King Bhumibol has been praised for lifelong support of village development. He has personally launched more than 4,000 development and social welfare projects, according to a tally from the Thai government, in areas such as irrigation, agronomy, forestry, fishing and health. He introduced improved strains of rice, stocked streams with fish, established irrigation projects. He used to frequently helicopters around the country doing things like promoting dam and irrigation projects and encouraging Golden Triangle farmers to switch from opium to kidney beans. His rural development projects are credited with weaning highland off opium amd helping to stop the expansion of the Communist movement in Thailand. ♦

The king’s royal development projects have included alternative fuel factories and milk-pasteurizing plants and other projects relating to agriculture, the environment, health, job training, social welfare, communications and water management. He has set up rice banks to tackle food shortages and established research and development centers that have taught farmers how to use new strains of rice, new agricultural technology and new irrigation methods. The Royal Cattle Buffalo Bank, a sort of cooperative for water buffalo, has given poor farmers with no livestock of their own access to buffalo as plough animals and sources of milk.Among his projects for urbanites is a program to teach police how to deliver children to help women in labor stuck in traffic.

According to the Thai government: “The Royal Development Projects are divided into eight categories according to the sector of the economy that is targeted: 1) Agriculture, 2) Environment, 3) Public Health, 4) Occupational Promotion, 5) Water Resources, 6) Communications, 7) Public Welfare, and 8) Others. Some of the best known ones are the Royal Rainmaking Program, the Water Treatment by the Chaipattana Aerator, the Soil Acidity Acceleration Project and the Kaem Ling (Monkey’s Cheek) Project.

Private projects of the King and Queen include the crop substitution project in the North, aimed at stopping opium cultivation, deforestation and the slash and burn cultivation method traditionally used by the hill tribe s. His Majesty has given them advice and assistance on the planting of cool climate fruits and flowers for a better income. Projects under royal patronage are ones operated by the private sector using its own financial, technical and human resources and based on His Majesty's advice and guidelines. They include the Thai Encyclopedia for Youth Project, the Dictionary Project and the Din Daeng Cooperative Village Development Project.

In order to facilitate the implementation of the Royal Development Projects, His Majesty initiated the establishment of six Royal Development Study Centres, in various regions of the country to serve as the place for conducting study, research and experimentation. The Centres are also intended to serve as "living natural museums" where interested people can come to observe and gain knowledge about “real life” issues. The Six Centres are located in Chiang Mai in the North, Chachoengsao, Phetchaburi and Chanthaburi in the Central Plains, Sakon Nakhon in the Northeast and Narathiwat in the South.

Principles of Royally Initiated Projects

For more than 60 years, His Majesty the King has initiated projects aimed at raising the standards of rural life and helping farmers to be self-reliant. The projects are classified into various categories, such as agriculture, water resources, the environment, occupational promotion, public health, public welfare, and communications. To achieve their aim, each of them is based on major principles suggested by His Majesty.

1) The first principle is that the project should be able to ease immediate problems. The solving of traffic congestion and flood prevention in Bangkok are among these projects. Although they seek solutions to immediate problems, their effects can also be felt in the long run. 2) The second principle is that the project should be carried out step by step in accordance with necessity and cost-effectiveness. His Majesty intends to assist people as necessary and appropriately, so that they can become self-reliant. He has stressed the need to build a foundation for people to have enough to live on. Once the foundation is established firmly, further economic development should be carried out in the next step. The king believes that if rapid economic development is emphasized with no regard to the situation of the country and the real conditions of the people, it is to lead to imbalances and difficulties in many areas. It is the king’s firm belief that if people can be assisted to stand on their own feet and be self-supporting, they will be able to build up a higher level of development.

3) In the third principle, emphasis is placed on self-reliance to tackle poverty. For instance, the royally-initiated Rice Bank, the Cattle Bank, and soil development at Hup Krapong in Cha-am, Phetchaburi Province, have helped ease community problems and assisted local residents in helping themselves. 4) The fourth principle is that the project should promote the use of knowledge and appropriate technology. His Majesty said that it was necessary to have “a model of success” for farmers, so that they would put what they had learned from the model into practice in their own farms.

