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Senegal: Democracy or Gerontocracy?
Feb 23, 2012 (120223)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
A divided opposition and support from rural areas may yet
enable aging and intransigent President Abdoulaye Wade of
Senegal to win a third term, with a majority in the first
round of presidential elections on February 26. But whether
this happens or whether the election goes into a second
round, urban and youth protests are likely to continue, with
uncertain outcomes for Senegal and its reputation as a
regional leader in democratic institutions.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains (1) a Feb. 18 press
release from the International Federation for Human Rights
and three Senegalese human rights group, reporting on
repression of pre-electoral protests in Senegal; and
excerpts from (2) a response to repression of the January 31
demonstrations by Senegalese commentator Arame Tall, in
Pambazuka News, and (3) a longer historical background
analysis as well as first-hand reports from demonstrations
against constitutional amendments in June 2011, by historian
James Genova, just published in the Ohio State University
Since the last two selections are shortened for reason of
length, and, in the case of the article by Genova, for
reason of copyright as well, AfricaFocus readers are
strongly encouraged to go to the original full-length
articles at http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/79608
and http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/origins/article.cfm?articleid=66, respectively.
For regular updates on Senegal from the African press, see
http://allafrica.com/senegal (English) and
The site of the Senegalese Press Agency is at
The website for Y'En A Marre is http://yenamarre-senegal.com/
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Senegal, visit
For updates on Senegal from the AfricaFocus twitter feed, go
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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Senegal: The Campaign Turned Into Repression, Like the
'Human Rights' Balance Sheet of President Wade
18 February 2012
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Rencontre africaine de défense des droits de l'Homme
Organisation nationale des droits de l'Homme (ONDH)
Ligue sénégalaise des droits de l'Homme (LSDH)
The FIDH and its member organizations and partners in
Senegal, RADDHO, ONDH and LSDH, strongly condemn the
systematic repression of all peaceful demonstration in
central Dakar and dozens of and arrests of opposition
demonstrators since the last 72 hours.
Our organizations urge Senegalese authorities to immediately
stop the ongoing repression, to release those arbitrarily
arrested and comply with Senegalese legislation authorizing
the conduct of peaceful demonstrations.
For nearly three days, all the events in downtown Dakar are
systematically dispersed by force and dozens of
demonstrators were arrested. Wednesday, February 15, the
manifestation of citizens' movement M23 was been roughly
dispersed. On 16 February, it was the turn of the collective
'Y En a Marre' to undergo a particularly ferocious
repression: dispersion by violence, arrest of twenty members
including several of their leaders and their mistreatment of
detainees. On 16 and 17 February, it was the presidential
candidates and their supporters who were the target of this
repression. Cheikh Bamba Dieye, candidate of the Front for
Socialism and Democracy / Benno Jubel (FSD / BJ) was
arrested during few hours on Feb. 17 when he demonstrated to
the Obelisk Place, as Ibrahima Sene, head of the Party
independence and Work (PIT). Idrissa Seck, Rewmi party
candidate ("the State"), was also under fire tear gas
canister while the manifestation of Ibrahima Fall,
independent candidate, was banned by the prefect of Dakar
despite the authorization and instructions of the National
Autonomous Electoral Commission (CENA).
"The Senegalese authorities can not go against the
Senegalese law" said Ms Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.
"We need the authorities come to their senses and allow the
public and political expression of opponents and citizens
under penalty of being treated as an authoritarian regime
gagging democracy" she added.
Indeed, the government justifies the repression of
demonstrations by an order issued by the prefect of Dakar in
July 2011 banning all public demonstrations since then in
the center of the capital. Besides the fact that withholding
the public and individual freedoms contrary to
constitutional provisions, this ban is clearly illegal under
Article 61 of The Election Code which provides that "all
candidates and all voters can freely organize meetings and
demonstrations on throughout the territory under the
conditions prescribed by law" i.e a statement 24 hours prior
to the administrative authority. These conditions have been
met by all organizations who want demonstrate these days.
The Supreme Court of Senegal itself had already considered
in a decision dated October 13, 2011 that the ban of a
similar Radhho's demonstration in December 2010 by order of
the prefect of Dakar was an "abuse of power" and constituted
an "attack on freedom of assembly."
