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The burqa is a sign of “religious extremism” says Sri Lanka’s Public Security Minister

Just over a week ago, Switzerland was planning the enforcement of a ban on the burqa and niqab. More recently, Sri Lanka has announced to do the same as the country’s Public Security Minister called the burqa a sign of “religious extremism”

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Just over a week ago, Switzerland was planning the enforcement of a ban on the burqa and niqab, also known as the Islamic Veil, following a public referendum. More recently, Sri Lanka has announced to do the same as the country’s Public Security Minister called the burqa a sign of “religious extremism”. Sri Lanka has seen an increase in Islamophobia ever since the Easter bombings that devastated the country in 2019. The government argues that the ban is being introduced on “national security” grounds and that it intends to tackle extremism and terrorism through this measure. Critics of the ban, however, call this to be a restriction which limits the freedom of women on what to wear and what not to. The order also includes forced closure of more than 1,000 Islamic schools in the country. The Public Security’s Minister has justified this by saying: “Nobody can open a school and teach whatever [they] want to the children.” 

Sri Lanka’s population is predominantly Sinhala Buddhist, making up 75% of its total population while the Muslim community make up about 9%. The recent development specifically targeting the Muslim minority in the country is not a first. In fact, during the ongoing pandemic, Sri Lanka enforced the cremation of all those who died due to Covid-19. This policy received overwhelming international criticism due to its disregard of the belief systems of minority groups such as Muslims who follow the practice of burial. Only recently did the Sri Lankan government retreat on this policy allowing people the freedom to hold funerals as they deemed appropriate. Consequently, the recent “Burqa Ban” comes as another attempt by the Sri Lankan government to restrict the freedom to practice one’s religion. 

Expressing her disappointment on this development, one female member of the Muslim community from Sri Lanka says that her country has the potential to do better yet it has chosen the path of division. She states: 

“We have so much to offer, and this saddens me. That I live to see this happen. You secretly hope that everything would turn out okay but when you know that there are forces at work to divide and to marginalize the Muslim community, I see this as revenge. Revenge on us for all those times when we slipped through the cracks and they wouldn’t really pinpoint at something. It’s like being a pawn in a chess game. You don’t know what move is going to be made. And with restrictions in press and media freedom what can we do? This is how Muslims are made to live here now. This doesn’t feel like our country anymore. It feels like you are living on a lease.”

She claims that arguing against this would only mean more trouble for the Muslim community as the government has only recently restored the burial rights and the community cannot afford more confrontation with the state. With regards to the Easter Bombings and the consequences it produced for Muslims in Sri Lanka, she further adds: 

“The bombings that happened in April [2019] were definitive in how it shaped us and the insecurities and racist ideas that poured out afterwards. […] Any Sri Lankan Muslim would tell you that the fear that we lived in was unprecedented and still is… being victimized because the bombers identified themselves as following an extremist agenda.”

The idea that terrorism is linked to Islam, and thus Muslim women’s use of face and body veil could be a potential threat for the peace of the countries, is not uncommon. Many European countries that have banned the burqa, including Switzerland which we covered recently, use this notion to justify their discriminatory measures. But one cannot help but highlight the irony which is clear as crystal. On one hand, governments enforce the use of face masks to control the spread of Covid-19 while on the other, the same governments ask women to remove their face veils because they believe it poses a risk to national security. So, what you get is a complete contradiction in stance because how can we determine that face masks, which also hide one’s face, be secure for the nation while face veils are not. Furthermore, beyond the security aspect, it is simply inconsistent to penalise one person for not wearing a face covering while asking another to remove it. 

It is also interesting to note that Sri Lanka has still not recognised, let alone admitted, to the human right abuses that were committed during the nation’s decades long civil war against the separatist Tamil Tigers. Therefore, the claim that the ban on the burqa and the closure of Islamic schools is in public interest and is an act that would help the state combat extremism, falls weak. According to the report published by the UN Human Rights Council, approximately 100,000 people were killed during the civil war, including at least 40,000 Tamil civilians who were murdered by the Sri Lankan forces in one of the final onslaughts. This government denounces this allegation and has failed to fulfil the repeated promises about investigating what really happened. 

There is a sense of apathy that becomes apparent when governments and states refuse to acknowledge the human tragedy that occurred in nations they represent. This only worsens when there is also no sense of urge to find truth transparently. Human right abuses are a form of extremism in themselves. Hence, the governments which fail to admit to them, especially when it is concerned with the country they are ruling, they inevitably expose their own discrepancy by claiming to combat extremism of other kinds. The same appears to be the case with Sri Lanka. 

