Moscow’s med­dling Did it swing the Brexit vote?

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Pa­tel in peril

Priti Pa­tel was cling­ing to her job this week, fol­low­ing rev­e­la­tions that she had undis­closed meet­ings with Is­raeli of­fi­cials while on hol­i­day in Is­rael. The In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tary held 12 meet­ings dur­ing her 13-day hol­i­day in Au­gust, with­out of­fi­cially no­ti­fy­ing Down­ing Street or the For­eign Of­fice. One of the meet­ings was with the Is­raeli PM Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. She apol­o­gised this week, and was ex­pected to hold onto her job, but her po­si­tion started to look less ten­able when it emerged that she had held other meet­ings with Is­raeli of­fi­cials in Septem­ber, and that she had vis­ited the Golan Heights – oc­cu­pied Syr­ian ter­ri­tory which, ac­cord­ing to pro­to­col, Bri­tish of­fi­cials do not visit.

Brexit papers

Labour has called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of a se­ries of gov­ern­ment papers out­lin­ing the eco­nomic im­pact of Brexit. For months, min­is­ters re­fused to re­lease the stud­ies, say­ing to do so could un­der­mine Bri­tain in its ne­go­ti­a­tions with the EU. But a Labour mo­tion to pub­lish the re­ports, which the Gov­ern­ment chose not to op­pose, was passed unan­i­mously last week. The Gov­ern­ment has said it will re­lease the papers within three weeks.


Come­back kid: Italy’s for­mer PM Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni could be poised for an as­ton­ish­ing come­back, fol­low­ing his cen­tre-right bloc’s sweep­ing vic­tory in regional elec­tions in Si­cily. In a poll seen as a lit­mus test for na­tional elec­tions next year, the bloc Ber­lus­coni (pic­tured) leads – a coali­tion be­tween Forza Italia, the North­ern League, and Broth­ers of Italy – won nearly 40% in the vote. It is also ahead in the na­tional polls. Ber­lus­coni, 81, is cur­rently banned from of­fice as a re­sult of a 2013 tax fraud con­vic­tion, but hopes soon to have this over­turned by the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights. He is also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated over his al­leged links to Mafia ter­ror­ists in the early 1990s.

Vat­i­can City

Mar­ried priests: In a con­tro­ver­sial move likely to out­rage tra­di­tion­al­ists, Pope Fran­cis has floated the idea of al­low­ing mar­ried men in the Ama­zon re­gion of Brazil to be­come priests – over­turn­ing cen­turies of Ro­man Catholic doc­trine. Ac­cord­ing to Ital­ian me­dia, cit­ing Vat­i­can sources, the pon­tiff has re­quested that a de­bate on the is­sue be put onto the agenda of a synod in Rome in 2019, open­ing up the is­sue for a global synod due to be held in Aus­tralia in 2020. A par­tial lift­ing of the re­quire­ment for pri­estly celibacy has been sug­gested by a Brazil­ian car­di­nal, Cláu­dio Hummes, who has warned that a des­per­ate short­age of priests in the Ama­zon has re­sulted in Catholi­cism be­ing dis­placed by evan­gel­i­cal and pa­gan groups. Fran­cis said ear­lier this year that the Church should con­sider al­low­ing mar­ried priests in spe­cific cir­cum­stances.


Cata­lan politi­cians jailed: Nine mem­bers of the sus­pended regional gov­ern­ment of Cat­alo­nia, in­clud­ing the vice-pres­i­dent, were re­manded in cus­tody by a Madrid judge last Thurs­day, on charges of re­bel­lion, sedi­tion, and mis­use of funds in con­nec­tion with Cat­alo­nia’s dis­puted ref­er­en­dum and dec­la­ra­tion of an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic. The de­posed Cata­lan pres­i­dent, Car­les Puigde­mont, fled to Bel­gium last week, along with four ex-min­is­ters. Puigde­mont (pic­tured) has said he will not re­ceive a fair trial in Spain. How­ever, he and his col­leagues handed them­selves in to Bel­gian po­lice af­ter Spain is­sued Euro­pean ar­rest war­rants for them. They were re­leased on bail af­ter a ten-hour court hear­ing; the judge must now de­cide whether to ex­e­cute the war­rants and be­gin ex­tra­di­tion pro­ceed­ings.

