Shadow showdown in Basu bastion
Officer David vs defender Goliath
Uneasy posers for Red citadel
Paradise dream in chaos land
Old scores settled in middle of market
Butterflies for poll papa
Advani writes off Mamata minus NDA
American-Indian puts beef fat in fire for McDonald's
Support to Bush splits Atal aides
Murderer mix-up mystery lingers

Satgachhia, May 3: 
Satgachhia is more than a constituency. It�s a symbol, the Berlin Wall of Bengal.

Cracks have appeared on the wall. The enemy is pushing hard. Their leader was here to give the final shove.

�(Jyoti) Basu has been your representative since 1977,� said Mamata Banerjee. �But what have the people of Satgachhia got in the past 24 years?�

Yes, what? A CPM that went red in the face made a list: Basu, the party said, has sanctioned money from his MLA�s quota for an ambulance, four computer centres, a sports complex.... Besides, we are not like them. For us, the chief minister�s constituency is not more equal than others.

Ask the people. True, they elected Basu five times since 1977, but each time his margin shrank. From a thumping 38,446-vote victory in 1977, Basu�s margin was down to 11,110 votes in 1996. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the CPM was ahead of the Trinamul Congress by less than a hair�s breadth � 276 votes � in this segment.

That is why Basu was here; so was Mamata. If Satgachhia falls, Basu will lose, and all that he represented � the Marxist rule in Bengal for the past 24 years.

It is immaterial that Basu is not contesting, Gokul Bairagi is. This is not a fight between Bairagi and Trinamul nominee Sonali Guha. It is a shadow showdown between Mamata and Basu. They both came here to campaign, to woo the 158,590 voters.

Both contestants, though, are close to the big leaders. Bairagi was Basu�s election agent since 1982, and Sonali is a close aide of Mamata.

Till recently, Sonali used to accompany Mamata everywhere. That stopped after her marriage. But she is an outsider in Satgachhia, while Bairagi is a �son of the soil�. He� lives in Muchisa and teaches history at Hauri Dinanath High School. �My family donated 22 bighas for construction of Haridra Krishi Shilpa Vidyalaya. My forefathers were permanent residents of Satgachhia and people know what I have done for them,� says Bairagi.

Sonali knows she�s the outsider, but she�s touring 15 hours a day to make up for that. She�s camping at Birlapur.

�People in this constituency have been deprived. Many told me they will vote for me because they don�t think Bairagi will be able to deliver. Basu was chief minister, but couldn�t do anything for them. So, how can Bairagi, his election agent?� asks Sonali.

If that�s giving CPM an uncomfortable feeling, there�s more in store. It will also have to reckon with Samir Putatunda�s wife, Anuradha Deb. She resigned as district president of the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity � the CPM�s women�s wing � and is now contesting for her husband�s party, the Party for Democratic Socialism.

If you are in Satgachhia, you don�t need binoculars to see the large fissures that run down the Berlin Wall of Bengal.


Memari, May 3: 
In the maddening midday heat, nothing stirs in Memari, not even politicians on the campaign trail.

�Who will listen to me if I go around campaigning after 10 in the morning?� asks Syed Mustaq Murshed, Trinamul Congress nominee from Memari.

It�s 1 pm. Murshed is alone in the house of Dr Arindam Ghosh, a well-known physician in Hatpukur. Even the party workers are away, hiding from the heat somewhere. Murshed, a retired IAS officer-turned-politician, does not have a house here, so he is camping in the doctor�s home.

He�s back after a campaign at Satgachhia Block II. The afternoons are for some peace and quiet. �I will go out again after 5.30 pm. My party workers will come to take me. I will carry on till 8 pm,� says Murshed.

He retired as PWD secretary in 1991. �After my retirement, I was adviser to the Jammu and Kashmir Governor for three years from 1993. I did not accept any government job after that and decided to stand beside Mamata.�

He took the first step in politics in 1999. He fought as the Trinamul candidate from the Jangipur Lok Sabha constituency. And lost.

This is his second fight against the CPM. Not an equal fight, no; Murshed knows that, but he is sounding optimistic.