5) The fifth principle is that the country should focus on natural resource development and conservation. The development of the country in the past emphasized economic growth, resulting in the overuse and misuse of natural resources. If no action is taken, natural resources will deteriorate further. His Majesty believes that the rehabilitation of natural resources would help in agricultural development. 5) The sixth principle involves the enhancement of environmental quality. His Majesty attaches great importance to the solving of environmental problems, as seen from many royally initiated projects, such as wastewater treatment in Bangkok and the use of the Chaipattana Aerator for environmental preservation.

King Bhumibol’s Effort to Stop Opium Growing Among Thailand's Hill Tribes

The Royal Project is an initiative of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej to help develop highlands in northern Thailand on a sustainable basis. It has gained recognition worldwide for its success in eradicating opium poppies and improving the well-being of the people. The Royal Project involves the growing of a wide variety of cash crops, especially temperate plants, to replace opium cultivation, improve the living conditions of hill tribe people, and eliminate the slash-and-burn technique of clearing land. It began operations in 1969 and has now expanded significantly, with more than 100,000 people benefiting from it.

The program began in the late 1960s, when His Majesty stayed at the royal palace in Chiang Mai Province, and visited and talked to hill tribe villagers living in the mountainous area about their needs. He asked them about their source of income. They said that their income came from growing opium and peaches, with the the income from opium and peaches being about the same. At that time, tribal people living on highlands had become a problem to the government, partly because of their destructive slash-and-burn technique of clearing land, as well as opium production.

In a speech at Chiang Mai University in 1969, His Majesty said that he intended to help hill tribe people grow useful crops that would give higher income than growing opium, so that they would switch from opium cultivation to other crops. The project would also support the government’s policy of banning opium cultivation and trade. He pointed out that the traditional farming method of cutting down and burning the forest conducted by hill tribe villagers would lead to forest destruction and deterioration of soil quality. That was how the Royal Project was launched. His Serene Highness Prince Bhisatej Rajani was assigned by His Majesty to carry out his initiative for the establishment of the project.

Originally, the project was called the Royal-sponsored Hilltribe Project. Later, it was changed to the Royal Hilltribe Development Project and then the Royal Northern Project. Now, it is called the Royal Project. The Royal Project was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in 1988. In the same year, it also received the Thai Export Award 1988 for its outstanding activities to promote Thai exports of fresh vegetables and fruit and canned fruit. The Royal Project won an award from the Drug Advisory Program of the Colombo Plan in Sri Lanka in December 2003 on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Drug Advisory Program.

King Bhumibol founded the Royal Project in part to make ethnic minorities in northern Thailand part of Thai society. In the 1960s he ventured often to northern Thailand, where he established a special relationship with the Hmong, Akha, Lahu and other hill tribes. He often used the medium of pigs to communicate with the Hmong. Pigs are the centerpiece of many Hmong ceremonies. In addition to helping farmers find replacements for opium, the King has helped hill tribes to build irrigation dams, increase crop yields and cover denuded hills to prevet soil erosion.

The Thai king told an interviewer that once a man came to him to complain that his wife had left him for another man after he paid two pigs and some money for her. After deliberating with the two parties involved the king reached into his wallet and paid the man compensation, something which made both parties happy. "The only trouble was I gave the money. So the woman belonged to me," the king said. He solved this problem by "bestowing" the woman to his cousin Prince Bhisatej Rajani, an important advisor for the king in the northern highlands.

From it humble start, the Royal Project has expanded significantly. Royal Project farmers now grow more than 300 crops, thanks to their training in the methods of growing new crops. The Royal Project helps them collect, distribute, and sell highland produce, while improving their quality of life through education, health care, and environmental preservation.

The dowager queen, Princess Sri Nakarindra Borom, who died in July 1995, is revered by hill tribes for the work she did to improve their lives.

