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Daily Archives: December 16, 2010

Boehner Appoints Rep. Kevin Brady as Vice Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee

House Speaker-elect US Representative John Boehner

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Washington, Dec 15 (KATAKAMI / GOPLEADER.GOV) — Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-OH) today announced the appointment of Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) as Vice Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC):

“Kevin Brady has been, and will continue to be, a leader in Republicans’ efforts to cut spending, rein in the size of government, and help small businesses create jobs, consistent with the GOP’s Pledge to America. His background as an advocate for small businesses and expertise on economic and trade policy will be key assets for our Conference as we develop solutions to grow our economy and create jobs for middle-class families. I look forward to working with him in his role as Vice Chairman.”

NOTE: Brady also serves as a senior member of the House Ways & Means Committee.   (*)

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Australian Prime Minister warns asylum boat toll to rise in grim hunt

A boat full of refugees is smashed by violent seas off Australia's Christmas Island, as shown in this Channel 7 TV frame grab of a photo released by The West Australian. Hope dwindled for survivors of a refugee boat wreck off Australia Thursday which killed at least 28 people, including seven children. (AFP/The West Australian)

 

SYDNEY (KATAKAMI / AFP) – Hope dwindled for survivors of a refugee boat wreck off Australia Thursday which killed at least 28 people, including seven children, renewing debate on the plight of boat people travelling from Asia.

The wooden craft, crowded with up to 100 Iraqi, Kurdish and Iranian asylum seekers and their children, hit rocks at remote Christmas Island Wednesday and was shattered by huge waves as residents watched in horror.

Traumatised survivors pulled from the sea after the disaster huddled in a hospital and reception centre Thursday, with the most seriously injured flown to Perth as hope faded of finding their fellow passengers alive in wild seas.

“We have got to prepare ourselves for the likelihood that more bodies will be found and there has been further loss of life than we know now,” warned Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who cut short her holiday to respond to the emergency.

Cyclonic conditions hampered search and rescue efforts which resumed at first light but yielded no further bodies or survivors by late Thursday, Customs said.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said 28 bodies had been recovered, including four infants, three children and nine women, underscoring “the tragedy that’s occurred here”.

Among the 42 survivors were eight children, one unaccompanied minor and three Indonesian crew, he added.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen earlier said there had been between 70 and 100 people on board the leaky fishing boat, according to survivors, adding that the exact number of dead would “probably never” be known.

Medical personnel believe as many as 50 people may have perished on the jagged limestone outcrop, some 2,600 kilometres from Australia’s mainland.

FILE : Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard

“Yesterday we saw a truly horrific event, a terrible human tragedy on what is a very dangerous coastline at Christmas Island,” said Gillard.

“I know the nation is shocked by what we have seen.”

Gillard was forced to defend border police as questions mounted about how the boat managed to cross the most closely-watched people-smuggling corridor between Indonesia and Australia without being intercepted.

The prime minister said the boat had approached the island in predawn darkness and “extreme weather conditions” meant it was not detected “until seen from Christmas Island itself”.

“In very rough and dangerous seas there is a limit to what can be achieved through radar and other surveillance mechanisms,” Gillard said, adding there would be a criminal investigation as well as a coroner’s probe.

Officials could not comment on the vessel’s origin and said it was not being tracked because it was made of wood and was hard to detect.

Local police said they had received an emergency call from someone claiming to be on a boat with about 80 people — believed to be the stricken vessel — about 20 minutes after it was first sighted as it drifted after losing power.

Residents said they were woken at dawn Wednesday by the screams of victims, gathering life jackets and rushing to the cliffs to offer help, but were helpless as strong winds blew the flotation devices back onshore.

They watched in horror as the victims were crushed against limestone rocks, despite the efforts of navy rescuers to reach them in towering swells.

More than 5,000 asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have made their way to Australia this year, mostly on unseaworthy vessels from Indonesia, prompting criticism of Canberra for softening its refugee policy.

But lawyers and refugee advocates including Amnesty and the UNHCR said the tragedy highlighted the desperate plight of refugees and urged greater cooperation between nations for more humane solutions.

Survivors of the wreck were recovering Thursday in a hospital and a reception centre on Christmas Island, the site of Australia’s main immigration detention centre for boat people.

Five seriously injured people were flown to the mainland for medical treatment.

Though they would be dealt with under normal immigration processes, Gillard said survivors would be given time to recover from their ordeal, and said the children and families would be allowed to live in the community instead of detention camps.

