Christian Caryl wrote in Foreign Policy: “Burmese blogger Min Zin — an alumnus of the 1988 student uprising against the military who has spent the years since then tracking the ins and outs of Burmese politics — has criticized the Lady's high-minded insistence on refusing to take an oath to the current constitution upon entering parliament; as he predicted, she was subsequently compelled to make a humiliating climb-down when this position proved untenable. And he has taken her to task for her failure to set up a proper staff — a seemingly mundane yet vitally important undertaking for someone who is not only the de facto leader of the parliamentary opposition at a crucial moment in her country's history but also its face to the outside world. [Source: Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, September 26, 2012 +++]

“Min Zin was also among the first to note her ambiguous stance on the sectarian conflict in Arakan State, when she declined to defend the racially motivated attacks on the Muslim Rohingya minority, who are denounced by many chauvinistic Burmese as dark-skinned "immigrants" (even though most of them have lived in the country for generations). He knew that this wouldn't make him any friends among his compatriots, and responses to his post proved him correct. "How dare you criticize Myanmar people's wishes and accuse [Aung San Suu Kyi] and 88 Student leaders as racists for standing up for our country?" was among the mildest of the responses that his commentary evoked. +++

“In a subsequent article, Min Zin showed how the government's embrace of exclusionary rhetoric — President Thein Sein even called for the wholesale deportation of the Rohingyas — enabled it to outflank Burma's pro-democracy activists by positioning itself as the defender of "national sovereignty." Given the strength of nationalist feeling among the ethnic Burman majority, there's no question that this has put Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of the pro-democracy movement in a delicate political position. Min Zin's point that "sectarian conflict is bad for democracy" strikes me as one that is essential to the future of a liberal political order in Burma.” +++

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Inaction on Anti-Muslim Violence in Myanmar

Suu Kyi’s admirers in the West, and ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar have been disappointed to say the least about her response to the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. Joseph J. Schatz wrote in the Washington Post, “That’s because “the lady,” as she is known, has been resisting calls to wield her moral authority on behalf of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group that faces state-sponsored discrimination and has suffered attacks by extremist Buddhists in western Burma. [Source: Joseph J. Schatz, Washington Post, December 23, 2013 /::]

“Suu Kyi, however, is making no apologies for sounding less like a human rights icon and more like a politician playing to the country’s Buddhist majority. “Please don’t forget that I started out as the leader of a political party. I cannot think of anything more political than that,” Suu Kyi said at a Dec. 6 news conference in Rangoon. “Icon was a depiction that was imposed on me by other people.” Suu Kyi’s situation is particularly sensitive as she attempts to persuade the country’s still-powerful military to change the constitution before national elections in 2015 and, among other things, remove a provision that bars her from becoming president. /::\

“But critics say Suu Kyi, a member of the country’s Buddhist, Burman elite, is softening her long-standing support for human rights to appease the military and protect herself from ruling-party politicians who might play the ethnic card against her. The complaints are particularly strong among Burma’s Muslims and other ethnic minorities, such as the largely Christian Kachin population. Suu Kyi “is after the majority vote because she wants to be president,” said Khin Maung Myint, a Rohingya activist who noted, wistfully, that he backed her when she rose to prominence in pro-democracy protests in 1988. /::\

“In an October 2013 interview with the BBC, Suu Kyi rejected charges that the Rohingya situation amounts to “ethnic cleansing.” She said that both Buddhists and Muslims have fears about each other, noting that there is “a perception that global Muslim power is very great.” Although Muslims have borne the brunt of the recent violence, she equated the two groups’ suffering and said many Burmese Buddhists who fled military rule also remain stranded as refugees in various countries. /::\

“Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said she has little room to maneuver. “I understand the Western countries are giving pressure about the Rohingya,” Nyan Win said. However, he said, “according to our history and our law, we can’t accept the Rohingya.” Nyan Win made the comments in the party’s small Rangoon headquarters, whose walls are plastered with posters of Suu Kyi — an illustration of how the party she helped found 25 years ago remains centered on her. /::\

