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6

The Alternative Vote l And The End of Bin Laden

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Peter Clifford

2/5/11 Peter Clifford –

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THE ALTERNATIVE VOTE:

As I have said a number of times, democracy is not a perfect system but when embraced by the vast majority of a country’s population it generally provides the best protection for a free parliamentary consensus where unpopular governments can be removed by popular vote.

All political systems are open to manipulation of course and democracy is no exception. Here in the UK, arguably the seat of democracy, virtually every major government to hold power has redrawn parliamentary boundaries in their favour (it’s called “legal gerrymandering”!), so that they increase the chances of the majority of the votes going to their own candidates at the next election.

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Vote YES TO AV - Time for a Change

Until now in the UK we have had a “first past the post” system at elections i.e. the party that wins an absolute majority of seats, over  all other parties combined, even by one, gets to form the next government (even though it may not be supported by a majority of voters).

Combined with the “legal gerrymandering” mentioned above, this has meant that unpopular and sometimes incompetent governments get to stay in power for several 4 year terms and/or for much longer than they should.

It has also meant effectively that the same two big parties get to run the country in turn for long periods of time, swapping occasionally from side to side with much the same long term result – a promising start (usually lots of promises!), followed by years of stumbling, followed by more years of a government that long ago passed its “sell by date”.
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It was refreshing then to see the last election in the UK in 2010 so close to call that no party ended up with an absolute majority and in the end David Cameron’s Conservatives entered into a coalition with the Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

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UK Government by Coalition

Many people in both parties were not happy with this as it involved a large number of reluctant compromises on each side; but compromise does have the advantage of modifying and preventing the worst extremes on the right or the left from dominating the agenda, and that, in my view, is all to the good.

Part of the coalition deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats was that the Government would look at an another voting system and put it to a national referendum. There are a number of different voting systems and some are clearly better than others, but it is definitely time for a change rather than no change at all.

On May 5th we have a national referendum (as well as voting in District and Parish elections) on whether we should adopt AV, The Alternative Vote, as our new system of democracy.

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AV IS A FAIRER SYSTEM

While it is still not an ideal system (probably nothing is), it at least ensures that the majority of people in any given constituency have some sort of preference for the elected candidate and everyone’s vote counts.

Under the current system of “first past the post”, two thirds of MPs elected in 2010 did not have the majority support of their constituents  – in other words most people got the MP they did not want! This cannot be right and is profoundly undemocratic.

The following points make the case for AV:

  • Under AV redrawing of constituency boundaries becomes unnecessary ( money will be saved therefore and political gerrymandering prevented)
  • Under AV extreme and diversive candidates/parties are less likely    to gain power as they are unlikely to get many 2nd preference votes.
  • The need for tactical voting is eliminated and voters know that their vote (even through a second or third choice) will count somewhere – every vote really does count under the AV system!
  • AV lessens the need for negative campaigning, i.e. attacking other candidates, because you may need the votes of their supporters to get elected.
  • AV is already used in the leadership elections for the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties and a form of it for the Conservative Party leadership election.
  • AV is used in the House of Commons to elect UK parliamentary officials including the Chairman of Select Committees.
  • Interestingly, AV, the Alternative Vote, is used by the committee that awards the Oscars, the Academy Awards for Best Pictures.
  • AV has been used for more than 80 years in parliamentary voting in Australia.
  • AV is already used by millions to vote in membership organisatons, businesses and trade union internal elections and in most Student Union elections.
  • And lastly the AV system is used to elect the Irish President and in the USA for most City, Mayoral and district elections.

IT’ IS TIME FOR A CHANGE FOR A MUCH FAIRER SYSTEM WHERE ALL OUR VOTES COUNT AND WE ARE NOT STUCK WITH THE MPs WE DEFINITELY DON’T WANT!

PLEASE VOTE “YES” TO AV, THE ALTERNATIVE VOTE, ON THURSDAY MAY 5TH 2011

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ODD BEDFELLOWS!

And lastly, whatever the outcome of the vote, I was amused to see that the “Yes” and “No” AV campaigns produced some unlikely bedfellows.

The “rabid” Labour politician John Reid appeared on the same platform alongside “solidly conservative” David Cameron and the “scruffy gentleman” Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat) appeared alongside “learner Labour leader Mr Who?” Ed Miliband plus better known comedian Eddie Izzard.

