The Estonia Branch (above) is the latest in a number of closures
The Estonia Branch (above) is the latest in a number of closures

With very little fanfare or ceremony, a further three countries have lost their local Watchtower branches, as the organization continues to quietly downsize operations.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all been stripped of their branch status. Elders in those countries must now report to the branch in Finland for any matters that cannot be dealt with locally by the congregation.

It is only a year or so since similar “consolidations” were implemented on the other side of the Baltic, when Sweden and Norway were brought under the jurisdiction of the newly formed “Scandinavian Branch” in Denmark.

And 2011 saw the closure of branches in New Zealand and Ireland, not to mention a radical shake-up in Latin America as no less than six branches were axed. Bethelites from those countries were either sent home or reassigned as the Mexico Branch took control of the region. The reason? Because “technology has simplified the work,” and because former bethelites need to “spend more time preaching” – according to the recent article on branch “consolidation.”

Map from Aug 15, 2012 Watchtower showing Central American branches now merged with Mexico
Map from Aug 15, 2012 Watchtower showing Central American branches now merged with Mexico

Of the above six now-closed branches in yellow, the most recently dedicated branches were Nicaragua and Panama, which received dedication ceremonies to herald the construction of new facilities in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Little did the brothers know when Samuel Herd came and gave both dedication talks that the branch offices would be redundant within a decade.

And regarding the El Salvador branch, the 1990 Yearbook gave this glowingly-optimistic account of its 1988 dedication ceremony…

“‘Hail the Theocracy, ever increasing! Wondrous expansion is now taking place.’ On Saturday, November 12, 1988, 22,091 voices joined together to sing those stirring words in celebration of the dedication of the new branch office and Bethel Home in the Central American country of El Salvador.” – yb90 p.26

One can’t help but wonder, if El Salvador’s branch’s opening and dedication meant that theocracy was “ever increasing” with “wondrous expansion” taking place, how should Witnesses now interpret its closure, along with that of dozens of other branches globally?

But it is arguably in Europe where the Society’s retreat is most obvious and haphazard, as the following map demonstrates…


Please bear in mind that information displayed in the above map has been put together to the best of my knowledge, and with precious little transparent information from Watchtower as to which branches have been closed. If anybody can supply further authoritative information, I will gladly update the map with any needed corrections.

Basically, the dark blue countries denote branches controlling more than one country, whereas the lightest blue countries show where branches have been recently closed and brought under the control of another country. For some countries (such as Belarus, Bosnia and Malta) there never has been a branch to my knowledge, but I have still tried to show which branches these countries fall under (Russia, Croatia and Britain, respectively).

Here is a written summary of what the above map shows…

  • Scandinavian Branch (Denmark) – this now serves Faeroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
  • Finland Branch – this now serves Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
  • German Branch – this now serves Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland.
  • French Branch – this now serves Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, La Réunion, Mayotte, Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
  • Britain Branch – this now serves Ireland and Malta.
  • Slovakia Branch – this now also serves the Czech Republic.
  • Greek Branch – this now also serves Cyprus.

A dramatic U-turn

Of all the changes in the above map, the closure of the Estonian and Latvian branches will come as the biggest surprise to the local brothers in those countries. This is because these branches were only dedicated as recently as 2010, and are already being forced to shut down only three years later. And if there is ever to be a poignant symbol of Watchtower’s downsizing U-turns, it is the official welcome brochure for the now-defunct Estonia branch – published in 2010 and still available on this link.

Estonian Witnesses posing in a promotional brochure for a branch that would soon close
Estonian Witnesses posing in a promotional brochure for a branch that would soon close

Though Watchtower seems intent in hailing these branch closures, however drastic, as evidence of “God eras[ing] and eliminat[ing] national borders” (w12 8/15 p.16), it doesn’t take too much scepticism to see through the spin and realize that the organization is in steady retreat.

The 2010 Yearbook boasted 118 branches (for 2009), but by 2012 that figure had plummeted to 96. With these latest closures in Northern Europe, we can expect the 2013 figure to show yet more reduction in Watchtower’s global footprint. This is not the sort of smooth, staggered transition you would expect from the Society if this was simply about improved efficiency, with money as no object.

