Press Releases

    1 October 2004

    United Nations Reform, Vulnerabilities of Small Islands, Darfur, Middle East Among Focus of General Assembly’s Two-Week High-Level Debate

    NEW YORK, 30 September (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly today wrapped up its general debate on a sombre note with a poignant description by Grenada’s Ambassador of the devastation left behind by deadly Hurricane Ivan, which swept over his island homeland three weeks ago, destroying virtually every house, downing critical power lines, and flooding essential croplands.

    Lamuel Stanislaus expressed appreciation on behalf of his country for the outpouring of sympathy and assistance from so many countries, especially those in the Caribbean. The resilience of Grenada’s people and the emerging solidarity gave hope that, with assistance from the international community, Grenada would “rise from the ashes” left in the hurricane’s wake. An assessment of the destruction revealed that it would take $2 billion to rebuild the State, he said, calling on the United Nations and its agencies, individual countries, civic groups and friends to “help Grenada help itself”.

    His call marked a fitting end to the Assembly’s annual high-level debate, where, time and again, leaders of small developing countries urged the world body, and particularly richer industrialized countries, not to lose sight of so-called “soft threats” -- poverty, hunger, environmental degradation and the threat of natural disasters, inadequate access to clean water, sanitation, health care and education.

    Wrapping up the debate, Assembly President Jean Ping (Gabon) said 190 of the governing body’s 191 Member States and two Observers had taken the floor in the last two weeks, including 81 heads of State and government. More than 120 had taken up the question of United Nations reform, emphasizing both progress and the way ahead. Virtually all speakers had expressed concern over the situation in Iraq and had asked the Organization to help rebuild that country. Many had also acknowledged that the Road Map was the only solution for the Middle East crisis. The situation in Darfur had also been an issue of concern.

    Secretary-General Kofi Annan set the tone for the debate at its opening on 23 September, when he urged world leaders to do everything within their power to restore respect for the rule of law -– both domestically and internationally. He lamented that in places from Iraq to Darfur, northern Uganda to the site of the recent terrorist massacre in southern Russia, as well as in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the rule of law was being flouted.

    Mr. Annan noted that the United Nations was founded in the ashes of a war that brought untold sorrow to mankind. “Today we must look again into our collective conscience, and ask whether we are doing enough. Each generation has its part to play in the age-long struggle to strengthen the rule of law for all –- which alone can guarantee freedom for all”, he said. “Let our generation not be found wanting”, he concluded.

    Throughout the debate, delegations from all regions resoundingly affirmed the Secretary-General’s call, stressing that multilateralism was the best way to boost respect for the rule of law, particularly when dealing with today’s major challenges, including terrorism.

    One of the most pressing global challenges –- African development –- was a major focus of the debate. With the mid-term review of the Millennium Development Goals set for next year, African leaders addressed some of their common anxieties, including struggles to fend off deepening poverty and hunger; management of the alarming effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic; and avoidance of further economic marginalization. “One has to wonder whether enough political will is being exerted to combat the world’s problems”, one Minister queried, stressing that poverty levels could be reduced if the developed world acted resolutely, cancelling foreign debt, opening markets to developing countries and paying proper prices for their raw materials, and eliminating agricultural subsidies.

    The problems bedevilling the world's small island States, especially global warming, fishing rights, sea-level rise and the inequalities of global trade, were also highlighted. Refuting the popular cliché that portrayed their countries as white-beached paradises, the leaders of the many island nations emphasized that the “idyllic” isolation that made them so enchanting to outsiders often crippled their ability to develop self-reliant economies, deter terrorism and protect against the whims of Mother Nature. Reflecting on the destruction wrought by the string of deadly hurricanes that had pummelled the Caribbean, they sought a more enabling global economic environment, and reduction of the harmful pollution and accompanying climate change, which jeopardized their very existence.

    Other issues raised were the dangers surrounding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; transnational organized crime; trafficking in drugs and people; illegal migration; and reform of the United Nations and its Security Council, which drew interest from a large number of delegations. They emphasized that the Security Council today still reflected the global power structure of 1945. Most felt that any reform should strive for better geographical distribution in the body, and perhaps expanding its membership to not less than 24, but not more than 26 seats, two of which should be permanent seats for African States. Germany, Brazil, India and Japan were among those most often mentioned as possible candidates for permanent seats in an expanded Council.