In the last Assembly election, his rival, sitting MLA Tapas Chatterjee, won by 44,810 votes. In the more recent Lok Sabha elections, the Left polled 95,551 votes from the Memari segment of the Burdwan constituency while the Congress and the BJP, together, secured 56,517.

�(But) last election�s equation is no longer valid,� says Murshed. �People of Bengal have experienced political turmoil during the past five years and I believe they will give their verdict against the ruling Marxists.�

The point is Murshed believes he will bag enough anti-Left votes, but Chatterjee is sure of victory. �The hammer and sickle is the permanent symbol for the people of Memari,� says Chatterjee, sitting at the Sunil Roy Bhavan, the Memari zonal CPM office.

�We set up the largest agriculture cooperative in Asia, the Sreedharpur Agricultural Cooperative, which is helping 80,000 farmers and farm labourers... We stood first in rice production in Burdwan last year. We installed more than 200 pumps. We upgraded a number of schools.... What more can the people of Memari expect?� That�s the bottomline. It�s ridiculous to ask for more.

�Trinamul is now talking about development. I will request their leaders to visit Memari and tell us what we lack here. I am sure 95 per cent of our villagers will give us a good certificate,� says Chatterjee.

His comrades wait. Soon, the leader will vroom away on a motorcycle to speak to more people. His target: retain his grip over the 1.93 lakh voters. Most work on farm land. Only about 700 work in the 16 cold storages and a paper mill at Nadipur.

Murshed�s target: turn around as many voters as possible. But sitting in Dr Ghosh�s house, it cannot be very comforting for him to go over the statistics. The CPM enjoys absolute majority in the Memari Municipality � 11 of the 16 councillors are CPM men. All the 15 panchayats in Memari Block I and II are controlled by the CPM.

But all that was before the bodley deen, paltey deen days.


Burdwan, May 3: 
Long before Bengal, it was Burdwan that turned into lal doorgo. From the rice fields to the factories in the Asansol-Durgapur belt, the CPM had a free run in this red fort in elections from 1967. But factory workers have turned their backs on the Marxists in the past two polls. The farmers, who still stand behind the party, are beginning to ask questions. They grow more rice than before and the daily wage of farm labour in the district is the highest in the state � over Rs 60 a day in many places.

So the CPM should have little to worry about in Burdwan. In the 1996 Assembly elections, the Left Front�s vote share in Burdwan (54.02 per cent) was second only to that in Bankura (57.4). Even in the 1999 parliamentary polls, when the Trinamul-BJP alliance jolted the Marxists, Burdwan didn�t fail the party, giving it the lead in 23 of the 26 Assembly segments.

But the 1999 polls gave the party�s Burdwan mandarins a minor shock over the BJP inroads deep into rural areas. While Trinamul led in the two Assembly segments of Kulti and Asansol, the BJP sprang a surprise by overtaking the Marxists in Durgapur-II, a rural constituency adjoining the industrial segment of Durgapur I. Not just that, the BJP advances were remarkable in other rural segments like Kanksa, Bhatar, Galsi, Burdwan (South), Burdwan (North), Jamalpur, Raina, Khandoghosh and Memari.

Ironically, if the BJP was once the party�s fear, it is something of a hope this time because of the break-up of its alliance with Trinamul. In 1996, when the BJP fought alone, it polled 7.47 per cent in the district. Although they would not admit it publicly, CPM leaders are hoping that the BJP would split the anti-Left vote and thereby help the Left tide over the challenge of the Congress-Trinamul combine. But then, part of the BJP vote may also shift to the Trinamul-Congress combine.

On the other hand, the CPM�s anxiety has been worsened by Saifuddin Chowdhury�s Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), which is bent on pushing the Red juggernaut off-track on its strongest turf. That Chowdhury is contesting from Nadanghat has added moral strength to PDS candidates in eight constituencies in the district. Even the district�s most high-profile CPM leader, Nirupam Sen, has something of an irritant in Bandana Nandi, the PDS nominee in Burdwan (South). Bandana goes about her campaign with tales of �deprivation and emotional torture� that the CPM inflicted on her uncle, the late Benoy Choudhury. She may not mar Sen�s chances, but the birth of the PDS has taken some sheen away from the CPM�s Burdwan myth.

