The government of Uzbekistan has been described as authoritarian, neo-Communist and nationalist. The old Soviet-era Communist Party apparatus and bureaucracy remains in place. Diplomatic memos released by Wikileaks revealed that the Uzbekistan government hads “close connections with organized crime.”

Government type: republic; authoritarian presidential rule with little power outside the executive branch. Capital: name: Tashkent (Toshkent). Independence: September 1, 1991 (from the Soviet Union). Constitution: several previous; latest adopted 8 December 1992; amended several times, last in 2014 (2014). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The constitution of 1992 calls for a secular, democratic government system, freedom of expression and religion, and the rule of law. However, in practice the presidency, a position occupied by Islam Karimov since independence, dominates all three branches of government. In the post-Soviet era, Karimov’s power has been enhanced by referenda and constitutional amendments and by the development of a very strong internal security force. Opposition parties have been stifled, and political life revolves around Karimov rather than around political parties. The prime minister, the cabinet, and the parliament have very limited powers, and the judicial branch is fully subordinate to the executive branch. Corruption is common in all government branches and at all levels, and clan membership is a vital qualification for positions. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

Names, Flag and National Anthem of Uzbekistan

Formal Name: Republic of Uzbekistan (O'zbekiston Respublikasi). Short Form: Uzbekistan (O'zbekiston). Former name: Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Term for Citizen(s): Uzbekistani(s). People in Uzbekistan are referred to as Uzbeks and and Uzbekistanis. Uzbek officially refers to the ethnic group but is often used to refer to Uzbekistan citizens. Uzbeks are also found in sizable numbers in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China and Afghanistan. [Source: CIA World Factbook, = Library of Congress February =*]

The Uzbekistan flag is divided into three equal horizontal stripes of blue (top), white, and green, which are separated by thin red stripes. On the left side of the blue stripe is a crescent moon with 12 five-pointed stars, all in white. Blue is the color of the Turkic peoples and of the sky and water. White signifies peace and the striving for purity in thoughts and deeds, while green represents nature and is the color of Islam. The red stripes are the vital force of all living organisms that links good and pure ideas with the eternal sky and with deeds on earth. The crescent moon represents Islam and the 12 stars the months and constellations of the Uzbek calendar or the 12 provinces of Uzbekistan. =*

National symbol(s): khumo (mythical bird); national colors: blue, white, red, green. National anthem: name: "O'zbekiston Respublikasining Davlat Madhiyasi" (National Anthem of the Republic of Uzbekistan), lyrics by Abdulla Aripov and musics by Mutal Burhanov. The anthem was adopted 1992. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan kept the music of the anthem from its time as a Soviet Republic but adopted new lyrics. =

Creation of Uzbekistan Government as the Soviet Union Collapses

In the Soviet era, Uzbekistan organized its government and its local communist party in conformity with the structure prescribed for all the republics. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) occupied the central position in ruling the country. The party provided both the guidance and the personnel for the government structure. The system was strictly bureaucratic: every level of government and every governmental body found its mirror image in the party. The tool used by the CPSU to control the bureaucracy was the system of nomenklatura , a list of sensitive jobs in the government and other important organizations that could be filled only with party approval. The nomenklatura defined the Soviet elite, and the people on the list invariably were members of the CPSU. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Following the failure of the coup against the Gorbachev government in Moscow in August 1991, Uzbekistan's Supreme Soviet declared the independence of the republic, henceforth to be known as the Republic of Uzbekistan. At the same time, the Communist Party of Uzbekistan voted to cut its ties with the CPSU; three months later, it changed its name to the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (PDPU), but the party leadership, under President Islam Karimov, remained in place. Independence brought a series of institutional changes, but the substance of governance in Uzbekistan changed much less dramatically. *

