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In Washington, UN rights chief says atrocities can be prevented through better global leadership

INTERNATIONAL – World leaders too often choose to violate international law and set aside moral principles, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, as he warned against “sinking into a state of paralysis” and called for a deeper form of education that equips people with moral courage to act toward one another with responsibility and care.

During his first visit to the United States in his capacity as the top UN human rights official, Mr. Zeid delivered a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. – one week after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – emphasizing that education devoid of a strong universal human rights component can be next to worthless, especially in a crisis.

“What good was it to humanity that…eight out of 15 people who planned the Holocaust at Wannsee in 1942 held PhDs?” he asked. “In the years after the Holocaust, specific treaties were negotiated to cement into law obligations to protect human rights. Countries the world over accepted them – and now alas, all too frequently, they ignore them in practice.”

While it has been 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz extermination camp, some of the processes used by the Nazis to carry out humanity’s largest organized destruction are being implemented again today by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), explained Mr. Zeid.

 “This logic is abundant around the world today: I torture because a war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because terrorism, repulsive as it is, requires it. I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity or my way of life is being threatened as never before. I kill others, because others will kill me – and so it goes, on and on.”

Since the world cannot afford “sinking into a state of paralyzing shock…the task is to strengthen our ethics, clarity, openness of thought, and moral courage,” calling for new battle lines to combat extremism – based on the struggle for minds.

“Children need to learn what bigotry and chauvinism are…they need to learn that blind obedience can be exploited by authority figures for wicked ends. They should learn that they are not an exception because of where they were born, how they look, what passport they carry, or the social class, caste or creed of their parents; they should learn that no one is intrinsically superior to her or his fellow human beings,” said Mr. Zeid.

The world needs “profound and inspiring” leaders who fully observe human rights and humanitarian law and all the treaties drafted to end discrimination, poverty, war, “with no excuses.” Only then, can we help ourselves out of the “supply of crises that threatens to engulf us,” the UN rights chief emphasized.

It is obvious, Mr. Zeid continued, that forceful reprisals against atrocities – including “the savage burning of my compatriot the pilot Mu’ath al Kassassbeh” by ISIL – have had limited impact. Leaders must adopt a “battle-line based on ideas,” to speak out against Takfiri ideology (when one believer apostasies another believer and condemns them as impure). The movement to end that dangerous ideology must be waged by Muslim leaders and Muslim countries, he said.

“Just bombing them or choking off their financing has clearly not worked…for these groups have only proliferated and grown in strength,” he said. “The space for dissent in many countries is collapsing under the weight of either poorly-thought out, or indeed, exploitative, counter-terrorism strategies.”

Few crises erupt without warning, he continued. Extremist ideas and violence manifest from years of tyranny, inequalities, fear and bad governance. They build up over years – even decades – of human rights grievances and the denial of basic economic and social rights.

He insisted that atrocities can be prevented and extremism curbed through better, human rights-based global leadership and a fundamental rethink of education. “Surely we now know, from bitter experience, that human rights are the only meaningful rampart against barbarity.”

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Security Council condemns Boko Haram attacks as deadly violence spreads to Nigeria's neighbours

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations Security Council has condemned “in the strongest terms” the continued escalation of attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists, including deadly attacks during the past week which took the lives of many civilians in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

In a statement issued to the press late Friday evening, the Council deplored the ongoing escalation of Boko Haram violence, which has spread beyond northern Nigeria, where the group has perpetrated a raft of heinous crimes against civilians.

Council members cited attacks on 13 February in Ngouboua, Chad, against civilians, which killed many persons including the local traditional leader and injured several others, as well as an 8 February attack in Kerawa, Cameroon, and February 6-8 attacks in Diffa, Niger.

In its statement, the Council extended its condolences to the families of the victims and its sympathy to all those injured in these heinous attacks, as well as to the peoples and the Governments of the Republics of Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

“The members of the Security Council reaffirm that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including the actions of Boko Haram, constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security,” said the statement, stressing that such acts are “criminal and unjustifiable,” regardless of their motivation.

Council members also reiterated their determination to combat all forms of terrorism, in accordance with its responsibilities under the UN Charter, and underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of acts of terrorism to justice.

Finally, the Council reminded States that they must ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.

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States agree key document on route to climate change agreement

INTERNATIONAL – A key milestone on the route to a new, universal agreement on climate change was reached today February 13 in Geneva, with a week of United Nations-facilitated discussions among over 190 States ending with successful conclusion of the negotiating text for a binding treaty expected to be adopted in Paris at the end of this year.