At least in seven constituencies � Hirapur, Kulti, Barabani, Asansol, Bhatar, Katwa and Nadanghat � the CPM�s fortunes seem bleaker than before.


Tollygunge, May 3: 
Supply, contract, commission, FMCG... words that are found in the pink papers but not in the Red Book. These are the words that reverberate inside the cramped-for-space mini buses that jostle for space on the bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour roads in Tollygunge.

That, in a nutshell, is the changing face of the Tollygunge Assembly constituency, one of the smallest in the city but one which has seen growth in Gogol terms.

The once Left-bastion fell in 1996. And it�s not to difficult to see why. The refugees from East Bengal, who made the city their own, have now made it big after a lifetime of struggle. Most of them are first-generation entrepreneurs, the majority of them have all the comforts money can buy; from one-room hutments which they shared with 10 others, they have now moved to high-rises that have mushroomed in the area, from Golf Green to Bansdroni.

But for all their affluence, the quality of life hasn�t improved: enter the serpentine lanes and alleys of Ranikuthi, Azadgarh, Regent Park, Ashokenagar and the complaints are the same � waterlogging, the chief culprit being the silted-up Tolly�s Nullah, dry taps and the menace of the construction-mafia. And roads: NSC Bose Road, the lifeline to the Tollygunge Metro station, is a morning nightmare.

No wonder then that the residents voted for change in 1996. Tollygunge was a safe seat for CPM�s Prasanta Sur for four consecutive terms from 1977. But the tables were turned by the Congress� young local lad, Pankaj Banerjee.

Banerjee, now the spokesman for the Trinamul Congress, halted Sur�s political juggernaut after which the CPM sent its veteran leader to hibernation.

That the Left has suffered a setback was apparent in the results of last year�s municipal elections. Of the six wards, the people voted Trinamul to five. �The refugees are a close-knit lot, they have the sense of a shared past and tend to do things unitedly,� pointed out a Tollygunge veteran.

He said the residents are now fed up with the �party�: �For everything, you have to ask the party.� A resident of Naktala went a step further: �You know who runs the state? It�s not the chief minister, it�s not the Cabinet ministers. The coordination committee holds the reins of the state.�

Tollygunge has grown upwards. Highrises are coming up dime-a-dozen in the refugee belt. And the concrete and steel have systematically obliterated waterbodies in the area. Ranikuthi pukur and the struggle to save it is still fresh in the minds of the people. �The silent support that the promoters have got from the ruling party was just too much for us to take,� says a resident.

The spurt in highrises has seen a proportional leap in the crime graph. Murders are common, bombs go off in the dead of the night in a reminder of the Naxalite days.

But surprisingly, the residents are kind towards their legislator for 19 years. �Prasanta Sur was an active legislator despite his failure as health minister,� they say.

Sur has been plucked out of oblivion and he is campaigning for the CPM�s candidate, student leader Gautam Banerjee.


Canning (South 24-Parganas) May 3: 
Five CPM activists were shot and two injured, allegedly by RSP workers, at Daria village, about 70 km from the city, today.

Twelve persons were arrested for the attack, said to be the fallout of long-standing enmity.

The victims were identified as Bahar Ali Malik (45), his brother Rafiq Malik (35), their nephew Ahmad Dhali (32), Siddique Laskar (33) and Moinuddin Molla (44). The injured were identified as Niyamat and Akhtar. Both were admitted to the local hospital with bullet injuries.

The deputy inspector general of police (presidency range) and other senior police officers, including the superintendent of police, visited the area. A strong police picket has been posted in the area, where tension ran high after the incident.

The origin of today�s incident dates back to December 1998, when gram panchayat member Mansoor Naya was murdered by CPM activists, who have been absconding since. The assailants were, however, trying to come back to the village. The CPM supporters came to the village and sat down with the RSP workers in the Daria market for negotiations.

Rezia Khatun, daughter of Bahar Ali Malik, one of the deceased, said: �I was at the place where the discussion was going on. Suddenly, some of them (RSP workers) took out revolvers and started firing. My father and others fell on the ground and the attackers, who belonged to our village, started running away.�.

�The incident happened when there were few people around. However, the cries of my father and the others drew the attention of the villagers who came running,� she added.

The villagers chased the killers but they managed to escape. They then informed the local police who sent the injured persons to hospital.

