Mark Ames: The Massacre Everyone Ignored – Up To 70 Striking Oil Workers Killed In Kazakhstan By US-Supported Dictator

By Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine. Cross posted from The eXiled

With violence and government crackdowns making headlines from so many familiar parts of the world, there’s hardly been a peep in the media about the biggest and ugliest massacre of all: Last Friday in Kazakhstan, riot police slaughtered up to 70 striking oil workers, wounding somewhere between 500 and 800, and arresting scores. Almost as soon as the massacre went down in the western regional city of Zhanaozen, the Kazakh authorities cut off access to twitter and cell phone coverage–effectively cutting the region off from the rest of the world, relegating the massacre into the small news wire print.

But not before someone was able to get a video out to YouTube last Friday, showing the moment when the striking oil workers–who have put up with inhuman, medieval abuse for months now, culminating with the murders a few months back of a striking oil worker and the 18-year-old-daughter of another union organizer, as well as the jailing of a labor lawyer working with the striking oil workers.

Keep in mind, the oil company whose workers are striking for better pay and union recognition, KazMunaiGaz, is “owned” by the billionaire son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s Western-backed president-for-life. Among Kazakhstan’s leading American partners are Chevron, whose website boasts, “Chevron is Kazakhstan’s largest private oil producer”–adding this bit of unintentional black humor:

“In Kazakhstan, as in any country where Chevron does business, we are a strong supporter of programs that help the community.”

Indeed. First, here is a video showing striking oil workers last Friday breaking up the totalitarian-state’s official celebration of its “Independence Day” (Kazakhstan was one of the 15 Soviet republics that declared independence in 1991; the republic’s Communist Party leader, Nursultan Nazarbaev, stayed on as the “democratic” ruler ever since). At about the 3:30 mark you’ll hear and see gunfire as the massacre is in full-swing:

Here is another video, the one that first went around last Friday that is more dramatic, showing the moment when the striking oil workers stormed the barricades and tore down their hated autocrat’s Independence Day stage…ending with gunfire and riot police moving into the square:

That went down on Friday. We know very little even today because the government clamped down on all communication with the outside world, cutting off cell phone communications and Twitter, imposing martial law, and bringing in special forces and riot police to terrorize Zhanaozen and other cities in the oil-rich west where sympathy strikes and protests have broken out. Journalists have been barred, and two reporters from reputable Russian online media outlets have been arrested. The government claims 15 dead; strikers, who have proven far more reliable, say at least 70 are dead and 500 wounded.

Even the brief and highly controlled “tour” arranged by the authorities for a handful of reporters in the aftermath produced this gruesome account:

Rights activists will likely also be concerned by what appeared to heavy-handed treatment of detainees at Zhanaozen’s main police station Sunday evening. Journalists at the station reported hearing screams coming from what appeared to be interrogation rooms, while a number of men with bloodied faces were lined up in a row in the corridors with their faces against the wall.

Reporters visiting the town under close supervision were not freely permitted to speak with detainees or residents.

Oil workers have been striking since the beginning of summer for the right to unionize, and for better pay. In response, the state-run oil company has already fired hundreds of workers for “violating labor laws,” while dividing up communities and the workforce. By September, workers who held out with the strike were on the verge of starvation; marriages were breaking up, and tensions were growing hotter. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch came out criticizing the Kazakh authorities for their harsh treatment of the strikers and labor organizers. (Read this excellent English-language account here.)

While the brutality translates into living Hell or violent death for locals, keeping those labor costs down has worked wonders for Chevron’s profits, as Forbes recently reported:

Chevron Rises To $104 As Kazakhstan Kicks Up Production


Chevron, the second largest vertically integrated oil major, has been expanding its operational foothold in the oil rich state of Kazakhstan over the past few years.

The nation’s vast unexplored resources of oil and gas have become a attractive destination for companies such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips seeking new frontiers for oil and gas exploration.

Chevron has taken the early lead in establishing operations in the former Soviet republic with two major upstream projects as well as a manufacturing facility. The future expansion of operations in Kazakhstan is expected to add greatly to Chevron’s overall production output.

