28 September, 2020

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A CJ Is Impeached, Media Outraged

By Nupur Basu

Nupur Basu

The first ever impeachment of a Chief Justice of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court by a ruling party on January 13 has thrown the island nation, already wracked by years of civil war, into a mega Constitutional crisis.

Three days after Sri Lanka’s first woman judge was unceremoniously removed from her post, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake wrote in an article titled I Stand Here Before You Today Having Been Unjustly Persecuted, Vilified And Condemned’ in the Colombo Telegraph on January 15:

“I am the 43rd Chief Justice of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I stand here before you today having been unjustly persecuted, vilified and condemned. The treatment meted out to me in the past few weeks, was an ordeal no citizen, let alone the Chief Justice of the Republic should be subjected to.

In the circumstances, in my country which is a democracy, where the rule of law is the underlying threshold upon which basic liberties exist, I still am the duly appointed legitimate Chief Justice. It is not only the office of Chief Justice, but also the very independence of the judiciary, that has been usurped. The very tenor of rule of law, natural justice and judicial abeyance has not only been ousted, but brutally mutilated. I have suffered because I stood for an independent judiciary and withstood the pressures. It is the People who are supreme and the Constitution of the Republic recognizes the rule of law and if that rule of law had prevailed, I would not have been punished unjustly.”

It is significant that her public defence comes in the form of an article in a leading newspaper in a country where the media has been shackled and persecuted for critiquing the government.

The Chief Justice of Sri Lanka was evicted from office by the government despite two superior court rulings against it. Along with the judiciary and the Bar Association that has opposed the impeachment, the Sri Lankan media which has been facing acute fire and censorship in recent years, has also rallied with the judiciary and critiqued the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime on this issue. Like the open letter that the ousted Chief Justice has written in the Colombo Telegraph, much of the commentary and reportage, ironically, is being carried out in the tightly regulated media in Sri Lanka.

It is said that since 2005, 12 journalists have been killed in the island nation while many more have had to flee the country for fear of being killed. Both media and judiciary, in a sense, have been the eyes and ears of the government, that  has come in for severe criticism for violations of human rights. The award-winning Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields on the final weeks of the civil war and books like Still Counting the Dead by British journalist Frances Harrison have highlighted the gross violations to the world.

“I think there’s been a bit of a disconnect between those who follow the story blow by blow inside Sri Lanka and instinctively understand the political importance of a clash between the judiciary and the executive and its consequences for rule of law – with those outside who see the story at face value as an issue of whether or not the Chief Justice is guilty of corruption. It’s not an easy story to report because its quite dry and legalistic and complex and about procedures but also incredibly important. What few give a sense of is how this is a bit of a turning point for the worse for people in Colombo who had hoped things would improve after the end of the war in 2009. But to me it’s fascinating that the deaths of up to possibly 70,000 people in 5 months and the commission of crimes against humanity didn’t cause waves in the same way as the mistreatment of one woman. In a sense it shows a profound divide in mindsets that lives on long after the war.” Frances Harrison, author of Still Counting the Dead told the Hoot.

But many in Sri Lanka see this impeachment as the final straw.

”We have now crossed the divide from a flawed democracy to open dictatorship,” human rights lawyer and media columnist Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena told the Hoot from Colombo. In an opinion piece by Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena titled Democracy Mourns For Judgment Fled To Brutish Beasts in  the weekly Colombo-based Sunday Times author writes: ‘The whip of dictatorship has been cracked over the heads of all Sri Lankans. This is the final abandonment of decades of even dysfunctional democracy.”

Describing the impeachment as ‘the Government’s pyrrhic victory’ the author asks: “Henceforth, in what manner are Sri Lankan judges supposed to preside over their courtrooms with dignity? In what way can lawyers advocate the law with heads held high, what will law teachers be able to teach in the classroom and how will analysts in good conscience examine Sri Lanka’s conformity with the Rule of Law?”

According to Kishali Jayawardena, “the LTTE leader the late Velupillai Prabhakaran achieved in death through the monumental follies of ‘Dharmishta Sinhala’ leaders, what he could not accomplish in life.” “With the Commonwealth and the world staring in helpless bewilderment at the ruins of a once proud judicial system, we have proved our unfitness for democracy in no uncertain measure. Reports of commissions on lessons learnt and reconciliation may now firmly be relegated to the dustbin.”

