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Trump, Erdogan Discuss Turkey’s Purchase of Russian Missile Defense System

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House for a second time at what is a low ebb in relations between Washington and Ankara. 
 
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “We understand each other’s country.” 
 
Erdogan recently infuriated U.S. officials when he ignored American warnings not to invade northeastern Syria in an operation targeting Syrian Kurds. 
 
The Turkish leader also upset American defense officials and diplomats with the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Moscow. The purchase violated the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction Act (CAATSA), which prohibits major purchases of Russian military hardware. 
 
That also prompted the United States to eject Turkey from its F-35 joint strike fighter program.  FILE – First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019.”We’ll be talking about the S-400,” said Trump, when asked by reporters about the defense relationship. “We’ll be talking about the F-35 fighter jet.” 
 
Trump also was asked whether Turkey could possess F-35 jets while owning the Russian missile defense system. 
 
“We’re having a second meeting in a little while,” replied Trump, indicating there might be more to say about it at a joint news conference in the afternoon. 
 
Erdogan recently discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin buying Su-57 and Su-35 fighter jets from Moscow if he is not able to get the American aircraft, according to media reports. 
 
Such a move could endanger Turkey’s membership in the U.S.-led NATO defense alliance. 
 
Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of congressmen sent Trump a letter requesting that he cancel his meeting with the Turkish president because of Erdogan’s “disastrous” actions in Syria and purchase of the S-400 system. 
 
“Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States,” the lawmakers wrote.  FILE – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., arrives for a gathering of the House Democratic caucus as Congress returns for the fall session, at the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 10, 2019.Just before Erdogan arrived at the White House, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, called it “shameful” for Trump to host Erdogan, accusing the U.S. president of “again turning a blind eye to the actions of foreign leaders who have amassed power and seek to rule as autocrats, subverting democracy in their countries and exploiting divisions and ethnic conflicts to promote their own legitimacy.” In an interview with VOA’s Kurdish service, the spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Mustafa Bali, called for the United States not to sacrifice the Kurds, Christians and other ethnic and religious groups in northern Syria for its economic interests. 
 
“President Trump should fulfill his moral obligations and prevent the ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering” carried out by Erdogan “since his forces started the occupation in Syria,” said Bali, who alleged that Turkey has been violating the cease-fire and expanding territory outside the so-called “safe zone.”    
 
Turkey considers the Kurdish forces, allies of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group inside Syria, to be terrorists.  FILE – In this photo taken from the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, smoke billows from a fire in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, Oct. 20, 2019, days after the declaration of a cease-fire.In the Oval Office on Wednesday, alongside Erdogan, Trump said “the cease-fire is holding very well. We’ve been speaking to the Kurds and they seem to be very satisfied.” 
 
The discussions between Trump and Erdogan began amid the first day of public testimony in the impeachment inquiry the House is conducting against the U.S. president. 
 
“It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax. I’m too busy to watch it,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “I see they’re using lawyers that are television lawyers. They took some guys off television.” 

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Domingo to Sing at 100th Anniversary Salzburg Festival