King Bhumibol’s “Super Sandwich” Rainmaking Technology

The European Patent Office has issued a patent for royal rainmaking technology to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The patent was presented to His Majesty on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne. The king’s “Royal Rainmaking Textbook” — which explains the steps of the rainmaking process—and the royal rainmaking project and won a Gold Medal with Mention at Brussels Eureka 2001. Officials from Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Sri Lanka have all traveled to Thailand to receive training in the science of rainmaking to benefit farmers in their own countries.

In the early 1960s, His Majesty the King became interested in attempting to make rain to alleviate drought in various parts of Thailand. He said at the time: “Weather modification is a very useful tool to combat weather change.” After the initial research stage, the first practical experiment took place over a mountain barrier at Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in July 1969. His Majesty learned that a key factor in rainmaking was to “target” a site, much like naval artillery does. Using His Majesty’s technique to bracket clouds from aircraft flying above and below the cloud to target both warm and cool air simultaneously proved to be the most assured method of creating rain. He named the technique the “Super Sandwich” and got a patent for it.

On the 50th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presented King Bhumibol an award in recognition of his strong support for meteorological and operational hydrology. The WMO was impressed to learn that His Majesty follows the weather events very closely and imparts his knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of weather phenomena to the nation. He realizes that high-quality weather and flood forecasts and warnings will help protect the environment and lessen impacts of natural disasters. In 2002 the Thai Cabinet officially named the king as the Father of Royal Rainmaking and designated November 14 as “Father of Royal Rainmaking Day.” November 14 was chosen because His Majesty started the royal rainmaking project on 14 November 1955.

King Bhumibol's Patents and International Awards

In 2006, King Bhumibol was recognized as the “Father of Thai Innovation” after the Thai Cabinet endorsed a proposal by the Ministry of Science and Technology. At the same meeting this took place, the Cabinet designated October 5 as “National Innovation Day.” The Ministry of Science and Technology has been entrusted with promoting and supporting efforts to enhance the country’s innovation. The Father of Thai Innovation title was initially suggested as a way to recognize the King’s Klaeng Din Project in the southern border province of Narathiwat to find a solution to the problem of soil acidity. In 2000, the Thai Cabinet approved the proposal by the Office of National Identity Promotion to honor King Bhumibol as the Father of Technology of Thailand and make October 19 “Thailand’s Technology Day.”

King Bhumibol is the world's first and only monarch to hold a patent. He hold 19 patents and 20 trademarks, including one granted in 1993 for a waste water aerator named "Chai Pattana." He has been given several patents on rainmaking since 1955, including one for the "sandwich" rainmaking patent in 1999 and another for the "supersandwich," granted in 2004. He has also patented water diversion and storage technology as well as a method for turning palm oil and other crops into biogas and biofuel. All of his patenst are available to the public for free.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, King Bhumibol has been awarded more honorary academic degrees than anyone else in the world: a grand total of 136 in 1998! On top of that the King has received more than 30 international awards. His Royal Project was awarded the Tamon Magaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Novel Prize, in 1988 and the Columbo Plan Award in 2003. In 2009, the World Intellectual Property Organization awarded the king with the first WIPO Global Leaders Award.

In May 2006, King Bhumibol was presented with the United Nations’ first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award, for his efforts to human development to improve the lives of his people in Thailand. The award was presented by Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations and His Majesty the King was the first recipient of this newly-created Award.

King Bhumibol and the Environment

An active environmentalist, King Bhumibol has done his own cost-benefit analysis on the impact of power-generating dams versus coal-fired energy plants. He has also looked carefully into the effects of carbon monoxide pollution in Bangkok and on the Greenhouse Effect on his country as a whole and proposed suggestion on how to improve Bangkok’s traffic situation and air quality.

King Bhumibol has been deeply involved in water management. The Royal Rainmaking Project is credited with bringing water to drought-hit areas. Other projects include building dikes to store water and prevent flooding; introducing methods to prevent saltwater intrusion; using various kinds of plants to reduce water pollution in Bangkok’s canals; and treating wastewater through the use of aerators.