    Today, top ministers and heads of United Nations delegations revisited many of the session’s familiar themes, and focused on the inherent vulnerabilities of small developing countries. Carlos Morales Troncoso, Secretary of State for Foreign Relations of the Dominican Republic, said that the fight against poverty, essential for economic development, could not be separated from a country’s attainment of democracy, good governance and stability. He expressed deep concern at the rise in corruption and human and drug trafficking in many regions of the world, including his, which jeopardised the development efforts of the countries concerned.

    Also speaking today were the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Seychelles, Maldives, Tajikistan and Suriname, as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Public Service of the Bahamas.

    The representatives of Belize and Australia also addressed the Assembly.

    Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Eritrea and the Sudan.

    The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 4 October to hold a joint debate on revitalizing its work, and on the strengthening of the United Nations system.


    The General Assembly met this morning to conclude its general debate.


    JEREMIE BONNELAME, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Seychelles, said he represented a small island country belonging to two regions -- the Indian Ocean and the African continent. The Seychelles wished to be an example of co-habitation between man and nature, and an example of unity and cohesion within a people, two objectives at the heart of the country’s development plans. It had committed to a progressive programme of adjustments, to give a new dynamic to its economy. As a small island country isolated from markets, the Seychelles remained a vulnerable economy.

    The country was taking action to address the causes and effects of problems such as terrorism, money laundering and drug trafficking. It had ratified all international conventions on drug trafficking and supported all the resolutions of the United Nations on the prevention and suppression of terrorist acts. Earlier this year, the Seychelles enacted a law on the prevention of terrorism and was currently revising existing legislation on financial institutions and money laundering. At the same time, the offshore sector was also being monitored in the framework of the implementation of a law on financial services promulgated last year.

    Reform of the United Nations, he continued, must be positioned on the basis of concrete actions and follow-up mechanisms, and the Security Council must be open to more permanent and non-permanent members, so that the developing countries, such as of those in Asia and Latin America, could make their contribution. A genuine North-South dialogue was essential to address problems such as AIDS and terrorism. All threats required a joint response and shared responsibilities. It was also necessary to deal effectively with the debt burden, and to arrive at new trade relations, which made it possible for developing countries to continue to acquire the means to be more competitive.

    FATHULLA JAMEEL, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives, said that the global challenges today were numerous. Among them was terrorism, which had not been defeated, and was re-emerging with uglier manifestations in the most unexpected places, killing innocent people, including children. The disappointing impasse in global disarmament and the dreadful odds of further proliferation of mass destruction weapons made the world ill at ease, and hopes were dimming for peace. The small States felt more vulnerable to those challenges and threats, as their security was entirely dependent on the prevalence of global security and the observance of the rule of law by all States. Clearly, the concerns of small States could not be confined only to issues of the environment, climate change, sea-level rise and sustainable development. The ominous threats on the political and security fronts had far-reaching implications on all.

    He said that small States were often victimized by non-State actors, such as terrorists, mercenaries, gangs and organized crime networks. Their measured assaults disrupted the socio-economic and political development of small States, endangering their peace and security. Solutions could only be sought through international cooperation, vigilance and action. The international community must take on the crucial responsibility of protecting the security of small States, as stipulated in various General Assembly resolutions. With its global spread and the ability to work in collaboration with regional institutions, the United Nations was the most appropriate body to address such issues. Specifically regarding terrorism, he advocated the early adoption of the terrorism convention, which would be a crucial step in effectively combating that dreadful menace.

    At the same time, expanding globalization and increasing trade liberation had had a “distressing price tag” for small economies, he said. Their limited natural resources and narrow economic base severely restricted their scope for diversification and their ability to attract foreign investment. Those disadvantages called for special considerations, including a degree of preferential treatment on an exceptional basis to ensure those countries’ sustainable development. Maldives was beset by the entire range of economic problems inherent to small island developing States, and the recommendation of the Committee for Development Policy to graduate it from the list of least developed countries had compounded the development challenges. Graduation might cause enormous and irreparable damage to his country’s economy in the absence of a suitable mechanism to ensure sustained socio-economic development. He, thus, welcomed the Committee’s earlier recommendation and the decision of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on the need to formulate smooth transition strategies prior to graduation.