 

(*)

 
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EU supports Palestinian Statehood

 

 

December 16, 2010 (KATAKAMI / UK Embassy in Indonesia) — The EU Foreign Affairs Council discussed the latest developments in the middle east on 13 December.

Expressing their regret that Israel had not extended the moratorium on settlement construction, European Governments reiterated their view on thekey parameters, principles and issues for the resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict, stating “the EU will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. This could include agreed territorial swaps. A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. The EU calls for an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee question. A negotiated settlement must allow the two States to live side by side in peace and security.”

The Council underlined the EU’s “readiness, when appropriate, to recognize a Palestinian state” and its welcome of the World Bank’s assessment that “if the Palestinian Authority maintains its current performance in institution building and delivery of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a State at any point in the near future”.

Council members also focused on the situation in Gaza, stating in its formal conclusion that “the EU remains extremely concerned by the prevailing situation” and calling for the “immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.” It was noted that “despite some progress following the decision of the Israeli government of 20 June 2010 to ease the closure, changes on the ground have been limited and insufficient so far. Further efforts and complementary measures are needed to achieve a fundamental change of policy that allows for the reconstruction and economic recovery of Gaza as well as improve the daily lives of the population while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”

The Council also called on those holding the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him without delay and for a complete stop of rocket attacks at Israel. (*)

 
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Palestinian Authority cracks down on mosques to promote moderate Islam

 

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December 15, 2010 EL BIREH, WEST BANK (KATAKAMI / THE WASHINGTON POST)  — Each week, Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of religious affairs, sends an e-mail to mosques across the West Bank. It contains what amounts to a script for the Friday sermon that every imam is required to deliver.

The practice, part of a broader crackdown on Muslim preachers considered too radical, shows the extreme steps the Palestinian Authority is taking to weaken Hamas, its Islamist rival, as it seeks to cement power and meet Israeli preconditions for peace talks.

The Palestinian policy drew little notice when it was launched last year. But it has been enforced with particular vigor in recent months and, analysts say, has been a factor in Hamas’s declining strength in the West Bank.

Proponents say the tight control is necessary to curb fiery rhetoric, preserve Palestinian unity and promote a moderate form of Islam. But critics say the heavy-handed policy violates freedom of expression, alienates segments of Palestinian society and is a harbinger of the kind of police state the Palestinian Authority could become once statehood is achieved.

As Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas debates whether to continue negotiations with Israel or declare statehood unilaterally, he is also waging an internal battle for legitimacy against Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a terrorist organization. Hamas won the last parliamentary elections in 2006, seized control of the Gaza Strip in a coup a year later and set up its own government there.

The firm grip on mosques is the latest element in a long effort to curb the strength of Hamas that has included widespread arrests and bans on Hamas media and gatherings. On Tuesday, when 70,000 people gathered in Gaza to mark the 23rd anniversary of the founding of Hamas, there were no rallies in the West Bank to mark the occasion.

The United States has pushed the Palestinian Authority to put an end to the vitriolic sermons that the United States and Israel say undercut peace efforts. But it has been careful not to overtly praise the latest effort. While seen as helpful to U.S. goals, the crackdown also reveals an authoritarian streak in a Palestinian leadership routinely hailed by American officials for its governance.

Such central government control of clerics is not uncommon in the Arab world. But it is disappointing to those who had expected greater tolerance from the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

As part of its clampdown, the ministry has banned Hamas-affiliated imams from preaching. Those who are authorized to preach are paid by the Palestinian Authority.

“The Palestinian Authority’s plan is to combat Islam and the religious trend within it,” said Sheikh Hamid Bitawi, a well-known Islamic religious authority in Nablus who delivered sermons for four decades before the Palestinian Authority banned him three months ago.

Bitawi estimates that dozens of other imams have been prevented from preaching since the crackdown started, leading to a preacher shortage at many mosques. “I’m sure the popularity of Fatah [Abbas’s party] and the Palestinian Authority is going down,” Bitawi said. “They will be punished for their behavior.”
‘In our national interest’

The mosque policy was orchestrated by Habbash, who, following his appointment as minister of religious affairs in May 2009, placed all of the West Bank’s 1,800 mosques under his supervision. Before that, imams were sometimes accused of delivering sermons that were hostile not only to Israel and to Jews, but to Abbas.