On December 21, 1991, together with the leaders of ten other Soviet republics, Karimov agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union and form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), of which Uzbekistan became a charter member according to the Alma-Ata Declaration. Shortly thereafter, Karimov was elected president of independent Uzbekistan in the new country's first contested election. Karimov drew 86 percent of the vote against opposition candidate Mohammed Salikh, whose showing experts praised in view of charges that the election had been rigged. The major opposition party, Birlik, had been refused registration as an official party in time for the election. *

Development of Uzbekistan’s Government in the 1990s

Independence: Uzbekistan celebrates September 1, 1991, as its date of independence. That is the date on which independence from the Soviet Union was declared. The movement toward economic reform in Uzbekistan after independence was not matched by a movement toward democratic reform. The government of Karimov instead tightened its grip on power, cracking down on opposition groups, curbing basic human rights, and making little attempt to develop democratic political norms and practices. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Although the names have changed, the institutions of government remain similar to those that existed before the breakup of the Soviet Union. The government has justified its restraint of personal liberty and freedom of speech by emphasizing the need for stability and a gradual approach to change during the transitional period, citing the conflict and chaos in the other former republics (most convincingly, neighboring Tajikistan). This approach has found credence among a large share of Uzbekistan's population, although such a position may not be sustainable in the long run. *

Despite the trappings of institutional change, the first years of independence saw more resistance than acceptance of the institutional changes required for democratic reform to take hold. Whatever initial movement toward democracy existed in Uzbekistan in the early days of independence seems to have been overcome by the inertia of the remaining Soviet-style strong centralized leadership. *

In 1992 the PDPU retained the dominant position in the executive and legislative branches of government that the Communist Party of Uzbekistan had enjoyed. All true opposition groups were repressed and physically discouraged. Birlik, the original opposition party formed by intellectuals in 1989, was banned for allegedly subversive activities, establishing the Karimov regime's dominant rationalization for increased authoritarianism: Islamic fundamentalism threatened to overthrow the secular state and establish an Islamic regime similar to that in Iran. The constitution ratified in December 1992 reaffirmed that Uzbekistan is a secular state. Although the constitution prescribed a new form of legislature, the PDPU-dominated Supreme Soviet remained in office for nearly two years until the first parliamentary election, which took place in December 1994 and January 1995.

In 1993 Karimov's concern about the spread of Islamic fundamentalism spurred Uzbekistan's participation in the multinational CIS peacekeeping force sent to quell the civil war in nearby Tajikistan — a force that remained in place three years later because of continuing hostilities. Meanwhile, in 1993 and 1994 continued repression by the Karimov regime brought strong criticism from international human rights organizations.In March 1995, Karimov took another step in the same direction by securing a 99 percent majority in a referendum on extending his term as president from the prescribed next election in 1997 to 2000. In early 1995, Karimov announced a new policy of toleration for opposition parties and coalitions, apparently in response to the need to improve Uzbekistan's international commercial position. A few new parties were registered in 1995, although the degree of their opposition to the government was doubtful, and some imprisonments of opposition political figures continued. *

The parliamentary election, the first held under the new constitution's guarantee of universal suffrage to all citizens eighteen years of age or older, excluded all parties except the PDPU and the progovernment Progress of the Fatherland Party, despite earlier promises that all parties would be free to participate. The new, 250-seat parliament, called the Oly Majlis or Supreme Soviet, included only sixty-nine candidates running for the PDPU, but an estimated 120 more deputies were PDPU members technically nominated to represent local councils rather than the PDPU. The result was that Karimov's solid majority continued after the new parliament went into office. *

Governments in Central Asia

To varying degrees all the governments of Central Asia are authoritarian, with a strong president who possesses dictatorial powers and a largely rubber-stamp parliament. Many of these government are based on the Singapore or Pinochet model in which a strong economy is built with authoritarian leadership. With the exception of Kyrgyzstan democracy doesn't exist.

