Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi
Born 19 June 1945 (1945-06-19) (age 64)
Rangoon, Burma
Residence Rangoon
Occupation Prime Minister-elect[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]
Known for Leader of the National League for Democracy, Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Religious beliefs Theravadin Buddhist
  This article contains Burmese script. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Burmese characters.

Aung San Suu Kyi AC (Burmese ; MLCTS=aung hcan: cu. krany[citation needed]; IPA: [àunsʰánsṵtʃì]), born 19 June 1945, is an opposition politician and general secretary of the National League for Democracy in Burma (Myanmar). Aung San Suu Kyi was the third child in her family. Her name is derived from three relatives; “Aung San” from her father, “Kyi” from her mother and “Suu” from her grandmother.[8] Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the Government of India. She is still under detention in Myanmar, and has been for almost 14 out of the past 20 years.[9] In the 1990 general election, Suu Kyi was elected Prime Minister, as leader of the winning National League for Democracy party, which won 59% of the vote and 394 of 492 seats. Her subsequent detention by the military junta prevented her from assuming office.

She is frequently called Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; Daw is not part of her name, but is an honorific similar to madam for older, revered women, literally meaning “aunt”.[10] Strictly speaking, she has no surname, but it is acceptable to refer to her as “Ms. Suu Kyi” or Dr. Suu Kyi, since those syllables serve to distinguish her from her father, General Aung San, who is considered to be the father of modern-day Burma.

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Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19 June 1945 in Rangoon.[11] Her father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year. She grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo in Rangoon. Her favourite brother Aung San Lin died at age eight, when he drowned in an ornamental lake in the grounds of the house.[8] Her elder brother emigrated to San Diego, California, becoming a United States citizen.[8] After Lin’s death, the family moved to a house by Inya Lake where she met people of very different backgrounds, political views and religions.[12] Suu Kyi was educated in English Catholic schools for much of her childhood in Burma where she was noted as having a talent for learning languages.[13] She is a Theravada Buddhist.

Suu Kyi’s mother, Daw Khin Kyi, gained prominence as a political figure in the newly formed Burmese government. She was appointed Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960, and Aung San Suu Kyi followed her there, graduating from Lady Shri Ram College with a degree in politics in New Delhi in 1964.[11][14] Suu Kyi continued her education at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, obtaining a B.A. degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics in 1969. After graduating, she lived in New York City with a family friend and worked at the United Nations for three years, primarily on budget matters, writing daily to her future husband Michael.[15] In 1972, Aung San Suu Kyi married Dr. Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture, living abroad in Bhutan.[11] The following year she gave birth to their first son, Alexander Aris, in London; their second son, Kim, was born in 1977. Following this, she earned a Ph.D. at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1985. She was elected an Honorary Fellow in 1990.[11] She also worked for the government of the Union of Burma.

In 1988 Suu Kyi returned to Burma at first to tend for her ailing mother but later to lead the pro-democracy movement. Michael’s visit in Christmas 1995 turned out to be the last time that he and Suu Kyi met, as Suu Kyi remained in Burma and the Burmese dictatorship denied him any further entry visas.[11] Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 which was later found to be terminal. Despite appeals from prominent figures and organizations, including the United States, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II, the Burmese government would not grant Michael a visa, saying that they did not have the facilities to care for him, and instead urged Aung San Suu Kyi to leave the country to visit him. She was at that time temporarily free from house arrest but was unwilling to depart, fearing that she would be refused re-entry if she left, as she did not trust the junta’s assurance that she could return.[16]

Aris died on his 53rd birthday on 27 March 1999. Since 1989, when his wife was first placed under house arrest, he had seen her only five times, the last of which was for Christmas in 1995. She also remains separated from her children, who live in the United Kingdom.[17]

On 2 May 2008, after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, Suu Kyi lost her roof and was living in virtual darkness after losing electricity in her dilapidated lakeside residence. She used candles at night as she was not provided any generator set.[18] Plans to renovate and repair the house were announced in August 2009. 

 

Political beginnings

Aung San Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988 to take care of her ailing mother. By coincidence, in the same year, the long-time leader of the Socialist ruling party, General Ne Win, stepped down, leading to mass demonstrations for democracy on 8 August 1988 (8-8-88, a day seen as auspicious), which were violently suppressed. On 26 August 1988, she addressed half a million people at a mass rally in front of the Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital, calling for a democratic government.[11] However in September, a new military junta took power. Later the same month, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed, with Suu Kyi as general secretary.