    FREDERICK MITCHELL, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, highlighting the devastating effects of the recent wave of hurricanes to hit his region, supported the call for an international donors conference to meet the needs of all the countries adversely affected by the hurricanes. He hoped the conference would result in a moratorium on Grenada’s debt repayment and the establishment of a regional disaster relief fund to support the reconstruction effort. Grenada and Haiti were the hardest hit by hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, which ravaged the Caribbean islands and parts of the United States.

    He urged the countries of the region to better plan for eventualities such as hurricanes. They risked losing their dignity if they were not seen to help themselves. However, if the recent hurricanes, as scientific evidence suggested, were related to climate change, it was clear that the region could not hope to defend itself alone. A major shift by the most polluting countries was required, thus assuring the survival of people in the small island developing States. That was a moral imperative on their part.

    He said the scenes of death and destruction from the hurricanes that hit Haiti served as a reminder of the political turmoil that Haiti had endured during the past year, and underscored the necessity of helping the people of that country achieve democracy and economic development. His country was ready to do what it could to assist Haitians in those areas. The Bahamas had practical reasons to ensure that justice and democracy prevailed in Haiti, because each year thousands of migrants sought to enter the Bahamas illegally from Haiti looking for a better way of life. He called on the United Nations to continue to assist the people of Haiti.

    TALBAK NAZAROV, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan, said the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the struggle against international terrorism were urgent problems that needed to be addressed. The recent tragic events in Beslan, Russia, demonstrated that terrorism was becoming more impudent and more challenging. His nation condemned the act of violence against defenceless children and appealed to the international community to undertake collective measures to combat the “scourge of the twenty-first century”. It was, however, comforting that international solidarity in the struggle against that enemy was gaining in strength.

    His nation continued to face economic and social problems, despite some progress, he said. 80 per cent of the population still lived below the poverty line. Due to his country’s lack of access to the sea, many regions were cut off from the external world, resulting in higher prices on imported goods and increased transit fees. Writing off part of Tajikistan’s debt would make it possible to invest in education, health care and in the environment. But the idea of exchanging debts for sustainable development was not yet supported by creditors. Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, he continued, required solidarity and interaction between the entire global community, with the United Nations as a leading coordinator.

    He went on to say that economic rehabilitation, poverty eradication, improved living standards and long-term sustainable development were among his nation’s top priorities. His Government was aware of its responsibility in dealing with the above tasks, and was taking measures in those areas. Still, his nation needed assistance from the international community to ensure long-term sustainable development. He approved of the Organization’s priority to increase the efficiency of assistance to countries that had lived through conflict. The United Nations undoubtedly played the key role in providing a timely and coordinated response to post-conflict situations. Success in that area depended on a qualitative interaction with host governments, on reinforcing the national potential, introducing effective instruments for coordination and the mobilization of resources. It also depended on increased interaction with the Bretton Woods institutions.

    In some regions of the world, he added, the international community faced not only the problem of conflicts and wars, but also illicit drug trafficking, which posed a threat to civil society. The volume of narcotics being transported via Tajikistan constituted a serious threat to his nation’s stability. Afghanistan remained a major supplier of narcotics and its production this year had set a record. In the past five years, his nation’s law enforcement bodies and Russian border guards had confiscated about 40 tons of narcotics, with heroin constituting the majority of those drugs.

    MARIA LEVENS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Suriname, said a restructured Security Council must be better reflective of the membership of the United Nations, more transparent and more democratic. It was very disturbing to observe, despite intensive diplomatic and political undertakings, that peace and tranquillity in several regions of the world were still major concerns, threatening the democratic underpinnings of society. Therefore, the time might be opportune for the United Nations to spearhead the process of involving relevant interest groups and civil society at large in the different countries of a particular region to assist in the establishment of sustained peace in that area.