De­spite the charges, Puigde­mont has been nom­i­nated by his pro-in­de­pen­dence party to lead a pro­posed coali­tion of Cata­lan sep­a­ratist par­ties in the snap elec­tions in Cat­alo­nia, which Spain’s na­tional gov­ern­ment has sched­uled for 21 De­cem­ber. An opin­ion poll in La Van­guardia, a Cata­lan news­pa­per, shows the pro-in­de­pen­dence bloc close to re­tain­ing power in the new par­lia­ment, tak­ing 66 to 69 seats in the 135-seat cham­ber. In the now-dis­solved par­lia­ment, they had 72 seats, giv­ing them the slim over­all ma­jor­ity that they said gave them a man­date to call the ref­er­en­dum.


Plan­ning ahead: A gov­ern­ment dossier leaked to Der Spiegel has re­vealed that Ber­lin is ac­tively plan­ning for a va­ri­ety of pos­si­ble devel­op­ments in Europe, in­clud­ing – in the most pes­simistic sce­nario – the col­lapse of the EU by 2040, and Ger­man in­volve­ment in mul­ti­ple armed con­flicts on its bor­ders. Ac­cord­ing to Der Spiegel, Strate­gic Per­spec­tive 2040 is the first re­port of its kind, and was com­mis­sioned partly in re­sponse to the West’s fail­ure to an­tic­i­pate Rus­sia’s un­de­clared war in east­ern Ukraine. It sug­gests six pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios, based on anal­y­sis of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary trends – and its con­clu­sions are sup­posed to as­sist Ger­many’s armed forces in their plan­ning. Among the other sce­nar­ios it en­vis­ages are “mul­ti­po­lar com­pe­ti­tion” – in which na­tion­al­ist pol­i­tics drives EU frag­men­ta­tion – and “West ver­sus East”, in which east­ern EU states break away to form a new bloc.


Na­tion­al­ist “rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies”: Hun­dreds of pro­test­ers were de­tained in Moscow and other Rus­sian cities on Sun­day while tak­ing part in a “day of rev­o­lu­tion” called by an ex­treme na­tion­al­ist group. Vy­ach­eslav Malt­sev, a for­mer mem­ber of the par­lia­ment of the Sara­tov re­gion, has long vowed that an up­ris­ing against Vladimir Putin would be­gin on 5 Novem­ber 2017, to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of Lenin’s Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion ( see page 13). Two days be­fore the protests, Rus­sia’s se­cu­rity ser­vice claimed to have de­tained mem­bers of a “con­spir­a­to­rial cell” linked to Malt­sev’s Art­pod­go­tovka (“Ar­tillery Bom­bard­ment”) move­ment, who were plan­ning to set gov­ern­ment build­ings on fire and at­tack po­lice.

Salerno, Italy

Teenage girls found dead: Po­lice in the Ital­ian port city of Salerno launched a mur­der in­quiry this week af­ter the bod­ies of 26 teenage girls – aged be­tween 14 and 18 – were brought ashore by a Span­ish res­cue ves­sel on Sun­day. Twenty-three of them had been found float­ing in wa­ters close to a rub­ber dinghy from which 64 other peo­ple were res­cued last Fri­day. Ital­ian of­fi­cials sus­pect that the teenagers, who were from Nige­ria, were de­lib­er­ately killed and will be in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether they were sex­u­ally as­saulted or tor­tured be­fore their death. Two men have since been ar­rested. The res­cue ves­sel that brought the dead girls to Salerno was also car­ry­ing around 300 mi­grants res­cued from other boats. Most of them were from Nige­ria, Sene­gal, Ghana and Su­dan. A to­tal of 2,560 peo­ple were res­cued from the Mediter­ranean over the course of just four days late last week.