“Some analysts caution that Suu Kyi faces an enormously complicated political situation in a country emerging from decades of isolation. She would undoubtedly seek to heal Burma’s political, ethnic and religious divisions as president, they say, if only she got the chance to serve. “She has to have a balanced approach,” said Thierry Mathou, the French ambassador to Burma. “She has to do national reconciliation. When you are doing politics, it is impossible to please everybody.” /::\

In June 2013, Suu Kyi said she has been speaking out "but it's just that they're not hearing what they want to hear from me." "I cannot doctor my answers to please everybody. I have to say what I believe in. And I believe that the rule of law is the first step towards any kind of solution to the problem in Rakhine State and other parts of the country." "We must get to the point of reassessing the law to see if it comes up to international norms or not." She added, "I would like all of the world to understand that we are aware of the difficulties in our country and we're doing our best to cope with it. When I say 'we,' I'm not talking about the government, I'm talking about ordinary people in Burma." [Source: Hilary Whiteman, CNN, June 6, 2013]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Buddhist Problem

William McGowan wrote in Foreign Policy: “During her long struggle against Burma's generals, pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has leaned heavily on her Buddhist faith. She has extolled the religion for allowing her a sense of inner freedom during her 15 years of house arrest, and said that Buddhist precepts such as "loving kindness" can guide Burma's democratic transition, fostering reconciliation with the military, instead of anger and revenge. Burma's pious have returned the cultural compliment, so to speak. Many of them see Suu Kyi as a near-bodhisattva, whose enlightened work and suffering on behalf of others deserves the utmost reverence. But the more nationalistic face of this Buddhist tradition, brought into focus by recent violence directed against Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, could yet derail Suu Kyi's attempts to forge a more democratic, inclusive government and to transcend the country's long history of bloody ethnic rivalries.[Source: William McGowan, Foreign Policy, September 17, 2012 ]

“Suu Kyi has a Buddhism problem. Specifically, she faces an obstacle in the chauvinism and xenophobia of Burma's Theravada culture, which encourages a sense of racial and religious superiority among majority Burman Buddhists at the expense of ethnic and religious minorities. Although the world has been largely focused on the drama between Burma's military leaders and "The Lady," fraught relations between ethnic Burmans, who make up 60 percent of the country's population, and the non-Burman minorities, who make up the remaining 40 percent, could leave the country politically fragmented — and strengthen the military's hand just as it has been forced to loosen its grip.

“The anti-Rohingya violence in June, some of it committed by Buddhist mobs and some by Buddhist-dominated security forces, led to scores of deaths, the burning of settlements and a refugee exodus of 90,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh. There, up to 300,000 Rohingya refugees still languish in makeshift camps from the last anti-Rohingya pogrom 20 years ago — part of what the United Nations calls "one of the world's largest and most prominent group of stateless people." The most recent influx prompted Bangladesh to shut its borders to any more Rohingyas, and in early August barred international NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders from providing any more aid, which these groups have been doing since the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported in late July that the Rohingya who remained in Rakhine, where the government imposed a state of emergency in June, were subject to arbitrary mass arrests, as well as abuse in custody. A U.N. special rapporteur echoed that finding, citing "serious violations of human rights committed as part of measures to restore law and order."

In a BBC interview in October 2013 Suu Kyi seemed to imply that the violence against ethnic and religious minorities was pale in comparison to the suffering Buddhists have suffered at the hands of the former military regime: “There are many, many Buddhists who are also in refugee camps for various reasons. This a result of suffering under a dictatorial regime,” adding the conflict was fueled by fear between Buddhists and Muslims. “There is a perception that global Muslim power is very great.”

“Maung Zarni, a Burmese research fellow at the London School of Economics, said that Suu Kyi's reticence was likely a matter of political pragmatism. "Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this," he told the Associated Press. "She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote."