Influenced by both Mahatma Gandhi‘s philosophy of non-violence[20][21] and by more specifically Buddhist concepts,[22] Aung San Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratization, helped found the National League for Democracy on 27 September 1988, and was put under house arrest on 20 July 1989. She was offered freedom if she left the country, but she refused.

One of her most famous speeches is the “Freedom From Fear” speech, which begins, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Political career

1990 general election

In 1990, the military junta called a general election, which the National League for Democracy won by an overwhelming 82% of the votes. Being the NLD’s candidate, Aung San Suu Kyi under normal circumstances would have assumed the office of Prime Minister.[23] Instead, the results were nullified, and the military refused to hand over power. This resulted in an international outcry. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest at her home on University Avenue ( 16°49′32″N 96°9′1″E / 16.82556°N 96.15028°E / 16.82556; 96.15028) in Rangoon. During her arrest, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, and the Nobel Peace Prize the year after. Her sons Alexander and Kim accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf. Aung San Suu Kyi used the Nobel Peace Prize’s 1.3 million USD prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people.[24]

House arrest

Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under house arrest on numerous occasions since she began her political career, totaling 14 of the past 20 years.[9] During these periods, she has been prevented from meeting her party supporters; international visitors, likewise, have been prevented from meeting her. She lives with her two maids and receives visits from her doctor. In an interview, Suu Kyi said that while under house arrest she spent her time reading philosophy, politics and biographies that her husband had sent her.[25] She would also occupy her time by playing the piano and was occasionally allowed visits from foreign diplomats as well as her personal doctor.[26]

The media have also been prevented from visiting. In 1998, journalist Maurizio Giuliano, after photographing her, was stopped by customs officials, and all his films, tapes and some notes were confiscated.[27] Suu Kyi met the leader of Burma, General Than Shwe, accompanied by General Khin Nyunt on 20 September 1994, while under house arrest. It was the first meeting since she had been placed in detention.[11] When the military government has released Suu Kyi from house arrest it has made it clear that, if she left the country to visit her family in the United Kingdom, it would not allow her return. On several occasions, Suu Kyi has been in poor health for severe weakness.[28]

Suu Kyi continues to be imprisoned under the 1975 State Protection Act (Article 10 b), which grants the government the power to imprison persons for up to five years without a trial,[29] and the Law to Safeguard the State Against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts (Article 10 a), as Suu Kyi is “likely to undermine the community peace and stability” of the country.[30] She has appealed against her detention.[31] Many nations and figures have continued to call for her release and that of 2,100 other political prisoners in the country.[32][33]

UN involvement

The UN has attempted to facilitate dialogue between the junta and Suu Kyi.[34] On 6 May 2002, following secret confidence-building negotiations led by the United Nations, the government released her; a government spokesman said that she was free to move “because we are confident that we can trust each other”. Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed “a new dawn for the country”. However on 30 May 2003, a government-sponsored mob attacked her caravan in the northern village of Depayin, murdering and wounding many of her supporters.[35] Aung San Suu Kyi fled the scene with the help of her driver, Ko Kyaw Soe Lin, but was arrested upon reaching Ye-U. The government imprisoned her at Insein Prison in Rangoon. After she underwent a hysterectomy in September 2003,[36] the government again placed her under house arrest in Rangoon.

The results from the UN facilitation have been mixed; Razali Ismail, UN special envoy to Burma, met with Aung San Suu Kyi. Ismail resigned from his post the following year, partly because he was denied re-entry to Burma on several occasions.[37] Several years later in 2006, Ibrahim Gambari, UN Undersecretary-General (USG) of Department of Political Affairs, met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the first visit by a foreign official since 2004.[38] He also met with Suu Kyi later the same year.[39] On 2 October 2007 Gambari returned to talk to her again after seeing Than Shwe and other members of the senior leadership in Naypyitaw.[40] State television broadcast Suu Kyi with Gambari, stating that they had met twice. This was Suu Kyi’s first appearance in state media in the four years since her current detention began.[41]

The United Nations Working Group for Arbitrary Detention rendered an Opinion (No. 9 of 2004) that her deprivation of liberty was arbitrary, as being in contravention of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and requested that the authorities in Burma set her free, but the authorities have so far ignored this request.[42]

