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NIAS Global Politics News Database
South Asia This Week (21 Apr- 27 Apr 2024)

  NIAS South Asia Team

Akriti Sharma, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, and Navinan Govindaraj.

South Asia: Extreme temperatures disrupt daily life across Asia      
On 22 April, The New York Times reported that a severe heat wave hit South and Southeast Asia, affecting hundreds of millions of people. Schools have been closed, agriculture has been disrupted, and the risk of heatstroke and other health complications has increased. The weather is usually hot in April in the region, but this year it has been unusually extreme. Temperatures have risen above 107 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas, and the humidity has made it feel even worse. The Bangladesh Meteorological Department has warned that discomfort may increase over the next 72 hours due to increasing moisture incursion. The heat wave poses significant challenges, especially for those who work outdoors and could lead to more cases of certain diseases. The situation is similar in India, where extreme temperatures have strained power grids, forced schools to close, and threatened crop production. The heat wave has also had a political dimension in Myanmar, where the ruling military junta cited soaring temperatures as a reason for moving Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from prison. The heat wave is part of a broader trend, with last year being the warmest on record and the region in the middle of an El Niño cycle, which tends to create warm, dry conditions. The summer monsoon will bring relief, but it is still weeks away and in the meantime.

Maldives
On 21 April, Maldives held its 20th Parliamentary elections, with  368 candidates contesting for 93 constituencies.  Over 284,600 voters were eligible to vote at 602 polling stations, including three abroad. The Election Commission Chairman Fuwad Thowfeek stated: "While the voter turnout in percentage terms reflects a drop in 81per cent from 2019, the number of voters has increased by about 1000." On 22 April, according to the reports available, the People's National Congress (PNC) won a majority of 71 out of 93 seats. The opposition - the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), led by former president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih could secure only 15 seats. On 23 April, six of the 11 independent candidates joined the PNC, increasing its tally. 

Nepal
Nepal formally welcomed the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in a highly diplomatic visit. Prime Minister Dahal discussed matters regarding infrastructure, healthcare, and labour pacts for Nepali migrants working in Qatar with the Emir. Also, four Chinese projects, which are set to receive funding from the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), are currently in the final stages of negotiation. Additionally, wildfires raged over western parts of the country and the victims were waiting for the government’s aid after it called it a national disaster. The two countries signed a series of agreements. Nepal’s National Consumer Forum's market analysis informed that rice prices in the country have seen a significant increase of Rs 800 per kg per 25 kg bag over a year. This surge has been linked to India's limitations on the export of non-basmati white rice. Further, the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, the country's food regulatory body, announced its intention to conduct tests on Indian spice brands MDH and Everest Masala following the ban on the sale of these products by Hong Kong and Singapore. The two islands prohibited the sale of these spice brands after tests revealed the presence of carcinogenic pesticide ethylene oxide exceeding acceptable limits in the spice blends. Nepal is also set to miss its goal of being ‘malaria-free’ by 2026 after new cases were recorded in 2023 and 2024. The new deadline has not yet been finalized.

Pakistan
The major development of Pakistan was the visit of the President of Iran. Both countries agreed to transform their common border into a “border of peace and friendship” and announced a slew of measures to deepen bilateral cooperation. The joint statement highlighted “the historical, cultural, and religious and civilization ties between the two neighboring and Muslim countries.” Additionally, Pakistan dispatched 400 tonnes of humanitarian assistance to Gaza via sea, marking its eighth tranche of aid since the beginning of the war. As per Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, the aid, which includes “winterised tents, tarpaulins, blankets, medicines and food supplies,” will be received by the Pakistani Ambassador to Egypt, and then handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent for onward delivery. 