“Already, President Thein Sein's proposal to either expel the Rohingya or put them in concentration camps has enhanced his popularity as a defender of the Buddhist faith, with hundreds of monks taking to the streets in Yangon and Mandalay for several days the first week in September to show monastic support. Such support for Thein Sein, who could be Suu Kyi's rival in the 2015 elections, is a jarring contrast to their pro-democracy activism in the past — and a reminder of Burma's fast-changing political balance. In this struggle, Buddhist sentiment is a particularly unpredictable variable.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohingya

In February 2013, Tha Lun Zaung Htet wrote in The Irrawaddy, “Aung San Suu Kyi has said that Burma “must decide for itself” whether or not to grant citizenship to the Muslim minority Rohingya, but she added that the government “should listen” to foreign experts and uphold international standards in its citizenship laws. Suu Kyi was responding to criticism by Jose Ramos-Horta, the former president of Timor Leste, and Muhammad Yunus, founder of microfinance institution Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, who wrote in The Huffington Post on Feb. 20 that Burma should amend its laws and grant the Rohingya “full citizenship.” [Source: Tha Lun Zaung Htet, The Irrawaddy, February 26, 2013 }{]

“The two Nobel Peace Prize laureates said Burma was failing to address the ongoing “ethnic cleansing” of the group in Arakan State, western Burma. Other international rights workers have previously also called on Burma to accept Rohingya citizenship. A 1982 Citizenship Law, introduced by Burma’s military regime, excluded the Rohingya from the recognized 135 minorities in the country, rendering them effectively stateless. When asked about the criticism in Naypyidaw, Suu Kyi said, “A country must decide its citizenship for itself, but in doing so it should meet international standards.” “We should listen to and learn from what foreign scholars say,” she said of her fellow Nobel laureates. “And, finally, we have to make a decision by ourselves if what they say is appropriate in our country’s situation,” Suu Kyi told The Irrawaddy. }{

In April 2013, the Arab News reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi has lamented restrictions and estrangement of Muslims. Addressing a press conference in Tokyo, she called for reforming citizenship laws to help the sizable minority to feel more secure in the Buddhist country. Her comments came as activists express disappointment that Suu Ky has remained largely silent about several episodes of communal bloodshed. [Source: Arab News, April 18, 2013 ]

Suu Kyi said she has met with Muslim leaders and felt for their plight. "It's very sad because none of them had ever known any other country except for this one, except for Burma," she said. "They did not feel they belonged anywhere else and you are just sad for them that they are made to feel they did not belong to our country either. This is a very sad state of affairs." But, she said: "With regard to whether or not Rohingya are citizens of the country, that depends very much on whether or not they meet the requirements of the citizenship law as they now exist. Then we must go on and assess this citizenship law to find out whether it is in line with the international standard," she said, stressing the importance of rule of law. We must learn to accommodate those with different views from ours.”

Chris Lewa, the Bangkok-based director of The Arakan Project, a non-governmental organisation that lobbies for the rights of the Rohingya told AFP that many Muslims in Myanmar were disappointed Suu Kyi had not been more forthright in their defense. "People like Aung San Suu Kyi who have moral authority in Myanmar should be clearer about the rights of minorities," she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Inaction and Myanmar’s Minorities

Suu Kyi’s admirers in the West, and ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar have been disappointed to say the least about her response to Myanmar’s ethnic problems. Joseph J. Schatz wrote in the Washington Post, “Suu Kyi has been making it clear that she respects the army and sees it as a key part of the country’s future — words that many see as an effort to assure former generals that they will not be put on trial, or lose their money, in a fully democratic Burma. But such comments are a letdown to longtime anti-government activists and members of ethnic minorities, such as Khon Ja, 43, from Kachin state, where largely Christian ethnic rebels are in an on-again, off-again battle with the army. [Source: Joseph J. Schatz, Washington Post, December 23, 2013 /::]