We have a $104 price estimate for Chevron which is a 6% premium over its current market price.

The oil majors’ fondness for Kazakhstan’s highly profitable oil may also explain photographs like this, showing Kazakh “SpetzNaz” or special forces troops sent in to crush protests–wearing helmets and brandishing shields that read, in English, “Police”:

Here is a video of the Kazakh SpetzNaz sent in to quash sympathy protests in the nearby city of Aktau:

Reports of torture are filtering in…and of roaming undercover police death squads in white jeeps hunting the streets for working-age males to pick up and intern.

Meanwhile, the protests are still going on throughout the country, the police crackdown is getting more vicious, and almost no one outside of Kazakhstan knows a thing about what’s going on there, because there are too many uprisings going on all around the world, uprisings that are twittered and cell-phone-cammed and YouTubed…and if your massacre and your oppression doesn’t make it to Twitter or isn’t uploaded onto YouTube, then it doesn’t exist, and you are all alone.

UPDATE: Kazakhstan is represented by the lobbying firm founded by former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, which today goes by the name “BGR Gabara.” Among other things, the lobbying firm was busted working on a plan to smear Sting after he canceled a concert in Kazakhstan recently due to human rights abuses. Christ, he’s crap as it is, why smear the one half-way decent thing Sting ever tried doing? Lovely buncha guys, the Barbour Griffith & Rogers folks are.

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  1. Middle Seaman

    It’s terrible but not surprising. It happens all over the world. The Turks massacre Kurds and no one cares. Assad the father killed 30,000 people in one town and no one cared. Close to a million communists were butchered in Indonesia in the 60s and all we saw is a single movie.

    This goes on and on. Amnesty International concentrates on just a few trouble spots. Human Right Watch works for Hamas. Some NGOs try but they are negligible.

    To change this reality, so called liberal or so called human rights organizations have to leave politics behind and concentrate on human rights for all and human life.

    This is not going to happen.

    1. 3CPO

      The starving millions defense:
      it doesn’t matter you’re kettled or shot with tear gas or rubber bullets, because people are shot in Syria with real bullets. But it doesn’t matter you’re shot in Syria, because President Obama is blowing people up Yemen and Pakistan with drones…but they are actually lucky duckies because other people are starving in the Sudan, or dying really slow painful deaths from terrible diseases for which they can get no medical care at all.

      Those awful aid orgs should do something. What a terrible job THEY do.

      Using Moral relativism can justify all the reasons we sit on our asses and don’t do anything. Yup. People kill People every day.
      I feel better, so thanks.

    2. Walter Wit Man

      Wait, what?

      You want NGOs to stop playing politics . . . but then you argue that NGO’s that document abuse of Palestinians are playing politics. How does Human Rights Watch “work” for Hamas?* It seems like its you that is “playing politics” with NGOs.

      Here’s a rebuttal from the executive director of Human Rights Watch to the charge that his organization unduly focuses on Israel:

      *There is probably way more evidence of the U.S. financing and secretly influencing NGOs for ulterior purposes than there is evidence of Hamas doing so.

  2. Susan

    I don’t see how a few organizations that are quite small can cover ALL human rights around the planet.

    I recently did the WRITE FOR RIGHTS letter writing project with Amnesty, and it took hours to print the letters and mail them out. I can only imagine how many hours it took to research the cases, and organize the materials, and write up demo letters for volunteers like me to use.

    And even though they make it easy, I bet there were less than 5,000 Americans who participated.

    One thing that Amnesty does is investigate cases thoroughly, so that people are not misled by other people’s lies or deceptions.

    1. prostratedragon

      Now here’s a seed to be germinated … or a little match with which to find a candle to light instead of … well, you know.

  3. Frank Speaking

    “It happens all over the world…”

    Paint Creek-Cabin Creek West Virginia strike of 1912

    Ludlow Colorado Massacre 1914

    Battle of Blair Mountain West Virginia 1921

  4. Parvaneh Ferhadi

    Western media and human rights organisations could have picked up on this, as they could have picked up on events in Bahrain or Egypt. They chose not to – this is a poltical choice and has nothing to to with their concern for human rights, but more to do with whether the regime is supported by the U.S. or not.
    Egypt, Bahrain, Kazakhstan are all supported by the U.S. and the West in general – they have regimes that the West likes.
    Syria and Iran obviously don’t have that.