Sri Lanka
Major developments in Sri Lanka includes leasing the underutilized Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, built with Chinese loans, to a joint venture between Indian and Russian companies for 30 years. The government aims to offload loss-making assets and address financial struggles. The airport, located near a wildlife sanctuary on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, was named after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, adding political significance to the deal. Additionally, diplomatic spat between Sri Lanka and Canada over the memorial set to be constructed in Canada.USDA's Alexis Taylor and U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung met Sri Lankan officials to discuss the USD 27.5 million Market-oriented Dairy Project. The project aims to enhance milk productivity for over 15,000 dairy farmers, improve climate adaptability, and supply meals to nearly 200,000 students. Secondly, Dynamite or blast fishing is a destructive method that uses explosives to kill fish for easy collection. This practice is illegal and poses a significant threat to marine ecosystems. The Sri Lanka Navy is offering support to the Ministry of Fisheries and the Sri Lanka Coastguard to capture individuals involved in dynamite fishing. A total of six individuals have been apprehended for dynamite fishing in 2024. Third, The presidential election is expected to take place in late September or early October, and it is anticipated that the current president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, will participate. He has an impressive political career spanning over five decades. Wickremesinghe aims to present himself as a presidential candidate based on his merits and will be an independent candidate backed by an alliance. 

Bangladesh
The major developments from Bangladesh was the visit of the Emir of Qatar as both completed 50 years of diplomatic ties. Both countries signed a series of agreements related to ports, maritime, energy, rails, and labour. Additionally, it awaits the IMF visit to review its foreign exchange reserves, inflation rate, banking sector, and revenue reforms. Meetings with the finance division, Bangladesh Bank, the National Board of Revenue, and other governmental entities are scheduled for the ten-member delegation. 

India
Major development from India includes the second phase of elections in 13 states and 88 constituencies. The elections will be conducted in seven phases. Additionally, the US State Department report stated human rights abuses in India.

Weekly round-up from the countries
India: The US Report exposes human rights abuses in India
On 24 April, The Hindu reported that the 2023 Human Rights Report (HRR) by the United States Department of State regarding India reveals a pervasive range of human rights violations. The report underscores a litany of abuses, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, coerced confessions through torture, Internet shutdowns, surveillance of activists and journalists, and violence against ethnic and caste minorities. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the significant human rights abuses stemming from ethnic conflicts between the Kuki and Meitei groups. The report criticizes the government's inaction in addressing these violations and holding officials accountable. It specifically identifies a significant number of extrajudicial killings, with 813 cases reported between 2016 and 2022, concentrated in regions such as Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, the report discusses transnational repression, where the Indian government is accused of targeting journalists, diaspora members, and human rights defenders abroad. Allegations of Indian government involvement in violence against individuals in other countries have also been raised, as seen in the case of Harjeet Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen of Sikh heritage. 

India: Lok Sabha Phase 2 polling                                                                                  
On 26 April, according to The Hindu, the  Election Commission (EC)  released provisional data on the second phase of the Lok Sabha election, revealing that nearly 61 per cent of eligible voters cast their votes in 88 constituencies across 13 States. This marks a slight dip from the 69.44 per cent recorded in the corresponding phase during the 2019 election. The elections were conducted smoothly and peacefully, with only a few incidents of disturbances in Manipur's Ukhrul and Senapati, where one EVM was damaged. The high voter turnout of 79.66 per cent in Tripura was notable, while Uttar Pradesh had the lowest at 54.85 per cent. Over 15.88 crore voters were eligible to vote at 1.67 lakh polling stations, with 1,202 candidates contesting. The participating states were Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Manipur, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, and Karnataka. Key figures like BJP's Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Hema Malini, along with Congress's Rahul Gandhi and Shashi Tharoor, were among the prominent candidates. 