“Khon Ja, a member of the Kachin Peace Network, has been trying to get Suu Kyi to address the problem of rapes of displaced ethnic women in Kachin state. In a recent news conference, Suu Kyi tiptoed around the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones, saying that ethnic militias also are complicit. Khon Ja said Suu Kyi had been the “voice of people who were suffering in Myanmar.” But she and other younger Kachin have soured on Suu Kyi, she said. “From my point of view, she is a politician who lies to me,” said Khon Ja, adding that Suu Kyi is isolated from civil society leaders, a common complaint.” /::\

An editorial published on the Irrawaddy newsmagazine website complained that Suu Kyi had kept herself "aloof from the burning issues that rack the country she hopes one day to lead." Suu Kyi has said she doesn't want to "add fire" to the conflicts, instead calling for the implementation of the "rule of law" in a country with a notoriously corrupt justice system. [Source: Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2013]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Minority Problem

William McGowan wrote in Foreign Policy: ““The Rohingyas aren't alone in their persecution by the Burman majority — other minorities have been put-upon by Buddhist nationalism too. This mindset tends to view minorities as threats to "the land, the race, and the religion," as infamous government propaganda billboards phrase it, and seeks to "Burmanize" them by depriving them of linguistic, cultural, and religious rights. Human rights abuses — even ethnic cleansing and systematic rape — are seen as the price of national solidarity. Many of these minority groups, such as the Karen, the Shan, the Mon, and the Kachin, have been in a state of sporadic rebellion against the central government since Burma gained independence in 1948, making the Union of Myanmar, as Burma is officially called, quite a notional one. [Source: William McGowan, Foreign Policy, September 17, 2012 ]

“Suu Kyi has reacted like a deer caught in the headlights when confronted with the Rohingya issue. While in Europe in June to receive her belated Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked if the Rohingya should be treated as citizens. "I do not know," she answered, then launched into an equivocating, convoluted statement about citizenship laws and the need for border vigilance, implying that she shared the view that the Rohingya issue was at bottom a problem of illegal immigration. At no point did she or the NLD denounce either the attacks or the racist vitriol that followed them, or express sympathy for the victims. The pinched response left many Burma watchers disappointed. Journalist Francis Wade wondered whether Western observers have "over-romanticized" the struggle between the NLD and the junta, and if the pro-democracy movement ever had the "wholesale commitment to the principle of tolerance" many presumed.

“Whatever her calculations, Suu Kyi's lack of expressed concern for the Rohingya could only have confirmed other nationalities' longstanding suspicion that the NLD is the party of the Burmans. This is particularly true for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is currently involved in all-out combat against the Burmese military near the Chinese border. Confronted in London on her European tour in June with questions about why she had not condemned the military's human rights abuses against the predominately Christian Kachin, Suu Kyi grew peeved and gave a vague answer. "Resolving conflict is not about condemnation; it is about finding out the root, the cause of the conflict, " she said. "By not giving her direct and undue support to the Kachin people, Suu Kyi is only radicalizing the Kachin to feel there is no use working with the Burman people," Ko Nawang, a Kachin activist, responded.

“Suu Kyi has established minority rights as a priority, citing it in her first statement in Parliament. However, she said nothing specific about the Rohingya in her speech. Threading the needle on Buddhist nationalism represents a far more complicated challenge than anything that Suu Kyi has faced so far. The issue has wounded Burma in the past: Minority unrest in 1962, significantly provoked by the establishment of Buddhism as the state religion, provided a pretext for a coup staged by Gen. Ne Win. The military takeover led to a half-century of isolation, which the country is only now shedding. If ethnic and religious tensions boil over this time around, Burma could fragment a la Yugoslavia at the end of the Cold War. The specter of disorder, which the military has long invoked to justify its heavy hand, might lead it to slow the pace of reform, halt it altogether, or even roll back reforms.