Her final nail in the coffin came with the words: “This is the leadership which promotes political opportunism, thuggery and greed, exposing Sri Lanka to the world as lacking common decency, let alone conformity to law. This is the leadership that took root in our midst much like a monstrously destructive growth, first with the 18th Amendment and then with the spreading of tentacles into every area of government. Rather, full responsibility for the abyss that we have fallen into, lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidency itself.”

Many other columnists echo Kishali’s sentiments and refer to the ‘suicidal leadership’ whose very accountability for mass killings of citizens and its clampdown on judiciary and the media have made it a target of attack by democratic forces in the world. The opposition United National Party has been totally ineffective and that is what has made the judiciary and the media, the only true critics and adversaries of the present Rajpaksa regime.

In another article titled ‘The Buck Stops Now With Mr President’, a journalist writes: “The incessant rains in many parts of the island and the resultant floods, deaths and destruction; the medieval execution of a young housemaid in Saudi Arabia; the assassination of a local level ruling party councillor and the suspicion revolving around a Government Minister in that murder; sand in your sugar purchased from a Government wholesale establishment; and the surreptitious passage of the controversial Divineguma Bill into law have all been overshadowed by the events surrounding the impeachment of the Chief Justice.

The writer elaborates: “Even in the Mother of Parliaments, the House of Commons in Britain, the supremacy of Parliament is not entirely absolute as it was in years gone by. Statutes on human rights, devolution and Europe have seen that supremacy decline. The blame for the seemingly unwarranted triggering of this constitutional crisis between the Judiciary and the Government must clearly be placed at the doorstep of the latter. The indecent hurry to get rid of the Chief Justice, throwing even any pretence of a proper inquiry against her to the winds, was a clumsy exercise that did Parliamentary democracy no favours.”

In an article titled ‘Crisis in Sri Lanka’, a journalist observes: “Colombo seems to be enacting a scene from Islamabad’s yesteryears. The sacking of a top judge in Sri Lanka has parallels with the Constitutional crisis that ripped Pakistan and resulted in chaos and misgovernance. Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake’s dismissal is being contested tooth and nail by the judicial community, and is likely to act as a source of political instability in the days and weeks to come. This is President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second political assault after successfully sidelining his opponent and former chief of army staff, Sarath Fonseka, who underwent court martial on the charges of abuse of power and misconduct. It, however, remains to be seen what stance the deposed Chief Justice takes in due course of time and what impact it bears on the fragile political culture of Sri Lanka after decades of civil war, bloodshed and destruction.”

In a citizen journalism website Groundviews run by the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo carried innumerable columns with headlines like: ‘Impeachment Misadventure and the Advent of Spring in Sri Lanka’, ‘A Legal Prime: The Impeachment of the Chief Justice in Sri Lanka’, ‘Can Anti-corruption Campaigners Justify Impeachment of the Chief Justice?’

The international media too has picked up the story well. But Fred Carver, Director, Sri Lanka Campaign, told the Hoot of the contradictions: “There has been some good coverage, notably in the New York Times, but often the media seem to miss the nub of the story: the clear political motivation behind the impeachment, the fact that executive and judiciary are at war over this, and the intimidation and assaults on judges and lawyers. It is also noticeable how the coverage does not join up. So the very same New York Times which wrote about the impeachment published a list of “the 46 places to go in 2013″ which included a tourist resort built by the Sri Lankan government after the military had forcibly cleared fishermen from the area.”

It is also not as if all media analyses has been critical of the government. The state media in Sri Lanka, which functions almost as an organ of the Information Ministry, celebrated the impeachment as the right step in the anti-corruption campaign and went to the extent of saying that “Sri Lanka can be proud of such an impeachment.”

On January 15, a former Attorney General, Mohan Peiris, who is known to be very close aide of Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been nominated as the new Chief Justice. “He has a shocking record as in the late 2011, when he blatantly lied to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) on the disappearance of web cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. He had maintained that Prageeth had fled overseas as a refugee. Later, however, he was forced to admit that he had lied at the UNCAT when questioned at a later domestic inquiry” said a Sri Lankan journalist on condition of anonymity.

In a recently released report published by the International Commission of Jurists

‘Authority without Accountability: The Crisis of Impunity in Sri Lanka’, documents how, and why, it has become nearly impossible for people who have suffered serious violations of their human rights to receive justice in Sri Lanka. “Recent attacks on judicial officers and judges only highlight the systematic erosion of accountability mechanisms.”

It is the first in a series of national studies in South Asia examining ‘Authority without Accountability’ in South Asia. It calls on the government of Sri Lanka to respect its international obligations to investigate human rights violations; take appropriate measures in respect of perpetrators of such violations, bringing those responsible to justice for violations constituting crimes through prosecution and the imposition of penalties commensurate to the offence; provide victims with effective remedies and reparations for their injuries; ensure the inalienable right to know the truth; and take other necessary steps to prevent recurrence of violations.