Placido Domingo is scheduled to sing two concert performances in Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers)” next summer as part of the 100th anniversary Salzburg Festival, which features 221 performances over 44 days and includes seven staged operas.Domingo, who turns 79 in January, was dropped or has withdrawn from all his U.S. performances since reports by The Associated Press in August and September detailed accusations against him of sexual harassment or other inappropriate, sexually charged conduct.He received standing ovations in Salzburg at performances of Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” last August and is welcome back pending investigations by the LA Opera, where he resigned as general director last month, and the American Guild of Musical Artists. Helga Rabl-Stadler, president of the Salzburg Festival, said Domingo was engaged two years ago to sing the baritone role of Guido di Montforte on Aug. 16 and 19. European houses have maintained Domingo’s contracts.”We do not see any reason why we should change our opinion if there are no new facts,” Rabl-Stadler said in a telephone interview, adding the situation could change depending on what is uncovered by the investigations. “We have to follow the rules of our law.”Staged operas, concertsStaged operas announced Wednesday for next summer’s festival include Strauss’ “Elektra,” directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski; Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” directed by Romeo Castellucci and conducted by Teodor Currentzis; Mozart’s “Die Zauberfloete (The Magic Flute),” directed by Lydia Steier; Puccini’s “Tosca,” directed by Michael Sturminger and starring Anna Netrebko; Luigi Nono’s “Intolleranza 1960,” directed and choreographed by Jan Lauwer;, and Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov,” directed by Johannes Leiacker. Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” with mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli will return after premiering May 29 at the Whitsun Festival.FILE – Actors perform during a dress rehearsal of Guiseppe Verdi’s opera “Macbeth” in Salzburg, July 28, 2011, in preparation for the 91st edition of the Salzburg Festival.The first Salzburg Festival opened Aug. 22, 1920, with a performance of Hofmannsthal’s “Jedermann” on the steps of Salzburg Cathedral. Its first opera, two years later, was “Don Giovanni.” Next summer’s festival runs from July 18 through Aug. 30.”The history of Salzburg Festival is extremely rich. It could be a burden,” said pianist Markus Hinterhauser, who became artistic director in October 2016 and has a contract running until September 2026. “But for me it’s really a very inspiring, very vitalizing thing to look at the history. But looking back needs also to make clear that we are always trying to lead the festival in a new presence.”Concerts include eight programs of Beethoven piano sonatas with Igor Levit; five performances by the Vienna Philharmonic led by Riccardo Muti, Gustavo Dudamel, Christian Thielmann, Mariss Jansons and Andris Nelsons; and two performances of the Berlin Philharmonic and new chief conductor Kirill Petrenko. The only U.S. orchestra is the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck.”I’m often asked, is Salzburg here to keep the tradition or is it here to set the trends?” Rabl-Stadler said. “I think both. It’s wonderful to have Mozart in our town, but on the other hand, we have to think how can we explain the topics of works to people nowadays.”
 

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Strained US-Turkey Ties as Trump and Erdogan Hold Meeting

President Donald Trump and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met Wednesday as relations between the NATO allies have fallen to their lowest point in decades, with Turkey drifting closer to Russia and facing a Washington backlash over its military offensive against Kurds in Syria.Erdogan and Trump had a difficult agenda for their talks: Turkey’s decision to buy a Russian air defense system despite Turkey’s membership in NATO and its incursion into neighboring Syria to attack Kurdish forces that have fought with the U.S. against the Islamic State group.Despite those disputes, Trump said the two countries were poised to increase U.S. goods and services trade with Turkey, which totaled about $24 billion in 2017.“We’re going to be expanding,” Trump said. “We think we can bring trade up very quickly to about $100 billion between our countries.”The leaders’ scheduled afternoon news conference, following a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House, would give Trump a stage to counter the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.Sitting in the Oval Office with Erdogan, Trump said he was too busy to watch the televised hearing on the inquiry, which he called a “hoax.”Trump defended his decision to invite Erdogan despite Turkey’s widely denounced advance into Syria. He said that he and Turkey’s president have been “very good friends” for a long time and understand each other’s country.“I understand the problems that they’ve had, including many people from Turkey being killed in the area that we’re talking about and he has to do something about that,” Trump said.Protesters rally against the Washington visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside the White House, Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington.The House last month overwhelmingly passed a bill to sanction senior Turkish officials and its army for the military incursion into Syria. Erdogan sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of a separatist Kurdish group that’s been fighting inside Turkey since the 1980s.Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, speaks at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, May 3, 2019, in Kittery, Maine.“This is not the time or place to be extending hospitality and exchanging niceties with a dictator,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.In the Senate, two Democrats introduced legislation denouncing Turkey’s targeting of journalists, political opponents, dissidents, minorities and others.They said the Turkish government had imprisoned more than 80,000 Turkish citizens, closed more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds and dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs.In October, Trump moved U.S. troops in Syria out of the way of invading Turkish troops, a decision that critics said amounted to abandoning America’s Kurdish allies to be attacked.“It has upended what was an oasis of stability, damaged U.S. credibility and standing on the world stage and strengthened the hands of Russia, Iran” and the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, Shaheen said.Trump administration officials have said Trump told Turkey not to invade Syria. But when Erdogan insisted, they say, Trump decided to move 28 Green Berets operating on the Turkey-Syria border so they wouldn’t be caught in a crossfire between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurds.Amnesty International recently released a report documenting killings, human rights violations and possible war crimes caused by Turkey-backed forces in northern Syria.“There has been a callous disregard for civilian lives, including attacks on residential areas,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Over 100,000 people have fled this offensive and there are fears that the displaced are not getting access to food, to clear water, or to medical supplies.”She said Trump must send a message to Erdogan that these actions and unlawful behavior must stop and that those responsible be held accountable.The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Turkey to investigate reported cases of summary executions committed by a Turkish-backed armed group in northern Syria. The U.N. cited video footage showing fighters with the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives on a highway in northern Syria.Turkey reached truce agreements with Russia and the United States last month that halted the incursion and forced Kurdish fighters to retreat from Turkey’s southern border. “The cease-fire is holding very well,” Trump said. “We’ve been speaking to the Kurds and they seem to be very satisfied.”But Erdogan claims the Kurds have not vacated border areas and says he will give Trump a list of attacks carried out by Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish-led force.FILE – First parts of a Russian S-400 missile defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane near Ankara, Turkey, July 12, 2019.Trump planned to express concern about Erdogan’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The U.S. and fellow NATO nations say the S-400 would aid Russian intelligence and compromise a U.S.-led fighter jet program.The U.S. has since kicked Erdogan out of a multinational program producing components of America’s high-tech F-35 fighter jet. In response, Erdogan attended an annual Russian air show this summer in Moscow and expressed interest in buying the latest Russian Su-35 fighter jets.Trump has not yet decided whether to impose congressional sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 purchase.