“In trying to forge an inclusive sense of national identity in a country that has never known one, the politics of Buddhist nationalism will restrict Suu Kyi's political options as she pursues political reform. And she herself may suspect that the obduracy of the country's Buddhist culture is not something that encourages democracy or tolerance. For the Burmese "racial psyche," she wrote in a 1985 academic monograph, Buddhism "represents the perfected philosophy. It therefore follows that there [is] no need to either to develop it further or to consider other philosophies." Democratic progress in Burma will, of course, be a matter of politics. But in Burma's complicated political calculus, culture matters.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Carefully-Calibrating Politician

Kate Linthicum wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Critics claim Suu Kyi “has chosen political expediency over principle, believing she has calibrated her message to appear non-threatening to the former military leaders who hold the key to her political future. At first, Suu Kyi appeared to seek a strategic alliance with her former captors. To the dismay of her pro-democracy allies, she said she was "quite fond" of the army and even appeared in the first row at a televised military parade. [Source: Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2013 =]

“But in recent months, Suu Kyi has sharpened her criticism of Myanmar's reform efforts and the outsized role that the military still plays in this impoverished nation of nearly 60 million sandwiched strategically between India and China. "She obviously seems to feel that they aren't delivering on what she expected," said Mark Farmaner, the director of Burma Campaign UK, an advocacy group. He said that in conversations with Suu Kyi, she has expressed concern about the number of political prisoners still being held and the lack of progress on changes to the constitution. =

“Some say her perceived support of the establishment has cost her crucial political capital and has raised questions about what kind of leader she might be. "She gave her blessing too easily and in too short of a time," said Khin Ohmar, a pro-democracy activist who spent years living in political exile. "Her message to the world has lost its weight." =

“Ohmar said she had been disappointed by Suu Kyi's muted reaction to human rights concerns, including the anti-Muslim violence that has taken hundreds of lives. Many have blamed the government for not doing enough to calm religious and ethnic tension, which many believe flared as a result of the loosening of the police state. Ohmar said that Suu Kyi appeared to have made a political calculation to curry support from the majority Buddhist population, which harbors deep-seated resentment of the Muslim minority. =

U Han Thar Myint, a member of the National League for Democracy, said Suu Kyi was simply being diplomatic. "When you are under detention it is very easy to be idealistic. You need to be idealistic to be able to withstand it," he said at the party's headquarters, a crumbling two-story building in Yangon decorated with dozens of portraits of the Lady. "But if we want to do practical things we must be practical."

He acknowledged that the NLD had been struggling to find its way amid criticism that Suu Kyi has been an aloof leader and slow to modernize the party. But he also pointed to gains. The party has launched health clinics, dug wells and opened schools across the country, he said, and among most people, Suu Kyi remains hugely popular.

One devotee, Minn Minn, left a well-paying job to earn a $100-a-month paycheck as an English teacher at an NLD-run high school in central Yangon. He described Suu Kyi as the "only" option for Myanmar. "We know the wrong things but don't know the right things," he said. "What is human rights? What is democracy? I am still learning. We all studied under the military government; we don't know. Most of the public does not understand politics, so she is teaching us."

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Party Accepts Crony Donations

In January 2013, Reuters reported: “Cronies of Myanmar’s military junta which kept democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for nearly two decades have reached a milestone in their quest to rehabilitate their image: they’re now donors to Suu Kyi’s political party. While the Nobel Peace laureate’s willingness to accept military-tainted funds for education projects might jar with her international image, her supporters praised the move as politically shrewd and financially necessary. [Source: Reuters, January 17, 2013 ~~]

“Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), accepted 211.5 million kyat at a fundraising concert from companies owned by Western-blacklisted businessmen who made fortunes under the military dictatorship that ruled Myanmar for almost half a century. The donations have caused barely a stir in Myanmar, a sign of how much Suu Kyi is revered and of how successfully the cronies have repositioned themselves since a reformist government came to power in March 2011. Some see it as a sign of reconciliation after five decades of military misrule. ~~

