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Taking a broader perspective…

The Equality Movement…

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Last Friday night I went to one of the most exciting political events I have ever been to. It was a Friday night, yet at least 600 people are crammed in, cheering the news of the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Yeman wildly. I would say 95% are under the age of twenty, this is Britain’s revolutionary youth fresh from fighting the EMA cut and looking to new battles.

The audience is young but very diverse. In the front row are women in hijabs, applauding Clare Solomon the President of the University of London Union, as she puts LGBT rights at the centre stage of the politics of resistance. The Equality Movement put together by rapper Lowkey and journalist Jody Mcintyre is perhaps the biggest thing on the British left.

The event entitled ‘How do we resist?’ heard from John Rees, back from Egypt, Joe Glenton who refused to fight in Afghanistan and a host of other speakers but the rappers and poets made the event. Crazy Haze, Sanasino and JJ brought the meeting to an electrifying conclusion with some great poetry, see the video above.

The Equality Movement is something to watch, more details here http://equalitymovement.wordpress.com/

 

Filed under: Activism, International Politics, The Left

Editorial: Day of Solidarity in Manchester

Today, we attended the Manchester Day of Solidarity. It has to be said whatever other issues there are the principle of having a large demonstration in the North is a good one. If we are serious about building a broad movement then this has to be inclusive of all geographical areas and London is costly and time consuming to reach from many areas of the country so there is nothing wrong with holding large events outside of London.

The event started at 10.30. Why this had to be so is a bit baffling. If you were being cynical you would suggest that this was either to ensure the continued primacy of London or else to make building for the demonstration harder. 

Reaching the demonstration presented us with our first challenge. A friendly bus driver pointed us on our way but dropped us off far too early. So, we were left beginning the day of demonstrating walking up a seemingly endless road to destination that we weren’t entirely sure was where we were headed. The odd dropped placard and deposit of police horse droppings provided an occasional clue we were on the right track but further assistance was required from the various shop owners who were generally helpful. Eventually we found our way and were confronted with the heartening scene of about 3-4,000 protestors eagerly awaiting the speakers and the rally.  Not a bad turnout but it was noticeable that union representation was a little thin. It was especially disappointing that there were not larger contingents from the GMB and Unite (Len McCluskey had been billed to speak but disappointingly didn’t even make it) but also from the FBU and PCS. Occasionally you could spot a Unison banner or CWU one but the majority of the union presence was from education unions like the UCU and we would say the majority of the march was not comprised of trade unionists. However, this really was a march of solidarity with sign language being provided alongside the main speaking.

Via Twitter we learned that Aaron Porter had been chased by about 1,000 students firing eggs in his direction. Porter doesn’t deserve sympathy – he has failed his members and deserves both the eggs and the very loud boos that were hurled his way. However, if it’s true that Tony Lloyd, the Labour MP for Manchester Central and chair of the Labour Party Trade Union Group of MP’s, was egged that is a different story. All the speakers emphasised the need for unity which is true but Porter has failed in his democratic duty so calls for unity in his case are an apologia for his failure. However, in the case of Lloyd no such case can be made – indeed, one rather worrying conclusion is that his crime is either a) being an MP or b) being a member of the Labour Party. Whether this movement likes it or not, if it’s to succeed it needs to draw in a large section of the Labour Party and the trade unions behind it as well as, of course, continuing to attract support from other parties like the Greens and the organised far-left and those currently who are not in any party. The attack on Lloyd can legitimately be classed as an attack on the unity of the movement and his treatment may give us some clues as the low numbers of trade unionists mobilised.

How the rally ended provided a further illustration of the problems the movement faces. It was quite clear towards the end that people were getting restless and impatient with the speakers and that a sizeable number wanted to march. Understandable given that the rally was petering out and it wasn’t even two o clock; no matter what time you arrived that is an early finish. So, a group of masked protestors; some carrying black and red flags and some carrying Socialist Worker placards marched off (this after the SWP tried to sell the anarchists a newspaper). Not many followed and clown policeman urged non-participation but eventually more and more started to follow and even the clown policeman followed. The self-appointed vanguard was successful because it judged the mood of the majority better than the official organisers who were far too busy trying to stay within safe channels; those that wanted to march were left with no choice but to follow the vanguard. Under half remained to hear the rally end which was a shame and unfair on the remaining speakers but was a consequence of the organisers playing it too safe and the splitting tactics of the self-appointed vanguard.