“This fulfils the internationally-accepted timetable for reaching a possible treaty because it alerts capitals to the fact that a legal instrument could be adopted in Paris,”saidChristiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in a press release.

“It does not, however, set this possibility in stone – it merely opens the door for this possibility. As for the legal nature of the agreement, this will only be clarified later in the year.”

Successful construction of the negotiating text kick-startsa year of intense negotiations towards the new agreement, expected to be finalized at a Paris Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in December. The Geneva talks gave 194 countries a chance to follow-up on the work done at the Lima Climate Change Conference held at the end of last year, which produced elements for the negotiating text, known as theLima Call for Climate Action.

The text agrees today covers the substantive content of the new agreement including mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity-building. Countries worked hard to identify the main choices, put their views forward and add more sharpened options to the text.

“The text was constructed in full transparency. This means that although it has become longer, countries are now fully aware of each other’s positions,” Ms. Figueres said. “I am extremely encouraged by the constructive spirit and the speed at which negotiators have worked during the past week.”

The next step is for negotiators to narrow down options and reach consensus on the content. Formal work and negotiations on the text will continue at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn in June with two further formal sessions planned for later in the year, as well as ministerial-level meetings that will take place throughout 2015.

“These opportunities will help to ensure that countries have opportunities to work with each other at several political levels–what is needed now is vertical integration so that the views of heads of state, through ministers and to negotiators reflects a seamless and consistent view of ambition, common ground and ultimately success in December,” Ms. Figueres said.

The//unfccc.int/files/bodies/awg/application/pdf/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." style="line-height:inherit">negotiating textis available on the UNFCCC’s website and will be edited and translated into the UN’s official languages. After this, the text will be communicated to the world’s capitals by the UNFCCC secretariat in the first quarter of 2015.

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Forum seeks to identify aims on women’s health for post-2015

INTERNATIONAL – United Nations Headquarters in New York hosted the inaugural World Women’s Health and Development Forum, bringing together world leaders, representatives of UN system entities, scientists, healthcare professionals, and members of civil society, the media and the private sector to discuss how best to advance the health, wealth and empowerment of women worldwide.

The two-day High Level Forum was organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT), focusing on the outcomes desired from the Post-2015 development agenda and identifying the main challenges facing countries in developing and enhancing women’s health.

Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, the Forum’s founder and Executive Director of RASIT, said that the Forum would aim “to identify the main challenges facing countries for developing and enhancing women’s health. It will reflect practices, information-sharing mechanisms and concrete actions for the health and development of women and girls, taking into consideration different needs of different societies and cultures.”

In an interview withUN Radioafter she delivered her welcome message, Dr. El-Hashemite noted that there is currently insufficient knowledge within academia and the health care industry about women's health, including non-communicable diseases and mental illnesses.

“It is important to realize that women and men have different medical needs,” she said. “As a doctor and a scientist, and as a woman, I call on ministries of health to establish office of women's health, wish a mission of protecting and advancing the health of women broadly.”

The Executive Directors of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Babatunde Osotimehin, and the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, were also expected to address the opening session of the event.

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‘Enormous scale’ of Mediterranean migration tragedy emerges – up to 300 dead

INTERNATIONAL – With the number of refugees and migrants confirmed missing following their attempt to cross the Mediterranean into Europe revised from a total of 29 dead to as many as 300, the United Nations refugee agency said today that it is shocked by the new information emerging on the scale of the maritime tragedy.

“This is a tragedy on an enormous scale and a stark reminder that more lives could be lost if those seeking safety are left at the mercy of the sea,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Europe Bureau Director.

UNHCR gathered reports from the Italian Coast Guard and survivors who arrived in Lampedusa, discovering that initial reports widely underestimated the number of people involved in the crossing attempt.

A single dinghy was originally found, by the Italian Coast Guard and a merchant vessel on Sunday. 29 people from that craft died, while 110 survived. The migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa, left the coast of Libya in four dinghies on Saturday, drifting without food or water.

Three of the four dinghies have now been recovered. On one, only two out of 107 passengers survived while on another seven out of 109 survived. The fourth dinghy was reported to UNHCR by survivors and is still missing. The youngest of the missing is a 12 year old boy.

UNHCR reiterates its concern about the lack of a strong search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean. Europe's Triton operation, which is run by the European border protection agency Frontex, is not focused on search and rescue and is not providing the necessary tools to cope with the scale of the crises.