Such claims were rejected by Major-General Khin Yi, the national police chief of Burma. On 18 January 2007, the state-run paper The New Light of Myanmar accused Suu Kyi of tax evasion for spending her Nobel Prize money outside of the country. The accusation followed the defeat of a US-sponsored United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Burma as a threat to international security; the resolution was defeated because of strong opposition from China, which has strong ties with the military junta (China later voted against the resolution, along with Russia and South Africa).[43]

In November 2007 it was reported that Suu Kyi would meet her political allies National League for Democracy along with a government minister. The ruling junta made the official announcement on state TV and radio just hours after the United Nation‘s special envoy Ibrahim Gambari ended his second visit to Burma. The NLD confirmed that it had received the invitation to hold talks with Ms. Suu Kyi.[44] However, the process delivered few concrete results.

On 3 July 2009, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, arrived in Myanmar on a journey seeking the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and to press the junta for democratic reform. However, on departing from Burma, Ban Ki-moon said he was “disappointed” with the visit after junta leader Than Shwe refused permission for him to visit Suu Kyi, citing her ongoing trial. Ban said he was “deeply disappointed that they have missed a very important opportunity.”[45]

Periods under detention

  • 20 July 1989: Placed under house arrest in Rangoon under martial law that allows for detention without charge or trial for three years.[34]
  • 10 July 1995: Released from house arrest.[8]
  • 23 September 2000: Placed under house arrest.[9]
  • 6 May 2002: Released after 19 months.[9]
  • 30 May 2003: Arrested following the Depayin massacre she was held in secret detention for over 3 months before being returned to house arrest.[46]
  • 25 May 2007: House arrest extended by one year flouting a direct appeal from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to General Than Shwe.[47]
  • 24 October 2007: Reached 12 years under house arrest, solidarity protests held at 12 cities around the world.[48]
  • 27 May 2008: House arrest extended for another year, illegal under both international law and Burma’s own law.[49]
  • 11 August 2009: House arrest extended for further 18 months because of “violation” arising from the May 2009 trespass incident.

2007 anti-government protests

Main article: 2007 Burmese anti-government protests

Protests led by Buddhist monks began on 19 August 2007 following steep fuel price increases, and continued each day, despite the threat of a crackdown by the military.[50]

On Saturday, 22 September 2007, although still under house arrest, Suu Kyi made a brief public appearance at the gate of her residence in Rangoon to accept the blessings of Buddhist monks who were marching in support of human rights.[51] It was reported that she had been moved the following day to Insein Prison (where she had been detained in 2003),[52][53][54][55] but meetings with UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari near her Rangoon home on 30 September and 2 October established that she remained under house arrest.[56][57]

2009 trespass incident

On 3 May 2009, an American man, identified as John William Yettaw, swam across Inya Lake to her house uninvited and was arrested when he made his return trip three days later.[58] He had attempted to make a similar trip two years earlier, but for unknown reasons was turned away.[59] It is unknown what his motives were. On 13 May, Suu Kyi was arrested for violating the terms of her house arrest because the swimmer, who pleaded exhaustion, was allowed to stay in her house for two days before he attempted the swim back. Suu Kyi was later taken to Insein Prison, where she could face up to five years confinement for the intrusion.[60] The trial of Suu Kyi and her two maids began on 18 May and a small number of protesters gathered outside.[61][62] Diplomats and journalists are barred from attending the trial; however, on one occasion, several diplomats from Russia, Thailand and Singapore and journalists were allowed to meet Suu Kyi.[63] The prosecution had originally planned to call 22 witnesses.[64] It also accused John Yettaw of embarrassing the country.[65] During the ongoing defence case, Suu Kyi said she was innocent. The defence was only allowed to call one witness (out of four), while the prosecution has been permitted to call 14 witnesses. The court rejected two character witnesses, NLD members Tin Oo and Win Tin and only permitted the defense to call a legal expert.[66] According to one unconfirmed report, the junta is planning to, once again, place her in detention, this time in a military base outside the city.[67] In a separate trial, Yettaw said he swam to Suu Kyi’s house to warn her that her life was “in danger”.[68] The national police chief later confirmed that Yettaw was the “main culprit” in the case filed against Suu Kyi.[69] According to aides, Suu Kyi spent her 64th birthday in jail sharing biryani rice and chocolate cake with her guards.[70]

