Bahai News - Iran Report
21 August 2000, Volume 3, Number 32
ADDRESSING PROBLEMS OF WOMEN, GIRLS
A recent study by sociology professor Manuchehr Mohseni found that 53
percent of Iranian girls would rather be boys, "Kar Va Kargar" reported
on 20 August. Orumieh parliamentarian Shahrbanu Amani said on 9 August
that the majority of Tehran's 25,000 street children are female
teenagers, IRNA reported the next day. And the Interior Ministry is
trying to control the movements of young Iranian females who reportedly
travel to Arab Persian Gulf states to seek work and are misled into
prostitution, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 8 August, according to DPA
news agency. The women are examined upon their return to Iran, and if
their "immoral activities" are proven, they are not allowed to leave the
Meanwhile, the parliament approved "generalities" of a bill amending
the legally permissible age of marriage, according to IRNA. Currently,
nine-year old girls can marry, but under the new bill, only girls aged
14 or older and boys over 17 can marry without the court's authorization.
The efforts to increase the age of marriage caused heated debate in
the parliament, but observers are undecided about the relevance of this
issue. The 10 August "New York Times" said that the parliament, "fresh
from a slap" over the banned press law debate, "showed its determination
today to forge ahead with social change and grant women additional
rights by raising the marriage age." The 10 August "Washington Times,"
on the other hand, said a "humiliated parliament" had given in and was
instead concentrating on "modest measures," which showed a "dramatic
lowering of expectations." A 13 August open letter from 161
parliamentarians said that they would do what they could to resolve the
country's problems and to pursue the goals of the 2nd of Khordad
movement (named after the date of President Mohammad Khatami's May
1997 election). (Bill Samii)
KHATAMI IN KURDISTAN.
President Mohammad Khatami visited Kurdistan Province in the first week
of August. At a meeting with local military, Islamic Revolution Guards
Corps, and law enforcement commanders, he said that "Praise be to God,
today, Kurdistan is one of the safest areas in the country and that is
the result of the people's vigilance as well your efforts and
This may be reassuring news for the local population, but they have
bigger economic concerns. This may explain why Khatami -- accompanied by
his three ministers of Construction Jihad, Education, and Mines and
Metals, as well as the acting-minister of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone
-- was to inaugurate 289 development projects, too. One of the projects
Khatami discussed during his stops was the Baneh reservoir dam, which he
said would become operational in three years. Another was the Kurdistan
Steel Mills Complex near Qorveh, construction of which began five years
ago at a projected cost of 81 billion rials (about $46 million), 35
billion of which have already been spent. 63 telecommunication projects
became operational during Khatami's visit, too.
Khatami said that since the revolution, the literacy rate in the
region has climbed from 29.7 percent to 70 percent. Khatami criticized
local officials for not preventing wastage of local water resources, and
he said that the reduction of local forests from 500,000 hectares to
320,000 hectares was a national disaster. During a 6 August speech in
Sanandaj, Khatami said that the city suffers from "poverty and [a] high
rate of unemployment," according to IRNA. Khatami added that the
province suffers from the "pain of chronic deprivation," and he
suggested that the government's "long-term projects" and the Third
Five-year Development Plan would give the matter "due attention."
Such words will be welcome, but they may not be enough. The region
suffered a great deal of devastation during the war with Iraq -- many
towns and villages were leveled and subject to chemical attack. There
has been some reconstruction of local infrastructure in the years since
the war, but a great deal remains to be done. Local management was not
used, furthermore, and as unemployment climbed, many local youth left
for the cities to find work.
Another local problem is that Kurds' constitutionally-guaranteed
ethnic and cultural rights are being ignored. Locals "expect Article 15
of the constitution, that permits the teaching of local languages and
literature, besides teaching Persian, will be put into action after 20
years. Local radio and TV programs would be increased. ... expansion of
universities and research centers would be on the agenda," "Fath"
reported in February.
There is a possibility that some of the expectations of voters from
the predominantly Kurdish provinces will be met by the sixth parliament.