The solution in defeating terrorism and extremism does not lie in placing restrictions against one particular group. Instead, what’s needed is an open-minded approach to understand how security threats can be averted. Face veils are not the cause of terrorism and bloodshed, mindsets are. It is the indoctrination of vulnerable groups who fall prey to extremists, it is about confronting the rooted issue of why extremism is thriving in a world which is meant to be harmonious and civilised. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with what one wears.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Historian of Modern World History, with special interest in history of modern Europe and Britain. I also have a keen interest in politics, systems of rule, international relations and current affairs.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Daniyah Y

    17 March 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Great article. Personally, quite disappointed by this move… Sri Lanka has added itself to the long growing list of countries who have stolen the rights of hijabi women to practice their faith in public

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Politics

Putin’s United Russia party victorious in elections

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According to results on Monday, the United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, is set to win after winning the majority of votes. Until now over 99% of ballots are counted and according to the Central Electoral Commission, United Russia won 50% of it. 

This was shocking to the opposing party and the public, so the opposing party accused United Russia of fraud in the election. Their victory means the party will have two-thirds of their deputies in the 450-seat lower house of parliament known as the Duma. All this means that the party can push any law they want without having to rely at all on votes from other parties. Other parties, like the Communist party, won 19% of the votes, the New People party won just over 5% of the votes, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Fair Russia party each won around 7.5% of the votes. This was not unexpected at all. The United Russian party was known to crack down on the members of other parties by jailing them, preventing them from joining elections, and by forcing them to leave the country.  The fact that the Communist party could even earn 19.4% votes is because the people were angry at the government. The anger was caused by price rises in everything, low wages, and the way the government handled the coronavirus pandemic. 

Not only was the election labeled as being rigged, but some Moscow-based communists called the public for a protest on Monday evening as well. However, the area where the protest was supposed to be held, was sealed beforehand by the police to prevent such incidents. The reason that some people believe that the election was not fair, is because candidates opposing United Russia had been ahead in more than half of the 15 districts that voted, but lost after the electronic votes were added. One of the communists, Mikhail Lobanov stated that “with such a colossal number of violations, the results of the State Duma elections cannot be recognized as clean, honest or legitimate.” A Foreign Office spokesman said that “(Russia had sought to) marginalize civil society, silence independent media and exclude genuine opposition candidates from participating”, adding “(in) a serious step back for democratic freedoms in Russia.” The European Union and the USA also condemned the votes.

The way that the United Russia party won votes was unethical and unfair. Even if the election wasn’t rigged, they prevented other parties from joining the elections, which is just as reprehensible.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Why Canadians can expect to head to polls on 20th September

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Coastal Elite from Halifax, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Canada an election is called every four years, so why did Justin Trudeau call an election halfway through the term?

Following in his father’s footsteps, Justin Trudeau was elected as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada in 2019, forming a minority liberal government. Unaware that in the next year he would have to deal with a pandemic leading to severe economic turmoil, social and political unrest, his government frantically tried to deal with this pandemic as effectively as possible. However, on 12th August, his government announced a snap election. One of the motivations behind this snap election is that since his government is a minority government, he relies on other parties to pass legislation. 

Seeking approval from Governor-General Mary Simon for the election, it has been announced that Canadians can elect their 24th Prime Minister this fall. After this announcement, there have been several comments made by various political leaders. New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh did not hold back his thoughts, while he expressed that Trudeau is focused on keeping his friends and family happy. As the fourth wave of Covid-19 continues to flare up across the country, a letter addressed to Trudeau calls his actions selfish since his main priority should be to help Canadians overcome this adversity rather than heading to the polls. Since the Liberals have a minority government, ministers from Trudeau’s party are frustrated because they are unable to pass legislation, needing support from all parties, in return blaming the NDP. Conservative party leader, Erin O’Toole, also believes that Trudeau should not be rushing into an election as the fourth wave threatens the health and wellbeing of Canadians. He says that “Mr. Trudeau always seems to put his self-interest ahead of the interest of Canadians.” 