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MORE ODD BEDFELLOWS! guardian.co.uk

We won’t see this lot agreeing very often, if ever, again!

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AND THE END OF BIN LADEN:

Ironically, Osama Bin Laden, who was killed by US Special Forces yesterday, was the antithesis of democracy in any form and the prophet of rule by terror, control and suppression, all in the name of Allah/God.

Few in the world, other than his supporters, will mourn the passing of a man that was directly responsible for the killing of least 3,000 people and indirectly for many more through his followers and affiliate groups.

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Osama Bin Laden - AP US

Oddly, the pictures of him always struck me as someone who had intelligence, with quite a kind face and soft brown eyes – but clearly his actions and fanaticism don’t bear that out.

Just shows what religious extremism (of any sort) can do when you can go through life justifying your actions in the name of any remote and ultimately unknowable god.

While I am glad that the hunt for Bin Laden is at an end, I felt slightly “sick” watching the “celebrations” at his reported death infront of the White House in Washington on TV. No man or woman should have an untimely and violent death, though it happens everyday.

Like everyone else, Bin Laden was an innocent child once. The big question for me as a psychotherapist is what extreme anger, violence, abuse or terrror was visited on him as a small child to turn him into the international serial killer he turned out to be?  An inability to deal with this leads men (and women) to turn their suppressed anger outwards.

And what outpourings of distorted anger, rage and violence will now be visited upon the innocent of the world in his name by his misguided followers?  The world needs to be on its guard – very much so – I fear some difficult days lie ahead.

Until the next time,

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Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com

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7

Democracy and Human Rights l Update

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Peter Clifford

31/3/11 Peter Clifford –

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Democracy and Human Rights l Update

Over the last 3 months I have highlighted Democracy and Human Rights issues in the Ivory Coast, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China and elsewhere, so I thought it was time for an update. (See my previous post Democracy on the March)

http://www.petercliffordonline.com/human-rightsLIBYA: At the time of writing the Libya story struggles on as battles continue between the forces loyal to Gaddafi and the armed revolutionaries ranged against him. Clearly much of the world wants Gaddafi to go and many stories of human rights abuse by his troops have emerged and will continue to come out in the future.

One disturbing story this week was told by a young woman lawyer,  Iman al-Obeidi, who got through into the hotel where all the foreign journalists in Tripoli are based. She told the journalists that she had been gang – raped by 15 of Gaddafi’s troops but was quickly bundled away by officials and hotel staff before getting to tell her story in full.

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Iman al-Obeid - AVAAZ.org

At first called a “prostitute” by Libyan officials it later emerged that the Libyan Government had offered her family a house and money to keep her quiet.  She has not been seen since.

UPDATE 18th May 2011: Iman al-Obeidi apparently crossed into Tunisia earlier this month in the company of some defecting Libyan army officers and has since flown to Qatar and is safe.

To give you an idea of Gaddafi’s profound understanding of the human condition, here are a couple of extracts from his famed Green Book, the philosophical basis of the “revolution” that brought him to power:

“Freedom of expression is the right of every natural person, even if a person chooses to behave irrationally, to express his or her insanity”

“Women, like men, are human beings. This is an incontestable truth… Women are different from men in form because they are females, just as all females in the kingdom of plants and animals differ from the male of their species… According to gynaecologists women, unlike men, menstruate each month… Since men cannot be impregnated they do not experience the ailments that women do”

Yes….er…..well .!!. I think the sooner Gaddafi gives up the day job the better for all concerned in Libya, especially women!

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Gaddafi Tank destroyed

Meanwhile, do we know exactly who the opposition forces are and what are their future intentions?   “A Vision of a Democratic Libya”, just published by the Libyan Interim Transitional Council in Benghazi looks promising and there is also a useful map (though not always up to date in this fast moving situation!) on the progress of the revolution on their website too.

Moussa Koussa’s (Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister) “defection” to London is also interesting – just whose side is he on?

IVORY COAST: 11/04/11   Breaking News Update: Following overnight attacks on the heavy weapons around his compound, Laurent Gbagbo this afternoon surrendered to Ouattara’s forces and has been taken to the Golf Hotel, Ouattara’s  UN defended HQ, under arrest.

If you read my previous post Prevent War With Chocolate, you will know that the conflict in the Ivory Coast has been caused by the former president Laurent Gbagbo refusing to stand down after losing the election to his democratically elected opponent Alassane Ouattara.