    This video shows pretty much the same from Egypt, where the military cracks down on demonstrators on Tahrir square. You only heard a few statements of concern from some politicians and human rights organisations and read a side note in some media:

    It pretty much proves that western media and human rights organisation are part and parcel of U.S. imperialist policies.

    1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

      Just checked the Russian press and they are talking of 14 to 17 deaths – not 70.
      There is also some talk as to what might happen in Kazakhstan once Nazarbayev resigns or loses his grip on power, i.e. Kazakhstan might break up.
      This would be in the interest of the U.S. who then has more servile clients and to the detriment of Russia who wants to form a Eurasian Union together with Kazakhstan and others.

      A break-up of Kazakhstan might also benefit Chevron and the like.

      This is just something to consider when you see these pictures.

      1. SidFinster

        The last thing a Chevron or an AGIP (which also has concessions in KZ) would want is regime change there.

        Just as if hell were discovered to have large hydrocarbon reserves, the oil companies would not be clamoring for an invasion.

        Instead, they’d invite the Devil for a very nice lunch and talk about how they can do business together.

        1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

          Well, there will be regime-change anyway when Nazarbayev quits, which will be soon. That’s when about 8 clans that have profited from Nazarbayev’s 20 year rule, will try to reposition themselves and jokey for power. It’s not clear wether or not this will go peacefully and they U.S. and the oil companies will surely be planing for after Nazarbayev.
          The oil companies will get better deals when they have to deal with a fragmented Kazakhstan, and the U.S. avoids the spread of Russian influence there.

      2. Karl Rove's Brian

        No, the Russian press (and other media) report that the “official” number of dead according to Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general is 15, while locals and strike leaders in Zhanaozen say 70 or more dead and up to 800 injured.
        Anyone with any knowledge of this region knows that in situations like this, the dictator’s figures are always far more unreliable than local demonstrators.

        What’s really troubling is that you’re coming up with all sorts of excuses for the Kazakh regime–first, you parrot their figures, as if “only” 14 dead is a good thing; second, you throw out some baseless conspiracy theory, as if Chevron isn’t doing incredibly well as it is working with the totalitarian regime there–why in hell would Chevron want to mess up a good thing and break up Kazakhstan, leading to who knows what?

        You wouldn’t happen to work for Haley Barbour would you?

        1. Parvaneh Ferhadi

          No, the Russian press is mostly reporting the 14 to 17 figure, which has lately been raised to 19.
          There is no prove either way, so I wouldn’t assume one or the other to be closer to the truth, like you do.
          At least the Russian press is writing about it, the western media are almost completely silent.

          A lower figure doesn’t make it any better, but care is advised not to fall for Libya and Syria-style propaganda coming from unverified sources.
          Someone said something somewhere, completely unverified and suddenly it becomes the truth.
          Like Zaynab al-Hosni of whom Human Rights Watch wrote:

          Fresh evidence of the extreme brutality being meted out to Syrian protesters and their families has been revealed today by Amnesty International.
          The mutilated body of 18-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs, the first woman known to have died in custody during Syria’s recent unrest, was discovered by her family in horrific circumstances on 13 September.
          The family was visiting a morgue to identify the body of Zainab’s activist brother Mohammad, who was also arrested and apparently tortured and killed in detention. Zainab had been decapitated, her arms cut off, and skin removed.
          “If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death in detention we have seen so far,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

          Well, what do you know. That was a complete lie. Here she is, giving an interview refuting the rumours:

          1. RalphR

            Is there a troll infestation on this post? What exactly does Kazakstan have to do with Syria? The media crackdown suggests strongly that the government is out to keep whatever happened as unreported as possible. And there is a LONG standing history here of Russian suppression of news and underreporting of deaths in Chechen. Why do you assume the Russian “press” is independent on these matters? Does it not occur to you that the country is run by oil oligarchs, and that might influence the coverage of a union uprising?