Suther­land Springs, Texas

Mas­sacre at church: A gun­man shot dead 26 peo­ple on Sun­day, around half of them chil­dren, at a Bap­tist church in Suther­land Springs, a small town in Texas with just a few hun­dred res­i­dents. The youngest vic­tim was re­ported to be just 18 months old, and the old­est 77. The killer, Devin Kel­ley (pic­tured), 26, was shot and in­jured by an armed cit­i­zen as he fled in his car; he then shot him­self in the head. While his mo­tives were not clear, po­lice said he had been in a “do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion” with his es­tranged wife, and that, just be­fore the shoot­ing, he had sent threat­en­ing texts to his mother-in-law, who at­tended the church (but was not present at the time of the at­tack). Kel­ley was dis­hon­ourably dis­charged from the US Air Force in 2014 for as­sault­ing his for­mer wife and step­son. A record of vi­o­lent crime is meant to dis­qual­ify Amer­i­cans from buying guns, but the Air Force had not en­tered Kel­ley’s crime onto a fed­eral data­base.

The mas­sacre is one of the five worst mass shoot­ings in mod­ern US his­tory – three of which have taken place in the last 17 months. Re­spond­ing to the atroc­ity while on a tour of Asia, Pres­i­dent Trump was quick to down­play the is­sue of gun con­trol: “We have a lot of men­tal health prob­lems in our coun­try, as do other coun­tries, but this isn’t a guns sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Los Angeles, Cal­i­for­nia

Spacey axed: Net­flix sev­ered its ties with Kevin Spacey, the star of its hit show House of Cards, last week, af­ter sev­eral more peo­ple came for­ward to al­lege that he had ei­ther sex­u­ally ha­rassed or as­saulted them. The ac­tor’s agent and pub­li­cist have both also cut ties with him. In Lon­don, where Spacey lived for many years while work­ing as artis­tic direc­tor at the Old Vic, po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a claim of sex­ual as­sault. Mean­while, in New York, po­lice say they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing “cred­i­ble” al­le­ga­tions of “re­cent” rape against the film mogul Har­vey We­in­stein: the ac­tress Paz de la Huerta says We­in­stein raped her on two oc­ca­sions in 2010. The New Yorker this week re­ported that We­in­stein em­ployed pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors, in­clud­ing for­mer Mos­sad agents, to col­lect in­for­ma­tion about his ac­cusers, and stop them go­ing pub­lic. They also re­port­edly ap­proached jour­nal­ists look­ing into the story.

Pue­bla, Mex­ico

Shot dur­ing surgery: A Mex­i­can gang leader was shot dead last week while he was on the op­er­at­ing table hav­ing surgery to change his ap­pear­ance and erase his fin­ger­prints. Gun­men, be­lieved to be mem­bers of a ri­val fac­tion within the same gang, burst into the clinic where Je­sus Martin was be­ing treated and killed him, along with three oth­ers. A fur­ther eight peo­ple – five sus­pected gang mem­bers and three by­standers – were killed in a re­lated at­tack on a nearby farm be­ing used by the crim­i­nals as a base. Po­lice say that Martin was a big player in a gang sus­pected of si­phon­ing fuel from pipe­lines – a highly risky, but lu­cra­tive, busi­ness that has be­come Mex­ico’s sec­ond big­gest or­gan­ised crime prob­lem af­ter drug-traf­fick­ing.


Em­bassy refuge: One of Venezuela’s most prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion politi­cians – Freddy Gue­vara, vice-pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Assem­bly – has taken refuge in the Chilean em­bassy in Cara­cas, af­ter Venezuela’s supreme court stripped him of im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion. The Maduro gov­ern­ment ac­cuses Gue­vara (pic­tured) of in­cit­ing antigov­ern­ment vi­o­lence, charges the op­po­si­tion in­sists are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Last week, the au­thor­i­ties re­leased two ac­tivists from Gue­vara’s Pop­u­lar Will party af­ter more than a year, but some 400 “po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers” are still thought to re­main be­hind bars.