AVAAZ, the pressure group, organised a campaign to get the world’s major chocolate manufacturers to, temporarily at least, boycott purchases of cocoa from the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest producer, so that Gbagbo could not fund his army.

Clearly this has not worked as hostilities have now broken out between the two parties and their supporting groups and armed professionals are involved.

Ouattara’s New Forces have swept down from the North and taken over several towns, while Gbagbo, supported by the army has imported mercenaries from Liberia and shelled Ouattara supporters in Abidjan, the capital.  Atrocities are being reported on both sides.

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UN Struggle in the Ivory Coast

The people of the Ivory Coast have been here before, having suffered years of civil war prior to a ceasefire in 2007. UNHCR estimates that a million people have already fled their homes this time and a UN peacekeeping force of 9,000 stands by helplessly, under equipped and with no proper mandate to intervene.

Neighbouring countries such as Mali, Liberia and Ghana are being swamped with refugees and at least 800 people have already been killed since December. In the latest developments Ouattara’s New Forces have taken Yamoussoukro, a regional centre, and the key cocoa exporting port of San Pedro.  Gbagbo is left only with parts of Abidjan.

The United Nations has just past a UN resolution imposing sanctions on Gbagbo and his family until his sources of revenue dry up and he is forced to stand down.

Unfortunately this conflict does not have the high profile of Gaddafi and Libya, despite the fact that just as many civilians will suffer in the long run and another, once very prosperous country, will be wrecked.

TUNISIA: Mohamed BouaziziRemember that name. Mohamed was a  Tunisian street seller of fruit and vegetables who, sick to the teeth of corruption, harassment and humiliation by local officials and the police, set himself on fire on December 17th 2010 and sparked the demonstrations that led to the overthrow of the Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country for 23 years.

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The Revolutions Started in Tunisia

From that one act everything in Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and right across the Middle East has followed and still continues.

While the interim President Fouad Mebazaa has announced the date of an election in July for representatives who will rewrite the constitution, unrest still continues and arrest warrants have been issued for the former president and his family who are believed to have fled to Saudi Arabia.

BAHRAIN: Democracy and Human Rights have been a hotly debated issue in this tiny Gulf State (100 times smaller than the Irish Republic!) since the events in Tunisia and Egypt.  Every revolution has its own particular flavour and ingredients and Bahrain is no exception.

Here there is an enormous division between the minority, ruling Sunni elite and the majority Shia population who feel dispossessed and under represented.  Median age in Bahrain is 30, while youth unemployment is almost 20%. At the same time literacy rates run at 91% – all part of the potent mix for revolution in the modern age.

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Protesters in Bahrain

The root of the problems here is that almost 70% of the population is Shia Muslim, while the nearly 30% Sunni Muslim self appointed ruling class have 90% of the power and most of the wealth and virtually all of the most valuable land.

Gerrymandered electoral districts have always ensured that the Shia electorate ended up with a minority of seats in the legislative body. Women do have the vote but very few get elected.

The ruling Al – Khalifa family has been in power since 1820 and its members still hold most of the most important government positions.  Indeed,  Sheik Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifah, the uncle of the Crown Prince, has been Prime Minister of Bahrain for 40 years! (Thank God that could never happen in the UK!).

The ruling family also contains such leading lights as Sheikh Abdulrahman Mubarak Hamad Al Khalifa who, according to the London Telegraph has been taken to court in both London and Bahrain for the repayment of gambling debts owed to the betting firm Spreadex for the princely sum of £270,000.  No doubt he worked really hard to be able to gamble away such wealth.

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Protesters Hold Pearl Roundabout

On February 14th 2011 the pot finally boiled over when protesters marched through the capital Manama and a month of unrest followed with more than 20 killed and 100’s wounded, many of whom declined to seek treatment as many doctors and staff at the world renowned Salmaniya Hospital, according to media reports, were threatened, arrested or prevented from treating protesters.

The protests are also embarassing for the US Navy as the island is also the home of its Fifth Fleet.

The Bahrain government’s answer to all this was to import 1,000 soldiers from its neighbour Saudi Arabia, suppress all further demonstration and to demolish the monument at the Pearl Roundabout which had been the focus of rebellion.

I doubt if any of that will solve the underlying problem, which is a pity as Bahrain has a reputation as one of the more “open minded” Gulf States.