Nepal: Visit of Qatar’s Emir
On 24 April, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in Kathmandu. This was the first high-level visit to Nepal from the Gulf nation, which hosts approximately 400,000 Nepali migrant workers. MoUs on cooperation in the fields of culture and arts, exchange of news, education, higher education and scientific research, youth and sports, diplomatic training, and education were signed. Nepal sought Qatar’s intervention in freeing a Nepalese man who had been in captivity by Hamas since the breakout of the war. Nepal discussed the issues and plights of Nepali workers in Qatar, requested the signing of a new labor agreement, and provided comprehensive insurance coverage for Nepali migrant workers in Qatar. According to The Kathmandu Post which quoted Qatari News Agency (QNA), the emir “affirmed the significance of the visit in light of the distinguished relations between the two countries, looking forward for the outcome of the visit to contribute to consolidating the bilateral cooperation in various fields, for the benefit of the two friendly countries and peoples.”

Nepal: Conduct test on Indian spice brands for pesticide
On 23 April, The Kathmandu Post reported, that Nepal's Department of Food Technology and Quality Control, the country's food regulatory body, has announced its intention to conduct tests on Indian spice brands MDH and Everest Masala following the ban on the sale of these specific products. The two islands prohibited the sale of the items, following the purported discovery of the carcinogenic pesticide ethylene oxide exceeding acceptable limits in the spice blends. Dr Matina Joshi Vaidhya, the director general at the department, stated “We will test [the products] to determine the level of pesticides they contain,” and added, “Necessary action will be taken if the said products exceed acceptable pesticide limits.” According to reports, the food regulatory authority in Hong Kong has reportedly discovered that three MDH products, namely Madras Curry Powder, Sambhar Masala Mixed Masala Powder, and Curry Powder Mix Masala Powder, along with Everest's Fish Curry Masala, have been found to contain the pesticide ethylene oxide. This particular pesticide has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In addition, the Singapore Food Agency has taken action by issuing a recall order for Everest's Fish Curry Masala due to its presence of the same pesticide, which exceeds the permissible limits and is strictly prohibited for use in food products. 

Nepal: Rice prices at record high amid India's ban
On 23 April, The Kathmandu Post reported, that the National Consumer Forum's market analysis stated that the price of rice in Nepal has seen a significant increase of Rs 800 per kg per 25 kg bag over a year. This surge in prices has been linked to India's limitations on the export of non-basmati white rice. The National Consumer Forum highlighted that food inflation remains a pressing issue in Nepal, primarily driven by the escalating prices of rice and other essential food products. In July last year, the Indian government implemented a prohibition on the export of non-Basmati white rice to safeguard its food reserves due to potential El Nino disturbances. According to the president of the National Consumer Forum, Prem Lal Maharjan, “The domestic production of food items like rice, wheat, and sugar doesn’t fulfil the country’s requirement so we depend on imports from India. If India imposes a ban, prices in Nepal will go up under different pretexts.” He said the government intervention is vital to control the increasing prices. Maharjan pointed out that the Nepalese government also did not successfully negotiate with India to trade food commodities on a quota system. Even though India has permitted the export of food items based on quotas, the response from the Nepal government has been lacking. 

Nepal: Four Chinese-funded projects are in the final negotiation stages
On 26 April, Officials said that four projects, which are set to receive funding from the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), are currently in the final stages of negotiation. Leading the delegation from China, Luo Zhaohui, the Chairman of the Chinese external aid agency, is currently in Kathmandu for the third Nepal Investment Summit. It is highly anticipated that a letter of exchange will be signed in the coming days, according to officials. The Nepali Ambassador to China announced that two agreements were signed on 26 April, with another agreement for the construction of four projects expected soon. Negotiations for projects like the Kathmandu Ring Road expansion, Araniko Highway upgrade, Nepal-China transmission line, and Hilsa-Simikot road are in their final stages. According to a finance ministry official, Nepali and Chinese officials discussed paperwork for the projects on the same day, aiming to finalize an agreement during the upcoming investment summit on 28 and 29 April. After the signing of the two agreements, Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun announced “We signed some agreements and meeting minutes today and we have received the text for the letter of exchange of some important projects including Kathmandu Ring Road.” He added due to some legal obligations the process to finalize the agreement will take time but once the legal process is completed, the projects will be signed and swiftly implemented. 