“We’re convinced this is in our national interest,” Habbash said in an interview at the newly renovated ministry office in El Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, the seat of Abbas’s power in the West Bank. “What we have seen is when mosques are under the control of other parties, it causes division within our people,” Habbash said, adding that hundreds of mosques had been controlled by Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

After taking control of the mosques, Habbash ordered the mandatory sermons. An imam can add to the sermon, Habbash said, “but of course he has to report on this.”

On a recent Friday, the mandated sermon topic was the prophet Muhammad’s 7th-century flight to Medina. If compulsory Koran passages are not delivered, security services report the offending imam back to Habbash, who reviews weekly reports on mosque activity.

Habbash also forces imams to rotate from mosque to mosque to prevent what he calls “ideological thought control.”

In addition, the Palestinian Authority is training a new generation of imams at its government-funded Islamic college in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah. On a recent school day, students in one classroom of the soon-to-be-expanded single-story building were being taught how to distinguish Muhammad’s true teachings from those falsely attributed to him.
‘We need to liberate Islam’

Nasser Abed El-Al, who prays daily at the mosque in Qalqilyah, hasn’t liked the changes. “They’re choosing imams that speak the way they do,” said Abed El-Al, who runs a kebab restaurant. “This regime is not popular with the people here.”

An October poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that just 30 percent of Palestinians say people in the West Bank can criticize the Palestinian Authority without fear, compared to 56 percent three years ago.

The mosque crackdown comes as Israel and watchdog groups step up monitoring of statements in Palestinian government-run media and educational materials that dispute Israel’s right to exist or demonize Jews. For their part, Palestinian leaders routinely complain about statements by Israeli political or religious figures that are hostile to Arabs, which they say undercut peace efforts.

Habbash insists his goal is to advance Palestinian unity, not to appease the United States or Israel. So far, the Palestinian Authority has focused most of its attention on the mosques and responded quickly when it sees a problem.

After an imam urged Muslims to kill Jews in a sermon broadcast on a Palestinian government-run television station earlier this year, U.S. officials complained. Habbash apologized, said the imam had been a last-minute substitute, and ordered the following Friday’s sermon at all mosques to be about tolerance among followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Habbash, 47, taught Islamic law and wrote a newspaper column before being forced to flee the Gaza Strip after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Today, he is one of the government ministers closest to Abbas. His policy also makes him one of the most endangered: While most ministers travel with just two bodyguards, he has six.

“My main message is, we need to liberate Islam from this madness, from this extremism and wrong understanding of Islam,” he said. “Islam does not incite to hate.”

Khalil Shikaki, chief pollster at the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, said the overall crackdown on Hamas, including the mosque policy, has clearly weakened Hamas in the West Bank. “They have no media – no newspapers or magazines” in the West Bank, he said. “No doubt they have lost the mosques as a key platform.”
The crackdown up close

Worshipers at the Great Mosque in Doura, near the city of Hebron, saw the crackdown up close one Friday in August. Witnesses said hundreds of Palestinian police forces prevented Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, the mosque’s imam for 29 years, from delivering a sermon.

Rajoub was among the several dozen Hamas-affiliated politicians who were elected to parliament in 2006 and arrested by Israel a few months later, after Hamas militants captured Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.

When Rajoub was released from an Israeli jail this summer after 50 months of imprisonment, the authority banned him from preaching.

“What happened to me was part of a general policy of the Palestinian Authority to prevent the representatives of the Palestinian people from speaking directly to their audience,” Rajoub said in an interview at his office last month.

He was rearrested by Israel in early December for “being a senior Hamas activist who endangers the security of the area,” according to the military, and sentenced to six months of administrative detention.

“This is a mouth-muzzling policy on the part of the Palestinian Authority,” Rajoub said in the interview, before his most recent arrest. “This policy is aimed at curbing freedom of expression.”

 
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Obama administration sues BP, others over Gulf spill

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this April 21, 2010 handout, file photograph. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout/Files

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December 15, 2010 (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – The Obama administration on Wednesday launched a legal battle against BP Plc and its partners by suing them for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, which could cost the companies billions of dollars.

The lawsuit seeks damages from the well owners BP, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Mitsui & Co Ltd unit MOEX, and well driller Transocean Ltd and its insurer QBE Underwriting/Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036, part of Lloyds of London, for their roles in the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

“While today’s civil action marks a critical step forward, it is not a final step,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters at a news conference.