I have already made my views on the causes of Watchtower downsizing well known on this website, so rather than repeat myself I will end this article with a quote. I don’t normally like to quote from uncorroborated sources, but given the preponderance of evidence I will make an exception in this case. Julia Orwell (a well-known visitor to this site) has made the following comment over on the forum

“A respectable and reputable elder told me earlier this year when I asked him about all the sell offs that the reason they’ve had to is because the donations just aren’t coming in from developed countries like they used to.”

Given the rapidity and ruthlessness with which these “sell offs” are now being made, this quote sounds credible.


John Cedars signature logo





Further reading…

97 thoughts on “More branch closures as Watchtower continues to downsize

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

    “Live for the day, when you’ll say, life without Watchtower, at last.”

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Hi Cedars….
    Thanks as always. ..
    The congregations in East Africa also received a letter from the Watchtower a few months ago informing them that the branches in the two Sudans and Tanzania would be closed and the work would now be under Kenya Branch. …many feel that that is only the beginning for the many African Branches which are not self supporting and rely heavily on Western countries…
    The Kenya branch is also set to downsize its staff and operations with all the printing and shipping transfered to South Africa…the bethelites have also been informed.
    the Tanzania branch was dedicated less than ten years ago.

    Perhaps you can check up on that as well.

    • September 19, 2013 at 10:18 am

      Thanks MM – I suspected it would only be a matter of time before the downsizing hits Africa despite it being the breadbasket as far as growth is concerned. Your tip-off would seem to confirm things are already underway. I will keep this in mind, but if you find anything concrete in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to email me with it.

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:17 am

    I can’t wait until the entire operation is shut down!

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:28 am

    “Though Watchtower seems intent in hailing these branch closures, however drastic, as evidence of “God eras[ing] and eliminat[ing] national borders” (w12 8/15 p.16), it doesn’t take too much scepticism to see through the spin and realize that the organization is in steady retreat”

    To quote Randy Quaid from the movie ‘Independence Day’,
    “I been sayin’ it, ain’t I been sayin’ it for ten da** years I been sayin’ it!” (- :
    No but really.. I would like people to get a sense of this organization likely being in far worse straits than they would like people to believe and that we may see some even more dramatic revelations yet here in the hopefully near future but that the 2014 International Convention program is probably a diversion tactic so that some major restructuring can take place as well as a big public display of alleged size and unity. This will almost surely take place with plenty of media exploitation…you know Satan’s media? The ones that lie and misrepresent “Jehovah’s Organization” and should not be viewed or trusted? Those people…

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:40 am

    I didn’t realize that technology had advanced so quickly in Central America!

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Consolidation–or right-sizing, I’m sure makes the buzzwords around HQ–is most probably due to diminished donations which in the current mode of operation is the formal approach for placement of Wt literature. Considering that many are preferring digital download (or shared email download) than printed publication in Western nations and the considerable dent placed by economic issues and job losses, the financial impact over the last decade would leave stress lines on the structure.

    Also, the “tearing down borders” attitude throughout the global community has many former antagonistic neighbors striving and practicing neighborly gestures. So, consolidation now is practical whereas in the 1950, 60 and through the 1990’s it would have not been practical.

    Will always be a one-percent to two-percent who “buy into” the Wt belief-system wherever it winds up after 2014. And, to compare, the SDA’s (with more numbers) only have one HQ / branch.

  • September 19, 2013 at 10:47 am
  • September 19, 2013 at 10:48 am

    We got technology! Say hello to my little friend! [waves white iPhone].

  • September 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Dear brother Cedar,
    How is it that the preaching work is expanding? shouldnt it be more branch openings instead of closures or probably it is expanded closures (new light of understanding). lol

  • September 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    “Failed Theocracy, ever decreasing! Wondrous closures are now taking place.”

  • September 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you very much, Cedars, for this timely information. I always appreciate it. I view your website every day. As you may know, the annual meeting taking place in October is fast approaching, so we may receive some further clarification as to what is going on.