Nepal: Fails to achieve its goal of eliminating malaria
On 27 April, The Kathmandu Post reported that it is official that Nepal missed its malaria elimination target. The government's goal of becoming 'malaria-free' by 2026 has been hindered by new cases of indigenous malaria reported in 2023 and 2024. Dr Sangeeta Kaushal Mishra, director general of the Department of Health Services stated that, “It is not possible to eliminate malaria by 2025, as indigenous cases of the deadly disease have been reported in 2023 and 2024.” She added that a new deadline is yet to be set and it could be 2030. In the last fiscal year, there were 528 reported cases of malaria, with 23 being indigenous and over 80% of the 505 imported cases originating from India. Mishra said it is due to the porous border with close proximity between India and Nepal hinders the process of elimination of malaria. Officials say that there are several other factors such as reductions in government and aid agencies' health budgets, and climate change are significant obstacles to achieving the elimination goal. Furthermore, a shortage of entomologists in health facilities nationwide affects effective surveillance efforts. 

Nepal: Eight agreements with Qatar
On 23 April, Nepal showed great respect to the emir of Qatar during his visit, just like they did with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2019. They even declared a public holiday and had a special reception ceremony for him at the airport, where President Ramchandra Paudel greeted him. As the emir is one of the richest heads of the state, Kathmandu has high expectations from him since he signed some important accords with Bangladesh during his visit. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal conducted two meetings with the Qatari emir on 23 April a one-on-one meeting where he discussed some projects and on 24 April he held a delegation-level meeting, later eight agreements were signed between the two countries. Apart from this Nepal is also trying to resume its labour pact with Qatar. A MoU Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha claimed the visit was successful and fruitful results are expected. She added the two sides will engage together to identify projects and areas for cooperation. According to the Qatari News Agency (QNA), Amir praised the Nepalese community in the State of Qatar and its contribution to various development areas in the State. 

Nepal: Devastating fires sweep western parts of the country                      
On 22 April, The Kathmandu Post reported that in the past two days, a series of disastrous fires have ravaged western Nepal, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Both house and forest fires have caused widespread havoc in the region, resulting in significant losses. Unfortunately, an elderly woman lost her life in Rukum West while trying to protect her home from a forest fire in Nipane village. Budi Kami died while attempting to control the flames by sacrificing her own house. The devastating fires had far-reaching consequences beyond Rukum West. Gulmi, Arghakhanchi, Rupandehi, and Saptari have all been severely affected. In Gulmi, approximately 89 houses and animal sheds were destroyed, leading to significant property losses. The fires in Gulmi also caused injuries to two individuals, the loss of 83 domesticated animals, and the destruction of essential infrastructure such as rice mills, shops, and temples. The damage was not limited to Gulmi. In Rupandehi, around 50 houses were engulfed in flames in Rohini and Gaidahawa rural municipalities. In Arghakhanchi, 43 houses and sheds were destroyed, with Dharapani village and Shitganga Municipality bearing the brunt of the destruction. These fires highlight the urgent need for enhanced awareness and preventive measures to curb the devastating effects of such disasters. The authorities are struggling to contain the infernos and mitigate the losses suffered by the affected communities. The tragic loss of lives, homes, and livelihoods serves as a stark reminder of the need for robust fire prevention strategies and community resilience in the face of such calamities.

Nepal: Supreme Court refuses to release Former minister and secretary accused in Bhutanese refugee scam
On 25 April, the Supreme Court declined to release CPN-UML leader and former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and six others, who are currently in judicial custody for their suspected participation in a fake Bhutanese refugee scam, by upholding the subordinate courts' decision. 

Bangladesh: Visit of Qatar’s Emir
On 23 April, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh met with the visiting Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Qatar and Bangladesh are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations. Both sides signed a MoU on ports, maritime, finance, business investment, transport, taxation, legal affairs, and the establishment of a Bangladesh-Qatar joint business council. Other MoUs were signed in the fields of diplomatic training, education, labor, youth, and sports, as well as port management cooperation. Qatar is exporting liquefied natural gas to Bangladesh. Dhaka also signed a deal last year to send troops to Qatar’s army however this has not been operationalised yet. 