    She said that in the past weeks the Caribbean region, already composed of vulnerable communities, had felt the force of nature in the most extreme manner. Several countries had been battered and Grenada severely damaged. She called for immediate, as well as long-term, assistance for the people and Government of the latter. Development issues, she went on to say, such as the eradication of poverty and hunger, as well as protection of the environment, were among the extremely important aspects to be addressed if one wished to obtain lasting and comprehensive security, that encompassed military, political, environment, economic and social development aspects. Globalization had not delivered vast development opportunities on a worldwide scale. While it had created opportunities, those had been restricted to just a few societies. Opportunities that had arisen from development in the world were unfortunately not within the reach of all humanity.

    The current world order was still characterized by economic disparities, unequal trade regimes, income inequalities between and within countries, social injustice and declining opportunities for hundreds of millions, she noted. Globalization could only become a real option for economic development if it became all-inclusive and if it was given a human face, by attaching specific importance to the negative impact it had on social progress. The United Nations must regain its importance in the area of global development if the efforts to eradicate poverty, achieve socio-economic development and stop the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS were to be successful. The Organization had to continue its restructuring process and become, not only the principal global platform in theory, but also demonstrate its capabilities to act in practice.

    CARLOS MORALES TRONCOSO, Secretary of State for Foreign Relations of the Dominican Republic, began by expressing his gratitude to both the international community and the United Nations for the support and solidarity shown during the recent natural disaster, which had hit his country and others of the region. The hurricane had struck at a time when the Dominican Republic had been taking concerted steps towards economic recovery. Stressing that no efforts should be spared to free mankind from terrorism, he condemned individuals or groups who either supported or carried out such acts, and underscored the importance of international cooperation in the fight against that scourge.

    His nation committed itself to the norms of international laws, especially to the implementation of United Nations resolutions. That was essential if the international community’s goal of attaining peace and security was to be realized. However, it would only be possible if resolutions adopted were respected and implemented within the context of multilateralism. He joined others in calling for a thorough review and reform of the mechanisms of multilateralism. He also remained supportive of United Nations reform, believing that such reform would better place the Organization to more successfully confront the global challenges facing it today.

    He went on to say that the fight against poverty, essential for economic development, could not be separated from a country’s attainment of democracy, good governance and stability. He expressed deep concern at the rise in corruption and human and drug trafficking in many regions of the world, including his, which jeopardised the development efforts of the countries concerned, and urged international action against those crimes. In addition, he invited countries to rededicate themselves to the fight against HIV/AIDS, which also constituted a threat to the survival of nations.

    He described as tragic the crisis in neighbouring Haiti, adding that his country fully understood that the Bahamas could not be left to bear the weight of that problem alone. He called on all nations to provide the necessary financial resources that would place Haiti back on the path to progress and reconstruction.

    LAMUEL A. STANISLAUS (Grenada) expressed appreciation on behalf of his country for the outpouring of sympathy and assistance from many countries, especially the Caribbean leaders, who had seen and described before the General Assembly the devastation in his country caused by hurricane Ivan. The resilience of Grenada’s people and the emerging solidarity gave hope that with the assistance of the international community, Grenada would “rise from the ashes” brought about by the hurricane. An assessment of the destruction revealed that it would take $2 billion to rebuild the State. He called on the United Nations and its agencies, individual countries and permanent representatives, non-governmental organizations and friends to “help Grenada help itself”.

    Debt forgiveness and the cancellation of obligations to international financial institutions would give Grenada a “breathing spell”, he continued. In that regard, Grenada would be formally requesting help through official channels.

    Recalling an ancient law that “hatreds never cease by hatreds; it is by love alone that they cease”, he said that the geopolitical centre of gravity continued to swing, from the Israeli/Palestinian struggle to Iraq and Afghanistan. The situation in those centres of conflict, he said, was further fanned by the heinous and atrocious crime of terrorism, which was fast becoming a way of life.