Mohammed Monirul Malik, another relation of Bahar Malik, said: �Police were informed of the meeting much in advance but they came at least two hours after the incident.�

�Here the police are inactive. Last year, 10 people died in party clashes but they could do nothing except for making some routine arrests,� said Malik. Additional superintendent of police (rural) Rajesh Singh refuted the charge. �Police came to the spot as soon as they got the news,� he said.

South 24-Parganas superintendent of police Deb Ganguly said: �The victims were CPM workers. But the attackers could not be identified. We have arrested 12 persons and are searching for others. We are trying to ascertain the political identity of those arrested.�

�The victims were workers of our party. The incident happened due to a family dispute and to settle an old score. There is no politics in these murders,� local CPM MLA Bimal Mistri said.

Local RSP MP Sanat Mondal said: �It is a matter of regret that five persons were murdered. I have heard that police have made some arrests. I cannot say whether they belong to our party.�


Calcutta, May 3: 
Chief election commissioner M.S. Gill today said the situation in West Bengal was �reasonable� but �it could get better� for peaceful polling on May 10.

Likening the elections to his daughter�s marriage, Gill said: �Till my daughter reaches her sasural safely, the father always remains a worried man... I will be worrying till May 13 when the election process ends.�

Addressing the press at Raj Bhavan, Gill said there was a �little tension� as is usual during an Assembly election. The chief election commissioner promised more Central forces for the state.

He held a meeting this afternoon with the political parties and reviewed the situation with state police and civil officials. �I had a good meeting with the parties. They were all worked up against each other but there were no fireworks,� Gill said.

Gill�s message to the parties was clear: �Do not cut off areas so that others cannot enter. If this continues, we might take measures that no one will like.� He said Nirvachan Sadan will review the issue of Trinamul Congress supporters staying in camps as they are unable to enter their villages � where their polling stations are � on his return to Delhi and then issue instructions.

�I have asked the parties to use restraint while campaigning, particularly the senior leaders. Elections are held to join heads, not to break them,� Gill commented. He said Bengal was a �politically mature� state and the parties should maintain the standards of criticism.

The poll panel chief said some 12 to 14 constituencies have been in the news, and hence the number of observers have been increased. �I have told the observers to be aggressively active in reporting back to the chief electoral officer. I have sent one observer back as he was lax in carrying out our guidelines,� he pointed out.

On Mamata Banerjee refusing state security, Gill said he had discussed the issue during the day.


Calcutta, May 3: 
Rounding off his two-day election campaign in Bengal, Union home minister L.K. Advani said today that a growing �disappointment� among people with Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee may mar her electoral prospects.

�Only six months ago, Mamata with her tie-up with the NDA became a challenger to the ruling Marxists here. But the day she left the NDA and collaborated with the Congress, the party she once dubbed the �B� team of the CPM, Mamata�s chances of being a viable alternative have eroded,� observed Advani.

Advani said the BJP would play a crucial role if it managed to increase its strength in the Assembly. �We may not have a high stake in the elections but our sizeable presence in the Assembly will matter,� he said. �We are convinced that the Marxists are on the way out for their misrule.�

Asked if the BJP would help the Congress-Trinamul combine to form a government if it is short of majority, Advani said: �We will take the decision when the situation arises.�

Pressed for an answer, an agitated Advani said: �I am a seasoned politician for nearly 50 years. Don�t insist on something which I wouldn�t like to elaborate on. It is up to you to interpret.�

The BJP leader, however, did not use any harsh words against the Trinamul chief. �The only thing I can say about Mamata is that she has disappointed the electorate by suddenly coming out of the NDA,� he said.


Washington, May 3: 
Hindu hardliners and swadeshi campaigners in India may be waging a losing battle against their own government and against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but in America, they are in no mood to give up without a tough fight.

In a lawsuit which is expected to be a test case for the Hindu way of life and its place in American society, a Hindu vegetarian lawyer has filed a suit for millions of dollars in damages from McDonald�s for allegedly using beef fat as an ingredient in its French fries.

The lawyer, Harish Bharti, has got hold of an e-mail in which McDonald�s has asked its suppliers to lace its French fries with tiny amounts of beef flavouring. He has used the communication to charge the global food chain � America�s most enduring symbol of globalisation � with misleading vegetarians.