What has each of the majority parties promised? Starting with liberals, Justin Trudeau has promised to make sure that every Canadian has access to healthcare that will accommodate everyone. In hopes to invest $10 billion to decimate long hospital times and an additional $3 billion to hire 7,500 doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners. Economically, he hopes to support Canadian businesses by focusing more on the relief programs and extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program to assist Canadians in getting back on track. With the wildfires that destroyed homes and towns in British Columbia, Trudeau’s government will join hands with the private sector to lower insurance premiums that would save Canadians’ money.

The leader of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh has promised a better tomorrow. Promising to make life more affordable, he wants every Canadian to have access to affordable healthcare and ensure that no Canadian is denied pharmaceutical drugs, regardless of location, age and gender. Besides healthcare, he ensures that if you elect him, everyone can have a home while giving immediate relief to those who need it. With the rise of tuition costs for post-secondary students, his party promises that he will forgive up to $20,000 in student debt ending interest charges on student loans and doubling non-repayable Canada student grants. With the discovery of unmarked graves under residential schools this year, New Democrats ensured to undertake the responsibility of working on reconciliation and work with Indigenous communities across the country. 

The Conservative party of Canada has made it clear that it is going to make it a priority to recover the 1 million jobs that were lost during the pandemic by helping young Canadians and women. The Conservatives will ensure that Canada is ready to face future pandemics, including the elevated risk of bioterrorism threats, by being prepared to take quick action. With the heightened effects on mental health that Covid-19 has had, O’Toole promises to boost funding to the provinces for mental health care, provide incentives to employers to supply mental health coverage to employees and create a nation-wide, three-digit suicide prevention hotline.

Now it is up to you to decide which government you want in power. Early polls show that the Liberals are in the lead, but it is too soon to know the outcome of the election. As election day creeps closer, it will be up to Canadians to determine who runs the country for the next four years.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Iran’s water crisis – both political and critical

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Human life, plant life, animal life; in fact, every form of life that makes up our planet’s precious ecosystems depends upon water. This “Blue Gold” makes up 71% of the Earth, the human body itself being 60% water. Access to water is thus a fundamental right needed for survival, but its scarcity is endangering multiple regions across the globe. 

The water concerns in Iran have been noticeable since the early 2000s. The crisis has not cropped up from nowhere. A major drought in 1999 laid bare the nation’s vulnerability to water scarcity. Villages had to be evacuated and there were national water shortages. By September 2001, Iran’s largest body of water, Lake Hamoun, completely dried up. A lack of political commitment to tackle the issues that this raised, has put the country’s water in jeopardy. Decades of blunders, corruption, oversight, and sanctions are boiling over. Over 28 million people (of Iran’s total population of 85 million) are living in water-stressed areas. 

Recent Protests 

Uncertainty over Iran’s future water supply has led to widespread public discontent. Sink holes, dust storms, desertification, soil erosion, pollution and numerous other forms of environmental devastation are on the rise. The water crisis recently gained media attention when protests broke out mid-July in the Khuzestan region. The protests continued for 10 days. Tragically, 12 citizens lost their lives to Iran’s security forces, and more than 350 people were detained. The regime disrupted phone and internet networks to suppress the protests, which spilled over into many cities beyond Khuzestan.

Protesters could be heard chanting, “I am thirsty!” Yet, their legitimate concerns were met with violence. Protesters were unfairly labelled “seditionists” by authorities. One witness remarked that security forces “shot at people indiscriminately” despite demonstrations being peaceful, and asked, “Why are they shooting at us? We were not even carrying rocks and sticks. We just chanted that we wanted water.” 

Khuzestan is economically and strategically important for Iran, but it is also rife with grievances. Despite Khuzestan being water-rich, its large rivers have been blocked by badly-planned dams to divert it for agricultural, industrial, and domestic uses elsewhere, in addition to hydroelectricity. Some of its wetland areas have been destroyed by road construction and basins made for oil exploration. This has gnawed away at the livelihood of Khuzestan’s population; the majority of whom are ethnically Arab. Tensions have long been fraught between them and the Persian-dominated local and national governments. Many of the Khuzestanis consider the diversion of resources a “systematic” discrimination that has drained their province. 

Inaction and Poor Governance 

Local Iranian authorities have failed to tackle the public’s growing water demands. The amount of water Iran consumes daily is similar to that of countries like France and Denmark. The critical difference, however, is that these European countries are not at risk of water scarcity. With around 90% of Iran’s wetlands drying up, the economy, food, and water security are all in danger. Efforts to reduce water consumption are long overdue. 