  • September 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    mamajane says:
    September 19, 2013 at 10:17 am
    I can’t wait until the entire operation is shut down!


  • September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    I think that one of these beautiful property’s could still be put to good use. I suggest a treatment center for Jehovah’s Witness child abuse victims, an inpatient clinic where former Jehovah’s Witnesses can receive extensive therapy and healing from being shunned by their active Jehovah’s Witness family and friends. I see a court yard with exotic birds and a coy pond with a peaceful tropical backdrop for groups of Watchtower abuse victims to meet with their therapists, and hold group meetings so they can share their experiences in a safe loving (unconditional love) environment.

  • September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I’m thinking they buy these properties as often dilapidated, run-down properties which they fix up with free-labor and often donated materials. Then they hold on to them for a few years and flip-’em for a huge profit.

    I would also guess that, being a “religion,” they generally don’t pay taxes on the capital gains.

    It’s a real estate scam!

  • September 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Don’t forget a healthy amount of pandas to pet.

  • September 19, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    That’s the best idea I have heard yet. But how sad that many gave their own free labor and time to work on these buildings only to have them closed only a couple years later. But wait there is something to all this. Now the watchtower can sell the building in a quick sale and reap the dollars in free labor. mmmmmm Sounds like commercial building flippers to me. Perhaps they could donate it to silent lambs and open the those centers for the benefit of Child abuse victims and their family’s. Either way it is pay back on the Watchtowers part for their flawed policies. The future will surely unfold many more things about this society that is in decline. Thank you so much Douglas Merrill for being a special force in creating Google. It is on now between the Watchtower and the Internet. I Chuckle everyday as my son who was raised a JW and now is out, actually works for Mr. Merrill now. My son said many years ago that the downfall of the Watchtower will come by the Internet. He is a Data Scientist and so far his facts and figures have shown it to be true. I’m so happy he listened to his Dad and went to College and made a life for him and his family. Amen

  • September 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I have mentioned this before in another of your forums. I have a friend who is currently in the Brooklyn Bethel. I asked her about the reason for the down sizing, and the child abuse issue. Her comment was “there were rumors floating around bethel that financially things wernt the best.” So it’s not only the ex-JW community that is speculating this, the rumors are rift even at the heart of the organisation. How long will it take for the rumors to filter through to the R&F. I recently heard a elder saying from the platform about the 50% reduction been the result of translation. So as in true Wt style, information filtration will be a slow process. I’m guessing this would probably be the motivation behind the recent Wt articles on speculation, and the Satanic media. They are hurting, and going into damage control mode, but unfortunately it is only a few at the very top who truly know what is going on.

  • September 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Wow, seems like just yesterday I was at the branch just outside of Praha (Prague). It was 1994 and I visited the freshly opened branch in the Czerny Most (Black Bridge) area. They were still working on it at the time, not quite finished. It was on the end of an apartment building, and took up five floors and the entire end of the building. They had done a nice job on renovation of the old Soviet-style block building, spent tons of money, I’m sure. I am surprised that they have already closed it, and report to Slovakia. I would have guessed the opposite, since Praha has a much higher population density than Bratislava. I wonder how much they got for the fully-restored and upgraded building? I wonder what happened to all the people working inside?

  • September 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    “I recently heard a elder saying from the platform about the 50% reduction been the result of translation”

    From everything I have been able to piece together as informally and haphazardly as information was available to me personally? That’s about the estimation that I could make as well….
    That’s why when I hear JW’s still holding to the Watchtower line of “nearly 8 Million active Jehovah’s Witnesses” I have to stop them if possible and let them know that the figure is actually likely somewhere around 4 to 5 Million upwards and falling everyday!

    I would like people to know that the seriousness of the militancy and extremism of the organization is nothing to sneeze at and I and others have spoken of before, the move to the remote Warwick bunker with a highly concentrated group of these devoted extremists is on the horizon. It is falling on the patterns of all the previous cult behaviors to the tee up to this point so don’t be surprised if the Warwick operations get altered and truncated in lieu of “time and circumstance”…
    Also, The US Federal authorities have made it rather clear that they have no interest or intention of intervening in the criminal activities of this organization just as they did not with Jim Jones or David Koresh and others even though they had far more than ample knowledge and information well in advance of deadly and bloody climactic consequences!