Guarded by the clown police officers (who were protesters, just to be clear) the movement split up through police tactics/and or a deliberate strategy by the protesters and marched down the streets. It was apparent the police were prepared for heavy-handed tactics as several police vans and horses followed with some proceeding to the track protesters further on. Then, for some reason, the police stopped and something was said and then a protester was arrested.

All we gathered was that he swore at a police officer, and before someone says he can’t be arrested for that we later heard an officer threatening a protester with arrest if they swore at them. With the protester pinned to the ground by three police officers and with the police sending reinforcements they began to form a kettle around the protester, arguably as more people began to take pictures of the incident. We retaliated chanting “let him go” and “shame on you”.

After the protester was arrested, we continued to meet up with another group who were being kettled by the police (again). There seemed to be some cross shouting by the police and suddenly the kettle broke and ran away; some made it out whilst others were reketteld. We were fortunately on the other side, so we went around. Sadly, the police had been able to interrupt the movement’s coherence; but it actually worked against the police, as every where you turned there were more protesters, whilst smaller groups, they were making their presence known and getting the public’s attention.

Injecting between trying to catch up with the main movement, we randomly spoke to a student protester. We had a good talk about student life, politics and politics, and some more politics. Jane even tried to convince him that anarchism isn’t what the media makes out it is. Don’t think it worked, though.We reached the city hall, with police surrounding every angle. Then, with the sound of a boom box, another section of the protesters appeared. We followed them, with the movement becoming so broken up it sometimes felt as though we were taking a stroll with the police (but not with the calming feel a stroll can give you).

We eventually came to another group of protesters who were being kettled by the police. It didn’t take long for the police to bring up more and more reinforcements. A police officer turned to us as we protested against the ketteling and told us, as though we had a choice, that we can either voluntary go into the kettle or move on. The police then mobilised their horses, forcing us down the street away from the ketteling. A protester was left laying on the floor and was encircled by the stamping hooves of police horses! The police tried to reclaim their image by letting kids pat their horses, but it just didn’t wash. As a protester chanted; “get that animal off the horse”.

As one protester proclaimed: “fucking democracy my arse”.

Filed under: Activism, Editorials, , , , , , ,

Solidarity with the police?

Jamie Potter is a graduate in Journalism and Politics, a member of the Labour Party and his blog can be found here.

Today the police made noises about taking to the streets to protest against impending job cuts. Not nice when the shoe’s on the other foot, is it?

Guy Aitchison asked on Twitter whether people would be joining them. Cue much pondering on and my conclusion that no, I won’t be supporting the police. This isn’t so much to do with the idea they’re the enduring violent arm of the state, though admittedly that is part of the reason, but more because of the most recent violence meted out to protesters regardless of any provocation, simply for being there.

At some of the student protests before Christmas, notably those on the day of the actual vote on tuition fees, the police sought from the outset to curtail and control any act of dissent, whether it was a civil march or something more fluid; whether the participants were anonymous or unmasked, young or old alike. This is not a new occurrence – it’s happened countless times before around the country. I first experienced it at the G20 meeting in London where I was kettled, stopped and searched and narrowly avoided being subject to a police raid in the squat I stayed in overnight. I’ve already written (angrily) about my distrust of the police. The point is, this dangerous attitude towards protesters remains and appears unlikely to change anytime soon, so why should I support them? What’s to say this support will go without thanks when I next face them on the streets? Will we receive solidarity in return?

I understand that sounds a bit them and us. I recognise police officers are still individuals and many don’t subscribe to the authoritarian, bullies in uniform attitude that is so prevalent throughout the various factions of the police. So this is why I also won’t be ‘kettling’ the police. It sounds like a fun idea and I actually got a little excited when I saw somebody suggest it on Twitter. But as individuals officers have a right to protest, even if it’s to protect jobs I’m at odds with. I guess I’m taking the moral stance here by appreciating and accepting that. I wouldn’t like to think that targeting police protests may put off the rank and file from one day dissenting and standing up for my ideas too. So I won’t stand in solidarity but I’m quite happy to ignore them.