When independence was declared in 1991, none of the five republics had experienced an independence movement or had a corps of leaders who had considered how such a change might be managed. Five years after independence, in four of the states political leadership remained in the hands of the same individual as in the last years of the Soviet Union: Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakstan, Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan, Saparmyrat Niyazov in Turkmenistan, and Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. President Imomali Rahmonov of Tajikistan was not president in 1991, but, like his cohorts, his roots were in his republic's pre-1992 political world. Political power in all five republics is based on clan and regional groupings that make national coalitions risky and fragile. Clan rivalries have played a particular role in the civil war of Tajikistan and in Akayev's difficulties in unifying Kyrgyzstan behind a reform program.* [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Although all the republics had adopted new constitutions by 1995, the three government branches prescribed by those documents are severely imbalanced in favor of the executive. In all five cases, the political opposition of the early 1990s has been virtually extinguished in the name of preserving stability and preventing the putative onset of Islamic politicization. Although the new constitutions of the republics specify independent judicial branches, the concept of due process has not been established consistently anywhere.*

Lack of Democracy in Central Asia

Rulers in Central Asia have generally clung to power until they died or were forced out. There is not much of a tradition of democracy or democratic practices.

The Central Asian nations all have elections, legislatures, courts, laws and constitutions. Often they exist in name only. Decisions are made from the top, elections are rigged, courts and legislatures are filled with loyalists. KGB-like secret police continue to thrive.

One diplomat told the Washington Post that their goal in Central Asia was to teach that the presidents there that “winning the election with 60 percent of the vote is just as good as winning with 100 percent of the vote” but “they just can't internalize the point. They are complete control freaks.”

Lack of Democracy in Uzbekistan

According to the 1992 constitution Uzbekistan is a secular, democratic republic, But this is true in name only. Independence was supposed to give way to democracy. Instead it has given way one man rule. If anything, over time, the government has become more repressive and less democratic despite claims to the contrary.

The government justifies authoritarianism by arguing that its provides stability. American diplomats have argued that the opposite is true. They say the governments need to adopt democratic reforms and tolerate opposition to give the government legitimacy and genuine grassroots support. Sometimes is seems ordinary Uzbeks look more to Islam for solutions to their political problems than democracy.

Several foreign pro-democracy groups and reform-minded nongovernmental organizations opened offices in Uzbekistan in the 1990s. The George-Soros-funded Open Society Institute, whose goal is to establish free and open societies around the world, the U.S. government-backed National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, were shut down by Uzbekistan authorities in 2004.

Uzbekistan’s homegrown pro-democracy groups have either been shut down or exist in exile. There are said to be reformers in the bureaucracy, the parliament, the business community and even the military but if they express their views too strongly the risk losing their positions or worse.

Karimov’s One-Man Rule and Lack of Democracy

Like other Central Asian leaders, Karimov positioning himself to be a leader for life. Parliamentary election have largely been rigged. There is widespread speculation that a family dynasty is trying to be established, The marriage of Karimov’s daughter to government’s foreign minister was said to have been arranged to keep the presidency in the family. The Karimov government maintains control of the entire country by controlling the mahalla system through the use of informant and loyalists.

In 1995, Karimov's extended his president's term until 2000 rather than face an election in 1997. The referendum was reportedly passed with a 99.6 percent yes vote and 99.3 voter participation. In the election only those voting "no" entered a cubicle; those who voted “yes” simply placed their unmarked ballot in the ballot box. In 2002, Karimov's presidential term was extended from five years to eight years (to December 2007) in a referendum condemned the West as a ploy to hang on to power. The referendum was. passed with a 91 percent “yes” vote. In August 2002, Karimov urged radical democratic changes. Members of the opposition were largely skeptical. And said the announcement was intended mostly for Western ears.

