Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Last Slaves: French filmmakers and ARTE TV take a hard look at slavery in Africa and the Middle East

Note: see updates below for July 1st, 9th, 15th, and 19th re: important information about these films

I’ve been eagerly following some recent work (film, writing) on the history of slavery in North Africa and the Middle East, in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A scholarly, open, and honest discussion about the history of slavery of black Africans in Islamic countries over 1400 years is both rare and valuable. The same can be said about scholars who research the trading of slaves between African kingdoms over many centuries and the participation of African slavers and monarchs in the booming trade across the Atlantic.

The French-German cultural TV network ARTE.TV aired throughout June 2008 several feature programs about the history of black Africans throughout the world, including such classics as Roots and short biography of Malcom X. The series of special programs is titled FREEDOM and additional info about the series can be found at the ARTE.TV website address:,CmC=2032338.html

The programs are available in both French and German languages and the ARTE +7 online video website provides full length videos of each program for a period of seven days after the original program broadcast dates.

My readers from France and Germany and those with good German and French language skills can dig right in by following the links to the ARTE.TV websites provided below. In the meantime I will work on English translations of the German language text below, “Meschenhandel – Ein welweites Verbrechen” (Human Trafficking – A Worldwide Crime), “Die letzten Sklaven” (The Last Slaves), and “Sklaven für den Orient” (Slaves for the Orient). When the translations are complete I will publish the information in English to Jewels ASAP.

As the ARTE +7 video service will terminate the availability of the films “Die letzten Sklaven” and “Sklaven für den Orient” online after July 1st (films originally aired on June 24th), please visit the ARTE TV website ASAP to enjoy the work of the French filmmakers and the discussions and interviews with leading African and European scholars and activists that helped to make these excellent documentaries about the slave trade in Africa and the Middle East possible. For readers in Europe who receive ARTE TV programs via cable or satellite, the two documentaries will be repeated on July 3, 2008 starting at 10:00 AM CET.

Update July 15th

The links to the ARTE TV streaming video files for the two documentaries referenced below have expired on the ARTE +7 website. Fortunately I have found a website that is hosting the full 45-minute version of the film "Sklaven für den Orient" (Slaves for the Orient). Online access to the documentary is free, no sign-up is required to view a five minute preview of the documentary, and you can (presumably) access the film from anywhere on the planet (unlike the ARTE +7 video archives). The full video file can be downloaded to your PC for viewing offline (see instructions at

So, please visit the new Veoh Internet TV website and checkout Sklaven für den Orient (French & German language) by filmmaker Antoine Vitkine. For those readers living in France, Germany, and countries listed in my July 1st Update (see below), the documentary "Sklaven für den Orient" will repeat on ARTE TV network (cable, satellite) Friday, July 18th at 11:05 CET (see more info here).

Last but by all means not least, Sociolingo's Africa blog has a fine post about the continuation of modern-day slavery in Mali. Please read Mali: 21st Century Slavery at Sociolingo's Africa, a featured cover story at the UNHCR's IRIN News website.

IRIN News - a Hear Our Voices special feature
Mali: Thousands still live in slavery in north (Gao, 14 July 2008)

Update July 19th

I tried to find some information online today about the 20th Century journalist Joseph Kessel and his 1930 report for the French newspaper Le Matin. Kessel is the author of the book 'Marchés D'esclaves' (Slave Markets) which was featured at the beginning of the documentary film 'Slaves for the Orient' referenced above and below.

Most of the information online about Kessel is in the French language (my bad luck, my French language skills are very elementary) but I did find a report written in English that references Kessel's travels to Africa and Arabia in the early part of the twentieth century. Here is a link and a excerpt to that testimony before the British House of Lords in 1931.

