good luck, as they say, with that.

LAYING LOW: Farage enjoyed barely any airtime on Thursday night’s I’m A Celeb, Playbook’s jungle correspondent Noah Keate writes. Apart from burbling phone ringtones and wishing boxer Tony Bellew happy birthday, he was nowhere to be seen. All fodder for his allies’ claims that it’s all a conspiracy.

Coming attractions: Along with four fellow campmates, Farage faces the Grim Gutter bushtucker trial tonight in the company of snakes, rats, cockroaches or toads. Which means precious, precious airtime.

BEYOND THE M25

YOU HAVE NO AUTHORITY HERE: Tory aristocrat Greville Howard, whose townhouse near parliament has long been used as a base by leadership contenders, has quit the parish council he chaired in Norfolk in a bitter row over speed limits. Spectacular fallout via the EDP.

IT’S LONDON, BUT: It’s World AIDS Day, and Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced £130,000 towards the city’s first HIV/AIDS permanent memorial in Camden.

DEFENSELESS: Europe risks being “washed away” in war with Russia like the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, German military historian Sönke Neitzel has warned — via the Times.

GET THE HINT: Foreign Office Minister David Rutley is in the Falklands to support their “rights of self-determination” today — a week after Javier Milei, who wants to “get them back,” won Argentina’s presidential election.

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MEDIA ROUND

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho broadcast round: GMB (6.45 a.m.) … Sky (7.05 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … Today (7.50 a.m.).

Energy Minister Graham Stuart broadcast round: GB News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.20 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.).

Shadow Industry Minister Sarah Jones broadcast round: Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky (8.20 a.m.) … LBC News (8.50 a.m.).

Also on BBC Breakfast: Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds (6.50 a.m.).

Also on Sky News Breakfast: Former Tory SpAd Charlie Rowley (7.45 a.m.) … former President of Ireland Mary Robinson (8.30 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Charlie Rowley (7.05 a.m.) … former Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive Peter Carter (7.10 a.m.) … former Home Secretary Alan Johnson (7.20 a.m.) … RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch (7.40 a.m.).

Also on LBC News: Climate Crisis Advisory Group Chair David King (7.20 a.m.) … ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan (8.40 a.m.).

TalkTV Breakfast: London Assembly Chair Andrew Boff (8 a.m.).

TODAY’S FRONT PAGES

POLITICO UK: U.K. Labour Party admits it’s not ready for government — yet.

Daily Express: Why it is an injustice to name royals in race row.

Daily Mail: Scobie’s defense unravels.

Daily Mirror: King and Kate in race row.

Daily Star: King of the hellraisers.

Financial Times: Investors rush for risky assets in belief rate rises are over.

i: Labour — EU will be our number one priority for U.K. foreign policy.

Metro: Keep calm and carry on.

The Daily Telegraph: Palace to look at legal action over “racist royals” claim.

The Guardian: Deal agreed at COP28 to help poor countries cope with climate crisis.

The Independent: What on earth are they all waiting for?

The Sun: And the bells are ringing out for … Shane.

The Times: Lockdown delay was fatal mistake, admits Hancock

TODAY’S NEWS MAGS

The Economist: Is Putin winning? Inside Russia’s war machine.

THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY

EU Confidential: The team analyze the POLITICO 28 unveiling of Europe’s most powerful people and unpack European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s comments on the Israel-Hamas war.

Power Play: POLITICO’s Anne McElvoy speaks to former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney about COP28.

Westminster Insider: POLITICO’s Aggie Chambre interviews a string of politicians and officials including Gus O’Donnell and Nick Boles about what it’s like preparing for power — from civil service talks to how you dress.

Plus 6 of the other best political podcasts to listen to this weekend:

Labour’s Plan for Power: Paul Waugh interviews guests including Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy and political scientist John Curtice about Labour’s relationship with the EU.

Political Fix: Lucy Fisher is joined by colleagues Robert Shrimsley, Stephen Bush and Delphine Strauss to discuss the Elgin Marbles, COP28 and immigration.

Politics Weekly UK: John Harris discusses the effectiveness of COP28 with Tory MP Chris Skidmore and Green MP Caroline Lucas.

The Power Test: Sam Freedman hears from Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband about whether Labour can deliver fair growth and the role of green investment.

The Rundown: Ex-housing Minister Brandon Lewis talks about why the planning system resembles “The Thick of It” with Shelter CEO Polly Neate and PoliticsHome’s Alain Tolhurst

The Today Podcast: Amol Rajan and Nick Robinson speak to Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner about how the housing crisis can be fixed.

LONDON CALLING

WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Sunny intervals and a gentle breeze. Highs of 4C.

NEW GIGS: Long-serving senior political adviser Ian Parker is promoted today to chief of staff for the Labour Lords team … and former Sunday Times Deputy Editor Sarah Baxter starts on IPSO’s Complaints Committee.

TOUGH GIG: Home Office Senior Press Officer Lara Nurney has been promoted to head of media for Legal Migration & Humanitarian Routes. Sounds like an easy job, that one.

JOB ADS: DLUHC is hiring a press officer.

WAIT, WHAT? Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has been hanging out with queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

SUNAK’S BRO SPEAKS: Elon Musk has continued to show the credentials that earned him a one-to-one with the PM by telling advertisers who boycott X: “Go f*ck yourself.”

BURGON THE BRAND: Is lefty Labour MP Richard Burgon taking inspiration from Sunak? Compare the signature on his X video to the ones Sunak used to deploy as chancellor.

BECAUSE IT’S FRIDAY: A Paraguayan government official was replaced after signing a deal with *checks notes* a fictional country named the United States of Kailasa, reports the Guardian.

LISTEN TO: LBC’s Iain Dale‘s uploaded a 2011 interview with the late Alistair Darling about his book Back from the Brink.

NOAH’S CULTURE FIX: Oscar-winning 2020 film The Father — starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman — is on Channel 4 this Saturday at 9.25 p.m.

NOW READ: The long reads are out in force to examine the late Henry Kissinger’s legacy. The Washington Post details his management of the Cold War when secretary of state … the Atlantic says he is remembered for his “callousness toward the victims of global conflict” … the New Yorker explains his relations with China after leaving public office … and the Economist argues his diplomacy contained an element of idealism.

WRITING PLAYBOOK PM: Emilio Casalicchio.

WRITING PLAYBOOK MONDAY MORNING: Rosa Prince.

BIRTHDAYS: Former Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes … Deputy Mayor of London for Transport Seb Dance … Scottish Tory MSP Oliver Mundell … Süddeutsche Zeitung Dossier’s Neelam Cartmell … MailOnline’s David Wilcock … City, University of London professor and former Andrew Marr Show Editor Barney Jones.

Celebrating over the weekend: Former Wakefield MP Mary Creagh … Enfield Southgate MP Bambos Charalambous … Lord Chamberlain and Crossbench peer Rupert Carington … former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt … Unaffiliated peer Tim Boswell … New Statesman Deputy Political Editor Rachel Wearmouth … House of Commons Deputy Director of Comms Sasha Fuller … political comms adviser Laura Dunn … South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon … Unaffiliated peer David Prior … former U.K. Ambassador to Mongolia Philip Malone … Daily Mail owner Jonathan Harmsworth … GB News presenter Eamonn Holmes.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Jack Lahart, reporter Noah Keate and producer Seb Starcevic.

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