YEMEN: What started as a protest by students has now escalated into a full scale insurrection. It has also, significantly, the support of a large number of women, in what has been until now a very conservative society.

On March 13th snipers killed 52 people and their families have since been offered money by the government to keep quiet.

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Protester in Yemen

The protesters are demanding that President Saleh, who has been in power for more than 30 years, stands down, along with 25 members of his family – the usual cosy family arrangement exploiting the people they control. Another more sinister factor is that Al -Quaeda certainly have a presence in the country as well.

After six weeks of protest, many people want the President put on trial, especially after the fatal sniper incident.  At the moment there is stalemate – but there is certainly more to come.

EGYPT: Egypt, though coming after the revolution in Tunisia, has undoubtedly set the standard for protesters to maintain their peaceful stance and use the sheer force of numbers to promote change.

Nevertheless and estimated 685 people were killed in the revolution here and an uneasy truce remains between the protesters and what remains of the security services and police.

Police officers are slowly returning to the streets but many are unwelcome and a number of former ministers and security officials are to stand trial for killing protesters during the unrest.

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The Domino Effect

It remains to be seen whether the controlling Army Council will carry through its promises or whether it is just going through the motions in order to protect its own interests.  They can expect an angry backlash if they don’t give the people what they want.

Parliamentary elections will take place in September and the presidential election within two months after. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose  more extreme elements many fear, has said it will not field a presidential candidate.

In my previous post, I commented on democracy and human rights in relation to Egyptian Women.  I see this as the “heart” of the Arab revolution.

Unless the rights of women change, then in reality nothing changes, the Muslim world will still be locked in the past and wasting 50% of their human resource.

FOR FURTHER UPDATES ON DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS, ESPECIALLY IN SAUDI ARABIA, SYRIA AND CHINA click CONTINUE ………

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Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com

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Revolution In The West?

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Peter Clifford

16/3/11 Peter Clifford –

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REVOLUTION IN THE WEST?

Disaster in Japan:
Firstly, my thoughts go out to my friends and contacts in Japan, in fact all in Japan for the unbelievable series of disastrous events currently unfolding.  First an earthquake, then a mega tsunami and now a potential nuclear melt down in at least one power station.

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Tsunami Wrecks Japan - BBC

The tsunami pictures and tsunami videos emerging from Japan are horrendous, riveting and heartbreaking. It certainly puts our own personal problems into perspective.

Having visited Japan on many occasions over a number of years and even experienced a minor earthquake (it is very odd to wake up in the middle of the night in your hotel room to find everything, including the room itself swaying), I know that somehow the resilient Japanese people will rise to the occasion and their sense of order, organisation, family ties and discipline (often an obstacle to personal growth in other contexts) will get them through.

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Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant - BBC

In an odd way it may just be the cohesive glue that binds the Japanese together once again (as it did after World War ll ) to kick start their economy which has been in the doldrums for two decades now.  As always, chaos tears up the rule books and allows new ideas, challenges and growth to be re-born.  The current disaster in Japan will be no exception.

Revolution in the West?

In my previous post Does The Western World Have a Conscience? I touched on the possibility that Western countries themselves may not be immune to increasing discontent and protest by their citizens.

In the UK recent events suggest to me that this is even more likely than I originally thought.  Firstly, it is clear that we in the UK (and much the same applies it seems to me in the US and most of Europe) have just been subjected to the biggest government confidence trick in the last 300 years since the South Sea Bubble of 1720.

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South Sea Bubble Chart 1720 - marketoracle.co.uk

Our banks, on the verge of complete collapse because they took unacceptably stupid investment risks with their depositors money, were bailed out and rescued by the tax payers.  As a result our economy is under severe strain and the UK Government (in common with many other Western Governments) has no money, existing largely on huge loans raised through Government bonds.

But even the loans are not enough.  The Government has been forced to cut back spending in other areas.  So for the taxpayer, as thanks for bailing out the banks they have been “rewarded” with increased unemployment, fewer jobs, reduced benefits, cuts in services, house repossessions, increased food and petrol costs, tax increases and a lower standard of living.  In other words a completely bum deal!

At the same time, the banks, several of whom are now partly owned by the taxpayer, have bounced back into renewed profitability and rewarded their directors and senior staff with billions of pounds in bonuses.