The situation deteriorated further yesterday when a tear gas
canister was thrown into the great mosque El Hadji Malick Sy
Plateau neighborhood, near downtown, to the anger of
hundreds of faithful and recalling the attack on the
cathedral of Dakar the past year. More worryingly a reporter
of Agence France Press (AFP) saw during the incident, a
policeman out his gun and open fire. He then retrieved a 9
mm bullett and an other unfired bullet. This raising fears
of escalating repression and use of means contrary to United
Nations principles on the use of force.
"On the eve of a such important deadline for Senegal, the
highest authorities must demonstrate accountability and
healing, allowing democracy to speak freely as required by
law" said Me Sidiki KABA, President honor of the FIDH.
Similarly, it was reported civilians men armed with shotguns
riding on unmarked 4X4 purchasing demonstrators. Reportedly,
some had their faces covered with a black hood, as could
also confirm the correspondents of AFP and Reuters on site.
Also a policeman wounded in the head, the violence of the
day on Friday were a dozen wounded, including two Western
journalists. The balance of the repression of demonstrations
and popular protest since the end of January is 5 dead,
including one policeman, injuring dozens and dozens of
Our organizations are also concerned about the fate of many
protesters arrested for having defied the ban on
demonstrations. In addition to the abuse found during their
arrest, it is feared they are currently tortured as is often
the case during detention in police stations and gendarmerie
The last presidential term of Wade marked by regression in
Approaching the first round of presidential elections
scheduled for 26 February 2012, our organizations take a
grim picture of the five year period ending in terms of
respect for human rights. Among the many violations of civil
and political rights, economic, social and cultural
documented by our organizations, the presidential election
is an opportunity to take stock of too many violations of
democratic principles, civil liberties and judicial
independence in Senegal in recent years.
One of the most flagrant violations of these principles was
the failed attempt by the Head of State to amend the
constitution to his advantage to change the rules of the
presidential election less than a year before the elections
to finally give up face to popular protest June 23, 2011.
"The tampering of the Fundamental Law would seriously
attempt to the principles of democratic change. The approach
of President Wade, although stopped, showed his lack of
commitment to democratic principles in contradiction with
the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance
which binds Senegal "said Ms Souhayr Belhassen, president of
Civil liberties were also affected by restrictions.
Demonstrations were illegally banned - like the one willing
to hold Raddho in December 2010 and again last February 15,
2012 - and sometimes repressed - such as the M23's one in
June 23, 2011 and that of the Y en a marre movement on
February 16, 2012 - by a disproportionate use of force by
security forces, arbitrary arrests and mistreatment.
"Violence against the M23 and Y en a Marre demonstrators by
thugs of the regime and supporters of the ruling party have
never been subject to investigation" said Me Dioma Assane
Ndiaye, President of LSDH. "To the inverse, the
investigation on the assault against Alioune Tine, on June
23, 2011, stalled when all the evidence of the involvement
of government thugs are in the hands of the Senegalese
justice" added his lawyer, Me Dioma Assane Ndiaye.
Our organizations have also condemned the repeated attacks
against human rights defenders by the authorities: public
statements from government officials assimilating human
rights defenders to political opponents, attacks on freedom
of expression of representatives of civil society ;
arbitrary arrests, like the one of the President of the
RADDHO, Alioune Tine, in January 2012 finally released
without charge after 48 hours of detention in harsh
conditions and without access to his lawyer; expulsion of
the Secretary General of the FIDH; and customs confiscation
copies of the Annual Report of the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights (FIDH/OMCT).
"These repeated violations of the UN Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders converge on the expression of an
authoritarian power that rejects any criticism of its
governance" lamented Me Sidiki Kaba, Honorary President of
The practice of torture remains unfortunately still topical
in Senegal, the LSDH has documented numerous cases of
torture by state agents and grabbed the Committee against
Torture UN. In recent years about thirty cases have been
recorded and at least ten of which have died of mistreatment
in detention estimated LSDH.