After the first round, in which 18 Kurds were elected, candidate Seyyed
Fatah Husseini said that he expected there would be more Kurdish
instruction at the university in Sanandaj, and he called on the Khatami
government to have more Kurdish officials, Istanbul's "Ozgur Bakis"
reported on 4 March. Subsequently, a 40-member faction representing the
predominantly Kurdish provinces was formed. Its objectives are somewhat
mysterious, because Kermanshah representative Ismail Tatari said it
would not have a leader and it has "no objective except to exalt Iran,
"Afarinesh" reported on 8 June. (Bill Samii)
TEHRAN WORKS WITH KURDISH PARTIES.
Tehran's focus is not only on the Kurds living in Iran. It also maintains
contacts with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Kurdish
Democratic Party-Iran (KDPI), and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
This seems to be connected with a desire to settle the political situation
in northern Iraq, encourage Kurdish refugees to go home, and to maintain
pressure on the Iraqi regime.
At the end of July PUK leader Jalal Talabani was in Tehran to meet with
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. At the same time, a KDP delegation
led by Kurdistan Regional Government head Nechirvan Barzani visited
Tehran. And in early-May, Talabani met with a KDPI delegation led by
Abdullah Hassanzadeh in Suleimanieh.
The Iranian contacts with the KDPI may be somewhat unexpected, because
Tehran is responsible for the 1989 assassination of KDPI official Abdul
Rahman Qassemlou. In February 2000 reports from Suleimanieh emerged that
the PUK was serving as an intermediary between Tehran and the KDPI. In
exchange for all KDPI weapons and a promise to engage in political
activities only, Tehran was promising to grant the Kurds national and
cultural rights and the right to administer local authorities in Saneh
district, London's "Al-Zaman" reported in March. The KDPI said, a day
after this news was reported, that although it favored dialog and a
political solution, it would not enter into "secret talks" at any time
Tehran's efforts to settle the situation in northern Iraq also may be
connected with its efforts to persuade Kurdish refugees to leave Iran.
Mehdi Abtahi, who is responsible for alien affairs in West Azerbaijan
Province, said that due to the more subdued situation in Iraqi Kurdistan,
more refugees are returning there. Abtahi said that 16,200 Kurdish
refugees had left Iran in the past year, IRNA reported in mid-July.
Abtahi added that transportation facilities and financial aid would be
provided for the returnees. In early-May, furthermore, an official
delegation from the Iranian Health Ministry came to Suleimanieh to
provide advice, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported. KRG Health Minister Yadgar
Rauf Hishmat explained that the nine members of the delegation were
preventive medicine specialists based in Iran's Kurdistan Province.
Tehran also is facilitating contacts between the Kurdish organizations
that operate in northern Iraq and the Shia Iraqi opposition organizations.
In late-April, Talabani and other PUK officials met with representatives
from the Iranian-supported Islamic Dawa Party. And in February, Talabani
and other PUK officials met with Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim and a delegation
from the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
At this latter meeting, Talabani stressed the importance of unity for
the Iraqi opposition if it is to bring about "comprehensive and
fundamental democratic changes," Suleimanieh's "Al-Ittihad" reported.
There also is a tendency towards political Islam among the Kurds,
although its relationship with Tehran is unclear. Immediately after the
1979 revolution, Tehran translated works by Ayatollah Morteza Motahari,
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Sadr (of Islamic Dawa), and Ali Shariati
into Kurdish and distributed them among the Kurds. Sheikh Uthman
bin-abd-al-Aziz, founder of the Islamic League -- later renamed the
Islamic Movement -- also took up residence in Iran. Now, the Islamic
Movement has close ties with the Iraqi National Congress.
There also are persistent reports, most of which originate in Turkey,
about Iranian assistance to the PKK. An 18 June statement from the PKK,
which was carried in the June issue of Cologne's "Serxwebun," casts
some doubt on these reports. The report complains that the PKK is facing
pressure from Tehran because Iran is trying to improve its relations
with Turkey and with the U.S. -- "Therefore, we are faced with intense
pressure for the past two months." Furthermore, the Law Enforcement
Forces prevented PKK supporters from holding a rally in Tehran in
early-July. (Bill Samii)
AZERI-POPULATED PROVINCES UNDERREPRESENTED.