“Saving lives should be our top priority. Europe cannot afford to do too little too late,” said Mr. Cochetel.

At least 218,000 people, including both migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 and this trend is expected to continue in 2015.

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WHO/PAHO health agencies urges stepped-up surveillance to prevent spread of measles in the Americas

AMERICAS/CARIBBEAN – The recent outbreaks of measles – one of the leading causes of deaths among young children – in the United States and Brazil suggest that immunization rates in some areas have dropped below levels needed to prevent the spread of imported into the Americas, according to the United Nations health agency.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization, based in Washington, D.C., reported in apress releaseissued Tuesday that there were 147 confirmed measles cases in four countries of the Americas this year as of February 8.

“Of that total, 121 cases were in the United States, linked primarily to an outbreak that began at Disneyland in California last December,” the PAHO/WHO press release said, adding that a single case in Mexico was also tied to that outbreak. Of the remaining cases, 21 were in Brazil and four were in Canada.

“Thanks to high levels of immunization, the Americas have been on track for more than a decade to be formally declared free of measles,” said Dr. Cuauhtemoc Ruiz, head of PAHO/WHO’s immunization programme. “Maintaining high levels of vaccine coverage is key to preventing and halting outbreaks and to protect our populations from the constant threat of imported cases.”

Measles had been considered eliminated from the Americas since 2002, due to the absence of endemic transmission of the disease as the result of the region's success in achieving high levels of immunization, through routine immunization programs and mass vaccination campaigns such as the annual Vaccination Week in the Americas, which PAHO/WHO have spearheaded for the past 13 years.

Now, measles elimination “is facing major challenges, with several ongoing importations of measles in some countries,” PAHO/WHO said in an epidemiological alert distributed Tuesday to member countries across the region.

The alert urges countries to strengthen measles surveillance activities and to “take appropriate measures to protect residents in the Americas against measles and rubella.”

“Countries in the Americas have reported cases imported from other regions every year during the past decade, but until recently, they did not lead to significant outbreaks,” said Dr. Ruiz. “The current outbreaks point to gaps in immunization that could allow measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases to take hold again and begin spreading in our hemisphere.”

Measles vaccine has been used for more than 50 years and has proven to be safe and effective. Globally, measles vaccine prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths between 2000 and 2013.

PAHO/WHO recommends that children receive two doses of measles-containing vaccine before their fifth birthday and that levels of coverage with two doses be maintained at 95 per cent or more to prevent the spread of imported cases. Currently, an estimated 92 per cent of 1-year-olds in the Americas receive a first dose of measles vaccine.

PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the Geneva-based WHO.

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Calls made for boosted search, rescue efforts as migrants die of hypothermia in Mediterranean

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has urged European nations to ramp up search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea following the region’s first major maritime tragedy this year in which dozens of people perished, apparently from hypothermia.

Twenty-nine migrants were reported dead off the coast of Libya on February 9 during an attempt to cross the Mediterranean over to Europe. UNHCR said it is both deeply saddened by the news and concerned by the manner of the deaths – “all but seven of which appear to have occurred on board the rescue vessel, with people dying of hypothermia.” Some 100 migrants were rescued when the Italian Coast Guard succeeded in reaching the distressed vessel despite the turbulent waters.

“While we applaud all involved in the rescue effort – which took place in high seas and poor weather conditions and resulted in 106 lives being saved – this is an example of why it was felt important in October 2013, following tragedies that occurred then, to underline the need for a much more effective and improved rescue capacity in the Mediterranean to cope with the scale of the problem,” said UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards in apress release.

Migrant crossings in the Mediterranean have spiked in the first few weeks of 2015 with UNHCR reporting the numbers as being “significantly higher” compared to the same period last year. In January alone, the agency added, 3,528 arrivals were reported in Italy compared to 2,171 in January last year. Meanwhile, 2015 has already seen 50 deaths, including the lives lost yesterday, compared to the 12 recorded by this point last year.

As conflict continues to flare in Syria, Libya and across the Middle East, refugees are increasingly resorting to irregular migration, paying vast sums of money and frequently succumbing to the whims of human traffickers in order to flee zones of crisis for Europe’s shores. The bulk of these migrants arrive in Italy. By the end of August 2014, for instance, more than 108,000 migrants had already landed on the Italian peninsula.

“Additionally worrying is that, with yesterday’s incident, there are indications that more people were attempting to reach Italy last night,” Mr. Edwards continued.