    It takes people to speak out and loudly as well as to their representatives to prevent another Jim Jones/Jonestown or Waco from happening!

    • September 19, 2013 at 9:30 pm

      I would add, Konrad, don’t forget that the authorities took measures against Warren Jeffs and the Branch Davidians whom refused to cooperate with measures the federal authorities were taking. For years (if not months), the ATF and local law enforcement had been issuing warnings to the Davidian compound to relinquish weapons and submit to various warrants, which led to the climatic confrontation. However, in the apocalyptic mindset prevailing, those steps were fulfillment of prophecy and the more authorities issued reasonable search and seizure edicts the greater resistance put forward by the leadership. In the case of the Funadmental LDS, child abuse charges led to “defiling its temple” when authorities broke down doors and discovered the upper room used to defile teenage girls (another fundamentalist doomsday fulfillment–“desecration of the temple”).

      A similar resistance where it comes to JW’s and child abuse charges, and JW’s insistence on refusing blood transfusions [which stemmed from a couple’s extreme stance on conscience in the 1950’s by refusing blood transfusions for a child and facing child neglect & abuse charges]. Until the 1980’s and 1990’s, HQ demanded nearly militant resistence to blood transfusions, and some JW’s remain in this mode, despite HQ retrenching from a hardliner stand and using an advocacy and outreach approach to get their viewpoint to medical providers.

      The Church Universal & Triumphant had a similar standoff with ATF and a call of “the faithful” to its compound in Montana to await “The End” (similar to William Miller in 1844 and those who waited on his farm on a date in 1844, October 22). The standoff ended when the group relinquished all lethal weapons.

      The dogmatic statements that the GB is the sole prophet seem to be attempts to squelch any “speculative” and charismatic leaders who could start splinter groups after the 100-year next Great Disappointment of 2014. They no longer have Raymond or Freddy to use as scapegoats for blurting out dates. And, these guys were trained by their predecessors not to touch the Christendom research books found in the GB’s former source materials, hence the flickering mine shaft ‘light’ in recent years. A return to pure scriptural teaching would be akin to tossing an explosive into a vat of gasoline for JW doctrinal structure which depends heavily on a hybrid of isogesis and heavily biased exegesis where it suits the dogma.

  • September 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    I love your idea Kathleen! And there is a real need for something like that, sadly.

  • September 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    I think it’s funny that the WTS is successful at holding people hostage with their shunning policies, but you cannot make them donate :) So now you have a situation where people who don’t even want to be there are using up resources, but not contributing. For example, I recently worked up the nerve to tell some good friends why I stoped going to meetings, and to my surprise, they told me they don’t believe it either. They still go but don’t contribute. It’s almost comical.

  • September 19, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    “I would add, Konrad, don’t forget that the authorities took measures against Warren Jeffs and the Branch Davidians whom refused to cooperate with measures the federal authorities were taking”

    I don’t get that at all and in fact, in interviews with local and state law enforcement they say that they could or would (take your pick) find no basis for such which is what I keep/kept running into here in Arizona as a matter of fact!…but that’s no surprise!
    I’ll consider both sides on the matter and do more research…either way it still is going to come down to people being vocal this time if they want action and their loved ones inside the cult to be saved from a similar type of catastrophe!

  • September 20, 2013 at 1:39 am

    There are rumours about closing down the branch office in Belgium too. Supervision by Germany. Quite possible the same scenario for the Netherlands. Unofficial but confirmed by fairly reliable resources.

  • September 20, 2013 at 3:14 am

    This organization will soon fall with all the information on the internet. We will see a continuing decline in members and shutting down of more facilities.