Source: Hansard 1803-2005 (UK) Official records of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament

Excerpt from Hansard's Archives, Earl Buxton speaking, Lords Sitting of July 22, 1931:

The next country to which I wish to refer and in which the position is a very difficult one is Arabia. There is incontestable evidence from all hands that the worst slavery and the worst slave-trade are carried on in parts of Arabia and further east than that. The Temporary Commission reported very strongly as to the existence of the slave trade and slavery in many parts of Arabia. We have had recently the evidence of Mr. Eldon Rutter, Mr. Bertram Thomas and Mr. Joseph Kessel, who have all recently travelled through this country enquiring into the matter. All of them agree as to the very serious position which still exists there. It is true that at one time there were many public places at which slaves were sold like merchandise, and the evidence goes to show that to a certain extent these public sales are not so frequent as they used to be. But Mr. Rutter says that there are centres in towns and villages where slaves are sold privately; in other places dealers keep a definite stock of slaves, or there are agents who dispose of any slaves that anyone desires to sell.

§ He goes on to say this—and I think your Lordships will bear with me if I quote his words—in regard to the present position as to the supply of slaves, that there are three ways of keeping up the supply of human merchandise in Arabia. First, he says, there is breeding for the market. The Sudan and Abyssinia have furnished such a vast number of slaves during the passage of years that their children are to a great extent sufficient to meet the demand. The child of a slave woman, even if the father be free, remains a slave and becomes part of the estate and can be sold separately. Secondly, he says, there is the slave trade. This consists of bringing the human cargo to the Arabian coast by the desert and by clandestine routes and then despatching by caravans to the great towns of the Hejaz. This Mr. Kessel describes as "risky."

§ He gives a case which, if I may read it, will serve to show what the risks are. He says that he was speaking to the owner of a dhow and that the dhow owner told him this: One day a little while ago a warship chased me. This was overtaking my dhow. There was scarcely any wind and there was no narrow channel where I could find refuge. Then I threw a slave into the water and the warship stopped to pick him up. I increased the distance between us and three times I did the same thing. I got off by this trick. How is it"— said the dhow owner thoughtfully— that the strangers are so fond of slaves that they would lose such a fine dhow as mine to save a slave? That shows, at all events, that the trade still exists.

§ Thirdly, Mr. Kessel says that there is what is called the pilgrim method, which is less dangerous but almost more infamous. The slaves are embarked well within the regulations as pilgrims, but they never return. It also comes about that parents who have taken their whole family to the Sacred City are beggared by the exploitation of faith practised there, and sell their children in order to have money with which to return. This is confirmed by other witnesses who have also seen the same thing in regard to the Mecca pilgrims. There is no doubt that Arabia is one of the most difficult parts to deal with. It is very scattered and there is a restless population to deal with and control.

End excerpt___

Update July 1st

I've just learned today from one of my readers in the States (USA) that the following message appears at the ARTE +7 website:

"Um dieses Video zu sehen, müssen Sie in Deutschland, Frankreich, Guadeloupe, Französisch-Guayana, Martinique, Reunion, Französisch-Polynesien, St. Pierre und Miquelon, Wallis und Futuna, Mayotte, Neukaledonien oder Französische Südgebiete wohnen. Wir bitten Sie um Ihr Verständnis."

Translation (English): In order to view this video you must reside in Germany, France, Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique, Reunion, etc. etc. ... We ask for your understanding.

What a bummer! It is not understandable why such an excellent TV network like ARTE would restrict access to online visitors from countries other than those listed above. I'll try to get to the bottom of this and get back to my readers. ENDE

Update July 9th:

While doing a bit of follow-up research today on these documentaries I came across a post about the ARTE TV special on Menschenhandel (slavery, human trafficking) over at Spreeblick, a top German blogger based out of Berlin. One of Spreeblick's readers, Van, has provided URL's to the streaming video files hosted at ARTE +7 and they are still working past the online viewing cutoff date of July 1st. Note: online streaming video access is unfortunately no longer available as of July 15th.

In the meantime I will work on those promised translations of the German text to English about these documentaries and throw in some extras (historical research and articles) on the subject to boot. So if you are really interested in learning more about the history of black slavery in the Middle East and on the African continent, stay tuned.