The independence of the judiciary was also challenged in the
Hissene HabrÃ© Case, former president of Chad, exiled in
Senegal, allegedly responsible for grave and massive
violations of human rights in his country. While our
organizations had welcomed the adoption of a legal framework
conducive to the opening of a trial and that financial
support from the international community had been granted
for this purpose, the trial of HabrÃ© is still not on the
headlines. Violating the international obligation to
prosecute or extradite HabrÃ©, Wade attempted to expel him in
July 2011 to Chad and later retracted at the last moment
before the opposition of the UN and human rights
organizations. Under the pretext of a procedural defect, the
Indictment Division of the Court of Appeal of Dakar forced
Belgium - a country where proceedings are initiated against
HabrÃ© - to formulate a fourth extradition request. "These
delaying tactics are unacceptable in a Rule of State.
Victims of HabrÃ© regime have been waiting more than 20 years
for justice"said Alassane Seck, Vice President of RADDHO.
Faced with this unflattering assessment, our organizations
call on the future Senegalese authorities to stop these
violations and strictly respect the commitments of Senegal
for the protection of human rights.
President Wade vs. the people: Senegal is in danger
Pambazuka News, 2012-02-02, Issue 568
[Excerpts. For full article see http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/79608]
* Arame Tall is a consultant, Development, Climate Change
Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (CCA-DRR) in Africa,
SAIS-The Johns Hopkins University.
The events going on in Senegal are defying the most basic
assumptions held about Senegal's democracy: Senegalese
police officers firing on Senegalese citizens with live
ammunition, and killing a young masters student, wounding at
least ten others.
Police officers bitterly fighting with protesters across all
the neighbourhoods of the capital until the wee hours of the
night (in Khar Yalla, Baobab, Niary Talli, Ouakam, Colobane,
the list goes on...)
All the neighbourhoods of Dakar ablaze... Overwhelmed police
forces struggling to put out the multiple simultaneous
hearths across the city, but barely succeeding..
At the heart of all this violence, a peaceful protest
convened by the M23, and joined by hundreds of men, women,
old and young, students and ordinary citizens of all faiths
and political affiliations at The Place de l'ObÃ©lisque,
which has become the symbol and seat of anti-Wade popular
resistance, responded to with police tear gas...
In the middle of the protest, a police hot water hose tank
runs into the crowd, crushing a young woman dead. An
ambulance 'in operation', carrying a victim severely
wounded, fired with teargas by police forces. Red Cross
volunteers everywhere carrying wounded protesters and
providing first aid.
All these images seem surreal even to the most seasoned
analysts of Senegal's political evolution. One does not
believe this is really taking place in Senegal.
Pre-electoral violence in Senegal, brewing since the
announcement of President Wade's bid for a third term,
exploded when Wade received the green light from Senegal's
Constitutional Court on Friday, 27 January, confirming him
on the list of valid candidates for the next election to be
held on 26 February, 2012.
Brewing Popular Discontent
A multi-party competitive democracy since 1974, when many
other African states were still reeling under the iron fist
of dictators and bloody military coups, Senegal hoisted
itself up to the level of a firm beacon of democracy in the
region in 2000, when former president Abdou Diouf, head of a
regime in power for 40 years, peacefully handed power over
to Abdoulaye Wade, a close winner of the 2000 presidential
election, and to his opposition coalition.
Much water has gone under the bridge since 2000, and Wade
today is the most contested figure in the nation.
Following the 23 June 2011 popular uprising, which saw the
historic unleashing of a sea of protesters in front the
National Assembly to contest a constitutional makeover that
would have instituted a vice-presidency (thought to have
been created for Wade's son, Karim Wade) and secured an easy
victory for Wade at the 2012 presidential election (see
Green Thursday in the Life of the Nation by same author),
contestation has not died down.
Firm popular demands for the invalidation of Wade's
candidacy for the next election were stepped up in the runup
to 2012 presidential electoral campaign. On the grounds
that the new constitution adopted in 2001 â drafted by
President Wade himself one year following his rise to power
â limited the number of terms of any president to a maximum
of two, protesters took the streets multiple times to
denounce what they saw as a constitutional coup d'Ã©tat.