  • September 20, 2013 at 5:16 am

    it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you encourage all to NOT gain education, but rather do menial jobs while declaring “Jehovah will provide” that the contributions would become sparse!

    enjoyed all the other comments
    thank you Cedars! Great job

  • September 20, 2013 at 5:21 am

    I seem to remember that Serbia (Belgrade) was supposed to be the “main Bethel” in the ex-Yugoslav region, not Croatia. Don’t remember the source, but I believe it was in a WT or maybe a Yearbook quite recently.

  • September 20, 2013 at 5:39 am

    How wonderful! Thanks for the good news! I wonder how this will be magick’d away in the yearbook to comply with their ever expanding growth..

  • September 20, 2013 at 5:51 am

    There were dirty money involved in Czech branch property acquisition and in many other activities in the Czech Republic. Finally, HQ could not turn a blind eye anymore as it went through most media in the CR and became known among R&Fs, so they replaced most of the branch committee members. It was then only logical to consolidate Czech and Slovak branch to Slovakia as Slovak branch has clean (at least as known to me) history. I am not aware what exactly happened with property in Prague – it is possible that it is still in use by some local departments as there is still WT logo on the building.

  • September 20, 2013 at 7:50 am

    I have mentioned it on another post that we had a letter read in the UK meetings about the London UK Branch being sold and Bethel being relocated.

    They were calling out for skilled worker bee’s. I missed most of what was read out.

    Has anyone got hold of this letter?
    Cedars, have you got some information that the current sheeple don’t know about?

    So while New York and London, are making profits and relocating, the rest of the world is downsizing……..

  • September 20, 2013 at 9:34 am

    It’s a scam. It’s a real estate flip. They make as much money as Pepsi and Coke. They knew what they were doing all along. What next? Who knows the minds of psychopaths.

  • September 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Micky, that’s quite interesting. Do you have more information or links that I can read about this? I still have a videotape I made the day I was there. My mom knew several people that worked at the branch in Černý Most – have you been there yourself (it sounds like you have, since you mentioned there’s still a WT logo on the building). I’d love to hear more info if you have it. Thanks!

  • September 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    I think that is an excellent idea!

  • September 20, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    As is it mentioned by other, the Prague’s branch had some property and money issues which was under investigation of Czech police and followed by visit from GD, which lead to expulsion of several prominent members. There were talks of mismanagement of the finances and cover up. Czech JW community stagnates, it has barely expanded in the past 20 years. Slovakia which has 1/2 of the population of the Czech Republic has as many witnesses. Czech society is religiously ambivalent and JW just did not have much success there as it had in Poland and Slovakia. Additionally, the cost of doing business is much lower in Slovakia, but I will expect that the branch will close and operations will be conducted from Poland. Majority of the Czech’s JW live at Northern Moravia around Ostrava. Slovakia has the same disproportion, where majority of them are in eastern part 450 km from Bratislava.

  • September 20, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Brilliant site, John, thank you.

    For your information, Malta has always been under the direction of the Britain branch. I used to print their Kingdom Ministries, many years ago. (Sorry, people of Malta.)

  • September 20, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Yes, this is well know even among JW community and supposedly was involved Czech police. Additionally, they used to have a property in Prague-4, which was very nice villa there, but I do not remember what happened to it. I also remember there was an issue of inheritance rights where the family members did not agreed with the property right’s transfer, and this was ongoing issue for a while.

  • September 20, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    YAY!! You used my quote!! Thanks! I feel privileged to help the cause.

  • September 21, 2013 at 3:06 am

    The villa was used as KH for some time and later sold out. As I am stating in other post (probably still not visible to others as it is waiting for moderation, I suppose because of links), according to property register that I checked yesterday the blocks of flats used as Czech Bethel are still owned by WT.

    There was announcement several years ago that new bethel would be build. No dirty money reason mentioned, although many people knew about it; only that the property is not so convenient for the work, etc. (usual bla bla bla). Of course, this never even started, apart from maybe looking for possible property to reconstruct or land to build new one.

  • September 21, 2013 at 3:09 am

    In fact, I think they can easily consolidate all European branches to Germany. They do the printing job for most of the European countries there anyway. Moreover, can you imagine, if they get rid of assemblies, how much money they could get from selling all assembly halls all over the world? But maybe regular income from assemblies is still much better than selling those properties.