Filed under: Activism, Law and Order, ,

A call for new intergenerational solidarity….

Zain Sardar is a Student Support Officer for the national Young Greens.

The recent protests surrounding the government’s decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000 has put intergenerational conflict at the forefront of a media storm and no doubt the public’s mind. Indeed, the raising of tuition fees and the scrapping of EMA amongst other public spending cuts constitutes the coalition’s attack not just on young people, but on the very social fabric of our existence and our communities; in-turn, this is having a profound effect generally on how generations relate to each other.

The current generation of young people, who have graduated from University and now find themselves in a difficult job market, who are at University, Sixth-form or Further Education colleges and High Schools have a lot to blame the older generation for. The younger generation face the prospect of paying more for courses, living longer with their parents because of the high price of property and now deposits on mortgages, and the prospect of few available jobs and working longer into old age when they do get a job.

To take a significant example of where the younger generation is struggling outside of the education sector, take the housing market. According to new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on Young People and Homeownership, in 1991, 50 per cent of younger men (20-24 years old) and 32 per cent of younger women lived with their parents. In 2006 this increased to 58 and 39 per cent respectably. Additionally, average age of homeowner is now 32 for those with financial assistance from family and 36 for those without it.

Young people generally associate home ownership with growing personal freedom and confidence, but with the aspirations of many young people for home ownership frustrated, they are finding that life opportunities such as education, employment and emotional relationships being put on hold due to the difficulties and time consuming nature of getting onto the housing ladder. Getting on the housing market has become a high stakes business for young people, and with the shortage of social housing and the instability the private rented sector affords, young people seem more than ever before socially excluded from independent living.

For the above problems, the younger generation blames those who benefited from free education, prosperity, a bountiful supply of social and affordable housing and full employment for their current plight. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey for 2010 (National Centre for Social Research), over half of 19-29 years olds (55 %) reported having been treated with prejudice because of their age, far more than any other age group. The results of this survey came out as the predicament of young people was being spelt out in the literature, most notable, in the book The Jilted Generation by Shiv Malik and Ed Howker. One of the proposals they offer is a means-tested approach to fuel benefits, which would save money to spend on the younger generation.

On the same lines, recently in The Guardian Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote;

‘We were incredibly lucky. We grew up in what the French call les trentes glorieuses, the astonishing three decades that followed 1945, with unimagined prosperity and an all-nourishing state that provided healthcare and education. To cap it all, and makes us softer still, we enjoyed unprecedented personal freedom. Then came the supposed victory for the West. But by then we had taken over, and what a horrible mess we’ve made. If there’s any hope at all, it must be that our crappy generation can slink away in shame, and let a younger generation see if they can manage things better. They could scarcely do worse.’

However much I agree with the likes of Wheatcroft above and Shiv Malik, I believe now is the time for a new intergenerational solidarity.

More than ever before, it seems that we need to stand up for young people who feel let down. The recent protests regarding the raising of tuition fees shows that young people will not take the attacks on their future lying down. However, in the coming months as students launch a new wave of protests, with public sector workers and trade unions, now is the time we don’t point fingers at past generations, but stand together for the universal nature of welfare state provision that caters for richer, for poorer and binds us together in collective unity.

The only way to solve the problems that young people are facing is a renewal of intergenerational solidarity, trust and understanding, and not an escalation of it. One hopes that protests in the New Year will be a living manifestation of this.

Filed under: Activism, , , ,

Loose Cannons…..

Cory Hazlehurst blogs at Paperback Rioter.

A note of warning: one of the pictures on this article isn’t nice. If you’re a bit squeamish, then be prepared to scroll past it rather quickly.

At the moment it’s hard to know for certain whether “Britain’s most liberal government ever” (© Nick Clegg) will allow police to use water cannon on protesters. Home Secretary Theresa May at first said that she would not intervene to stop police from using them, then appeared to rule the prospect out.

However, police officers appear to still be in favour of using water cannons. A recent opinion poll found that 69% supported their use against protesters, as against 23% who thought it unacceptable.

Most on the left are rightly shocked that a government could even consider such tactics against peaceful protesters. There are a number of issues with using water cannons.