Wash­ing­ton DC

Tax cuts for busi­ness: US Repub­li­cans have set out am­bi­tious plans for rad­i­cal tax re­forms – in­clud­ing slash­ing the rate of cor­po­ra­tion tax from 35% to 20% – which they hope will be­come the first ma­jor piece of leg­is­la­tion of Don­ald Trump’s tur­bu­lent pres­i­dency. The re­forms, likely to cost $1.5trn over ten years, would ben­e­fit the rich­est Amer­i­cans by phas­ing out es­tate (in­her­i­tance) tax. Some mid­dle-in­come tax­pay­ers would also ben­e­fit from higher in­come tax thresh­olds. A no­table omis­sion from the plan, how­ever, is Trump’s long-held pledge to close the loop­hole that al­lows the vast sums earned by hedge fund man­agers and pri­vate equity ex­ec­u­tives to be taxed as cap­i­tal gains, rather than in­come. “The Repub­li­cans might as well ask hard-work­ing New York­ers to with­draw $1,000 from the bank ma­chine and find a hedge fund man­ager to give it to,” said the New York mayor, Bill de Bla­sio.

Buenos Aires

Kirch­ner’s vice-pres­i­dent ar­rested: Ar­gentina’s for­mer vice-pres­i­dent, Amado Boudou, has been ar­rested on cor­rup­tion charges re­lat­ing to his time in of­fice un­der Pres­i­dent Cristina Fernán­dez de Kirch­ner. Boudou, who de­nies the charges, was ar­rested and taken into cus­tody last week on sus­pi­cion of three counts of “il­licit en­rich­ment” be­tween 2009 and 2015. He is the sec­ond mem­ber of Kirch­ner’s gov­ern­ment to have been de­tained re­cently: the for­mer plan­ning min­is­ter, Julio de Vido, was ar­rested on 25 Oc­to­ber on sim­i­lar charges. Kirch­ner her­self faces mul­ti­ple charges, but in last month’s midterm leg­isla­tive elec­tion she was elected as a se­na­tor, which gives her im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion. Kirch­ner claims the charges are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Deir Ez­zor, Syria

Regime takes last Isis city: The Sunni ex­trem­ists of Is­lamic State have been driven out of the last ma­jor city they held in Syria. Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces, backed by Rus­sian air strikes, de­clared last week that they had “lib­er­ated” Deir Ez­zor, the largest city in the rel­a­tively sparsely pop­u­lated east of Syria, af­ter weeks of fight­ing. Isis had cap­tured the city, on the west bank of the Euphrates, in 2014. In a sec­ond sig­nif­i­cant set­back for Isis, the Iraqi army, sup­ported by Ira­nian-backed mili­tias, seized con­trol of a key bor­der cross­ing on the road from Deir Ez­zor to Bagh­dad, and drove Isis from the Iraqi town of Al Qaim. In Oc­to­ber, Raqqa – the de facto cap­i­tal of Isis’s self-styled caliphate – fell to Arab and Kur­dish forces. The cap­ture of Deir Ez­zor is a fur­ther boost for the As­sad regime ( see page 19).



ousted: Robert Mu­gabe abruptly sacked the Zim­bab­wean vice-pres­i­dent on Mon­day, for show­ing per­sis­tent “traits of dis­loy­alty, dis­re­spect, de­ceit­ful­ness and un­re­li­a­bil­ity”. Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa – known as “The Croc­o­dile” for his po­lit­i­cal cun­ning – had been seen as a favourite to suc­ceed Mu­gabe: his re­moval clears the path for the other likely can­di­date for the pres­i­dency – Mu­gabe’s 52-year-old wife, Grace. She is now ex­pected to be made vice-pres­i­dent at a spe­cial congress of the rul­ing Zanu-pf party later this month. On Satur­day, Grace Mu­gabe had de­nounced Mnan­gagwa as a “snake” who “must be hit on the head”. The next day, her 93-year-old hus­band pub­licly re­buked the vice-pres­i­dent for the first time.