Not just a reasonable thank you and a pat on the bank, but obscene amounts of money and packages for some individuals totalling many millions of pounds – the same individuals in many cases whose previous actions and decisions dragged Britain and many other countries into their worst ever recession.

Additionally, there has always been a class divide in the UK between those born into and educated in privileged circumstances and the rest.  Now there is an even bigger divide between the bulk of the population and not just the privileged but controlling minority, but the moneyed classes too.

Latest statistics indicate that the very rich, despite the recession, are getting richer.  Money not only buys comfort and insulates against price and tax increases but it also provides power.

Traditionally in the UK, the poor and powerless have been the working class.  Now the well educated in the middle class income range are feeling poor and powerless too – and that, for the authorities, is where the danger lies.

An angry middle class knows how to organise and agitate and are extremely knowledgeable in using the Internet, social media and modern communication systems (as has been successfully demonstrated recently in the Arab world – see Arab World in Revolt).

The working class will be only too happy to join them.  Once they start agitating together they won’t give up until they get a result and the government is forced into a climb down and concessions.  The soundness of Western democracy may well  be truly tested.

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Student Protests London 2011 - demotix.com

We have already seen some serious reaction to future increases in student tuition fees. The recent student demonstrations were large, consistent and often violent and destructive.  I believe we have seen nothing yet.

Recent expenditure cuts announced by the UK Government will result in job losses to police officers and many police support workers, health and hospital workers ( “NHS efficiency measures” are just cuts by another name), firemen and many public sector workers employed by County, District and City Councils throughout the country.

To add insult to injury the Government has just announced an end to final salary and inflation – proof pensions for public sector workers as well (though this is long overdue in my view) and it looks as though some people will have to work harder and longer in order to get a smaller pension than they would have got previously. All fuel for the fire.

Many small businesses and self – employed people like myself are also feeling the pinch.  Services that we supplied and were formerly valued necessities for keeping life on track are suddenly, in a severe recession, luxuries that people can no longer afford.

And just to annoy the majority further, many of those who are making these decisions at both a national and regional level keep telling us that we must “all share the pain”.

I doubt the 18 millionaires in Mr. Cameron’s UK coalition cabinet with a reported personal net asset worth of £50 million are feeling much economic “pain”.

I doubt whether the toffs currently running the Labour Party and the vast majority (though not all) making the same decisions at a regional level, whatever their political persuasion, are feeling the “pain” either.

I also doubt that almost any of them are checking their wallets and bank balances every time they go to buy food and petrol as many of the rest of us do now.

Simon of Sudbury:

Many years ago, when I was a young choir boy singing in the local church, one of our occasional “treats” was when the vicar unlocked the the little door in the vestry wall so that we could gaze upon the mummified head of Simon Theobald, known as Simon of Sudbury.

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Simon of Sudbury - sudburyhistorysociety.co.uk

The head is still there and this week it is to be RSI scanned at a local hospital so that a team at Dundee University can have a go at reconstructing what he actually looked like.  While the head still rests in the church, Simon’s body is entombed in Canterbury Cathedral.

The reason why this is relevant and significant here is that Simon Theobold was not only a former Archbishop of Canterbury and Chaplain to Pope Innocent Vl but rose to be Lord Chancellor of England in 1379 and became responsible, among other things, for making financial decisions for the English economy (George Osborne is the current UK Chancellor responsible for dealing with much the same problems).

In the 1340’s the Black Death, one of the worst pandemics the world has ever seen, swept across Europe and depleted the UK population by an estimated one third, causing a massive shortage of labour. As a result the remaining working population had to work harder for no increased recompense.

Simon of Sudbury, as Lord Chancellor, made the mistake of increasing the Poll Tax (to help a struggling economy and to finance the government’s military adventures overseas), probably on the orders of an unaware ruling elite, for the third time in four years.

This was too much for a struggling working population and the Peasants Revolt of 1381 resulted in a march on London from several directions.

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Richard ll speaks to the Peasants Revolt

The outcome was an attack by the peasants on the Tower of London and the execution of Simon Theobald, the Lord Chancellor, on Tower Bridge where his head was displayed on a spike and from where it was later recovered.

There must be a warning there somewhere!  You can only push the population so far before they will react to perceived injustice – often violently.

I think the UK, and possibly other Western democracies, are in for a long, hot summer of discontent.  Time will tell if I am right or not……

Until the next time,

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Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com

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