Similarly, the Media Reform Lanka Initiative which is looking at the issue of media freedom and law in Sri Lanka work on media co-authored by Kishali Pinto-Jaywardena (http://mediareformlanka.com/) highlights the Restrictions on Freedom of Speech in Emergency Law ProvisionsIt urges that:

• Governments to refrain from including definitions of prohibited activities that are vague, ambiguous and imprecise in emergency laws which lead to a chilling of the freedom of expression and information. For example, the now lapsed Emergency Regulations 2006 created the offence of engaging in ‘terrorism’ or ‘acts of terrorism’ (Regulations 6 and 20) and criminalises certain activities, transactions and communications with persons or groups committing terrorist offences (Regulations 7, 8 and 9).

• Refraining from restricting freedom of expression in overbroad ways, such as the prohibition of possessing or distributing information ‘prejudicial to national security’ with the extent of that prohibition undefined, powers of prior censorship and the criminalisation of incitement to overthrow the government. Examples: as follows

  • Regulation 9 of the Emergency Regulations 2006 made it a criminal offence, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment to ‘provide any information which is detrimental or prejudicial to national security’ to anyone engaged in ‘terrorism’ (as defined in Regulation 6).
  • Regulation 18 (1) (vi) of the EMPPR 2005 enabled the Secretary to the Minister of Defence to make an order imposing upon a person restrictions on association or communication, and in relation to ‘dissemination of news or the propagation of opinions’, to prevent that person acting ‘in any manner prejudicial’ to national security, public order or the maintenance of essential services.

And many similar provisions that tend to shackle media independence in Sri Lanka.

Addressing the Sri Lankan Parliament, Tamil National Alliance MP Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran warned the Rajapakse government: “I break from tradition and address the house in a black coat and black tie because it is a Black Day in Sri Lanka.We won’t allow you to let the judiciary ‘go to hell’… you are conspirator against the country and the government.’

There is, however, a thundering silence from the Indian government on this issue. There has already been criticism of this in the media in Sri Lanla. The Indian media too, barring a few newspapers, have ignored the developments in Sri Lanka, busy as it is with the Indo-Pak border skirmishes and the Pakistan Supreme Court’s directive to the Prime Minister to step down on charges of graft.

Whatever happens in the island nation in the coming weeks and months due to this impeachment, the debris is sure to fall on India.

*Nupur Basu is an independent journalist and award – winning documentary film maker. Courtsey; The Hoot

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Latest comments

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    hoot “To utter the characteristic cry of an owl. 2. To make a loud raucous cry, especially of derision or contempt. v.tr. etc.”

    Sri Lankans are well aware of this treatment – two famous incidents were
    MR`s Election Meeting in Jaffna and SBD meeting with University Students.

    Hoot – this should be the future welcome standard for any of the Rajapakse Bros. anywhere in Sri Lanka is a serious suggestion; of a democratic protest.

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    The manner of impeachment was wrong therefore we were against it on principles. However, she deserved more than an impeachment for having approved the 18th amendment giving the meeharak tota absolute power to be the president for ever. Some doubt that SB is not capable of giving a speech in English and that she wasn’t the most senior or competent to hold the post. Chandrika mucked it all up with the appointment of alleged sex maniac De Silva. She created the lion and tried to hold its tail so obviously the lion bit her wholesale exactly the same thing that happened to Amartalingam that spawned the tiger.
    You reap what you sow isn’t it??
    Anyway it’s the Zionist Jews that rule the nation so enjoy your stay licking RM till one day your offspring become a slice of Soylent Green.

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    India should rethink its relationship with the govt. Present policy of cooperation and hoping for the best is not working. A little bit of firmness and no nonsense would help. Rajapakse does the same using proxies and extreme elements in his govt to deliver anti indian messages and sentiment whilst uttering sweet nothings.

    As far as India is concerned resolution of the tamil problem should be the foremost priority. The present constitutional crisis are all symptoms of the greater malaise of intolerance and impunity afflicting this regime. In the north it is directed against the tamils and now in the south against democratic values.

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      India is irrelevant as far as The Sri Lankan situation is concerned. India is a weak and useless spectator with no influence whatsoever over the events in Sri Lanka. Manmohan is a zombie sleeper. Forget India. the Sri Lankan people’s defence against the Rajapaksa dictatorship resides with the West and the diaspora – Tamil and Sinhalese.