“Both our criminal and civil investigations are continuing, and our work to ensure that the American taxpayers are not forced to bear the costs of restoring the Gulf area — and its economy — goes on,” he said.

The suit, the first by the U.S. government after the April 20 explosion aboard the drilling rig in which 11 workers died, was filed in a New Orleans federal court which is considering private lawsuits against BP and the others for the spill.

BP, which returned to profitability in the third quarter of 2010, has begun selling assets and amassing a massive warchest to pay for damages caused by the oil spill, which the oil concern has estimated could reach as much as $40 billion.

The oil company said on Wednesday it was weighing the sale of its Canadian natural-gas liquids business.

In response to the lawsuit, BP said it is “solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit.”

“BP will answer the government’s allegations in a timely manner and will continue to cooperate with all government investigations and inquiries,” the company said.

US President Barack Obama (Getty Images)

SETTLEMENT IS A POSSIBILITY

Legal experts have said they expect the two sides to settle eventually but it could take years. In comparison, Exxon XOM.N> settled government claims over the spill by its Valdez tanker in Alaska in 1991, two years after the oil hit the coast.

The lawsuit against BP and others warned that “the full extent of potential injuries, destruction, loss and loss of services is not yet fully known and may not be fully known for many years.”

Shares in the companies targeted in the lawsuit fell in the wake of the lawsuit.

The stocks trimmed early losses to close off their lows, with BP down 1.3 percent at $43.86 and Anadarko Petroleum down 2.3 percent at $67.41. Halliburton, which wasn’t named in the suit, closed near session lows, down 3.1 percent at $39.79.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blowout spilled about 4.9 million barrels of oil over several months. It fouled resort beaches and fishing grounds and led to hundreds of lawsuits over lost revenues and wages.

“This is about getting a fair deal for the region that suffered enormous consequences from this disaster,” said Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency.The lawsuit accused the companies of violating safety and operating regulations in the period leading up to the disaster, including keeping the well under control, failing to use the best available and safest drilling technology and failing to maintain continuous surveillance of the well.

The government claimed the companies violated the U.S. Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act, but the lawsuit does not request a specific dollar amount for damages.

For every barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, there could be a fine of up to $4,300 if gross negligence is found. That would equal a fine of at least $21 billion. If no gross negligence is found, the fine could be up to $1,100 per barrel or almost $5.4 billion.

It will be up to the judge to weigh the evidence presented in court to determine if the defendants were grossly negligent in their conduct, a Justice Department official said.

The Justice Department could also seek additional fines for harm to any animals protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among other environmental laws.

The lawsuit did not name Halliburton, which did the cementing for the well, or Cameron International which provided well equipment, but Justice Department officials made it clear more defendants and charges could be added later.

BP HAS TAKEN RESPONSIBILITY

BP has taken responsibility for the cleanup but has questioned government estimates of how much oil came out of the well. BP co-owned the Macondo well with Anadarko and MOEX.

After the lawsuit was filed, its partners said the blame and liability laid squarely on BP.

Anadarko said it was not responsible for the decisions and operation for the well and therefore BP should be held responsible. Transocean, which drilled the well, also tried to pin the blame on BP.

“The responsibility for hydrocarbons discharged from a well lies solely with its owner and operator,” Transocean said in a statement, adding it was “indemnified in this matter.”

BP has estimated it may cost as much as $40 billion to pay for the spill, including the cleanup and penalties. The London-based oil firm has been selling numerous assets to raise as much as $30 billion to cover those costs.

The Justice Department asked a federal judge in New Orleans overseeing the litigation to hold the companies liable, except for Lloyds, for unlimited damages, beyond the $75 million cap under the Oil Pollution Act.

The judge in Louisiana, Carl Barbier, has been overseeing the hundreds of private lawsuits involving thousands of plaintiffs against BP and its partners. He has a status hearing set for Friday.

A lawyer for private individuals suing BP over the spill said the new lawsuit by the Obama administration would not hurt their efforts.