Firstly, the fact that soaking people in water and then kettling them – forcing them to stand in the freezing cold for hours at a time, without letting people in and out – is obviously detrimental to the health of protestors. Imagine if this happened in the freezing temperatures we have at the moment. People could easily catch pneumonia.

There’s also the fact that if you are hit by a water cannon directly in the face, the consequences can be absolutely horrific. Via The Third Estate I came across this:

(and here comes the picture)



The picture of Wagner being helped away from the melee, his eyes swollen shut and bleeding, came to symbolise what critics claim was a heavy-handed approach by police trying to break up a demonstration against the controversial revamp of Stuttgart’s main train station.

Wagner’s doctor said the patient was currently blind and might never have his sight fully restored.

On Wednesday, news magazine Stern reported on its website that Wagner, a retired engineer had been trying to help some young people who were caught in the stream of water.

In an interview to be published on Thursday, Wagner told the magazine he had raised his arms and waved at police to indicate to them they should stop. But he was hit directly in the face with such force that he lost consciousness.

“It felt like the punch of a giant boxer,” Wagner said.

Given all this, using water cannon can already be seen as an erosion of our right to protest peacefully.

However, I think there is another, more sinister, reason why water cannon should not be used, which is not really being discussed.

At most police protests over the past couple of years, some of their more contemptible tactics have only come to the public’s attention because they have been captured on cameras, or mobile phones, belonging to ordinary people.

Take, for instance, the footage of Ian Tomlinson being struck to the floor by a police officer, the camera phone footage of police horses charging peaceful demonstrators, students in a kettle being crushed by police described by a Conservative member of the Greater London Authority as a “ghastly” incident, or pictures of a disabled journalist being pulled out of his wheelchair by police officers:



If police had used water cannon on protestors, this could damage electronic recording equipment belonging to the protestors. That makes it less likely, presumably, that these images and videos would have survived.

And that makes me very scared indeed.

Filed under: Activism, Law and Order, , , , , ,

New update on the adventures of Marx the finger puppet…

Here are some pictures from today’s protests, featuring no other than Marx the finger puppet. Sadly, Engels hasn’t made enough at the factory for Marx (and us) to make tomorrow’s student protests – but he (and so do we) wish the movement good luck in London tomorrow!

Big Brother is watching you...

But, they will never get me behind bars.

Engels and I used to be that mobile.

We should have marched at the Versailles like this...

This hair is a 100% non-snow...

Filed under: Activism, Marx the Finger Puppet, , , , ,

Marx the Finger Puppet’s latest adventures: #dayx, #corconf and #dayx2

Marx the finger puppet has been busy recently but has finally got around to updating you all on his latest political adventures.

Dayx

I might be getting on a bit, but I still haven’t lost my revolutionary fire…
I’d like to see you kettle me!
These protests are key to building up a mass revolutionary movement…

Coalition of Resistance

 

On route to Coalition of Resistance - in a non-sealed train (unlike Lenin)

I keep being getting asked for my autograph by all these paper sellers...

Dayx2

I am no fan of religion, but I don't mind making the occasional snow angel...

Yes, these cuts are going to be big but the movement against them will be bigger (than me)...


Filed under: Activism, Marx the Finger Puppet

Editorial: Report on Leeds’ #Dayx Protests!

It was a cold, crispy day that for us started as it meant to go on; in spontaneity! Nearly missing the start of the march, the police stopped the bus we were on one stop before we were set to get off, but the bus driver kindly (for once) let us off the bus. We ran up to the march, Jane falling over in the process, to catch up with the chanting and collective spirit of the movement. We were greeted by creative and classic rally chants such as “David Cameron f*** off back to Eton”, “Shame on Nick Clegg for Turning Blue” and “No Ifs No Buts No Education Cuts” (please note, we tried to take a picture of the flying condom with “F***** by debt” but it blew away in the wind!) A morning of Duran Duran tunes, and we are back to 1980s in everything but the date. On the day that Ireland announces a further damaging ‘rescue plan’ (aka. shock doctrine poison) that will rise VAT, cut public sector jobs and minimum wage but leave the unfathomably low corporation tax unchanged, this unified direct action is more important than ever.