    Noting that he had told colleagues that he would demit office at the end of the month, at the age of 84 and having served his country for almost 13 years, he recanted the note of his departure and said his Government had asked him to continue. He said that, “confident in faith and joyful in hope”, he would continue to expect generous assistance, and asked for support on behalf of his country. In that regard, he informed the Assembly that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would be launching a Flash Appeal for Grenada and Haiti tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.

    STUART W. LESLIE (Belize) said challenges to development abounded and made many small States inherently vulnerable. Therefore, he called on the international community to take the vulnerability of those countries into account to ensure that policies and measures relating to development corresponded to their special needs. He also reminded the General Assembly of the 1999 proposal to designate the Caribbean Sea as a special area within the context of sustainable development. The recent hurricanes were reminders of the fragile and valuable nature of that sea to socio-economic wellbeing and survival. He called on the international community to support efforts to make the Caribbean Sea a special area during the current Assembly.

    Development policies must above all be people centred, he said. Coherence, sustainable partnerships and support, as well as ownership, were all critical factors in the process. That had never been clear, as in the case of Haiti, where, quoting the Secretary-General he said, “the international community failed to develop sustainable partnerships with the Haitian society at all levels. The Haitian people were insufficiently involved in the development of policies that could move the country forward ... Financial aid did not bear fruit to the extent expected because it was at times ill targeted”. He said that with such a lesson learned there was an opportunity to influence a positive wave of development for the Haitian people. Haiti also provided a clear example of the inextricable link between development and security, which necessitated an integrated approach.

    His country supported the call of India, Japan, Brazil and Germany for permanent seats on the Security Council. There was also a legitimate right of African and Arab nations to be represented. Reforms, however, must go deeper. Why should one country have the power of veto? Why should millions of the wretched of the Earth be left alone without an effective voice -- powerless to change the world to a more just one? “And why do we, who so effectively acted to end apartheid in South Africa, tolerate the equally opprobrious apartheid practiced by Israel against Palestinians in their own land, murdering and oppressing them without mercy and with impunity?”

    Another major issue in his region was the continued attempt to isolate Cuba and to strengthen an economic embargo that had been condemned by the overwhelming majority of the General Assembly. The entire Caribbean Community was at one in its resolve to engage Cuba in a constructive and mutually beneficial partnership, which would bring concrete benefits to the people of the region. “For us in the Caribbean, any call for regime change imposed from the outside violates every principle upon which the United Nations stands”, he said. The United Nations was also well-aware of the age-old and unfounded territorial claim of Guatemala, and had clearly and unanimously called for respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize. Yet, his country had endeavoured to negotiate a just solution to that claim for decades. But no solution was in sight. The worst scenario was for that claim to linger unresolved, affecting the security and development of the people of Belize.

    JOHN DAUTH, (Australia), said few nations in the General Assembly had been untouched by terrorism and, as the cowardly attacks in Beslan and at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta illustrated, terrorism would not simply fade away. The international community could not allow those threats to fester. New thinking, practical action and cooperation between governments was required. Australia had committed energy and resources to building counter-terrorism cooperation in the region and to building understanding as part of a comprehensive approach. It had also ensured that Jema’ah Islamiyah was listed as a terrorist organization under Security Council Resolution 1267. While cooperation with regional partners had delivered results, the recent bombing in Jakarta showed terrorism in the region had not yet been defeated.

    Iraq was at a critical moment in its political evolution, he said, adding that a small minority was bent on destruction and wanted to deny the Iraqi people the opportunity to express their political will in elections. While the difficult security conditions in Iraq could not be denied, it was imperative that the Organization fulfil its role under Resolution 1546, and work to complete, in time, arrangements for elections. Australia remained committed to assisting Iraq and, to that end, committed more than $125 million, much of it directed through the United Nations.

    He said the situation in Darfur was a humanitarian disaster and noted Australia’s commitment of $20 million in emergency assistance. He applauded the African Union for agreeing to lead a mission in Darfur, and his nation stood ready to offer assistance to it. Still, the situation there underlined the need for the international community to develop a better framework for responding to humanitarian crises. Turning to arms control, he said the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was another urgent concern. Unless the international community acted firmly and with unity, terrorist groups could one day acquire those weapons with disastrous consequences. He added that Australia advocated expanding the permanent membership of the Security Council to make it more compatible with geographic realities.