“We look forward to continued cooperation with the U.S. government in pursuit of justice for all victims of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy,” said the lawyer Steve Herman. “(I) think it demonstrates confidence and momentum in the Court proceedings as we approach the February 2012 trial.”   (*)

MS

 

 

 
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Photostream : British Prime Minister David Cameron meets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) greets the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban outside number 10 Downing Street on December 15, 2010 in London, England. During the final session of Prime Minister's Questions before the Christmas break, Mr Cameron claimed to be confident of maintaining his pre-election pledge to increase spending on the NHS every year. An upward revision of inflation figures by the Office for Budget Responsibility has resulted in the Government's NHS budget, representing a real-terms cut in investment. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) speaks to the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban inside number 10 Downing Street on December 15, 2010 in London, England. During the final session of Prime Minister's Questions before the Christmas break, Mr Cameron claimed to be confident of maintaining his pre-election pledge to increase spending on the NHS every year. An upward revision of inflation figures by the Office for Budget Responsibility has resulted in the Government's NHS budget, representing a real-terms cut in investment. (Photo by Andy Rain - Pool/Getty Images)

Britain's Prime Minster David Cameron (R) speaks to Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in 10 Downing Street in central London December 15, 2010. REUTERS/Andy Rain/Pool

 
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Russian President congratulated Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) personnel on the agency’s 90th anniversary

At a ceremony marking the Foreign Intelligence Service’s 90th anniversary.

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December 15, 2010 (KATAKAMI / KREMLIN.RU) — President Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) personnel on the agency’s 90th anniversary, presented its head, Mikhail Fradkov, with the Honorary Certificate of the Commander in Chief, and presented state decorations to a number of SVR officers.

* * *

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) hands an anniversary diploma over to the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Mikhail Fradkov during the ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of SVR in Moscow, December 15, 2010. Medvedev praised the efficiency of SVR on Wednesday, months after it was embroiled in an espionage drama resulting in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War. ( Photo : Kremlin.Ru)

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV :  Friends, I want to congratulate all of you on the Foreign Intelligence Service’s 90th anniversary.

The film that we just watched began with the words “And so it will remain as long as our Motherland needs a foreign intelligence service,” and ended with the assertion that this will always be the case. I think this assertion is absolutely correct.

If we look at the world without illusions about humanity’s development, it is clear that the intelligence service will always be an important state institution no matter what the situation, political regime, or leadership in place. The intelligence service’s missions remain essentially unchanged. Methods and people change, directors come and go, but the tasks and missions remain. This is cause for neither sadness nor surprise, but is simply the way our world is.

Our foreign intelligence service, if we take its development from the start of the Soviet period, has gone through many stages in its evolution and is today one of the strongest and most competitive in the world. I think this is something that not only we here in this hall or our country’s people know, but something that our partners and our potential competitors also realise.

The service’s task now is to preserve these qualities in the face of the huge number of global challenges before us today. We all know these challenges. They include international terrorism, drug trafficking, global competition on international markets, cybercrime, and a mass of new threats not yet so clearly defined. Although the intelligence service’s missions remain essentially the same as in the past, and I think this will be the case for a long time yet to come, its methods must continually improve and change.

The global information flow that has spread across our entire planet has substantially changed the way decisions are made and created new problems. Some of these problems have been evident over recent months. Is this a good or a bad thing? In some ways it is good, for the intelligence service at least. It creates new analytical opportunities and the possibility of seeing how potential competitors view us. But at the same time, it also creates new difficulties. No one is guaranteed against these problems, and this is something you also need to take into account in your work.

This year is a big anniversary for the Foreign Intelligence Service, but it has not been an easy year. I think, however, that our service still has all the possibilities it needs for timely, professional, and most importantly, effective resolution of the tasks before it.

The tasks and duties of the state authorities, President and Government are to ensure decent living standards for those working in our foreign intelligence. This is a vital aspect for the service’s effective work, because no matter how exceptional its personnel often are in many ways, they are nonetheless ordinary people with ordinary needs such as home, their immediate environment, housing conditions, and wages. There is no getting away from these issues. Conviction and heroism will always play a part of course, but other basic motives must be satisfied too.

One other thing I wanted to say today is that the state must take a responsible attitude towards any of our citizens who end up in various, often complicated situations, and this applies fully to those who work for our Foreign Intelligence Service too. You can rest assured of this.

Friends, it is a real pleasure to be here today and congratulate you, although these kinds of congratulations are never particularly public in nature. But I want to express at least part of my congratulations with the media present. I want to inform everyone here that as Commander in Chief I have signed an Honorary Certificate that I present to the Foreign Intelligence Service for its work in defence of our country. I offer you my warmest congratulations on this.

I want to say too that I will present state decorations to a number of the service’s officers.  (*)

MS

 
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