The march itself was largely good-natured and, in light of reports coming from London especially, notable for the relatively sensible behaviour of the police. True, the police horses themselves were sometimes a bit restive but that’s probably to be expected with the volume of noise coming from the demonstration. No serious attempt was made to ‘kettle’ demonstrators and when the demonstration tested the police by appearing to change direction from the scheduled route they responded by simply adapting rather than with heavy-handedness. It was hard to tell what onlookers made of the passing demonstration but it was certainly noticed by people looking out of office windows and early Christmas shoppers alike. When the march reached its destination, the police once again demonstrated their common sense as the order was clearly heard for the uniformed officers to ‘fall back’ and let the protestors peacefully assemble. This gives the lie to the myth that ‘kettling’ is a necessary part of crowd control, it simply is not; it’s provocative and reckless.

The spirit of the movement was spontaneity through and through. Yes, there had been prior organisation, but the day had an air of self-development; there was music, peaceful direct action – with a sharp purposeful edge to it – there were students from secondary school, college, sixth-form and university. We were untied together and will become more untied the more this government attempts to curtail freedom of speech – as it has done today in shamefully supporting the kettling of a rightful protest! Contra to the police statements, the beauty of twitter has enabled those within the kettling to inform us that they haven’t been able to go to the loo, nor have water, nor eat whilst standing in the cold. A very direct and to the point blog, which we recommend you read, is Michael Crick’s regarding the hypocrisy (yes, again) of the LibDems’ regarding kettling.

There was still the spontaneity and vibrancy within the occupation, but it was curtailed slightly by the hierarchical and vanguard formations within talks of what, where, who. There were even ‘votes’ and debates in regards to whether a chair should be instated; whilst attempting to ensure democratic votes on nearly every aspect being discussed. We are all for democracy, but this type of perfection actually undermines movements such as this; we lost people, especially the younger ones, as we broke out into pointless talks of the advantages and disadvantages of having a chair and criticising the music (which was primarily the younger movement’s creative activity)! There was an attempt to confront the Vice Chancellor, but a delegation instead of the mass were sent to make sure we maintained the occupation. This is fully understandable, but the size of the university got the room talking about the possibilities of more targeted small-scale protests. We will continue to protest until we are listened to. Michael Gove can talk about giving us no oxygen, but he is ignoring the very voices he pretends to value so much.

Janus Face Clegg

In conclusion, the protests today were in many ways a greater success than the now famous one that included the occupation of Millbank. This movement is still finding its way and that is shown by the tensions between democracy and a self-appointed vanguard; however, one thing is striking and that is the fact that although it is principally concerned with issues immediate to it like the raising of tuition fees and abolition of EMA there are components within it that are drawing broader lessons and considering wider issues (like the demands to place upon Labour councillors, for example) and the role of the banks etc,etc. The challenge is how we maintain the momentum which spontaneous struggle will only carry so far and how we deal with the issue of burn-out. We also have to be careful of leaving people behind; something that happened noticeably during the occupation, and ensure that the movement’s energies are not spent unwisely at this early stage.

Filed under: Activism, Editorials, , , , , , ,

Editorial: A consistently democratic response to the occupation of Millbank

Yesterday was a beginning of sorts, it was the beginning of a period of political instability and of enforced desperation. This desperation is a product of a number of things; the brutality of this government and the inability of the main opposition Party in Westminster, Labour, to present a clear, radical alternative vision of how society should be after the current crash and those parties that do present a more radical vision, like the Greens, to breakthrough into representative forums like Westminster. However, desperation is not an automatic justification of any action.

The context of any action is important. Of course, if there had been riot police from the off, attacking a rightful democratic process, the right to self-defense is paramount. However, what happened yesterday, was more complicated than this. The movement of the so-called ‘minority’, the rightful direct action and occupation of Millbank, was more an expression of a majority; what was a minority, which dented the message of the majority, was the very few people – who we call the self-appointed ‘vanguard’ – who decided violence was a better form of action.

The control of Millbank, was established through mainly peaceful acts (through a revolving door as we understand it), and the police just looked on (an onlooker apparently was told by the police they were outnumbered and would let the action go). Why then did a few people decide to use smoke bombs, smash windows (within this context, breaking windows is rather self-defeating when trying to occupy a building)? The reaction to the dropping of a fire extinguisher from the top of the roof typifies the majorities displeasure of a few who decided to take things onto another level; videos show the majority chanting “stop throwing shit” and booing, illustrating the isolation of the minority.