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Venice ‘On Its Knees’ after 2nd-Worst Flood Ever Recorded

The worst flooding in Venice in more than 50 years prompted calls Wednesday to better protect the historic city from rising sea levels as officials calculated hundreds of millions of euros in damage.The water reached 1.87 meters (6.14 feet) above sea level Tuesday, the second-highest level ever recorded in the city and just 7 centimeters (2 inches) lower than the historic 1966 flood. Another wave of exceptionally high water followed Wednesday.“Venice is on its knees,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said on Twitter. “St. Mark’s Basilica has sustained serious damage, like the entire city and its islands.”One death was blamed on the flooding, on the barrier island of Pellestrina. A man in his 70s was apparently electrocuted when he tried to start a pump in his dwelling, said Danny Carrella, an official on the island of 3,500 inhabitants.General view of flooding in Venice, Italy, Nov. 12, 2019. (Sabina Castelfranco/VOA)In Venice, the crypt beneath St. Mark’s Basilica was inundated for only the second time in its history, with water entering through the windows and bypassing all defenses. Damage was also reported at the Ca’ Pesaro modern art gallery, where a short circuit set off a fire, and at La Fenice theater, where authorities turned off electricity as a precaution after the control room was flooded.Tourists floated suitcases through St. Mark’s Square, where officials removed walkways to prevent them from floating away. The water was so high that nothing less than thigh-high boots afforded protection. Water poured through wooden boards that shop and hotel owners have previously placed in front of doors to hold back water during flooding. Tourists staying on the ground floor of hotels were forced to move to upper floors overnight.“I have often seen St. Mark’s Square covered with water,” Venice’s patriarch, Monsignor Francesco Moraglia, told reporters. “Yesterday there were waves that seemed to be the seashore.”Brugnaro said damage would reach hundreds of millions of euros, and he called on Rome to declare a state of emergency. Premier Giuseppe Conte was due to visit the city later Wednesday.“We are not just talking about calculating the damages, but of the very future of the city” Brugnaro told reporters. “Because the population drain also is a result of this.”The flooding was caused by heavy rains coinciding a full moon that brought high tides that were pushed into Venice by southerly winds. At the same time, rising sea levels because of climate change make the city built amid a system of canals even more vulnerable.Damage included five ferries that serve as water buses, a critical means of transportation.Photos on social media showed a city ferry, taxi boats and gondolas grounded on walkways flanking canals. At least 60 boats were damaged, according to civil protection authorities.Pellestrina was one of the worst hit areas. Facing the sea, water came over the banks of the canal and filled the island like a basin. Carrella said a meter (more than 3 feet) of water remained Wednesday because of broken pumps.Brugnaro blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation” and called for a speedy completion of a long-delayed project to construct offshore barriers called “Moses,” the moveable undersea barriers are meant to limit flooding.But the project, which was opposed by environmentalists concerned about damaging the delicate lagoon eco-system, has been delayed by cost overruns and corruption scandals, with no launch date in site.Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, told SkyTG24 that the barriers were almost complete, but it wasn’t clear if they would work against such flooding.“Despite 5 billion euros under water, St. Mark’s Square certainly wouldn’t be secure,” Zaia said, referring to one of Venice’s lowest points, which floods when there is an inundation of 80 centimeters (31.5 inches).Zaia also expressed concern for snowfalls in the mountains above Venice, where up to 120 centimeters (47 inches) was expected.Across the Adriatic Sea, heavy storm and sweeping winds also collapsed caused floods in towns in Croatia and Slovenia.In the Croatian town of Split, authorities on Wednesday said that the flooding submerged the basement area of the Roman-era Diocletian’s Palace where emergency crews battled to pump out the water.Slovenia’s coastal towns of Piran, Izola and Koper reported that sea levels reached the second highest point in the last 50 years. 