During his trip to the predominantly Azeri-inhabited northwest (West
Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Ardebil, and Zanjan Provinces), Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pointed out, in a 24 July speech, that
"one of the strongest bases of this great revolution and Islamic system
lies in these very Azeri-speaking regions." Indeed, Iranians of
Azeri-origin are active in all walks of life, and many of them, such as
Khamenei himself, are major players in Iranian politics. Yet many Azeris
do not think they get adequate attention from Tehran.
The most serious indication of Tehran's indifference is its failure to
prosecute anybody for the security forces, violent actions at Tabriz
University in July 1999. The Central Council of Islamic Students
Association asked Parliamentary Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi
to release the Supreme National Security Council's report on the July
events in Tabriz, IRNA reported on 12 August, and they called for a
parliamentary inquiry that would publicize its findings. Karrubi told
them that "the Tabriz students' rights have been ignored."
Provincial officials are clearly unhappy about this situation. The East
Azerbaijan Province's governor's office pointed out that the SNSC came
to Tabriz in August 1999 to investigate the incidents. But the
governorate's announcement said that after "many meetings and exchanges
of correspondence, no tangible step has yet been taken to identify or
prosecute the university assailants," according to the 4 July "Bahar."
Tabriz representative Akbar Alami said that "the political authorities
are not pursuing the case seriously, the band of power is imposing
pressure, and the political atmosphere of the province is closed." Alami
continued, according to the 8 July "Afarinesh," "The individuals who were
the flag-bearers in this disturbance are free in the city, and continuing
their threats. Some of these individuals formally give press interviews,
and proudly talk about their action."
Such problems may be traced to a lack of political representation. A
9 June commentary in Tabriz's "Payam-i No" complained that President
Mohammad Khatami does not have enough Azeri ministers and that of three
he does have (Minister of Housing and Urban Development Ali
Abdol-Alizadeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Issa
Kalantari, and Minister of Industries Qolam Reza Shafei), only one --
Shafei -- is of any use. The commentary noted that Khatami is not
entirely to blame, because the northwestern provinces, parliamentary
representatives and Friday Imams did not lobby very hard for their own
candidates. The president was urged to have more Azerii's in his next
cabinet, and the northwestern representatives were warned that the
region's people "have a good memory."
Even spiritual needs reportedly do not get adequate attention in the
northwest. Hojatoleslam Mirtajedini, East Azerbaijan's Islamic
Propaganda Organization chief, complained that only 20 percent of the
province's 2,837 villages has clergymen or missionaries. Mirtajedini
explained that clerics are not attracted to the province because of the
poor facilities, especially in rural areas, Tabriz's "Fajr-i Azerbaijan"
reported on 22 June. (Bill Samii)
KHAMENEI'S NORTHWESTERN TRIP CAUSES CONCERN IN BAKU.
Reports in the Azerbaijani media concerning the massing of Iranian
military forces, coming after their alleged destruction of Azerbaijani
border markings and violations of Azerbaijani airspace in mid-July,
reflect heightened concerns in Baku. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei's comments when he visited northwestern Ardabil Province at the
end of July have only exacerbated the situation despite Tehran's
statements that its actions in no way threaten Azerbaijan.
Moscow's "Kommersant" reported on 2 August that Khamenei had accused
Azerbaijan of having unjustified territorial claims regarding the Caspian
Sea. Aslan Khalidi of the "Southern Azerbaijan parliament" told Baku's
"Uch Nogta" on 3 August that Khamenei said, "Our close neighbors are
violating Iran's rights in the Caspian Sea and we shall do our best to
restore them." Khalidi also claimed that Khamenei said, "As a result of
Islamic propaganda, led by our Hizbullah, on the other side of the border
thousands of young people want to unite with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Inshallah, we shall make an Islamic revolution on that side and establish
an Islamic government." Azerbaijan's former Deputy National Security
Minister Sulhaddin Akbar told Baku's "Yeni Musavat" on 4 August that
Tehran would rely on "outside supporters and pro-Iranian in Azerbaijan"
to pursue its objectives.