“AGB Bank, owned by self-proclaimed billionaire Tay Za, once described by the US Treasury as “a notorious regime henchman and arms dealer”, donated 40 million kyat (US$47,000) to Suu Kyi’s party at a December concert. The wife of Kyaw Win, a tycoon who owns the conglomerate Shwe Than Lwin and private television station SkyNet, donated a further 41.5 million kyat (US$50,000) in an auction for one of two sweaters knitted by Suu Kyi, while SkyNet itself donated 130 million kyat (US$151,430). “All the money we have raised is for educational purposes, and has nothing to do with the rest of the party,” said Myint Myint Sein, who is responsible for the NLD’s humanitarian and education policies. A top official said the party was “very thankful” for the donations. “I am sure all party members are happy about this,” said Naing Naing, who sits on the NLD’s Central Executive Committee. ~~

“Tay Za and many other well-connected businessmen remain on Western blacklists despite the suspension last year of most sanctions against the government following a year of dramatic reforms, including amnesty for hundreds of political prisoners. Many people loathe and mistrust them for their tacit support of a brutal regime, conspicuous flaunting of wealth and continued domination of many sectors of Myanmar’s economy. ~~

“Aung San Suu Kyi defended her actions, saying it was better to donate money for good purposes rather than waste it. “Anybody should be given a chance to mend their ways, no matter how much wrong they have done,” she said. Those who are considered cronies have supported the social activities of the NLD and others; what is wrong with that?...Instead of spending their money on things that have no purpose they have supported things they should support. It’s a good thing.” Her association with what she called “those so-called cronies” seems not to have harmed her reputation, already dented by criticisms that she has not stood up for ethnic victims of state-sponsored violence. ~~

Some supporters on Facebook, the main forum for popular political discussion in Myanmar, have nicknamed Suu Kyi “Robin Suu”, a reference to the English outlaw Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor. “I don’t think it is a major scandal,” said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK. “We’ve not seen any evidence yet that receiving donations from cronies is going to have an effect on policy. The NLD don’t have many policies to implement yet.” ~~

“The donations are vital to a party which lacks a mechanism to raise funds from its million-plus members, most of whom are poor. “In politics, funding is essential to survive,” said Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Myanmar. “It has to come from local sources. Provided the ‘cronies’ fund the right projects, why should we complain? The Burmese people certainly won’t.” By accepting donations from Myanmar’s richest civilians, Suu Kyi’s party is extending a hand to key players in the country’s economic recovery, said Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to Myanmar. “The cronies have a tremendous economic stake in the future of the country. It’s most important to bring them under the rule of law.” ~~

"I don’t want to be a bad crony. I want to be a good one," said Zaw Zaw, the owner of Max Myanmar who has been under US and EU sanctions and also donated to the NLD, according to The Irrawaddy.

Suu Kyi Sits with Generals amid Burma Ethnic Unrest

Aung San Suu Kyi is believed to be trying to negotiate a deal with military officials to amend the constitution so that she could one day become president. Apparently keen to win their trust, she told the BBC’s “Desert Island Discs” radio show recently that she is “fond” of the army.

In March 2013, The Times reported: “Aung San Suu Kyi has surprised onlookers by attending the regime's annual Armed Forces Day parade in the latest sign of her apparent show of solidarity with the country's rulers. Ms Suu Kyi was given a front-row seat alongside the generals as the military put on a show of strength in Naypyidaw, the capital, even as sectarian violence against ethnic Muslims in the country threatened to escalate. [Source: Anne Barrowclough, The Times, March 28, 2013 ]

Hours after the event, extremist Buddhists destroyed a mosque and dozens of Muslim homes in the town of Zeegone, according to police. At the parade, which featured thousands of troops and rows of vehicles bristling with missiles, Ms Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, chatted with generals. In the past she was a vocal critic of the regime, but a colleague said simply: "She attended, as she was invited." Tin Oo, an NLD official, said that Ms Suu Kyi regarded the day as Resistance Day rather than as Armed Forces Day...Activists are concerned that the relationship between the regime and the champion of democracy has grown too close.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information 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, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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