Led by the 'Y'en A Marre' group and the M23, a popular
citizen movement composed of all opposition parties, civil
society groups and ordinary citizens, created to keep alive
the spirit of the 23 June uprising, the protesters took the
streets every 23rd day of the month between June and
Wade showed no sign of retreat from his resolution to run
for a third presidential bid, however. Changing the
administrative partitioning of the country to downsize the
districts where his party, the PDS, did not have a lead,
ransacking public coffers to fund his campaign, publicly
announcing his retraction of his previous statement where
that he would not run again in 2012, Wade appeared
determined as ever to extend his stay in power for a third
As a bitter constitutional debate took hold over the
country, with the majority of Senegalese constitutionalists
who took part in the writing of the 2001 constitution
stating that Wade's third bid was unconstitutional, while a
minority, affiliated with Wade's camp, maintained that Wade
was exempt from the immediate application of the 2001
Constitution's provisions, having been elected one year
prior to its adoption, the final word on the constitutional
validity or not of Wade's third presidential bid was left to
Senegal's Constitutional Court.
Composed of the 'five wise' judges appointed by the
president and copiously treated in the days preceding their
decision with gifts of a limousine each and 5million CFA
bonuses from the president, serious doubts were cast
regarding the impartiality of the court's decision.
Constitutional Court Allows Wade to Run
On 27 January 2012, 29 days prior to election day, the
Senegalese Constitutional Court's 'Five Wise' published the
final list of validated candidates for the 2012 presidential
election. This list included Abdoulaye Wade, and excluded
the notorious popular singer Youssou N'Dour who had
announced his bid for the presidential seat at the 11th hour
in a contested context.
The January 31 Protest
Faced with the tenacity of Wade's decision to take part in
the upcoming elections, the M23 in a final act called on all
the forces of the nation to embark on a resistance against
what they labelled as Senegal's constitutional coup d'Ã©tat,
and called a peaceful protest on Tuesday, January 31 at 3pm,
at the now infamous Place de l'ObÃ©lisque, Senegal's Tahrir
The Ministry of the Interior forbade the protest, boding of
potential tensions and renewed clashes between national
security forces and the mobilized youth.
From 3pm the protest ensued peacefully. At 6pm, however,
tanks began to roll on the tight crowd assembled at the
Place de l'ObÃ©lisque, as police officers targeted political
opponents such as Moustapha Niasse, Youssou Ndour and
One of the two killed on January 31 was a masters student at
the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (UCAD), Mamadou
Diop, 30. He was allegedly run over by the police tank and
smashed to death as the tank ran into the crowd assembled at
the Place de l'ObÃ©lisque.
The bleak voice of Mamadou's father can be heard through the
wavelengths of Dakar's mainstream radio station Walfadjri:
'In the name of peace, I am begging Abdoulaye Wade to
relinquish power. I am not wishing any other parent, any
other human being, to go through what I am going through
right now', his voice squeaks.
Mamadou Diop was an ordinary citizen who wanted to defend
his constitution, informs one of his classmates at the
Department of Classics. A group of Mamadou Diop's classmates
is assembled at SUMA-Assistance, sharing in the grief.
Retribution from UCAD students, the historically fieriest
social force to reckon with, is to be expected in the days
"Y'En A Marre!" (We're Fed Up!): Senegal in the Season of
by James E. Genova
Origins volume 5 issue 6
[Brief excerpts only. For full article, with extensive
background information, visit:
Origins Editor's Note:
In the summer of 2011, the streets of Dakar, Senegal filled
with a mass of demonstrators "fed up" with the political
machinations of President Abdoulaye Wade. Led by popular
rappers, the oppositional collective "Y'En A Marre" became
spokespeople for a generation at the end of their rope. As
Senegal approaches critical elections in February 2012,
historian James Genova offers an eyewitness account of these
political upheavals, placing the current turmoil in its
broader historical and African context.
On June 23, 2011, I arrived for a morning of research in
Senegal's national archives, in the coastal African
country's capital of Dakar. The archives reside in an
administrative building in the heart of the government
district on Avenue du PrÃ©sident LÃ©opold SÃ©dar Senghor,
across the street from the presidential palace and around
the corner from the National Assembly.