We support the movement and the peaceful direct action of the majority. The NUS is wrong to reject the actions of the movement and try to lump the actions of the majority in with the self-appointed ‘vanguard’; an undemocratic body of people whose actions do not empower the movement but, like the timidity of the NUS leadership, splinter and divide its energies.  It is quite clear from what we have seen that the movement rejects both and so do we through a clear commitment to consistent democracy.

There is an argument that the minority’s violence should be supported through understanding of the pain that the higher education and general eduction policies will cause. Whilst we agree that these policies will cause considerable pain, the minority’s actions distracted from a very powerful majority protest and message – especially the peaceful aspects of the direct occupation – which if had been carried out the way it started, would have been the positive talking point of the demonstration, instead of the violence.

Going forward, we need to resist the witch hunting and hypocrisy of the mainstream media but we can only do that by taking what was positive from yesterday. In Manchester it looks like that is already happening with the occupation of Manchester University; an empowering and liberating act of resistance. We cannot avoid the real issues presented to us yesterday, which are not just about confronting the establishment but also rejecting, decisively, the actions of the self-appointed ‘vanguard’. A consistent commitment to democracy and democratic (and we include direct action here, not just the narrow Westminster centric notion of what is democratic) methods of struggle is the best, most empowering and therefore most likely to be successful, way forward.

Filed under: Activism, Editorials, , , , , , , , ,

Don’t let the real vandals get away with it….

Simon Childs is a member of the Green Party and as well as writing on his own blog regularly contributes to Newcastle University newspaper, The Courier. He also founded and edits the left-wing Newcastle newsletter; The Grey Matter.

Students on the NUS demo on the 10th September were supposed to march straight past 30 Millbank, the national offices of the Conservative Party. However, the occupation of the building by hundreds of students and the demonstrations in support in the courtyard outside were enough to divert the attention, and the footsteps of many marchers, much to the chagrin of the demo’s stewards, largely hopeless in the face of curiosity (what do we students have if not curious minds?).

What the curious were greeted with in the courtyard varied from a carnival atmosphere to scenes of violence, depending what the precise situation was at the time.

Perhaps a hundred students had originally stormed past the beleaguered police into the building. Slowly but surely, more protesters broke through the quickly strengthened police line, smashed the glass facade and entered the building. Meanwhile others noisily demonstrated in solidarity with the occupiers.

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media has focused largely on the violence (9 UK newspapers the next day using the same photo on their front page of a demonstrator kicking a window through), in a way reminiscent of their coverage of the violence at the G20 protests.

I was present at the G20 demos and condemned the violence there, believing it to be the reckless actions of a minority and out of keeping with the spirit of the protest. I cannot denounce what happened in London last week in the same way.

While at the G20, the crowd looked on uneasy at the violent actions of the few, at Millbank people cheered as the windows were smashed and applauded the occupiers. Effigies of David Cameron and Nick Clegg were burned. Barely a second went by without an anti-Tory or anti-Lib Dem chant.

Also, it was not just attended by the ‘usual suspects – from what I could tell, most of the students there were simply angry students, not seasoned revolutionaries.

Whatever may be said of what happened, it was a real manifestation of the outrage felt by many at a government of millionaires callously wrecking ordinary young peoples’ future life chances.

Having said that, in a march of 50,000, the Millbank protesters clearly were in a minority, and many students will feel that their actions undermined the anti-cuts message of the day. I can understand their point of view.

Aaron Porter, president of NUS condemned the violence as “despicable”. Personally, I would reserve that word for the Tory/Lib Dem government who are happy to consign any semblance of state funded education we had left to the dustbin of history.

If only the NUS had been so uncompromising in its criticism of tuition fees when they were introduced by Labour in 1998, or when they were raised in 2006, as they have against the protesters, we would not be in the position we are in today.

Right or wrong, the insurrection at Millbank shows that you can only push people so far. If you disenfranchise people and vandalise their rights, they’ll vandalise your property. It might not be big, and it might not be clever, but criticism should be leveled first and foremost at the government, not at those standing up to them.

Filed under: Activism, Law and Order, , , ,

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