Bharti�s class action suit, filed in a Seattle court yesterday, alleges that McDonald�s has kept secret the use of beef fat in its supposedly vegetarian products and thus misled vegetarians.

The suit accuses McDonald�s of fraud for claiming that its fries have been cooked in pure vegetable oil.

�We will seek injunctive relief to stop this practice...and we are seeking damages, including punitive damages, that will easily be in hundreds of millions of dollars,� Bharti was quoted in the local media.

The case will be watched with intense interest as part of a growing assertiveness by Hindus in America to claim the rights for the way of life according to their religious beliefs.

Last year, a manufacturer of footwear was forced to withdraw his product and apologise for carrying images of Hindu gods on the shoes.

There have also been sporadic efforts from coast to coast to uphold Hindu sentiment through lawsuits and other campaigns. But the case filed against the global food chain is by far the biggest of its kind.

A McDonald�s spokesman was quoted as saying that the restaurant chain had never claimed to offer vegetarian food. The spokesman added the company freely provides information on ingredients in its menu to anyone who seeks it.

Admitting that fries sold by McDonald�s has �minuscule� amounts of beef products, he said these did not have beef fat as alleged in the lawsuit.

�We are very open,� he added. �We have probably 25 million people a day come to our restaurants in the US. I don�t think anybody is coming in thinking that we are marketing vegetarian items.� The spokesman clarified that in parts of Africa, the Middle East and southeast Asia, McDonald�s does offer fries with no meat or pork content.


New Delhi, May 3: 
The external affairs ministry�s swift and effusive response to the US� sweeping security blueprint appears to have divided Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s foreign policy establishment, which has two of his closest aides.

President George W. Bush�s plan, announced yesterday, involves scaling back nuclear arsenal and building a missile defence system. The missile shield will include a network of installations which, analysts say, will undermine a Russian treaty considered the cornerstone of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War.

The ministry of external affairs welcomed Bush�s announcement yesterday, describing it as an attempt to make a �clean break from the past�, especially the �adversarial legacy of the Cold War�. But others in the security establishment are asking whether the foreign ministry has �jumped the gun�, responding even before the implications of the new policy have started sinking in.

According to them, the ready response might show India as a client state of the US. But those in favour feel it is time India stopped being ambiguous on crucial issues.

Sources say foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who is also looking after defence, and Brajesh Mishra, Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s principal secretary and the national security adviser, are behind the two schools of thought.

There is little doubt that Singh was behind the foreign ministry�s effusive stand. �India believes that there is a strategic and technological inevitability in stepping away from a world that is held hostage by the doctrine of mutually-assured-destruction (MAD) to a cooperative, defensive transition that is underpinned by further cuts and a de-alert of nuclear forces,� the ministry statement said.

The Mishra camp feels India should have waited a little longer as even US allies like the UK, which has supported most American initiatives, are yet to make clear their stand. Japan and South Korea have also not taken a stand.

As India�s response came on the eve of Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov�s visit, some even wondered how Moscow, Delhi�s �time-tested ally�, would react. But Indian diplomats said Russia has also expressed satisfaction over the policy.

According to sources, much of the prompt support has to do with India�s perception of the emerging Asian scenario.

Some sections fear that the national missile defence might trigger an arms race in South Asia, but South Block hopes it would lead to further isolation of China. After failing to get officially accepted as a nuclear power � the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty restricts the number to five � India hopes its stand would establish it as a key world player and a responsible nuclear country.

What has made the policy acceptable to India is the US� stress on bringing about further cuts in its nuclear arsenal and removing them from a state of hair-trigger alert. For the past few years, India has been trying to garner support among key world players to de-alert nuclear weapons. The US had opposed the move.

The main problem is the new policy�s linkage to the proposed national missile defence � which, in effect, is the Republican plan to build a defence shield to thwart incoming missiles carrying nuclear warheads from �rogue states�.

What it also does is undermine the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 between the US and the former Soviet Union. Russia had earlier opposed the American move, but has softened considerably and shown signs of accepting the move if Washington is keen on putting it in place only after consulting with other countries.

The Indian foreign ministry statement also stresses on this aspect.