Moreover, much of the technology in rural areas and smaller towns is outdated and underdeveloped. Decades of unsustainable development include the hyper-construction of dams, interference with natural watercourses and sources of irrigation, plus disregard of expert opinion. Bad planning is exemplified by the Gotvand Dam built in 2012 upon salt beds. This has led to the build-up of salt deposits which have increased the River Karun’s salinity by 12%. A staggering 370,000 hectares of agricultural land have been adversely affected. 

Corruption is likewise aggravating this crisis. Unqualified officials have at times been appointed to direct water-related structural projects. Water resources have sometimes been diverted in the interests of politicians. Academics who have tried denouncing this selfish profiteering have been harassed or even arrested, exposing the tyrannical nuances to the ecological crisis. 

Alarming Statistics

Issa Kalantari, the head of Iran’s Environmental Agency, warns that 70% of the country’s population is facing severe water shortages. This has already started affecting electricity, as power cuts rise due to the lack of hydroelectric power. With summer temperatures in some regions now hitting 50 degrees Celsius and above, it comes as no surprise that people are using their AC units more. These devour huge amounts of electricity. 25% of Iran’s power comes from dams, but this past year, these dams have been less than half full. 

The situation is dire. Rural communities have been hit hardest as the agricultural sector depends on water. Drought has meant crop failure, ruined agriculture, and destroyed livestock. Agricultural intensification and evaporation resulting from ineffective irrigation methods has further strained water resources. Due to water and energy subsidies from the state, farmers have had little incentive to improve their water efficiency. This is a major oversight given that the agricultural use of water accounts for 92% of Iran’s water consumption. 

The Future of Iran’s Foreign Policy 

Both the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war devastated Iran. Coupled with ongoing western sanctions, the country has frequently been prevented from advancing technologically. The US in particular has been determined to stop Iranian oil exports, forcing Tehran to search for other sources of income. This has exacerbated the water crisis as alternative industries like mining and petrochemicals are very water-intensive. In a bid to remain as self-reliant as possible, Iran has unfortunately become even more water-stressed by diversifying its economy in a non-ecological manner. 

12 out of the 17 most water-stressed states in the world are located in the Middle East and North Africa. Therefore, though this is the worst water crisis in Iran’s modern history, it is unfortunately not a situation limited to Iran. Despite fragile relations between Iran and its Arab neighbours, there needs to be greater dialogue on the environmental crisis. All the Persian Gulf states depend upon oil and gas exports. This contributes to climate change but simultaneously aggravates the region’s vulnerability to its consequences. In addition to diversifying their economies, the Gulf states need to cooperate to take on the immediate challenges relating to water. 

The share ecology and water challenges should pave a path for collaboration between countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. They need to share their technological expertise to ensure development is sustainable. The Biden administration is also interested in pushing this cooperation on the environmental front to help deescalate tensions with Iran. It is estimated Tehran needs $30 billion plus 10 years to solve the water crisis. Debilitating US sanctions, high inflation, and the ongoing pandemic all make this seem beyond reach. Water scarcity and higher temperatures will likely cause vast climate migration, with nearly 50 million Iranians projected to become climate migrants.

Some progress has been made. Iran has invested in desalination facilities and cooperated with the UN to train farmers with water-efficient techniques. The state has also sponsored adverts on TV to explain why and how households should save water. Equally, the Iranian state must uphold the rights of its citizens and not ignore the genuine concerns protesters recently voiced. Internationally, it must strive to collaborate with its neighbours, prioritising environmental issues over frictional political tensions. Diplomats must focus on mutually advantageous cooperation on water-related tensions. This can save the region’s ecosystems, and every form of life dependent on it. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Nadia is a Languages Graduate, a tutor and a traveller, with a keen interest in justice, sustainability and debunking widespread social misconceptions.

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Politics

Swedish Prime Minister will resign in November 2021

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Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven announced on Sunday 23rd August 2021, that he will be stepping down from the role of prime minister in November 2021, after holding the position for seven years. 

“I will resign from my position as party leader at the November congress and therefore from my post as Prime Minister,” Lofven stated at a meeting.

The early announcement of his resignation could be in favour of  his party’s election chances next year. Lofven stated he wanted to give his successor “the best possible chances” of preparing for the 2022 general elections.

Mr. Lofven, 64, served as party leader for nearly a decade. His resignation announcement came as an unexpected surprise for Sweden, as he had previously indicated his desire to lead his party in the next election campaign.

During a speech on Sunday, Lofven told the audience that the decision to step down had “matured for some time.” He added “Everything has an end.”