          2. Walter Wit Man

            I think it’s a good point to raise that we really don’t know what is happening in Syria or Kazakhstan. I now am very suspicious of everything I see. We can no longer trust the mainstream media and I think it’s foolish to trust that videos on Youtube are genuine.

            The video does seem to be edited. There are some distinct cuts. Who knows what to believe anymore. That’s interesting that Parvaneh thinks its in U.S. and Chevron interests for the regime to break up. We are seeing the pattern of a soft regime change in many countries, like Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. In those countries we did see select images of abuse but it was not widely shown. So the theory does make sense. In Libya and probably Syria and Iran we are seeing hard regime change.

            I don’t think Parvaneh Ferhadi is like the right-wing trolls above and below. Those trolls think the NGOs are *too* critical of Israel and presumably the West. Parvaneh appears to be arguing that the NGOs are inherently pro Western.

  5. Harley Warren

    As a Chevron customer, I complained, but I’ll probably get the usual song and dance. Time to move to something else, but they all are pretty bad.

  6. psychohistorian

    Will the US go this far down the repression road? Further?

    By next Spring?

    Thanks for the posting.

    Laugh the global inherited rich out of control of “Western Democracies” and into rooms at the Hague where they can be prosecuted for our social degradation.

    1. sleepy

      Given the historical level of violence against labor in the US as cited by another poster, I suspect things could ratchet up here to those levels, and probably sooner than we would expect. Hey, 20 years ago, who would have anticipated atrocities such as the WOT destruction of our civil liberties?

      Another four years like the last four, and many people will reach a breaking point. The goal of the two political parties is to forestall that point.

      If and when it happens, all pretense will disappear, and the gloves will come off.

  7. 3CPO

    The companies that our government helps get into the market should be forced to pay a living wage to the workers, and not supply governments with weapons to subdue and repress their people- ever.
    If they treat their people badly they will overthrow them themselves.
    It’s time that these corporations produce products that lift mankind and society and ambassadors stop acting as sales people for these evil f-ing corps.
    EU is making small admissions over treatment of people and support for dictators in the middle east.
    the US should to and should put our money where their mouths are.

    We have to pressure our government and expose them, they are the enablers.

      1. René

        “In total, during the first eighty-eight years of this century, almost 170 million men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed, or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people. It is as though our species has been devastated by a modern Black Plague. And indeed it has, but a plague of Power, not of germs.”

        – Dr. R. J. Rummel, Death by Government.

  8. indio007

    Isn’t the US’s #1 export by dollar amount military hardware?

    I saw the Ambassador of this country 6 months ago saying how far his country has come when it comes to human rights.

    I don’t care who does it or why. Shooting unarmed people that are not directly threatening human life, for any reason, is murder.

    I would pitch in some serious dough to have a nongovernmental private global mercenary force that would just sweep in and exterminate the cowards that shoot people like this.

    Not for intervention but to teach a simple lesson. You do dirty shit like this, your dead.

  9. George Balanchine

    At last, a human rights story that doesn’t mention Israel. I think this is the first one I’ve seen in the two years I’ve been reading NC.
    I mean it, this is a good post. Perhaps there’s hope after all.

    George Balanchine

      1. Blunt

        Yes, Foppe, the ole JAL troll who is always claiming that Israel gets a bum rap for human rights abuses in Gaza and the West bank and it’s own territories.

        We are all supposed to know just how untrue that is, since, after all, the Nazis filled camps with the bodies of the Jews of Eastern Europe.

        Godwin’s Law. Know thy memes.

        Certainly the slaughters of post 1934 and pre-1945 Grossdeutschland are well documented and were horrible. But that being said, doesn’t give Likud, or any other Israeli government, a pass when it comes to the ways they treat Palestinians in and out of Greater Israel.

        To have suffered slaughter doesn’t allow the formerly slaughtered entity to slaughter another entity with impunity and not be called out as the human rights violator it is.

        1. Foppe

          Ah, was afraid of that. He should really read Bloodlands some day soon; should provide some perspective. Though why so many people defend the recreation of the Warsaw Ghetto on a larger scale is beyond me.