The UNHCR spokesperson recalled that more than 218,000 people had crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 with an estimated 3,500 having lost their lives in the attempt. He added that the number “would have been higher if not for Italy’s Mare Nostrum” – the Italian Government’s rescue campaign which was replaced last year by a European Union operation namedTriton.

While the “Mare Nostrum” rescue operation brought an array of Italian naval and coast guard vessels into the fold, permitting the rescue of distressed migrants stranded far from Europe’s shores,Tritonremains more focussed on assisting those within range of the continent’s coastlines.

Mr. Edwards warned the European Union thatTritonwas “no replacement for proper search and rescue capacity” and called for European Governments to provide Italy with “proper support to deal with people making irregular crossings.”

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UNICEF, David Beckham launch new initiative to boost funding for world’s children

INTERNATIONAL – International football icon and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador, David Beckham, on February 9 announced his latest fundraising initiative, launched in tandem with the UN agency and aimed at boosting assistance for the world’s youth, amid the planet’s worsening humanitarian crises.

“Today, the need to help children has never been greater, and since retiring, I have more time and I want to do so much more,” Mr. Beckham said in apress releasemarking the unveiling of7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund– his “ground-breaking initiative” to protect millions of children around the world from danger.

“This is me stepping up my support – because I can, because I want to, because the outcome will help change the lives of millions of children,” he continued.

“Everything I have done, my football career, my family, has led to this point – this is the moment for me to do what I can to help children in every corner of the world. This is something I want my own children to be proud of.”

Mr. Beckham’s latest effort comes after one of the most devastating years for children on record.

As many as 15 million children are caught up in violent conflicts in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and in the Occupied Palestinian territory – including those displaced in their own countries or living as refugees outside their homeland, according to UNICEF.

At the same time, schools have increasingly been commandeered by combatants for military purposes amid a rise in attacks on education and health facilities. Overall, an estimated 230 million children live in countries and areas affected by armed conflicts.

Children are also at serious risk from a wide range of factors beyond immediate emergencies. 168 million across the globe are engaged in child labour and many others are victims of sexual violence, trafficking and female genital mutilation.

The launch of7, named in honour of Mr. Beckham’s famed jersey number, will inaugurate a series of fundraising initiatives in which the former England captain will plan to “raise millions and speak out for children all over the world.”

Once fundraising objectives are achieved, UNICEF would be able to provide child protection services and counselling support to children in El Salvador, the country with the highest homicide rate among children in the world; provide water pumps and train communities to maintain them in Burkina Faso, where currently 1 in 5 child deaths are caused by diarrhoea; and support breastfeeding mothers to give children the best start in life in Papua New Guinea, where child malnutrition has caused stunted growth in nearly half of all children under the age of five, the UNICEF press release explained.

“There are some very exciting plans ahead and I am so proud to be part of this,” Mr. Beckham added.

Paloma Escudero, from UNICEF’s Global Management Team, acknowledged Mr. Beckham’s longstanding efforts to “speaking up for those who need it most – the world’s most vulnerable children,” noting that the football star had already dedicated 10 years of work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

“David has raised awareness of major dangers facing children – including malnutrition, Ebola and AIDS – and has travelled with UNICEF to Sierra Leone, South Africa, Thailand and most recently the Philippines, where he helped raise vital funds for children affected by Typhoon Haiyan,” she affirmed. “Through 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund, we can act together to drive positive change for children.”

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Fight against child labour gaining momentum in Kosovo, ILO says

INTERNATIONAL – The International Labour Organization (ILO) on February 9 spotlighted the fight against child labour in Kosovo, where, it said, children as young as 10 are forced to work on garbage dumps or in the fields risking their health, and noted that progress is being made to eliminate such “unacceptable ways of providing financial support to a family.”

“Public authorities, communities and families all have their share of responsibility in fighting these abuses and they should act on these responsibilities,” Lindita Boshtrakaj, ILO National Programme Manager for the child labour project in Kosovo,said on February 9.

To illustrate the plight of families forced to send their children to work in the fields, ILO focused on the story of Sevdije Morina, a mother of five in the Kosovar village of Vrajak, whose children help her with the hard farm work – harvesting onions and grapes.

“I was forced to stop sending them to school so that they could work more in the fields and the vineyard,” she said, according to ILO, adding that the children often handle pesticides and dangerous tools.