According to Ewa Stenberg, political commentator at the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, it was a wise decision on Lofven’s part. “Lofven’s not a good election campaigner or debater” she stated.  

In June, Mr Lofven became the first ever prime minister to lose a motion in Parliament. He lost a confidence vote in Parliament, which was initiated by the Left party. The no-confidence vote was as a consequence of a clash over housing market policy.The Left Party said it lost confidence in Lofven due to a proposal to put an end to rent controls on the latest built properties.

It is still unclear as to who would replace Mr. Lofven as prime minister of Sweden, although it is speculated that the finance minister, Magdalena Andersson, is a potential candidate.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Zambia faces social media blackout amidst elections

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Zambian citizens have complained about the shutdown of various social media sites following the presidential and parliamentary elections. The government has taken military and technological action to control the voting process in Zambia this year, sparking huge concern amongst residents. It began with restrictions on WhatsApp but later was extended to other social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. 

Due to the dangerous situations that can arise in Zambia during election periods, social media was previously a means of essential information on safety and regulations. Not only is this information unavailable, but people are also enduring difficulties in regular communication. Voter turnout reached an unpredicted high on Thursday, as voters still waited to cast their ballot long after the closing at 6PM local time. 

A police spokeswoman on national TV stated “Social media may spark a lot of violence… If social media is not responsibly used then it can cause a lot of harm to our country especially at this time when results will be announced.” The government appears to have its own reasons underpinning the ban of social media, such as the prevention of cyber crimes. Netizens, however, feel their privacy and freedom of speech is being invaded. Members of the public question the extent government’s should be allowed to interfere in the social media and online spheres of a person’s life. There is no indication of the duration of this blackout and resident’s have been forced to opt for solutions such as VPN services to maintain contact on social media platforms. 

Election results are expected, but the restrictions have raised some concerns about the fairness of the elections. The government is yet to comment on the social media blackout and its implementation during the elections.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

AIPAC comments towards Ilhan Omar denounced as hate speech

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Gage Skidmore from Surprise, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel advocacy group, has been accused of hate speech in comments towards Ilhan Omar, US Representative for Minnesota’s 5th District. AIPAC also attacked Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American legislator and advocate of Palestinian rights – many critics of AIPAC’s comments view them as specifically targeting the congresswomen due to their faith and race. These attacks against those who criticise Israel are not new and out of the ordinary. 

Rep. Omar had released a controversial tweet earlier in June stating that the US, Israel, Hamas, and the Taliban should all be held accountable for any crimes against humanity – the tweet led to significant bipartisan backlash, as the Congresswoman was accused of equating Hamas and Taliban with the US and Israel.

AIPAC released attack ads that stated there was no difference between democracies and terrorists for Ms. Omar.

Jeremy Slevin, spokesman for Rep. Omar denounced language in the ads as hateful speech, comprising Islamophobia remarks towards the Muslim-American legislator and that she sees “no difference between America and the Taliban”, “Israel and Hamas” and “democracies and terrorists”. – he stated the vitriol language endangers Omar’s life as she has received multiple death threats. He further states, “It shouldn’t have to be stated, but baselessly linking Muslim-Americans to terrorism is *the* textbook example of Islamophobia and is routinely used to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights”. 

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) also condemned the ads, calling them “Islamophobic, dishonest, and dangerous.” CAIR Deputy Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell stated, “Facebook should immediately take down these vile ads and congressional leaders must condemn AIPAC for continuing to incite Islamophobic hatred against Representative Omar.”

AIPAC responded to Slevin’s accusations calling them a “baseless attack” and stated it would not deter them from continuing to launch their pro-Israel campaign, although Omar did clarify that she was not equating the US and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas.  

The legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Abed Ayoub stated: “Time and time again they have shown that they are indeed bigots and racists… The hypocrisy also comes from all lawmakers, particularly Democrats who claim to fight against Islamophobia, but continue to run to and seek the support of AIPAC. This organisation has done nothing to advance American interests, and continues to sow division and hate without any repercussions.”

At least 45 Jewish-American figures in leadership, policy, and advocacy have urged the AIPAC CEO and President to immediately discontinue the ads and apologise to the congresswoman.

With many discussions nowadays revolving around freedom of speech, it is very interesting to see how definitions and perceptions of said freedom can change so frequently. Its also interesting to see how these parameters apply to some people whilst others are blatantly criticised for thinking they would be given the same freedom.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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