Since my arrival in Senegal almost two weeks before, I had
learned that President Abdoulaye Wade, estimated to be at
least 85 years old and already in office for 11 years, had
asked the National Assembly to approve two major revisions
to the constitution. This was an atypical event in Senegal,
a country noted for political stability and constitutional
One amendment would create the post of vice president, who
would succeed the president in the event of incapacitation
or death. This would imitate the U.S. system but depart from
Senegalese political tradition, which follows the French
pattern of a presidential republic, wherein the president of
the senate takes charge but must hold elections within 30
The second amendment would lower the requirement for victory
in the first round of presidential elections from 50% plus
one to 25% of the popular vote. This would ensure that Wade
could avoid a run-off in 2012 and return for a third term.
He was expected to nominate his son, Karim, as his running
mate. To many Senegalese in opposition parties, this smelled
like a monarchy in the making.
The morning of June 23, demonstrators gathered legally
outside the National Assembly as I settled down to work.
Soon the person in charge of the archive reading room
announced, "There is a general strike and we are closing."
Upon arriving at the Place de l'IndÃ©pendance, I realized
that I was caught up in something unprecedented in
Senegalese history. A few thousand protesters faced off
against the security forces, chanting, "Touche pas ma
constitution! (Don't touch my constitution!)" and "Non Ã la
monarchie! (No to monarchy!)." They also pumped their fists
in the air and shouted, "Y'En A Marre! (We're Fed Up!)".
Some wore black t-shirts with "Y'En A Marre" emblazoned
across the front.
Y'En A Marre is a mass oppositional movement that, according
to a New York Times interview, formed in a casual
conversation between a local reporter and some popular rap
artists in a Dakar apartment in January 2011.
The journalist, Fadel Barro, recalls telling Senegalese
rappers Fou Malade and Thiat, "Guys, everyone knows you. But
you're not doing anything to change the country." They
decided then and there to form a collective aimed at
mobilizing young people's interest in Senegalese politics.
Frequent and worsening power outages sharpened their
displeasure with Senegal's ongoing economic problems.
Senegal imports all of its energy and is thus acutely
impacted by the fluctuations of world market prices for oil.
Its currency, the CFA Franc, is pegged at a fixed rate to
the Euro, leaving Senegal's economy vulnerable to events
beyond its control.
The nation's food supply is mostly imported tooâa result of
colonial-era policies that shifted Senegalese agriculture
from a variety of staple crops to a small number of cash
crops, particularly peanuts. Thus, changes in international
prices for basic foodstuffs like rice, wheat, and corn
directly affect the Senegalese people's ability to eat.
Senegal Fifty Years After Independence
Y'En A Marre is the product of decades of economic
stagnation and neo-liberal reforms imposed from outside and
embraced by corrupt beneficiaries. Political nepotism has
turned the Senegalese state into a private family business.
Wade came to the presidency after 40 years of government by
the Socialist Party under two presidents (LÃ©opold Senghor,
1960-1980, and Abdou Diouf, 1981-2000). The longtime
opposition leader, Wade was elected President at the head of
a broad coalition called Sopi, or Change. He promised a
renaissance for Senegal through construction, economic
diversification, and political openness.
In the 1990s, international lending agencies pressured
Senegal to liberalize its economy. The government privatized
its assets, loosened price and wage controls, and lifted
protections for domestic industries. Although the changes
were hailed as positive by the outside world, the Senegalese
themselves experienced increased unemployment, shortages,
and a rapidly widening gap between the very few haves and
the many have-nots.
Following this first round of "reforms," the country's
economy contracted by more than 2%. What counted for the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), European banks, and the
World Bank was that Senegal's inflation rate dropped to
around 5% annually from 1995 to 2007.
That was great news for those with money, but terrible for
the millions who had little income or lost their jobs as a
result of the reforms.
It was partly in reaction to these programs that Wade
secured election and bounced the Socialist Party from power.
His coalition brought most of the opposition together simply
to oust those who had held power since Senegal's
independence from France.
Wade easily defeated Diouf in the 2000 elections and the
incumbent stepped down, handing power to Wade without
incident. Once in office, however, the differences among
Wade's coalition partners quickly surfaced.