South Block officials said the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is basically between two countries and, if both are in favour of either improving or changing it, Delhi can hardly oppose the move.

Moreover, Delhi�s stress has been on the US resolve to put the missile shield in place only after cooperation from other countries.

Immature, says Cong

The issue caused ripples in domestic politics, too, with the Congress questioning the rush to welcome Bush�s policy.

The party dubbed the government move �thoughtlessly premature and dangerously immature�.

Former Union minister and AICC�s head of foreign department K. Natwar Singh said the foreign ministry�s reaction would not serve the country�s interests in any way. �We want to emphasise and caution the country that the acceptance of the package offered by Bush constitutes a decisive paradigm shift in nuclear policy and breaks the international consensus that has existed for decades,� Natwar Singh said.

He added that the Congress failed to understand why India alone has seen it fit to give a �certificate of approval and a testimonial to the new nuclear policy without any detailed study�.

�The Congress is simply unable to appreciate the need for such a tearing hurry to respond publicly and officially on so sensitive a issue,� he said, terming it as the �most irresponsible action in the international field since Independence.�


Shillong, May 3: 
He may not be completely normal but is fully conscious of his surroundings. Rishit (not Rusid, as reported today) D. Sangma spoke little when this correspondent met him this afternoon at Shillong jail.

Revival of Rishit�s communication faculties has led to the unveiling of a bizarre case where he has been unwittingly impersonating a murder accused for seven-eight years. The revelations have shaken the judiciary trying the murder case and police who have been producing Rishit before the court year after year as Deep Charan Kaipang, accused of murder.

As permission was granted by the court to only see Rishit, it was not possible to hold a conversation. But the five-foot-one victim of �unfortunate circumstances� showed no hesitation when offered a chocolate. It took him some time to respond, but eventually he ate it and mumbled something that sounded like �sukriya� (thank you). As he walked back into the cell, the shabbily-dressed Rishit looked over his shoulder and smiled.

Jail officials said Rishit, who was still being referred to as Kaipang, was behaving properly now.

Rishit can get out of jail � he has been there for 14 years � only after the court pronounces his identity, clearing him of the crime he has been accused of. The next hearing to establish his identity has been set for May 8.

But the mystery of how he found his way to the prison at Tura and then to Shillong jail is likely to linger unless Rishit himself throws light on it. That he may not be Kaipang became apparent only when he began to communicate after spending all these silent years in jail. Psychiatrists said they had never heard of such a case before.

The jail authorities said it was impossible for a prisoner from Tura to find his way to Shillong. �It cannot happen without the knowledge of the court and there is no criminal record against the accused in Shillong,� they said.

No one, not the police, nor the psychiatrist at the Meghalaya Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences, Dr Jagat Ram Rana, who has treated him, seems to know how Rishit became Kaipang. All of them were asking: �If the person in custody is Rishit, where is Kaipang.�

Kaipang, from Tripura, was purportedly arrested in 1992 for killing a man and sent to the Meghalaya mental health institute. But enquiries with the police in Tripura have drawn a blank. Rishit is from Meghalaya.

Rumours in legal circles suggested that the Tura jailbreak a couple of months ago could give some leads as to how Rishit ended up in the Shillong prison.

There was also talk that a Tripuri undertrial was killed by unknown miscreants after the Tura jailbreak.

A possible trail has disappeared with the treatment record on Rishit said to have been burnt in a fire at the institute last month. The jail authorities felt that Rishit could have reached Shillong jail during a transfer from the institute. Mental patients from Tura, too, are sent to this institute.

Dr Rana recalled Rishit being admitted to the institute on November 27, 1995, and the jail papers at the time said he was Deep Charan Kaipang. The doctor said that since then he has been seeing Rishit as Kaipang and disclosed that he had a small mole on his neck. He said Kaipang (now Rishit) was admitted six times to the institute and on each occasion he recovered. But Rishit did not respond to verbal cues.

The jail authorities claimed that some investigations were carried out in Guwahati, too, but there was no formal treatment. Rishit, they said, started speaking while on his way back to Shillong from Guwahati. Gauhati High Court�s Shillong bench has authorised the additional sessions judge, S.R. Sen, to pursue the case to its logical conclusion.


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