To clean up the highly polluted Makasan swamp, the King developed an inexpensive natural filter relying on water hyacinths, which have a great capacity to absorb wastes. After absorbing pollutants the saturated plants are detoxified and used as fuel, compost and material for making baskets and place mats for poor people who live around the swamp. He also introduced paddle-wheel-like devices that aerate the water in the stagnant pools of Bangkok's Bavornnives Temple. Fish have returned to Makasan swamp and turtles once again occupy the pools of Bavornnives Temple.

King Bhumibol’s Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy

As a means of addressing the widening gap between rich and poor, King Bhumibol developed the philosophy of “sufficiency economy.” Not to be confused with “self-sufficiency,” an out-dated idea practiced by the likes of North Korea and Albania, it is based on making sure that the fruits of economic growth are enjoyed by everyone not just the wealthy. Rooted in Buddhist thought and first introduced in a speech in 1974, it ains to achive these goals in a way that is “environmentally friendly and economically sustainable.” “Otherwise the social imbalance will spread and the economic policy will eventually fail,” the King said.

According to the Thai government: “His Majesty has always stressed the importance of basics, because only when the fundamentals are strong can development be sustainable. His Majesty therefore seeks to help the poor by encouraging them to start from the first step of having enough to eat and to live on” before embarking on more ambitious goals. Hence, His Majesty developed a philosophy of “sufficiency economy” as a way of life for the Thai people. The word “sufficiency” means moderation and mindfulness in all conduct, and incorporates the need for sufficiency protection from internal and external shocks. It can be applied to the entire population – whether at individual, family or community levels. At the national level, the philosophy is consistent with a balanced development strategy.

“A practical example of the application of the philosophy is “integrated farming practices according to New Theory”, which promotes step-by-step development. It starts with building a solid foundation at the family level so that people can be self-reliant without taking advantage of others. Then people can come together to undertake group, community, or even community enterprise. The aim is to strengthen the community by reducing the risk from external factors, and build connections. The end result would then be the expansion of the scope of cooperation at the national level. This task is not smooth sailing. A balanced approach combining patience, perservance, diligence, wisdom and prudence is indispensable to cope with critical challenges ahead.”

King Bhumibol tried to focus on his “sufficiency economy” during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis when he said Thais should try to live within their means and not try so hard to be an Asian economic “tiger.” In the late the 2000s the idea of “sufficiency economy” became more widely embraced by the Thai government. In 2007, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said at a press conference: “We must put more emphasis on people’s happiness rather than on GDP. We need to aim for a ‘sufficiency economy.’” Some viewed the statement though as more of a symbol of breaking away from the policies of former Prime Minister Thaksin than an affirmation of the king’s policies.

King Bhumibol , Sufficiency Economy and Social Integrity

King Bhumibol has introduced the philosophy of sufficiency economy as a way for Thailand to grow and prosper in balance with human society and the environment, It emphasizes moderation, responsible consumption and resilience and “not overdo” things by being acutely aware of ones own potentials and limits. This approach has been recognized by the United Nations. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department+]

Thailand is applying the philosophy of Sufficiency Economy, advocated and developed by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to national administration and all fields of development. This philosophy has become the country’s new approach to development strategies and policies, which are evident in the 10th National Economic and Social Development Plan, 2007-2011. It has three components: moderation, reasonableness, and a self-immunity system. +

Together with this Sufficiency Economy concept, the vision of the current National Economic and Social Development Plan also seeks to develop Thailand into a “green and happiness” society. Moreover, the Royal Thai Government has placed an emphasis on raising public awareness for leading a life of virtue to attain the goal of a more just, more equitable, and more sustainable society. It believes that promoting this emphasis in accordance with Sufficiency Economy will help build a “caring and sharing society” and lead to well-balanced and sustainable development. +

Based on common sense and rationality, Sufficiency Economy involves social integrity and is applicable to everyone at all levels, from the individual to the community and the national levels. It is important to note that Sufficiency Economy is not something that would isolate Thailand from the outside world, but would better enable the country to cope with challenges arising from globalization and other changes. +