In the Karimov era, no true opposition party has been permitted legal status. The two major opposition parties that developed in the late Soviet period, Erk (Liberty) and Birlik (Unity), have been intensely restricted. Their leaders, Muhammad Solih and Abdurahim Polat, respectively, operate from exile. Two other parties, the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), which advocates an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, and Adolat (Justice), have been refused registration since the 1990s. The opposition Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) Party, formed in 2003, has been similarly barred. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

The dominant party has been the People’s Democratic Party, successor to the Communist Party of Uzbekistan. The other major parties, all of which support the government, are the Liberal Democratic Party (formed with government approval in 2004), the Adolat Social Democratic Party, the Democratic National Rebirth Party, and the Self Sacrificers Party. Each of these parties gained at least nine seats in the Oly Majlis in the parliamentary elections of 2004–5. The leading vote getters were the Liberal Democratic Party, which won 41 seats, and the People’s Democratic Party, with 33 seats.

Political Violence in Uzbekistan

According to the OSAC: “Uzbekistan has no meaningful political opposition. Since 1991, virtually all prominent government opponents have fled or have been arrested. Demonstrations are rare, but they do occur in small numbers. They typically occur under strict control of the government in front of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Monument of Courage, the Supreme Court, and district courts in Tashkent. [Source: “Uzbekistan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]

Civil unrest is very uncommon in Uzbekistan due to the high degree of control exercised by the Uzbek government from the national level down to the local neighborhood associations (malhallas). When unrest has occurred, it has usually been rapidly addressed with strong police action. There is the potential for terrorist attacks and civil disturbance in Uzbekistan, such as a May 2009 suicide bombing in Andijon province.

See Separate Article ANDIJAN MASSACRE

Uzbekistan Government and Organized Crime

Diplomatic memos released by Wikileaks revealed that the Uzbekistan government hads “close connections with organized crime.” Associated Press reported: “The March 2006 communique sent by then-U.S. Ambassador Jon Purnell says the embassy had obtained video footage of lavish parties thrown by relatives of a reputed mafia chief and attended by the wives of several government ministers. [Source: Associated Press, January 17, 2011 ]

The cable named the crime boss as Salim Abduvaliyev, a man described by Russian crime experts as being a former wrestling champion who consolidated Uzbek organized crime groups in the 1990s and acquired various businesses in former Soviet republics. "Salim's wife and the wives of the GOU [Government of Uzbekistan] Ministers form a tight circle of friends," wrote Purnell, who left the post in 2007. "GOU" stands for Government of Uzbekistan. Uzbek officials, who rarely comment on controversial matters, could not be reached for immediate comment.

The cable describes an engagement bash for Abduvaliyev's son, Sardor, in July 2005, attended only by women, as is tradition. Included among the 20 guests were the wives of Interior Minister Bakhodir Matlyubov, Justice Minister Burtosh Mustafayev, Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiyev and Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, the cable said.

“Abduvaliyev, who is referred to in the cable as a "Tashkent mafia chieftain," was not at the party, but an associate of his handed out $100 bills to guests as they danced, another local custom. Each guest also got a $1,000 necklace from Abduvaliyev. The party was held at Abduvaliyev's mansion near Tashkent, decorated by a Versace representative flown in especially for the job, the cable said.

“Abduvaliyev also threw a grandiose birthday party for his wife, Shahlo, around the same time, attended by the wives of both Ganiyev and other former officials, the cable said. Most guests, also including a foreign-based oligarch and a prominent businessman, gave his wife $3,000 cash, the cable said. Abduvaliyev chairs Uzbekistan's wrestling association and provides lavish support to Uzbek athletes. In 2007, he received a government award as "the year's best sports sponsor."

Karimov and Organized Crime

Central Asia researcher Saltanat Berdikeeva wrote: “According to an Uzbek country expert, President Islam Karimov’s entourage, which controls the entire economy, is the real mafia. All illegal businesses are done through the state, embracing industries such as oil, gas, sugar production, flour making, Internet distribution, and telecommunications, among others. There have been reported cases of illegal circulations of gold and non-ferrous metals. [Source: Saltanat Berdikeeva, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, Volume 7, No. 2 (2009) p. 75-100, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies ]

More recently, President Karimov’s family was suspected by some of involvement in organized crime activities in the country, including Karimov’s daughter Gulnara. Gulnara Karimova, along with the handful of ministers with ties to the criminal world, reportedly controls many profitable businesses in the country such as telecommunications, gold mining industry, trade, Internet, and investments to real estate.

“Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, alleges that Gulnara Karimova was “directly implicated in atrocities and the major beneficiary of the looting of the Uzbek state.” Two prominent figures of organized crime of the Soviet times – Ghaffur Rahimov and Salim Abduvaliev – are now believed to be largely passive in Uzbekistan and have mostly legalized their businesses, and live and work abroad. From the mid-90s they “controlled exports of gas and cotton, several aluminum enterprises in Russia, as well as the trafficking of narcotics from Afghanistan to Europe.”

“Reportedly, President Karimov has established good relations with them mostly out of fear. The concentration of power in the hands of corrupt security agencies in Uzbekistan over the past decade, most prominently the National Security Service (SNB), has contributed to the institutionalization of criminality and corruption, giving them enough leeway to take control over key economic and political spheres. The Chairman of the SNB, Rustam Inoyatov, is reportedly the second most powerful person in the country and has “stacked” the state with his people.

Local Government in Uzbekistan

Governments at the provincial, regional, and municipal levels consist of a chief executive, the “hokim”, and a council. The president appoints “hokims “of the provinces, who appoint those at district level. In turn, district “hokims “appoint municipal “hokims, “giving the president de facto control of the executive branch at every level. The councils, whose power is secondary to the executives at all levels, are directly elected for five-year terms. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

According to Azimov, Mutalova, Huseynov, Tsoyi, Rechel: “Viloyat governors and the Governor of Tashkent are nominated by the President, subject to approval by the respective councils. Governors of tumans (rayon in Russian, district in English) and cities in each viloyat are appointed by the viloyat governor, subject to approval by local (tuman or city) councils. Councils at the viloyat, tuman or city level are elected through popular vote for terms of five years. The governors of viloyats, tumans and cities along with the respective councils are the highest authorities of the respective territories. [Source: “Uzbekistan: Health System Review” by Azimov, Mutalova, Huseynov, Tsoyi, Rechel, Health Systems in Transition, 2014 ^=^]

The old Soviet-era Communist Party bureaucracy remains in place. In Uzbekistan's system of strong central government, local government has little independence. The chief executive of each province and of Tashkent is the hakim , who is appointed by the president. Although these appointments must be confirmed by local legislative bodies that are elected by popular vote, the power of the president is dominant. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

President Karimov has ensured the loyalty of provincial “hokims “by frequent removals. In October 2006, he removed the “hokims “of two provinces in politically sensitive eastern Uzbekistan. Provincial governments have little power compared with the national government, which oversees and funds all major functions. Karakalpakstan, which nominally has substantial autonomy, in fact is rarely included in national discussions of the Aral Sea crisis within its borders. **

Uzbekistan is divided into 12 provinces or regions (oblasts or “viloyat”) and, one autonomous republic (Karakalpakstan), and the city of Tashkent, which has the status of a province. The provinces are divided into a total of 156 districts. Within those districts are 123 designated municipalities. **

The Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan also officially elects its own legislature; the chairman of the legislature serves as the republic's head of state and as a deputy chairman of the national parliament. But in the autonomous republic, too, government officials are generally powerless against Tashkent. Indeed, Karakalpak officials often are not included even in meetings of heads of state to discuss the fate of the Aral Sea, which is located within Karakalpakstan. *

Administrative divisions: 12 provinces (viloyatlar, singular - viloyat), 1 autonomous republic* (avtonom respublikasi), and 1 city** (shahar); Andijon Viloyati, Buxoro Viloyati, Farg'ona Viloyati, Jizzax Viloyati, Namangan Viloyati, Navoiy Viloyati, Qashqadaryo Viloyati (Qarshi), Qoraqalpog'iston Respublikasi [Karakalpakstan Republic]* (Nukus), Samarkand Viloyati, Sirdaryo Viloyati (Guliston), Surxondaryo Viloyati (Termiz), Toshkent Shahri [Tashkent City]**, Toshkent Viloyati [Tashkent province], Xorazm Viloyati (Urganch). note: administrative divisions have the same names as their administrative centers (exceptions have the administrative center name following in parentheses) [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Local Government and Mahallas in Uzbekistan