Wade pursued neo-liberal reforms even more aggressively than
his predecessor while depending increasingly on
international loans and gifts.
His administration eliminated price controls for food and
energy, causing their costs to spike. Senegal's economy is
highly dependent on the export of groundnuts, but the
formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995
effectively meant that Senegal could no longer protect its
domestic production from outside competitors.
The end of the Cold War and France's economic difficulties
also meant that international aid to countries such as
Senegal began to plummet in the 1990s.
The vacuum in international lending was filled by new
sources such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and China. Those
countries had different economic and political agendas.
Notably, Morocco and Saudi Arabia put money into Islamic
schools while China invested in land, potential energy
resources, and payoffs to the government to secure
construction and development contracts.
Wade directed much of this new money into private hands or
into self-aggrandizing building programs.
The 2008 Economic Collapse
When the global economic crisis hit in 2008, dramatically
escalating food and energy prices devastated Senegal's
Senegal confronted an unprecedented crisis with an impotent
and corrupt government. Evidence of corruption came in 2009
when Wade gave a departing IMF official a goodbye present
that turned out to be a bag of money equivalent to about
200,000 U.S. dollars.
The numbers starkly illustrate Senegal's economic
Per capita GDP is estimated at $1,900, which is 190th in the
world. Even that figure doesn't tell the real story as most
of Senegal's wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top
ten percent of the population. Much of the population of 12
million lives on meager incomes or international aid.
By 2009, political disturbances were common. The power cuts
got worse, food prices rose, and unemployment reached an
official rate of 50%, though widely believed much higher.
A Rap Revolution
Then there was the chance encounter among popular rap
artists and the journalist Fadel Barro in January 2011.
The rappers Thiat, Fou Malade, and others in Y'En A Marre
became the spokespeople for a generation at the end of their
rope. Song lyrics directly targeted the source of the
people's discontent. In one rap Fou Malade sings plainly,
"In politics, nothing but hypocrites, robbers of cash.
Government, why do you always lie, always?"
By then the Arab Spring was in full swing. Western media
offered 24-hour broadcasts of gatherings in Cairo's Tahrir
Square, confrontations in Yemen, Libya, and Syria, and
protests in Jordan, Iraq, and Morocco.
The rappers in the Y'En A Marre collective called for a
peaceful protest in Dakar's Place de l'ObÃ©lisque on March
19, 2011. They announced this would be a non-partisan
gathering aimed at promoting political involvement among the
country's young people.
In their call to action Y'En A Marre states, "The time has
passed for moaning in your living room or futile complaining
about the power cuts. We refuse to accept the systematic
rationing imposed in our homes to supply electricity. We're
sick and tired of it. Enough is enough." Hundreds turned up
to voice their disgruntlement at a peaceful event, along
with a rather outsized detail of security forces.
In the weeks that followed Y'En A Marre launched a voter
registration drive in anticipation of the 2012 elections.
They asked people not to pledge allegiance to any of the
established political parties. Their goal was to sign up
over 1 million new, mostly young voters who simply wanted
change and could act as an independent voting bloc holding
all the parties' feet to the fire.
Senegal and the Global Season of Discontent
Regardless of the outcome of Senegal's current political
crisis, the underlying economic and global structural
elements that fuel the discontent of the Senegalese (and
other people around the world) remain unchanged.
Senegal is significant because it is a bellwether for the
region. As a model of stabilityâthe only country in West
Africa to never have had a coup or violent takeover of
powerâit is looked to by others in the region as an example.
Endowed with one of the most educated and relatively welloff
populations in West Africa, Senegal's descent into
political chaos could well destabilize the entire region.
Ripples could be felt all the way to Europe in the form of
an increasing tide of refugees.
Senegal's opposition movement is also part of a global
expression of discontent at a world that had been profoundly
remade in the past 30 years to the benefit of the super-rich
and multinational corporations. Widening economic disparity,
declining prospects for economic development, and the
remoteness of power from everyday people's grasp has spawned
an array of oppositional politics around the world.
Each of them is unique in their specific forms and immediate
demands. However, what all of these movements have in common
is best summed up by the Senegalese rappers: "Y'En A Marre!"
"We're Fed Up!"
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