Recognizing the work of His Majesty the King, especially his philosophy of Sufficiency Economy, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) presented the first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award to His Majesty in May 2006. Later in January 2007, it launched the Thailand Human Development Report 2007, with the theme of “Sufficiency Economy and Human Development,” spreading this philosophy to a wider international audience. +

The philosophy of Sufficiency Economy has been found in most projects initiated by His Majesty the King and it can be applied to all economic fields as well as public affairs. The Government is applying this philosophy to its development process, while many developing countries have sent delegations to study royally initiated projects on alternative development in Thailand, based on this concept. In one of his royal addresses, His Majesty cautioned that it was not important whether or not Thailand became a “tiger” or a newly industrialized economy. The important thing was to have a selfsupporting economy. A self-supporting economy means to have enough to survive. In another royal speech on 23 December 1999, His Majesty the King said that the term “Sufficiency Economy” did not exist in textbooks, as it was a new theory. It is a middle-path philosophy to achieving equitable and stable development, which is often referred to as sustainable development. The philosophy points the way for Thailand to achieve contentment through knowledge of itself. His Majesty suggested that Thai people at all levels follow the “middle path” as an appropriate model for conduct in every aspect of life. The concepts of Sufficiency Economy and sustainable development are interrelated and will lead to self-reliance. With the focus on this philosophy, Prime Minister Surayud believes that the future of Thailand will be better. +

King Bhumibol and Thai Politics

Even though as a constitutional monarch he is supposed to keep his hands out of government affairs King Bhumibol has acted very powerfully but quietly behind the scenes in Thai politics during his reign. He has served through coup d'etats, different constitutions and a revolving door of prime ministers, intervening on rare occasions such as in 1973 when he spearhead a drive to change the government after 70 students were killed in protests that turned violent. When one interviewer asked what his job was he said, "the soul of the nation."

King Bhumibol has favored both elected and military administrations through his interventions in Thai politics, acting as a kind of moral counterpoint to Thailand’s sleazy politics as usual. Mostly he has chosen to operate behind the scenes but will come out with bold public statements or actions in times of crisis. A noodle vendor told Philip Shenon of the New York Times, "No one trusts the politicians on any subject, but everyone believes the King. He is the only one we can trust." "If the military tried to get rid of him," a Thai scholar said about the King, "you would have millions of Thais ripping the, apart with their bare hands."

In a rare interview in 1979, King Bhumibol told the BBC, “We keep in the middle, neutral, in peaceful coexistence with everybody. We could be crushed by both sides but we are impartial. One day it will be very handy to have someone impartial.” He has said that staying above the fray of politics has been a key to his longevity on the throne. “Without it I would probably be dead,” he said.

King Bhumibol has spoken out about environmental issues, over-reliance on foreign investment and even Bangkok’s traffic. The year before the celebration of his 50 years on throne, he said: "The king has a right to make political remarks. He is a Thai citizen and has rights and freedoms under the Constitution. Each of you is under the Constitution, and so is the King. I am using my freedom under the Constitution.” Politicians he said, "keep talking, talking, talking, and they keep opposing each other." Once, after the King complained about the traffic situation in Bangkok, Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa held an emergency meeting to address the traffic problem.

King Bhumibol once said: "Thailand was built on compassion." "A constitutional monarch,” he said on another occasion, “must change with the country but at the same time he must keep the spirit of the country. That means that all the people who compose a country have different characters, but the common character of the people be embodied by the King." Another time he said: "They say that a kingdom is like a pyramid: the king on top and the people below. But in this country it's upside down. That is what I sometimes have a pain around here" he said while pointing his neck and shoulders.