          1. Blunt

            I’ve often wondered if the “lessons” taken from the Third Reich weren’t more on the plane of “there was this really efficient method of extermination that we ought to try here.” Well, that and “there’s this idea of fast armored columns that pierce the enemy’s front before they know they’re even in a war.”

            The lessons that might speak to the better angels of our minds seem not to have been learned at all.

          2. Up the Ante

            Since your “there’s this idea of fast armored columns that pierce the enemy’s front before they know they’re even in a war.” is really testament to people thinking the Europeans of the time were somehow oblivious to the buildup to the German war machine, a scenario about as unlikely as to be found.

            Therefore, your “there was this really efficient method of extermination that we ought to try here.” is really implying that your obliviousness mentioned above is the really efficient method of extermination that perhaps you’d like us to try.

        2. George Balanchine

          Err…yes. It is Jew-hatred if you only mention Israel(over and over and over) as human rights violators and no one else. That’s been the case here on NC for most of the past two or so years I’ve been reading. That’s why I was happy to see this post about Khazakhstan(sp.?)
          Also, in my opinion, the anti-Israel bias in coverage of the MIddle East overlooks a number of inconvenient facts. For example, that the Arab states were offered a two-state solution in 1947 and refused it. If they had accepted, there would be no problems of Palestine, Gaza etc, because there would have been no war in 1947(8?), where the Arabs attempted to exterminate the Jews(two years after the end of the Holocaust).
          Anyway, the “Left” is so afflicted with virulent anti-Semitism as can be seen from the posts here, that there is no hope of really developing a credible alternative to austerity, the Lesser Depression, etc.
          You shall dwell in darkness and obscurity forever.

          George Balanchine

          P.S. Also the credulous acceptance of “shrinking the carbon footprint” insanity, is just the final spade of dirt on the grave of the so-called “Left”.

          1. George Balanchine


            Oooooh, that’s quite a counter-argument you’ve got there.

            George Balanchine

          2. Up the Ante

            “.. it’s an indictment of “the Left”!! How exciting. ”

            And Foppe, you’ll note it has its required possible endorsement of ‘the Right’ as ‘pro-Semitic’, ‘possibly’ the steganographic equivalent of ‘It’s Us.’.

            And this whole mini-discussion ?? “Possibly .. an indictment, a cursing, even, of American Expressionaslim.”


            To which I shall respond, “You shall dwell in open absurdity, buffoonery, even, forever, to only strike out in impossible rage at the ultimate ab-use you have put yourself to.”.


          3. George Balanchine


            Yes, that’s another problem, that people actually think there’s a “Right” and “Left”, where there really hasn’t been anything like that since the mid-1990s.
            And you’re assuming I’m ‘right-wing’, what if I was a “left-wing” pro-Semite?

            Anyway, you don’t write very clearly at all.

            George Balanchine

          4. Up the Ante


            you have confirmed the absurdity, WHO CARES if you’re pro- or anti- Semite?

            Wasn’t assuming you’re Right or Left, was saying the trolling style requires that the possibility either/or be left hanging WHEN NOBODY CARES.

            You clearly appear to be a troll.

          5. Walter Wit Man

            This site egages in “Jew hatred?”

            What foolishness.

            I point you to the fact that it is you trolls that can’t stop talking about Israel. You trolls brought it up.

            In the very first comment a troll wanted to redirect our attention away from Kazakstan and talk about how Human Rights Watch “works” for Hamas. George and other trolls then proceed to do the same below–like George’s ridiculous libel here.

            By attacking human rigts groups or NC for being unduly critical of Israel in this post you are engaging in misdirection and obfusction. That is your most likely goal. The trolls claiming that other oil workers around the world suffer too an therefore we shouldn’t be concerned with Kazaksan is also misdirection.

            Who benefits from misdirecting us from the topic of this post to the allegation that NC and human rights groups are against Israel?

            Why the troll infestation by the likes of George?

          6. Walter Wit Man

            “You shall dwell in darkness and obscurity forever.”

            You speaking in the word of God to me boy? Are you fucking nuts enough to think you have God on your side and the “Left” is so filled with “Jew hatred” that God will punish us?