Her arrest and subsequent trial received worldwide condemnation by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Security Council,[71] Western governments,[72] South Africa,[73] Japan[74] and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is a member.[75] The Burmese government strongly condemned the statement, as it created an “unsound tradition”[76] and criticised Thailand for meddling in its internal affairs.[77] The Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win was quoted in the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar as saying that the incident “was trumped up to intensify international pressure on Burma by internal and external anti-government elements who do not wish to see the positive changes in those countries’ policies toward Burma”.[65] Ban responded to an international campaign[78] by flying to Burma to negotiate, but Than Shwe rejected all of his requests.[79]

On 11 August 2009 the trial concluded with Suu Kyi being sentenced to imprisonment for three years with hard labour. This sentence was commuted by the military rulers to further house arrest of eighteen months.[80] On 14 August, U.S. Senator Jim Webb visited Burma, visiting with junta leader Gen. Than Shwe and later with Suu Kyi. During the visit, Webb negotiated Yettaw’s release and deportation from Burma.[81] Following the verdict of the trial, lawyers of Suu Kyi said, they would appeal against the 18-months sentence.[82] On 18 August, United States President Barack Obama asked the country’s military leadership to set free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.[83] In her appeal, Aung San Suu Kyi had argued, that the conviction was unwarranted. However, her appeal against the August sentence was rejected by a Burmese court on 2 October, 2009, although the court accepted the argument that the 1974 constitution, under which she had been charged, was null and void, but said the provisions of the 1975 security law, under which she has been kept under house arrest, remained in force. The verdict effectively means, she will be unable to participate in elections scheduled to take place in 2010 – the first in Burma in two decades. Her lawyer stated that her legal team would pursue a new appeal within 60 days. [84]

International support

There is widespread international support for Aung San Suu Kyi.

All over the world, many are in solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi and the Democracy Movement.

Aung San Suu Kyi has received vocal support from Western nations in Europe[85], Australia[85] and North[86] and South America, as well as India,[3] Israel,[87] Japan[88] and South Korea.[89] In December 2007, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously 400–0 to award Aung San Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal; the Senate concurred on 25 April 2008.[90] On 6 May 2008, President Bush signed legislation awarding Suu Kyi the Congressional Gold Medal.[91] She is the first recipient in American history to receive the prize while imprisoned. Other non-American recipients of the medal include Sir Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa.[86] More recently, there has been growing criticism of her detention by Burma’s neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, particularly from Indonesia,[92] Thailand,[93] the Philippines[94][95] and Singapore.[96] At one point Malaysia warned Burma faced expulsion from ASEAN as a result of the detention of Suu Kyi.[97] Other nations including South Africa,[98] Bangladesh[99] and the Maldives[100] have also called for her release. The United Nations has urged the country to move towards inclusive national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy, and full respect for human rights.[101] In December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Burma and calling for Suu Kyi’s release – 80 countries voting for the resolution, 25 against and 45 abstentions.[102] Other nations, such as China and Russia are less critical of the regime and prefer to cooperate only on economic matters.[103] Indonesia has urged China to push Burma for reforms.[104] However, Samak Sundaravej, former Prime Minister of Thailand, criticised the amount of support for Suu Kyi, saying that “Europe uses Aung San Suu Kyi as a tool. If it’s not related to Aung San Suu Kyi, you can have deeper discussions with Myanmar.”[105] U2 supported her on their 2009 U2 360° Tour by encouraging fans to wear masks with her likeness on them during the band’s performance of the song “Walk On“, which was originally written for her. In 2005, Irish singer songwriter Damian Rice released the single Unplayed Piano in support of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Vietnam, however, does not support calls by other ASEAN member states for Myanmar to free Aung San Suu Kyi, state media reported Friday, 14 August. 2009.[106] The state-run Viet Nam News said Vietnam had no criticism of Myanmar’s decision 11 August, 2009 to place Suu Kyi under house arrest for the next 18 months, effectively barring her from elections scheduled for 2010. “It is our view that the Aung San Suu Kyi trial is an internal affair of Myanmar,” Vietnamese government spokesman Le Dung stated on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In contrast with other ASEAN member states, Dung said Vietnam has always supported Myanmar and hopes it will continue to implement the “roadmap to democracy” outlined by its government.[107]

Nobel Peace Prize

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The decision of the Nobel Committee mentions:[108]

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.