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        SORRY,YOU GOT IT WRONG,AND MISTAKEN.
        INDIA IS NOT WEAK. HAVING MORE INFLUENCING IN MANY AREAS AND WANTS TO DESTABILIZE SRI LANKA AGAIN.
        AND THIS JARAPASSA CLAN IS SUPPORTING THEM TO DO THEIR JOBS IN SRI LANKA.
        AS YOU SAY MANMOHAN IS A ZOMBIE SLEEPER, BUT DO NOT THINK THAT MANA AND SONIA IS RUNNING THE THE COUNTRY.
        NEVER,
        THERE IS AN INTERNAL STRATEGIC GROUP WITH BUREAUCRATS AND INTELLIGENCE GROUP HELPING THEM WITH UNLIMITED BUDGET TO DO THAT JOB.
        JUST HAVE A LOOK AROUND ALL INDIAN BORDER COUNTRIES.
        MOST OF THESE PROBLEMS ARE CREATED AND CREATING BY
        INDIA.
        TODAY IS FRIDAY, AND I AM NOT ASTONISHED TO HERE THAT,IF THERE ARE BOMBS AND KILLINGS GOES OFF IN PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, BANGLADESH,NEPAL OR ASSAD KASHMIR.

        WE SHOULD NOT UNDER ESTIMATE THOSE INDIANS.

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      Safa is damn right Amaraya is sensible to endorse that but Piranha is an Ostritch and buried his/her head in the sand and cant see anything

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    Nupur Basu:”Whatever happens in the island nation in the coming weeks and months due to this impeachment, the debris is sure to fall on India.” So Basu is trying to kill 2 birds with one stone but not hitting the mark.

    With the assassination of Indira and the death of her son Sanjay the nation lost its bollocks and has never recovered. Right now India affectionately known as Graft India is ruled by the old who belch, fart and cling on to positions and they are guided into this by a very corrupt Italian woman (ask the Nepalese folk) The western press owned by Zionist Jews is their natural allies. Just imagine 12 suicide bombs have gone off in India and there has been no investigation and now one soldier dead on the border they are planning to make a movie but Bollywood needs the script which they don’t have.

    Meeharak Tota Rajaporkistan is the undisputed terrorist leader with a 100 terrorist as ministers who are Sinhalese and Tamils and they are backed by the I.C.(just a few northern European states and US)which is affectionately called AlCIAd. RM is not a dealer for NOW but a close business partner with Zionist Jews. Just like the US trained Bin Larden and his tainted knickers it is the I.C. that trained RM in anti-terror tactics and armed him to the hilt plus given him and his cohorts diplomatic and head of state impunity. So the meeharaka RM calls it anti-terror part 2 and further robs and kills his own people with the backing of the Zionist Jewish western press and the IC. You can’t ask for more when the people have elected him and with the 18 amendment he is destined for life as a despot.

    With the demise of JR and Premadasa the opposition have no strong leader but opportunistic family business/dynastic self-proclaimed leaders in Ranil, Premadasa who are under RM for a fee I suppose so. They 2 would be better off getting lost like Jim Reeves or Upali Wijewardena as they are a danger to the citizens because of their going to bed with the terrorist RM.

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    The Indian gvernment is a lame duck over serious justice violations by the Rajapakse brothers’ regime. The regime has been lying over and over again. MR the big liar has now violently installed another tidy liar as CJ.
    Sonia Gandhi should be damned

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    Shirani B says she is innocent of all charges against her.
    She should be allowed to prove her innocence in a competent Court of Law.
    If this is denied,the presumption is that she states the truth.

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    This is an appeal from the govt by Ms. Eknaligoda

    http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=21334

    Dewiyane – why the brutal rulers let the innocent citizens to go missing this way.

    Illegally appointed CJ – Mohan Peris should be responsible for the investigation of the missing of Ekanaligoda

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    For me,the question that always went unanswered is how can a duly elected democratic government impeach a CJ if there are no valid accusations…that’s the crux of the matter that nobody wants to talk about including the media.

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      Nagrajah,

      It sounds like you have just arrived from Mars talking to aliens over there.
      It is Rocketlag ( like jetlag) and so take a shower travel back in time and read all the papers if will all come to light.

      In Tamil POGA POGA THERIUM

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        Hi Raja,

        I should have added

        In Tamil POGA POGA THERIUM INTHA SHIRANI POOVIN VASAM THERIUM.