John­son blun­der: A Bri­tish-ira­nian woman serv­ing a five-year term in an Ira­nian jail on undis­closed spy­ing charges was sum­moned to an un­sched­uled hear­ing last week­end, at which re­marks made by UK For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son were cited as proof that she was guilty of anti-regime “pro­pa­ganda”. Last week, John­son told a Com­mons com­mit­tee that Nazanin Zaghari-rat­cliffe (pic­tured) had been “sim­ply teach­ing peo­ple jour­nal­ism” in Iran when she was ar­rested in 2016; her fam­ily in­sists she was there on hol­i­day, vis­it­ing her par­ents.


PM quits: Le­banon’s PM Saad Hariri has dra­mat­i­cally quit while on a trip to Saudi Ara­bia. Hariri (pic­tured) led a coali­tion that in­cluded Hezbol­lah, the mil­i­tant move­ment backed by the Saudis’ arch foe, Iran, and his res­ig­na­tion was as­sumed to have been or­ches­trated by his pa­trons in Riyadh. In his res­ig­na­tion speech, he ac­cused Iran of fo­ment­ing “de­struc­tion” in Le­banon. The Saudis said that Hezbol­lah’s ag­gres­sion amounted to a dec­la­ra­tion of war by Le­banon, and also ac­cused Iran of an “act of war” – re­fer­ring to a mis­sile fired from Ye­men to­wards Riyadh.


Trump open to talks: In a marked shift from his re­cent fierce rhetoric, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has de­clared that he re­mains open to diplo­matic ef­forts to re­solve the on­go­ing stand-off with North Korea over its mis­sile pro­gramme. Speak­ing in the South Korean cap­i­tal Seoul on his 11-day tour of Asia, he urged Py­ongyang to “come to the table” for dis­cus­sions, adding that he “hoped to God” he would not have to or­der the use of US mil­i­tary force against the North. Pre­vi­ously, he had threat­ened to un­leash “fire and fury” on the coun­try. Trump’s five-na­tion tour is the long­est trip to Asia by a US pres­i­dent since Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s in 1991. Hav­ing vis­ited Ja­pan and South Korea, Trump was due to move on to Bei­jing and Viet­nam, be­fore con­clud­ing his trip in the Philip­pines.

Nha Trang, Viet­nam

Killer ty­phoon: At least 106 peo­ple were killed last week­end in the most de­struc­tive storm to hit Viet­nam’s south­ern coastal re­gion for decades. Ty­phoon Dam­rey tore off roofs, felled trees, ripped up elec­tric­ity poles and caused flood­ing across the re­gion; the worst af­fected area was Khánh Hòa Prov­ince, near the city of Nha Trang. In all, nearly 2,000 homes were de­stroyed and 80,000 more were dam­aged. With many peo­ple miss­ing, the death toll was ex­pected

to rise.

Alice Springs, Aus­tralia

No climb­ing: Vis­i­tors are to be banned from climb­ing Uluru, the mas­sive sand­stone mono­lith in cen­tral Aus­tralia also known as Ay­ers Rock. The ban, due to come into ef­fect in Oc­to­ber 2019, has been im­posed by the Uluru-kata Tjuta Na­tional Park board, which is made up of eight Abo­rig­i­nal own­ers of the site and four del­e­gates from the na­tional parks agency. Uluru is con­sid­ered sa­cred by Anangu, the in­dige­nous peo­ple of cen­tral Aus­tralia. “It is an ex­tremely im­por­tant place, not a play­ground or theme park,” said Sammy Wil­son, an Anangu spokesman.

Roy­alty is a “virus”

Peter Mor­gan’s ca­reer is a co­nun­drum, says Stephen Arm­strong in The Sun­day Times. De­spite his staunch re­pub­li­can­ism, the screen­writer has a kind of ge­nius for hu­man­is­ing the monar­chy. It started with his 2006 film The Queen, fol­lowed by a play, The Au­di­ence, and now his hugely suc­cess­ful Net­flix se­ries The Crown. (Mor­gan is cur­rently writ­ing se­ries four, of a planned six.) “If you had told me I would be do­ing this, I would have told you it was mad, hal­lu­cino­genic con­jec­ture,” he says, scratch­ing his head in puz­zle­ment. “I wouldn’t have guessed there would be any­thing more to say about this coun­try­side woman of lim­ited in­tel­li­gence who would have much pre­ferred look­ing af­ter her dogs and breed­ing horses to be­ing Queen.” Yet the sheer breadth of El­iz­a­beth II’S reign – the politi­cians she has seen come and go, the wars and re­ces­sions and con­sti­tu­tional crises she has silently ob­served – makes her a fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject. “Look at how many prime min­is­ters are wheeled out in coffins, on stretch­ers, hav­ing made fools of them­selves: Down­ing Street is full of sick peo­ple. And yet she sur­vives.”