Her 12-year-old daughter Haxhere said: “There have been cases when we’ve been injured when hoeing. And once I cut my hand with an axe. Since we did not have a car or other transportation, we had to walk the six kilometres from Vrajak to Ratkoc to take the children to hospital.”

Coming from poor families, some of them have to start to work as early as the age of 10, ILO said.

“Working on a garbage dump or in agriculture, they risk their health and even their lives. For many of them, combining school and work is a major challenge,” ILO said.

The UN agency also reported that for dozens of children collecting waste at a local dumpsite in Koshtova, a small village on the outskirts of the northern town of Mitrovica, working conditions may be even more difficult than for the mother of five and her children.

“They often hurt themselves when they collect the garbage or run to meet a new truck arriving at the dumpsite,” it said. “They rush because the winner of the race takes all and can fill his or her bag alone. Everybody accepts this tacit agreement to avoid fights between the children.”

The ILO reported that it and Kosovo’s Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare are working to find quick and adequate solutions, and so far, the project has led to the formulation of the Kosovo Action Plan for Prevention and Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

The so-called Administrative Instruction 05/2013 on the Prevention and Prohibition of Hazardous Child Labour in Kosovo was approved in July 2014, which contains the updated Hazardous Child Labour List drafted with the help of the ILO.

And since March 2013, members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce are obliged to observe the ILO’s four fundamental labour principles, including the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the elimination of child labour, forced labour and discrimination at work.

So far, according to ILO, 40 members of the Chamber of Commerce adopted codes of conduct on combating child labour in their supply chains and communities. In addition, occupational safety and health issues will be mainstreamed into the compulsory education (grades 8-9) and upper secondary school curricula.

The ILO is devoted to promoting social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights, and helps advance the creation of decent work and the economic and working conditions that give working people and business people a stake in lasting peace, prosperity and progress.

Its four strategic objectives are: promote and realize standards and fundamental principles and rights at work; create greater opportunities for women and men to decent employment and income; enhance the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all; and strengthen tripartism and social dialogue.

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Government institutions must deliver equally to provide ‘true stability,’ Dubai summit told

INTERNATIONAL – Opening the 2015 Government Summit in Dubai, the Secretary-General on February 9th drew attention to the world’s pressing security and development challenges, calling on Governments to help foster a more peaceful and sustainable future, and describing how the United Nations can give support.

He highlighted the international turmoil blighting the world, listing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instability in Libya and Yemen, and the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq among the main situations damaging prospects for long-term peace and stability.

“I have repeatedly condemned the repugnant and cowardly behaviour of those committing atrocious acts against innocent civilians,”saidMr. Ban. “At the same time, I have insisted on the need to strictly respect human rights. Any rights abuses committed in the name of counter-terror are morally wrong and strategically counterproductive.”

Radicalization would be best addressed if leaders tackled marginalization and exclusion, and listened to their people’s voices when speaking up about emergencies but also more general issues, like the need for greater transparency, accountability and democracy.

“Leaders who place themselves above the law and their people put their own governments at risk of collapse,” he warned. “True stability demands trusted institutions that deliver for people equally.”

Public institutions serving the common good are vital to efficient governance and also to improving equity, justice and stability, and he welcomed initiatives aimed at cutting red tape, lowering costs and fighting fraud.

The Secretary-General said he insisted on transparency and accountability at the UN, with the aim of creating a more modern, dynamic and responsive organisation that earned even better public trust. He disclosed his financial assets and asked all senior officials across the UN to be just as open.

As the UN marked its 70th year, he underlined the need for the Organization to better serve Governments and people, and to enable the world to take transformative steps towards a more sustainable, equitable and peaceful world.

He pointed to ongoing work to review peace operations and peacebuilding, and internal reforms for better approaches to human resources, technology and management, all of which would serve the overarching goal of enabling the UN to help better implement the sustainable development goals.

Listing the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July, the special summit on sustainable development in New York in September, and the climate change conference in Paris in December, he underlined their significance and the opportunity they offered Governments to make ambitious plans for a more sustainable future.

“We are the first generation that can end poverty and maybe the last that can avert the worst impacts of climate change,” he said. “The success of these plans will depend on accountable and transparent governments that engage people in decisions affecting them.”

States would have more opportunity than ever to cooperate with civil society groups in policy-making and should also involve more citizens in co-designing solutions to development challenge.

“This new epoch calls for a new governance model – one that is ready for the future, accountable, transparent, inclusive and participatory,” he urged. “Our discussions at this Government Summit can help realize that vision and usher in a life of dignity for all.”

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