    • September 21, 2013 at 7:01 am

      The assemblies are mostly a social event that generates funds, if they’re fortunate, enough to generate a surplus over the expenses of renting venue/running venue (in case of Assmbly Halls). But the primary purpose is like Amway, and other sales conventions, to spark up the enthusiasm of the field representatives. New product releases–literature–gets the r/f engaged again. The symposiums/speakers between product releases are mostly fodder–repeating material that is already published in previous magazines, but rarely a deep-dive into Daniel or other books that slice-and-dice prophetic projections. Only a chapter or verse that highlights the eisegesis that overlays the text with a heavy interpretation pointing to the FDS/GB as a modern fulfillment are usually introduced into these supporting symposiums/speeches. Dramatic reenactments also repeat morality material that is covered in previous journals. The material is recorded then pushed to audio where the r/f buy it and watch it over and over. There are no high-quality production feature films, yet, which take a large investment with hopeful recovery of investment and a surplus yield (Sparlock being an exception). $25.00 donation per DVD * 7 million members * multiple feature films per year = $$ less film production costs? And, with a 500+ acre production studio facility in upstate New York?

      Ancient materials are not pushed as a large DVD set as current libraries are only the most recent 2-3 years, and even the online library excludes material from early 2000’s and earlier time frames.

      • September 21, 2013 at 7:36 am

        I did not mean large district conventions (rented venues can be used for them anyway) but regular twice-a-year circuit assemblies/special days. However, all these gatherings are highly profitable, at least here in Europe (despite they do not forget to include pretty high price for assembly hall installment/depreciation as cost). If they decide to get rid of assembly halls, circuit gatherings can be easily replaced by something like special weekends during CO visit or so, just to keep sheep in line. And all the product trainings, sale spirit building etc. will still be available on district conventions.

        • September 21, 2013 at 10:04 am

          The special day is done now in USA, but associated with CA’s. CA’s are as you described a bi-annual thing to keep the sheep “aligned” and do not forget the behind-the-scenes meeting the CO’s and DO’s have with a region’s elders [the fangs and claws come out, if memory serves, which is akin to the famous analogy that sausage is tasty but you don’t want to see how it is made, or make it yourself] to keep them aligned.

  • September 21, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I guess Jehovah has changed his mind concerning money (dollars) flow! Loo at, What JWs studied in from the Watchtower study edition of June 2013, week 12-18 August

    “Some years ago, a full-time minister named Nancy found herself in a predicament. “I needed $66 to pay my rent, which was due the next day,” Nancy recalls. “I didn’t know how I was going to come up with the money. I prayed about the problem, and then I went to my job as a waitress. I didn’t expect to receive many tips that evening because it was a time of the week that was typically not very busy. To my surprise, several customers came to the restaurant that night. When I finished my shift and added up the tips I had received, the total was $66.” Nancy is convinced that Jehovah generously provided exactly what she needed.—Matt. 6:33.” (!!

    “Jehovah generously provided exactly [$66,] what she needed.” Jehovah must be a good ACCOUNTANT and Excellent ECONOMIST!!!!!!!

  • September 21, 2013 at 9:35 am

    You know what’s especially sick about this? The letter to the elders dated October 2012 made the following points about child molesters being elders and servants:

    1) “The expression ‘known to have been a child molester’ has reference to how such a man is considered in the community and in the Christian congregation.”

    So, a “known child molester,” or someone whose sin was known to more than the local elders and victim, couldn’t be an elder, but if the incident never left the judicial committee, he could still be a servant.

    2)”Keep in mind that the branch office, not the local body of elders, determines whether one who has sexually abused a child is considered a known child molester.” This rule was bad enough when the branch office was local but now elders need to contact a branch office that isn’t even in their own country and THEY’LL decide if the man is a “known child molester.”

    These points are also now immaterial, as the letter went on to say: “It cannot be said in every case that one who has sexually abused a child could never qualify for privileges of service in the congregation.” I mean, even if there was an honest elder who wanted to do the right thing and at least keep a child molester from being in a position of authority over others, he’s screwed.

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