Re­luc­tantly, Mor­gan has come to ad­mire the re­silience of the monar­chy. “They’re sur­vival or­gan­isms, like a mu­tat­ing virus,” he says. “It is a com­pletely in­sane sys­tem, but per­haps it’s the in­san­ity that makes it work. Be­lief in God is so de­ranged that it makes ab­so­lutely no sense, but it holds peo­ple to­gether some­how.” What­ever his views on her job, Mor­gan has no wish to up­set or of­fend the Queen by drama­tis­ing her life. He is rather hop­ing she doesn’t have Net­flix. “I mean, she’s ninety-some­thing years old and barely knows what the in­ter­net is, so I live in hope that she hasn’t seen it, never watches it and doesn’t give it the slight­est thought.”

Pesto gets pas­sion­ate

Robert Pe­ston is try­ing not to emote in pub­lic, says Celia Walden in The Daily Tele­graph. ITV News’s po­lit­i­cal edi­tor has 881,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers, and they love it best when he dis­penses with jour­nal­is­tic bal­ance and shows some pas­sion. Af­ter the Gren­fell Tower fire, for ex­am­ple, he posted a se­ries of fu­ri­ous tweets about how the tragedy “shames us all”. Af­ter­wards, strangers kept stop­ping to con­grat­u­late him on what he had said. Pe­ston was flat­tered – and that, he says, is pre­cisely the prob­lem. “Be­cause all the pieces that get peo­ple go­ing now are about emo­tion rather than facts or ar­gu­ment. So the things on so­cial me­dia that have got me gazil­lions of hits are al­ways the ones where I’m ba­si­cally cry­ing in pub­lic. Thank­fully, I’m a very bor­ing jour­nal­ist and my in­stincts are al­ways to take my­self back to the facts, but when you see that many peo­ple ‘lik­ing’ you on the ba­sis of some­thing that’s emo­tional, it’s se­duc­tive and it’s cor­rupt­ing.” Max Teg­mark is do­ing his best to save the hu­man race, says Oliver Moody in The Times. The Swedish sci­en­tist has set up the Fu­ture of Life In­sti­tute, funded in part by tech bil­lion­aire Elon Musk, which aims to pre­vent ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) de­stroy­ing civil­i­sa­tion. Com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Google, Face­book and IBM are al­ready de­vel­op­ing a form of sil­i­con mind that is as cre­ative as the hu­man brain, but faster, less eas­ily dis­tracted and en­tirely alien in its thought pro­cesses. This AI rev­o­lu­tion could end poverty and cure can­cer – or it could cause mass un­em­ploy­ment, de­stroy democ­racy and en­slave the hu­man race. “Most peo­ple are in de­nial that any­thing will change,” he says. “[But] you can’t have this kind of tech­nol­ogy with­out chang­ing what it means to be hu­man.” For ex­am­ple, “we’re al­ready in sight of com­put­ers be­ing able to make a video of Theresa May speak­ing which would be in­dis­tin­guish­able from a real video of her,” says Teg­mark. De­stroy­ing a per­son’s char­ac­ter in pub­lic – by re­leas­ing, say, a fake sex tape or false con­fes­sion – will soon be the eas­i­est trick in the book. “We talk a lot about how easy it is to hack com­put­ers, but it’s also easy to hack hu­mans with cheap psy­cho­log­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion, as any ma­gi­cian or sales­per­son knows. You should never un­der­es­ti­mate how easy it will be for in­tel­li­gent ma­chines to trick us.”

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