Also in early August, reports surfaced that Iranian forces were
massing near the border with Azerbaijan. The 8 August "Ekspress"
provided the most detail, reporting that Iran would deploy 6,000
additional soldiers, 75 armored vehicles, eight fighters, and 12 radar
complexes near the border and 34 high-speed boats, two (unspecified)
boats, one small frigate, and one submarine in the Caspian. The
situation escalated further, with "Yeni Musavat" publishing an
unverified report on 11 August that 250 NATO peacekeepers had been sent
to Azerbaijan to "show the flag."
A spokesman for the Iranian embassy in Baku, however, rejected claims
about Khamenei's statements and about the military activities. And a
12 August commentary on Iranian state radio's English-language service
rejected allegations of Iranian military activities, too. It said that
Iran does not favor militarization of the Caspian Sea region because it
would "provoke tension" and "prepare the grounds for the aliens in the
region which will be associated with the arms race." The commentary went
on to say that such false reports are spread by those who want to spread
uneasiness in the region, "something that only the United States and the
Zionist regime will benefit from." (Iran's proposal for division of the
Caspian Sea's resources would give each state an equal 20 percent share,
whereas under a Russian proposal, Azerbaijan would 17 percent and Iran
would get 14 percent.)
Details aside, questions remain about how much Azerbaijanis want to
emulate the Iranian model. At the end of the 1980s and in the
early-1990s, Iranian clerics were quite active throughout Azerbaijan and
portraits of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were seen often, but this did
not get very far because Azerbaijan's population is too secularized
to welcome a theocracy, according to the 26 July "Nezavisimaya Gazeta."
There is resentment in Azerbaijan, furthermore, as a result of the
perception that Azeris in Iran face cultural, linguistic, and
educational restrictions. According to Ardebil Province Governor-General
Hamid Tahai, on the other hand, the people of Azerbaijan welcomed
Khamenei's comments. He said that they approached Iranian officials
for tapes of Khamenei's comments in the Azeri language, "Tehran
Times" reported on 14 August. (Bill Samii)
IRANIAN ASSISTANCE FOR CHECHEN REFUGEES.
Two truckloads of humanitarian assistance for Chechen refugees,
consisting of oil, flour, rice, cereals, soap, clothing, and footwear,
will be sent to North Ossetia by Iran's Red Crescent Society on 14 August,
IRNA reported a day earlier. The same day, Parviz Atagi, an Iranian
citizen, was detained by Russian border guards as he tried to leave
Chechnya, Itar-Tass reported. Atagi is suspected of involvement with
Chechen military activities in the zone controlled by the Derbent
detachment of the North Caucasian regional agency of the Russian Federal
Border Service. (Bill Samii)
SECRET ISRAEL-IRAN MEETINGS IN CAIRO.
Tehran has repeatedly rejected recent reports about a 31 July-1 August
meeting in Cairo between Iranian and Israeli officials. According to the
reports, 35 security and military experts -- including Saideh Lotfian and
Mohammad Qolam of Tehran's National University; Jalil Roshandel from
Ankara; Israeli ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel; US ambassador to Cairo
Daniel Kurtzer; and diplomats and "experts" from Australia, Canada,
Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Russia, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, and the
United Arab Emirates -- participated in the meetings at a Cairo hotel.
Similar sessions, organized by the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute, have been held in Sweden, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco,
Jerusalem's Middle East Newsline reported on 6 August. But the same day,
an "informed source" at Iran's Foreign Ministry told IRNA and state
radio that the Iranians were academics who were participating in the
meeting of their own accord. The source added that Iran's position on
"the regime which is occupying Qods [Jerusalem]" and on regional
developments has not changed.
At these same meetings, Israeli officials supposedly admitted that the
10 Jews convicted on espionage charges in July were spies, according
to the 9 August "Jerusalem Post," which was citing London's monthly
"Ad-Diplomasi" newsletter. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said
the report was "nonsense."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said that rumors about
such meetings were baseless, according to state radio on 10 August. "The
downhearted Zionist regime, following its repeated defeats in the
region, is resorting to such venomous rumors in an attempt to divert
public attention and create the appropriate climate for its fresh acts
of conspiracy." (Bill Samii)
MORE IRANIAN TRADE IN CARIBBEAN.