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British Refusal to Publish Russia Report Fuels Suspicions Of Kremlin Links

The British government is refusing to publish a report examining Russian interference in its democratic process – despite widespread calls for its release before the general election scheduled December 12. The report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee was completed months ago – and the head of the committee says it is ready for release. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the delay is fueling suspicions that it could be damaging for the ruling Conservative party 

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British Refusal to Publish Russia Report Fuels Suspicions of Kremlin Links

The British government is refusing to publish a report examining Russian interference in its democratic process, despite widespread calls for its release before the December general election. The move is fueling suspicions that the details could be damaging for the ruling Conservative party.The report by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee was completed in March and handed to the prime minister for approval on Oct. 17.  The government insists the report is still awaiting security service approval, but the head of the committee that wrote the report says it is ready for publication.
British Refusal to Publish Russia Report Fuels Suspicions of Kremlin Links video player.
Embed” />Copy LinkBritish Refusal to Publish Russia Report Fuels Suspicions of Kremlin LinksThe report examines widespread allegations that Moscow sought to interfere in British democracy, including the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, and the 2017 general election.”In the absence of the report, because of that delay, rumor and suspicion circulate,” said Andrew Foxall, a Russia analyst at The Henry Jackson Society.FILE – MP Dominic Grieve, the head of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, is seen at the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, Britain, Sept. 30, 2019.Potential embarrassment?The suspicion is that the report could highlight links between Russia and the ruling Conservatives, said Ian Bond of the Center for European Reform in London.”That, I think, says there is something in there that the government feels it would be embarrassed by in an electoral context,” he said. “And I think that’s rather dangerous for our democracy.”But why would Russia seek to promote Britain’s EU exit?”Disruption,” Bond said. “So the more that you can disrupt your adversaries, the stronger you are in relative terms. Once the U.K. leaves the table in the EU, that’s one strong, persuasive voice in favor of the continuation of sanctions gone.”Conservatives dismiss claims the findings could be embarrassing.Foreign Office Minister Christopher Pincher told lawmakers last week that “there is no evidence to suggest that Russia or the Kremlin has successfully engaged in interference in our electoral processes.”The government maintains the report is awaiting security clearance. But the head of the committee that wrote it, Dominic Grieve, said it has already been cleared. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry of the opposition Labour party told parliament the delay is a conspiracy.”This is nothing less than an attempt to suppress the truth from the public and from parliament and it is an affront to our democracy,” Thornberry said.FILE – Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry speaks during the Labour party annual conference in Brighton, Britain, Sept. 23, 2019.Reports of previous linksThere are reports of past links between the Conservatives and the Kremlin, noted analyst Foxall.”A Kremlin-backed organization called Conservative Friends of Russia was created in 2012 with the help of an operative from the Russian Embassy here in London. It has since become clear that that operative is likely a member of the FSB (Federal Security Service). That organization, that group, gained significant support amongst high profile Tories, members of the Conservative party but collapsed in scandal after it released kompromat, which is to say compromising material, on a Labour MP, Chris Bryant.”In the United States, the Robert Mueller investigation concluded earlier this year that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Former Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton — who lost to Donald Trump — this week questioned the British government’s decision during a visit to London.”I’m dumbfounded that this government won’t release the report about Russian influence because every person who votes in the country deserves to see that report before your election happens,” Clinton told the BBC.Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed suspicions that the report is damaging to his party and says it will be published after the Dec. 12 election.
 