Local government is dominated by a traditional network of “mahallas” (urban districts), a system unique to Uzbekistan which operate a kind a local party boss system. The “mahalla” is now is a formal, government- controlled political entity all over Uzbekistan but formerly was a powerful, family-based social institution in the cities. In the post-Soviet era, the national government and law enforcement agencies have used the ruling committees of the “mahallas “to monitor potential dissident activity in the Muslim community. About 12,000 “mahallas “existed in 2004. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

The mahalla is usually led by an elder called a “aksakal” ("white beard") who provides advise and helps settle disputes. The mahallas is held together through a system of mutual obligations often manifested through weddings, holiday feasts and funerals. The Karimov government maintains control of the entire country by controlling the mahalla system through the use of informant and loyalists. See Mahallas Under Society.

Karina wrote in At present times mahallyan committees of respected citizens are created which decide the questions of allocation of welfare among the poor and families having many children, help holding family holidays (apportion tables, chairs, crockery, covers). Many committees have created clubs of interest for teenagers repair shops, workshops and ateliers. [Source: Karina, +++]

“Many mahallyas have their own sport grounds and as decades ago in mahallyas there are clean streets with aryks (small irrigation ditches), fruit trees, which in spring abundantly cover the streets with white and pink petals and in summer with small fruits of cherries, apricots, apples. The fruits are usually not gathered from trees but are left to children. Among foreign specialists who live and work in Uzbekistan it is accepted to settle in mahallyas since this is pleasant, interesting and good for health.” +++

Government Budget and Taxes in Uzbekistan

Budget of Uzbekistan: revenues: $18.67 billion; expenditures: $19.27 billion (2014 est.). Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-): -1 percent of GDP (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 58. Public debt: 7.5 percent of GDP (2014 est.), 6.3 percent of GDP (2013 est.) country comparison to the world: 157. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Taxes and other revenues: 29.6 percent of GDP (2014 est.), country comparison to the world: 92. Businesses have to pay a tax of 67 percent on their sales, 25 percent of their profits and a 5 percent property tax.

The tax system was reformed with addition of value-added and profits tax, beginning 1992; main revenues of 1993 state budget from value-added tax, corporate income tax, cotton marketing, and individual income tax; 1993 state budget deficit 200 million rubles, 12 percent of revenue. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In 2006 the Uzbekistan government planned revenues of US$3.3 billion and expenditures of US$3.6 billion, incurring a budget deficit of about US$300 million. In the first half of 2006, the government reported revenues of US$1.64 billion and expenditures of US$1.57 billion, yielding a surplus of US$70 million. The deficit for 2005 was US$100 million, based on expenditures of US$2.9 billion and revenues of US$2.8 billion. The approved 2007 budget called for a deficit of US$189 million. A series of tax rate reductions decreased direct tax revenues somewhat beginning in 2004. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

Welfare in Uzbekistan

In 2000 Uzbekistan reformed its state-funded pension system, which had suffered from ineffective funds collection and an uneven funding burden that motivated enterprises to avoid support payments. The new system reallocated payment responsibility and collection authority, but it failed to stipulate funding amounts or to stimulate public participation. The system covers all employed persons; the government subsidizes shortfalls and pays substantial amounts in pensions to special categories. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

Pension eligibility begins at age 60 for men and age 55 for women, provided they have worked 25 and 20 years, respectively. The pension program also funds payments for work injury, maternity, and disability. In 2005 the standard pension amount was raised to US$15.50 per month. Unemployment benefits are payable for 26 weeks at 50 percent of the recipient’s average earnings. Social support payments often are late, and high inflation decreases their value. In 2004 an estimated 28 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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