Bangladesh: Continuing deterioration of human rights
On 23 April, The Daily Star reported that no notable changes were found in the human rights situation in Bangladesh, according to a report released last year by the US State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Significant human rights issues in Bangladesh were brought to light in the study, including problems with the judiciary's independence, enforced disappearances, torture, severe prison conditions, and arbitrary arrests or detentions. The survey also showed a decline in extrajudicial executions during the prior year, but stories of government officials going missing persisted. Significant limitations on freedom of expression, freedom of the media, freedom on the internet, disruption of peaceful assembly and association, limitations on freedom of travel, and the incapacity of citizens to peacefully replace their government through free and fair elections were all underlined in the report. Furthermore, also noted widespread impunity for human rights abuses and the government's failure to take credible steps to identify and punish officials or security force members who may have committed such abuses. 

Bangladesh: IMF is set to visit Dhaka
On 23 April, as per the reports of The Daily Star, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is set to visit Bangladesh to review its foreign exchange reserves, inflation rate, banking sector, and revenue reforms. Meetings with the finance division, Bangladesh Bank, the National Board of Revenue, and other governmental entities are scheduled for the ten-member delegation. Since the multilateral lender authorized the USD 4.7 billion loan for Bangladesh in January of last year, USD 1.16 billion has been released in two installments. Since the start of the loan program, Bangladesh's reserves have not increased, and one of the main requirements set by the IMF for the loan is that Bangladesh maintain a specific level of net international reserves (NIR). Since March of last year, the inflation rate has exceeded nine percent. The mission will also address issues with fuel, electricity, and energy subsidies, public debt, the next budget, and the performance of state-owned businesses. 

Sri Lanka: Visit of the Iranian President
On 24 April, President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi inaugurated a hydropower project in Sri Lanka during his visit to the country. The Oya Multipurpose Development Project (UOMDP) was fully funded by Iran and is worth USD 514 million situated in the southeastern region of the country becoming the second largest irrigation project of the country. Farab Energy and Water Projects (Farab Company) of Iran agreed in April 2008 to implement the project with the Government of Sri Lanka. The project would add 290 GW to the national grid of Sri Lanka. It will be supplying water to 4,500 hectares of new agricultural land and 1,500 hectares of existing farmland. It is set to meet the drinking water needs of the Badulla, Monaragala, and Hambantota districts.

Sri Lanka: Diplomatic spat with Canada over a memorial                                   
On 18 April according to the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka is grappling with a couple of challenges, including preventing the construction of a memorial dedicated to the Tamil genocide by a Canadian city council and refuting allegations made by Canadian politicians. The Brampton city council in Canada has finalized the design for a 4.8-meter stainless steel monument in Chinguacousy Park, Bramalea, to honour the lives lost during the Sri Lankan civil war, which the Tamil community often terms as a genocide. Canada's Parliament has designated May 18 as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day in 2022. A diplomatic source has raised concerns over Sri Lanka's potential accusations of genocide by Canadian leaders during the upcoming war victory commemoration. In the past, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's allegations resulted in diplomatic tensions, with Sri Lanka summoning the Canadian envoy. Although Canada's federal government dismissed the claims of genocide, Sri Lanka continues to remain vigilant. Sri Lanka cannot halt the Brampton city council's monument plans as the Canadian Federal government lacks jurisdiction over the local council's decisions, making it difficult for Sri Lanka to intervene. 