            Fuck you George Balanchine, you evil son of a bitch. God looks upon you as the bloodthirsty, evil fool that you are, if she exists.

          7. Up the Ante

            Geez, Walt, you took the words right out of my mouth,

            “.. you are engaging in misdirection and obfusction. That is your most likely goal. ”
            Not only that, but he baits us by implying that the ‘punishment’ we’ll be receiving shortly will be by our choice.
            Definitely a signature of the modern entitled asshole.

            And rather than “Fuck you” I would posit ‘Foppe you’, haha.

            Seriously, with some of the attitudes that crew display, their only hope is to arm their citizenry TO THE TEETH to fend off the coming bloodbath that attitude invites.

          8. ambrit

            Dear Up The Ante;
            In Israel, they practice compulsory military service, and hence, their ‘legal’ population IS gunned up ‘to the teeth.’
            Another manifestation of their version of the bunker mentality is the semi-mythical “Masada Option.”
            Fanatics of all stripes are a danger to everyone. I have had ‘arguements’ with hard line Ultra Zionists. It was an eye opening experience. If the Hamas people are anywhere near as rigid and determined as they, it will be worse than bad when it all goes to the Plain of Jezreel.

      1. Christophe

        A tantalizing question. Do various scrambled, antagonistic, red-herring posts stem form a common genealogical strain? If not, what common trait gives rise to such a style?

  10. Patrick

    OK everyone, act surprised. Left wing tyranny killing hundreds. Castro orders three days of mourning for Jong. Communist dictator kills hundreds of workers. The music never stops. Yes, I know it’s our fault. LOL.

    1. Kronosaurus

      Except we are Cuba’s enemy. It is not news when your enemy commits crimes. But when allies do it forms cognitive dissonance.

  11. Jess

    Didn’t Condolezza Rice go there and negotiate, in Russian no less, what a clever gal, to get the oil lease when she was on the Chevron Board of Directors?

    Wasn’t Chevron so enamored of her that they named a tanker for her?

  12. G Booth

    I work for a man who gets a big fat revenue check from the Karachaganak Fields every quarter, and I am deeply ashamed.

  13. Al

    Thanks. Nothing new in the -stans or Russian oil field operations in Africa. How odd you linked this to Chevron?

    Six oil field workers were killed in one incident by Mexican Cartel Gangsters in South Texas. That was last month, and it was not reported either.

    Could it be that Human Rights Watch, and the MSNBC New York media, have a President they wish to re-elect?

    1. 3CPO

      Nothing new in the tactics of trolls.

      Yes, the Mexican drug cartel war is off the radar unless you are paying attention to fast and furious and the gun walker case investigated by Darrel Issa. what has that got to do with this? I
      t’s entirely different situation in that cartels are hijacking tankers and it’s not comparable at all.

      Could it be that you have a vested interest in deflecting attention or blame from oil companies on onto any and all others?

      The oil deals are what brought the Sate Dept, which provided the weapons to the dictator which would ensure that the product keeps flowing.

    1. Walter Wit Man

      Thanks for the link.

      I found the story I linked to above, about the Uzbek ‘Facebook’ dissident, there.

      Looks like a good site.

  14. 3CPO

    Interesting comments on these blogs, They do not want our bombs of freedom that turned Iraq and Libya into rubble.

    It seems to be a provocation of some sorts.
    The number of dead reported by Mark Aimes maybe incorrect and the same number as arrested. Joshua Foust is smarting off about Mark Aimes but he is an apologist of empire and has little regard for leftists. Rather than point out that Aims might be wrong about facts he attacks Aims himself.!/search?q=%23zhanaozen

    The cold war is starting up again with all the ugly reporting about Putin and Russia recently, has anyone noticed this ratcheted upward, casting doubts on the Russian election along with promotions of a russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov who bought the New York Nets.
    who is he? ttp://

    It’s best to consider that there may be disinfo and propaganda coming from russia, the us and khazakstan, and the languages are hard to translate. They have oil and are a buffer state between the east and the west.

  15. Dauren

    Please do not try to manipulate public opinion. There was a bloody violence against the city’s peaceful population, and the authorities reacted. That’s all.

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