Guyana's Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry Geoffrey Da Silva
recently opened an Iranian trade fair and exhibition in Georgetown. The
exhibition was meant to acquaint Guyanese with Iranian goods, while the
Iranians examined local items for export, and it was intended to encourage
Iranian-Guyanese joint ventures. After less than a week, the event was
closed by Customs and Trade Administration officials who told Mehdi Soori,
Research and Marketing Manager of Sadr Export House Company that the
exhibits could not be sold. Among the offerings were carpets, plastic
utensils, ceramic vases, and table lamps, Georgetown's "Stabroek News"
reported on 27 July. (Bill Samii)
BAZAAR UNHAPPY, BUT IS IT UNSTABLE?
A number of incidents involving Tehran's bazaar and mercantile sector in
recent weeks recall the pattern of events that preceded the 1978-1979
revolution. But despite the similarities, there is little reason yet to
conclude that today's incidents point toward a revolution.
On 19 August, a fire broke out in southern Tehran. IRNA said the
blaze occurred when a tanker truck carrying gasoline crashed near
Shahr-i Rey. The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Iran,
however, reported that the hardline Ansar-i Hizbullah set the fire to
serve as pretext for the presence of security forces.
Clashes between tradesmen and officials erupted on 12 August in the
Nematabad region southwest of Tehran, IRNA reported the next day, and
rioters attacked and damaged the municipality. The disturbances ended
after the Law Enforcement Forces, intervened and made a number of
arrests. In the bazaar of southern Tehran's Shahr-i Rey suburb, a 5
August explosion caused extensive damage but no injuries. Investigators
told "Entekhab" daily that they suspected a bomb had been placed in a
television left in a shop for repairs. Firefighters extinguished the blaze.
The Islamic Associations of the Bazaar and Guilds of Tehran
(Anjumanha-yi Islami-yi Bazaar va Asnaf-i Tehran) announced that the
bazaar would remain closed for several hours on 8 August. This was so
the merchants could hold a rally supporting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's
decree banning debate on the press law, "Iran" reported. A fire broke
out in downtown Tehran's Sepahsalar Garden on 6 August, according to
IRNA. The blaze destroyed two shoemaking centers, causing some 200
million rials (about $114,000) in damage. Also, a clothing store on
downtown Tehran's Neauphle-le-Ch?teau Avenue burned for 45 minutes
before the fire died out. [IRNA reported that there have been several
fires this year because of insufficient precautions.]
And at the end of July, the Islamic Associations of the Bazaar and
Guilds of Tehran sent an open letter -- published in the conservative
daily "Resalat" on 30 July -- to President Mohammad Khatami demanding
that he deal with the country's economic problems. The letter said
that "twenty-five thousand workers are threatened with redundancy, 500
factories across the country are closing, while the cost of living does
not stop rising to the detriment of the working classes." The letter
urged Khatami to "look into the economic crisis and show on state
television a balance sheet of your administration's work during the
past three years so that the people know what has been done, what still
needs to be dealt with, and in the end, how you plan to carry through
the reforms which were never achieved."
It is not just Iran's general economic malaise that upsets the
bazaar. There also is irritation with efforts to relocate many small
workshops from the bazaar to outlying, suburban industrial units. The
pretext for doing this, in cities like Tehran and Mashhad, is to
eliminate air pollution. Mohsen Amiri-Nia of the Tehran Blacksmiths
Guild said the plan to move such workshops started in 1994, but no
suitable facilities are available yet, "Iran Daily" reported on 12
August. Bijan Riahi of the Tehran Province Blacksmiths Union added that
shopkeepers do not want to relocate because they "have been working in a
district for a long time and have found their credibility with the
customers after many years of hard work."