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Syria, Russian Missiles on Agenda for Trump-Erdogan Talks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits the White House for talks Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump, with the two leaders likely to discuss Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria and its purchase of a Russian air defense system.The agenda for the day released by the White House also includes an afternoon joint news conference.The United States and other NATO allies have expressed concern about Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, saying they do not fit with the alliances defense systems and pose a threat to the U.S. F-35 fighter jet program.  In response, the United States has suspended Turkey’s involvement with the F-35.A senior U.S. official, who spoke to reporters ahead of Erdogan’s visit, said the issue of the missile system is one that Trump “is trying to address head-on” in the talks with Turkey.”As he’s outlined publicly, there’s tremendous upside in this bilateral relationship in economic terms, a key part of which is the F-35 and Turkey’s role and potential role in the F-35 program.  But to get there, we, as allies, need to resolve this issue of the S-400,” the official said.Erdogan spokesman Fahrettin Altun said on Twitter that Turkey has been clear about its reasoning for purchasing the Russian missiles.”Turkey’s need for a missile defense system is urgent. The U.S. must recognize this to prevent the issue from becoming a thorn in our relations. Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program is crucial for our defense partnership,” Altun wrote.A senior U.S. official said another of Trump’s priorities would be the situation in Syria where the United States is chiefly concerned about a potential resurgence of the Islamic State group as well as preventing “humanitarian atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities.”Trump also planned to discuss human rights issues within Turkey as well.

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Bosnian Border Police Sound Alarm over Migration Pressure

The chief of Bosnia’s border police warned Tuesday that his guards cannot contain the migratory pressure along the country’s eastern border with Serbia and that the situation could easily escalate and put in danger the overall stability of the politically fragile nation.Zoran Galic told The Associated Press in an interview that securing the nation’s entire 1,600-kilometer (995-mile) border along a popular migration route into Europe was like the “work of Sisyphus.” That was a reference to the Greek mythical hero who was condemned for eternity to push a rock up a mountain only to watch it roll all the way down every time he reaches the top.“We are in a constant struggle to deter migrants, but they never quit,” he said.Describing the scale of the problem, he said:  “We encounter women who are eight months pregnant, juvenile children, and we are doing our best to treat them morally, with respect for all international (human rights) conventions.”Since the start of the year, more than 13,000 migrants have arrived in Bosnia, according to Bosnian government statistics. The impoverished country is unable to provide them with appropriate accommodation and many are left without access to hot meals, showers or proper medical care, to the growing consternation of local communities.In this photo taken Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, Bosnian border police officers guard migrants after making the illegal crossing from Serbia by the Drina river, the natural border between Bosnia and Serbia, near eastern Bosnian town of Zvornik, Bosnia…Galic said his border police forces is short 1,000 officers and the modern technology required to secure the borders. He said the country only has one officer per every 30 kilometers (19 miles) of border.Bosnia is located along the so-called Balkan route that migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa take in hopes of reaching western Europe. The route became more popular nearly three years ago after other countries in the region sealed off their borders.Most migrants arrive in Bosnia from Serbia after moving relatively unimpeded across the poorly guarded border between the two countries. From there they walk northwest to Bosnia’s border with the European Union-member Croatia.  The Bosnian border with both Serbia and Croatia is mostly porous, with rivers, mountains and vast tracts of forest.But Croatia has been taking increasingly efficient steps to prevent cross-border movement, so a growing number of desperate migrants remain stuck in Bosnia, one of the poorest and most volatile countries in Europe.Migrants caught by Bosnian border police officers, after making the illegal crossing from Serbia, described to the AP being smuggled across the Drina River by human traffickers.“I am paying crossing river 3,000 euro. Who take the money? It is smuggler, men smuggler,” said a migrant who identified himself only as Waqar, and said he was a 17-year-old Pakistani.Over the past few months, the high influx of migrants has unleashed acrimony among Bosnia’s squabbling nationalist leaders who represent the often-competing interests of the country’s Bosniak, Croat and Serb ethnic communities.Most notably, Bosnian Serb hard-line leader Milorad Dodik, who is a member of Bosnia’s multi-ethnic joint presidency, has blocked efforts to deploy the army to stem the influx of migrants from Serbia.Dodik is also blocking the deployment of the EU’s border protection agency teams along Bosnia’s border with Croatia, using the crisis to promote his Serbian-first attitude, including by refusing to accommodate any migrants in the country’s highly autonomous Serb-run half.Many Bosnians have sympathy for the asylum seekers, with memories of when many of them sought refuge elsewhere.During the war in Bosnia of 1992-95 — the deadliest of the ethnic wars sparked by the breakup of Yugoslavia — more than 100,000 people died, and more than half the population was forced to flee.

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