King Bhumibol and the Pro-Democracy Protests in 1973 and 1992

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: “Some analysts worry that palace intervention in time of crisis may impede the maturation of democratic institutions. But each time, his action has proven decisive, such as in 1992 when he helped end the military's bloody suppression of pro-democracy riots by castigating the prime minister and his chief adversary on national television, prompting a return to civilian rule. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, May 28, 2006]

"When there is a political void, when there is a real imminent threat to democratic rule, then he would use his reserve power to show the way, to provide the guiding light or possible answer to a crisis,"said Anand Panyarachun, who has twice been prime minister. His tremendous sway with his subjects resides less in law than in the respect he has accumulated by keeping a disinterested distance from the rough and tumble of Thailand's often unsavory politics.

Violent protests in Bangkok in October 1973 that left 77 people dead and 444 injured ended— along with the government of Thanom Kittikachorn— when, against the advise of his bodyguards, King Bhumibol ordered the gates of the Grand Palace to be opened to students being shot at by the army. The King called Thanom and his cabinet to Chitralada Palace for talks. In the evening, the king went on television and radio to announce a compromise solution: Thanom had resigned as prime minister but would remain as supreme commander of the armed forces. In consultation with student leaders, the king appointed Sanya Dharmasakti (Sanya Thammasak) as interim prime minister, with instructions to draft a new constitution. Sanya, a civilian conservative, was the rector of Thammasat University and known to be sympathetic to the students' position. On October 15, Thanom, Praphat, and Narong--dubbed Thailand's "three most hated men"-- were allowed to leave the country in secret, the king overruling student militants who wanted to put them on trial. Their departure was announced to the public only after they had left the country, Praphat and Narong for Taiwan and Thanom initially for the United States. [Source: Library of Congress]

Riots in 1992—when at least 52 students and civilians were killed by the army and hundreds were injured—ended hours after soldiers opened fire when King Bhumibol invited the Prime Minister and the leader of the democracy movement to a meeting in his palace. The televised meeting showed Suchinda Kraprayoon, the prime minister, a former army general, prostrating himself and approaching the king by crawling on his knees. The king told political leaders "to desist from confrontation and to embrace conciliation." Afterwards the violence ended and Suchinda resigned. The crackdown made the military very unpopular and gave democracy a big push.

King Bhumibol and the Coup That Ousted Thaksin in 2006

Exasperated by the chaos that followed the April 2006 general elections won by Thaksin Shinawatra, King Bhumibol rebuked the ruling party, the opposition and the country's judges. In a television address the king called Thailand’s political situation a “mess” and put part of the blame on the opposition for boycotting the election. He said it was “impossible for a democratic election to have one party, one man” and suggested that courts could end the impasse by nullifying the vote and ordering new elections. Bhumibol said it would be unconstitutional for him to act on a "whim" and appoint a new prime minister. He bluntly told the judges to do their duty, "so that the country survives," or resign. It was the king’s first direct political intervention since 1992 and was advice that couldn’t be refused.

"If the judges don't annul the election, they'd be going against the king's wishes, and that's unthinkable in Thailand," Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, told the Washington Post . Within two weeks, the country's constitutional court ordered a new election. The court invalidated the vote on the grounds the election was undemocratic and unconstitutional. Judges met and came to this conclusion after a meeting with King Bhumibol in which he said he could not produce a solution to the crisis. The essence of the king's message to the Thai people, former prime minister Anand Panyarachun said, was, "Don't pass the buck to me. There is a mess. You've got to clean up the mess. Don't expect me to come and rescue you." Yet that's exactly what the king did.

In a speech in June marking his 60th year on the throne, King Bhumibol called for unity, but also called for clean government, widely read as a swipe at Thaksin corruption. Earlier after protesters demonstrated against Thaksin corruption and cronyism the king summoned Thaksin to his palace. Afterwards Thaksin said he would not run in th next election because, he said “this year is an auspicious year for the King, and I want all Thais to unite.” In July 2006, three election commissioners were sentenced to four years in prison for mishandling the parliament elections and allowing unqualified candidate st run for office. The commissioners were widely seen as allies of Thaksin. Three other poll commissioners were sentenced to two years in jail two months later. In September 2006, Thaksin was ousted in military-back “pro-democracy coup.” King Bhumibol gave his blessing to the move (some think his privy council had a hand in staging the coup).

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, 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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