Those who leave the bazaar for the industrial units are also
dissatisfied. Ramezan-Ali Malek-Zadeh, who heads the Tehran Masons and
Stonecutters Union, explained, "Almost all members of our union have
been transferred to the Shamsabad district of Tehran which lacks
sufficient facilities. The most important problem is that there is no
water, which is necessary in masonry. There are only two water
reservoirs in the district, which cannot meet the demand so that
stonecutters have to rely on supplies from tankers. We raised the
problem with the Tehran governor's office only to get the retort
that "we cannot supply water for Tehran, let alone industrial townships."
Complaints from the traditionally conservative and religious bazaar
institution should be taken seriously, because it is not afraid to exert
its influence. In the years before the revolution, wealthy merchants
supported institutions such as the Husseinieh Irshad, which served as a
meeting place and lecture hall for Islamic-oriented nationalists.
Speakers at the Husseinieh included Ayatollah Morteza Motahari,
Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Beheshti, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar
Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and Ali Shariati. Other merchants contributed
heavily to the clerical opposition, organized huge events, such the
September 1978 Eid al-Fitr march in Tehran, and closed the bazaar
For their support, the merchants were awarded positions in the
semi-governmental foundations and in the Kayhan newspaper group,
according to Shaul Bakhash's "The Reign of the Ayatollahs." With the
onset of the Iran-Iraq War, the bazaar's power and influence grew.
The government, from necessity, let the bazaar distribute goods via its
traditional networks, "Akhbar-i Eqtesad" reported last December, and
centers where goods were stockpiled came to serve as the major merchants'
brokerages. Ayatollah Mohammad Saduqi claimed that profits reaped by the
merchant class in the immediate post-revolution period equaled all its
profits during the preceding monarchy.
The bazaar and the merchants now are linked mainly with the Islamic
Coalition Association, one of the main conservative political
organizations. The ICA was formed as a coalition of grassroots, local
Islamic clubs, and a joint venture of conservative bazaar merchants and
clerics. The ICA absorbed members of the anti-Bahai Hojattieh Society
after it ceased its activities in 1983. The Resalat Foundation is
interwoven with the ICA.
In reaction to the letter to Khatami from the Islamic Associations of
the Bazaar and Guilds of Tehran, Speaker of Parliament Mehdi
Mahdavi-Karrubi defended the Khatami administration's economic record. He
said, according to IRNA on 14 August, "Since President Khatami emphasized
political development and reforms in his election campaign, some people
presume that due attention has not been paid to economic issues." This is
not correct, Karrubi said, because Khatami's administration has done a
great deal to help the economy. Karrubi explained that not enough has been
done to disseminate economic news, and the concentration is instead on the
administration's political actions.
A July editorial in "Iran News" also sought to defend the Khatami
administration's economic performance against conservative criticism. It
reminded readers that conservatives dominated the fifth parliament
(1996-2000), and in fact, they were the ones who approved the government
ministers who are being criticized now. Moreover, the current Five-Year
Development Plan was approved by the fifth parliament, and Iran's
approximately $30 billion in foreign debt was accumulated under previous
administrations. The editorial added that the situation has only worsened
because of the bazaar's failure to cooperate with the government's
It is important to bear in mind that although similar incidents
occurred in the late-1970s, many other factors that were present then
are absent now. In the 1970s, a new entrepreneurial and industrial elite
threatened the bazaar, and people linked with the regime had professional
privileges that made them incredibly wealthy. There were links between
these groups and the banking sector, bypassing the bazaar, the traditional
source of borrowed money. They also established trading networks that
bypassed those of the bazaar. Finally, the government's anti-corruption and
anti-profiteering campaigns seemed to focus on middle-level merchants,
rather than the really dishonest figures in the government itself. And
when the revolution occurred, the monarchy was opposed by forces that
included the bazaar, the civil service, the public sector, and the oil
industry, as well as many others.
Now, the linkages between the bazaar, the foundations, and top figures in
the political and religious elite are such that a recurrence
of the above factors seems very unlikely. It is, therefore, probably too
soon to suggest that the current bazaar-related developments are much
more than expressions of frustration with the government's economic
and political policies and their impact on business. But in the
meanwhile, such developments could have an impact on the media and on
the upcoming presidential election. (Bill Samii)
Compiled by A. William Samii.
©Copyright 2000, RFE/RL, Inc.
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