…Suu Kyi’s struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression…

…In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.

—Oslo, 14 October 1991

Nobel Peace prize winners (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Dalai Lama, Shirin Ebadi, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Mairead Corrigan, Rigoberta Menchú, Prof. Elie Wiesel, Betty Williams, Jody Williams and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter) have called for the rulers of Burma to release Suu Kyi “create the necessary conditions for a genuine dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all concerned parties and ethnic groups in order to achieve an inclusive national reconciliation with the direct support of the United Nations.”[34] Some of the money she received as part of the award helps fund London-based charity Prospect Burma, who provide higher education grants to Burmese students.[109]

Organizations

  • Freedom Now, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization, was retained in 2006 by a member of her family to help secure Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest. The organization successfully secured a positive judgment from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and has been conducting political and public relations advocacy on her behalf.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi has been an honorary board member of International IDEA and ARTICLE 19 since her detention, and has received support from these organisations.
  • The Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Université Catholique de Louvain, both located in Belgium, have granted her the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.[110]
  • In 2002, the Freedom Forum recognized Suu Kyi’s efforts to promote democracy peacefully with the Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award, in which she was presented over satellite because she was under house arrest. She was awarded one million dollars.[111]
  • In June of each year, the US Campaign for Burma organizes hundreds of “Arrest Yourself” house parties around the world in support of Aung San Suu Kyi. At these parties, the organizers keep themselves under house arrest for 24 hours, invite their friends, and learn more about Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi.[112]
  • The Freedom Campaign, a joint effort between the Human Rights Action Center and US Campaign for Burma, looks to raise worldwide attention to the struggles of Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma.
  • The Burma Campaign UK is a UK based NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) that aims to raise awareness of Burma’s struggles and follow the guidelines established by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, where she studied, had a Burmese theme for their annual ball in support of her in 2006.[113]
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is the official patron of The Rafto Human Rights House in Bergen, Norway. She received the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize in 1990.
  • She was made an honorary free person of the City of Dublin, Ireland in November 1999, although a space has been left on the roll of signatures to symbolize her continued detention.
  • In November 2005 the human rights group Equality Now proposed Aung Sun Suu Kyi as a potential candidate, among other qualifying women, for the position of U.N. Secretary General.[2] In the proposed list of qualified women Suu Kyi is recognised by Equality Now as the Prime Minister-Elect of Burma.[2]
  • The United Nations‘s special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, met Aung San Suu Kyi on 10 March 2008 before wrapping up his trip to the military-ruled country.[114]

The Bommersvik Declarations

In Bommersvik, Sweden, in 1995 and 2002, two conventions of the Elected Representatives of the Union of Burma took place and the following two landmark declarations were issued:[115][116]

Bommersvik Declaration I

In 1995, during the first convention that lasted from 16–23 July, the Representatives issued the Bommersvik Declaration I:[117]

We, the representatives of the people of Burma, elected in the 27 May 1990 general elections, meeting at the First Convention of Elected Representatives from the liberated areas of Burma, hereby — Warmly welcome the unconditional release of 1991 Nobel Peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on 10 July 1995; Thank all who have worked tirelessly and consistently for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the cause of democracy in Burma; Applaud Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s determination, in spite of having spent 6 years under house arrest, to continue to work to bring true democracy to Burma; Welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s return to politics to take up the mantle of her father, General Aung San, in Burma’s second struggle for independence…

—The Elected Representatives of the Union of Burma

Bommersvik Declaration II

In 2002, during the second convention that lasted from 25 February to 1 March, the Representatives issued the Bommersvik Declaration II:[118]

We, the representatives of the people of Burma, elected in the 27 May 1990 general elections presently serving as members of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and/or the Members of Parliament Union, meeting at the Convention of Elected Representatives held in Bommersvik for the second time, hereby reaffirm — Our Mandate, Position, and Strategic Objectives — that we will never ignore the will of the Burmese people expressed through the May 1990 general elections; – that the military’s refusal to honor the election results does not in any way diminish the validity of these results.

—The Elected Representatives of the Union of Burma

Books

Authored

Edited

  • Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson. Edited by Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi. (1979). Vikas Publishing house, New Delhi.

Awards

Popular media

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