    JEAN PING (Gabon), President of the General Assembly, said that although most of the world leaders had left, their statements and policies would continue to resonate. He had been struck by the focus and issues of the general debate and had no doubt that those views would continue to influence and guide the current session of the Assembly. The debate had also provided him with the opportunity to talk with high-level delegations and their leaders, and in that process, they had reaffirmed their commitment to multilateralism, as well as the principles and purposes of the United Nations. But in spite of that, it was clear that more had to be done with regard to the Charter, to give it strength and legitimacy.

    He said 190 out of 191 Member States and two Observers had taken the floor in the last two weeks -- 81 were heads of State and government. Of the 190 speakers, 121 took up the question of United Nations reform emphasizing both progress and the way ahead. There were specific proposals vis-à-vis the functioning and effectiveness of the organization, while world leaders underscored reform of the Organization with particular reference to the Security Council, revitalization of the United Nations and the need to move forward with the Millennium Development Goals. He noted that reform of the Council had prompted the greatest number of comments and statements, adding that 140 Member States had addressed that issue. The majority indicated a preference for expansion of both categories of membership, while others expressed a desire for expansion of just the non-permanent category.

    This afternoon, he would meet with the both Presidents of the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council to strengthen cooperation and complementarity of the programmes of work between those bodies and the Assembly. It was his intention to hold similar meetings in the next few months, and he counted on the cooperation of his counterparts in both Councils.

    He called for the cooperation of the Assembly in the lead up to the Millennium Summit review conference next year. In relation to that, he launched an urgent appeal to Member States to redouble their efforts to fill in the gaps in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The worst mistake would be a failure to act, he warned. Many delegations had advocated more equitable policies for poor countries and others emphasized more benefits and support for Africa, and particularly the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). World leaders had also called for the strengthening of internal security and particularly fighting terrorism, as well as controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction and small arms and light weapons.

    Virtually all speakers, he noted, had expressed concern over the situation in Iraq and asked the United Nations to help rebuild that country. Many speakers also acknowledged that the Road Map was the only solution for the Middle East problem. The situation in Darfur had also been an issue of concern. Concluding, he said the guidelines laid down by world leaders during the general debate had sketched out the framework for the current Assembly session. One of the priorities would be to prepare for next year’s review of the Millennium Summit.

    Rights of Reply

    The representative of the Sudan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to the negative accusations made by Eritrea, saying he regretted that that authoritarian regime had practiced such brutal forms of dictatorship, including violations of human rights. The representative of the Sudan asked if Eritrea was qualified to speak about the political state of other nations. He said that country was a State managed by an absolute, psychotic dictator. Eritrea’s last ambassador to the United Nations had taken political asylum, and other former comrades were in prison.

    Eritrea’s authoritarian regime had the worst record of human rights, he stated, adding that the recent report by Amnesty International was evidence of that. Eritrea had continued to practice hostility against its neighbors, examples of which included the unjust war with Ethiopia and conflicts with the Sudan. Eritrea had also violated international laws, and continued to conspire to destabilize the region. That country was the last to speak of stability in Sudan, as it fed all the conflicts in the region.

    The representative of Eritrea said the Sudan could not blame other nations for its problems. The Sudan had nine neighbours, and 10 enemies, including itself, which was its own worst enemy. The genocide in the Darfur region had attracted international attention, but that nation had been ravaged by civil strife for much of its existence. The Sudan, he continued, was the primary exporter of terrorism and had given a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal. Who could forget the assassination attempts against President Mubarek? Who could forget the assassination attempt against his own President and who could forget the Belgium tourists killed by terrorism groups organized in the Sudan?

    The latest terrorist attack against Eritrea, on 23 May, killed and injured women, children and the elderly, he continued. The Sudanese delegation spoke about Sudanese opposition in Eritrea but there were no clandestine movements. Eritrea was proud to act as facilitator with the National Democratic Alliance, and rejected the silly accusations by the Sudan which were meant to distract attention from the situation in Darfur.

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