        She is the perfect face of Sri Lanka half Sinhalese and half Tamil and I hope see her at Temple Trees in the short future deciding the fate of MR and his clan

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    Here we go again! The dogs bark but the caravan moves on! The dirty Anti Government Forces have started their campaign against the New Chief Justice. They will only support him if he falls out with the Government. This is the same way they treated the Ex CJ. When the Ex CJ were appointed these traitors wanted to report her to the Bribery Commissioner but when she fell out with the Government she became a Martyr. It was the same with the Ex General when he was appointed as head if the Army these Jackals said he is not fit to lead the Salvation Army but when he fell out with the a government he became the greatest Hero of all time. These anti government forces will throw mud at the Government at every available opportunity. However this great Government will not fall. The moon does not heed the barking of dogs! Mahinda is the greatest leader we had since post independence . Love to all! Sudu Akka

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      Suddu you swine when you did not comment I thought you were either fast asleep or had a taken the Cyanide capsule and I was hoping it was the latter.
      Prabaharan used to carry one but I am told MR also carries two one for him and one for his wife and he will be happy to spare you one so why dont you borrow one and end your miserable life because it is bound to get worse
      Life in a Ghetto doesnt get any easier.

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      But how long it would move on is the question.

      Ditta dammawedaniya will take care of your good leader soon, so please dont be that overwelmed with the unfair happiness.

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    All these anti Government Jackals would be showering the fat, Pig the great Sun God, Prabakaran if not for Mahinda and his brothers and his government. These Jackals did not open their mouths when the Tiger Supremo were killing thousands and ruling one third of the country. Same when JVP were killing thousands. No Jackals came forward to talk of ethics or morality when the killers were sending people to their deaths after their Kangaroo Court rulings. Now that the country is free all the swine have come out of their mud holes to attack the great saviour of the nation our beloved leader Mahinda! Now All Hail The Great Leader Mahinda? Bow down before him you Coyotes. Ha ha you give merit that you have this great man as your leader you Punks. Without Malice Love to all you punks. Sudu Akka

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      You should start your kindergarten again, else, you may know only the greatness of great leader that embezzeled the funds collected for the tsunami victims, got reelected through manipulations made with election results, killed many thousands of innocent civilians to score the war victory in the later stage of the war, ignored the calcualated beheading of poor Rizana on SA soils, and removed the legitimate CJ of the country for his advantage but unconstitutionally and has been abusing the funds allocated for the poor people of this country but reiterating something palatable.

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      Suddu,

      Tone down your language as the pressure is getting to you and you are cracking up. Dogs are barking and the Caravan( full of thugs) is moving on but you are standing still stuck in the mud.
      The country is not free you dum and where else would you find Supreme Court Judges being threatened with knives and crow bars and the soldiers who are there to uphold law and order looking on sadly only in Sri Lanka. You call this FREEDOM no thank you. Sri Lanka has been made a laughing stock of the world and only you seem to be still enjoying freedom which doesnt exist.
      SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS

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    Why this media circus on Shrani Bandaranaike. She was never considered to be supreme court material when Chandrika Bandaranike first appointed her to the supreme court from out side the bench. She has never argued a case in a court. She is only and acadamic from Colombo University married to a Kariyawasam. She held on to her name to take advantage of Bandaranaike name. There was a big hugh and cry from the opposition when she was appointed to the supreme court in 1997. Some members of the Supreme Court was not happy and protested on this appointment.
    Then it is the opposition who made the dance to remove her when he husband was found to be involved in a fraud case. Then there was also allegations that she is amassing wealth from unknown methods. She had also angered the Ceylico investors by taking over that case. How on earth she gets involved in buying a property from Ceylinco at concessionary rate if she was a just CJ.
    When the allegation against her husband surfaced she should have steped down from her position anyway. Late she was joined by the same lawyers and NGO to embarass government by all means. How can a court issue writ against the parliament. The judges should have known better. They were acting on external influences. Suddenly courts think they are more powerful than the elected parliament. Most cannot understand appointed officials should not have any power. They are holding office at the will of the executive. If they cannot do their job they should resign stating the facts.
    Shriani Bandaranaike has so far not presented facts for her innocence. She is only telling is the procedure is flawed. How can one say she is better than Mohan Peris??

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      Punchy Banda,

      We know whose side you are on. It is all about upholding Rule Of Law. If she was found guilty after a due process to the highset standard no one would have any problem.
      You seem to side with the thugs who say she was guilty as charged. OH NO that is not civilsed behaviour.

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    The first ever impeachment of a Chief Justice of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court by a ruling party ……!
    Correct?Surely she does not know much about what she writes.

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