Sri Lanka: Top US officials met with President to support food security
On 27 April, Daily Mirror reported that Alexis Taylor from the USDA along with U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung met with Sri Lankan officials, including President Ranil Wickremesinghe, to discuss support for Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector. The primary focus was the USD 27.5 million Market-oriented Dairy Project in Sri Lanka, which focused on enhancing milk productivity for over 15,000 dairy farmers. Many farmers have reported a doubling in production. The project also aims to improve climate adaptability through training on cattle herding and energy-efficient feed consumption strategies. The initiative is currently focused on supplying meals to nearly 200,000 students enrolled in Sri Lanka's national school meal initiative. The United States, with the backing of the USDA, is dedicated to improving food security in Sri Lanka as part of our overarching objective to promote stability and prosperity. Through investments in agricultural collaborations, our goal is to empower local farmers, boost food output, and guarantee a more stable future for everyone. 

Sri Lanka: Increase in blast fishing
On 24 April, the Daily Mirror reported that there has been an increase in dynamite or blast fishing along the Sri Lankan coast belts in recent times which poses a great threat to the unique maritime ecosystem. Blast fishing, also known as dynamite fishing, is a destructive fishing method where explosives are used to stun or kill schools of fish for easy collection. The concussive blasts damage the fish’s swim bladder and nervous system, causing some to float and others to sink, leading to a devastating impact on marine life and biodiversity. This practice is illegal and poses a significant threat to marine ecosystems. The Sri Lanka Navy is offering support to the Ministry of Fisheries and the Sri Lanka Coastguard in capturing individuals involved in dynamite fishing. A total of six individuals have been apprehended for dynamite fishing in 2024.

Sri Lanka: Upcoming elections
On 27 April, the Daily Mirror reported that the upcoming presidential election is scheduled to take place either in late September or early October this year. It is expected that the current president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, will participate in the election, although he has not officially announced his candidacy yet. Ranil Wickremesinghe, a politician with over five decades of experience, has an impressive political resume. Having served as a Member of Parliament for nearly 44 years, he has also held prominent positions such as leader of the Opposition for approximately 18 years, as well as deputy minister and Cabinet minister. It is to be noted that his impressive record of service alone won’t define his lasting political legacy. Wickremesinghe must come up with a successful plan for the 2024 presidential election amidst this gloomy situation. Rajapaksa secured victory in 2019 with 69 lakh votes. 

Pakistan: Iran-Pakistan vow to transform their border into a “border of peace and friendship,” says the Iran President
On 24 April, Pakistan and Iran issued a joint statement as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s three-day visit came to an end. Both countries agreed to transform their common border into a “border of peace and friendship” and announced a slew of measures to deepen bilateral cooperation. The joint statement highlighted “the historical, cultural, and religious and civilization ties between the two neighboring and Muslim countries.” The two sides emphasized their commitment and towards further “strengthening the bond through the promotion of academic, cultural and tourism activities, and by enhancing tourism to historic religious sites in both countries.” With an emphasis on fostering economic cooperation, both countries agreed to expedite the process of signing a free trade agreement (FTA), increasing bilateral trade to USD 10 billion over the course of the next five years and setting up “joint border markets, economic free zones, and new border openings.” They stressed the importance of collaboration in the energy sector with a focus on- trade in electricity, power transmission lines, and the IP Gas Pipeline Project. 

Pakistan: Eighth tranche of aid to Gaza
On 21 April, Pakistan dispatched 400 tonnes of humanitarian assistance to Gaza via sea, marking its eighth tranche of aid since the beginning of the war. As per Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, the aid, which includes “winterised tents, tarpaulins, blankets, medicines and food supplies,” will be received by the Pakistani Ambassador to Egypt, and then handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent for onward delivery. He emphasized: “Pakistan remains committed to addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of our brothers and sisters in Gaza.” Pakistan has consistently criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza. Earlier on 19 April, it regretted the US’ decision to veto the draft resolution directed at Palestine’s full membership of the UN. It has also been calling for an immediate and complete ceasefire and has advocated for a two-state solution.


About the authors
Akriti Sharma is a doctoral scholar at NIAS. Vetriselvi Baskaran, Sanjay Manivannan, Navinan Govindaraj, and Narmatha S are postgraduate students at Madras University.

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