The film “Sklaven für den Orient” is loaded with rare documentary film footage and photographs about the history of the slavery of black Africans in the Arab and Islamic world and on the continent of Africa. “Die letzten Sklaven” by filmmakers Sophie Jeaneau and Anna Kwak is a riveting account about the efforts to free a modern-day slave held in captivity in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

ARTE.TV – Geschicte & Gesellschaft – Themenabend June 24, 2008
Menschenhandel - Ein weltweites Verbrechen

Es ist kaum zu glauben, aber weil sie die ganze, ungekürzte und umfassende Geschichte der Sklaverei aufrollen und erzählen wollten, wurden französische Historiker vor kurzem an den Pranger gestellt. Doch die Fakten lassen sich nicht einfach von der Hand weisen und wegdiskutieren. Tatsächlich war der innerafrikanische Handel mit Menschen mindestens ebenso verbreitet wie der von den Europäern organisierte Sklavenhandel von Afrika in überseeische Kolonien. Jahrhunderte lang wurden Sklaven aus Schwarzafrika in den Orient verkauft. Die Sklaverei ist eine zähe Tradition, die sich beispielsweise in Mauretanien bis heute gehalten hat.

Der Themenabend will die grausame Tatsache des Sklavenhandels, den die Europäer nach Amerika organisierten, nicht relativieren. Aber er will auch andere, "tabuisierte" Formen des Menschenhandels und der Sklaverei benennen. Neben einer Dokumentation über die Jahrtausende alte Tradition der Sklaverei in Mauretanien ist ein Beitrag über den noch zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts betriebenen innerafrikanischen Menschenhandel zu sehen. Den Abschluss des Themenabends bildet eine Gesprächsrunde, moderiert von Daniel Leconte.

Menschenhandel – Ein weltweites Verbrechen

Die letzten Sklaven

Das westafrikanische Land Mauretanien ist die letzte Hochburg der Sklaverei. Schon viermal wurden dort Menschenhandel und Versklavung offiziell abgeschafft, aber verändert hat sich im Grunde nichts. Doch nun gibt es einen Hoffnungsschimmer: Die junge Generation lehnt sich gegen Sklaverei und Menschenhandel auf, und das sowohl auf Seiten der Sklaven als auch auf der der so genannten "Herren".

Die Islamische Republik Mauretanien, im August 2007: Der neue Präsident der Republik, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, verabschiedet ein Gesetz, das Sklaverei unter Strafe stellt. Bereits zum vierten Mal wird in Mauretanien offiziell die Haltung von Sklaven "abgeschafft". Daraus lässt sich im Umkehrschluss folgern, dass die Sklaverei in diesem Land der Sahelzone zwischen Maghreb und Schwarzafrika bis vor knapp einem Jahr noch toleriert wurde.

In Mauretanien gehört die Sklaverei zum System. Eine Jahrtausende alte Tradition will, dass jeder Mensch hier als "Herr" oder "Sklave" zur Welt kommt. Weder Gesetz noch Staat konnten diesen Brauch bisher unterbinden. Die Sklaven gehören zu Haus und Gut ihres Herrn. Sie erledigen die niedrigen Arbeiten, während ihre «Herren» Schöngeister, Geschäftsleute, Beamte und Intellektuelle sind. Auf diesem althergebrachten System baut die gesamte mauretanische Gesellschaft auf, sowohl in der "maurischen", Arabisch sprechenden als auch in der schwarzafrikanischen Gemeinschaft. Um einen Aufstand der Sklaven zu vermeiden, werden diese von ihren Sklavenhaltern mit religiösen Argumenten eingeschüchtert: Wer fliehe, komme in die Hölle.

Biram, Boubacar, Aminetou, Mohammed Lémine und Messaoud stammen aus beiden Lagern, Sklaven und «Herren». Sie haben jetzt den Mut aufgebracht, sich dem System zu verweigern. Ihr Ziel besteht darin, das Land von der Geißel der Sklaverei zu befreien. Auf ihnen ruht die Hoffnung, dass in Mauretanien die Sklaverei bald tatsächlich der Vergangenheit angehört.

(Frankreich, 2008, 45mn)
ARTE F - Regie: Sophie Jeaneau, Anna Kwak

Die Letzten Sklaven (video program available online June 24 – July 1, 2008 at ARTE +7)

Sklaven für den Orient

Über den grausamen Handel der Europäer mit afrikanischen Sklaven nach Amerika ist allgemein vieles bekannt und von Historikern wissenschaftlich dokumentiert. Doch bis heute ist es tabu, darüber zu sprechen, dass, Schätzungen zufolge, im Laufe der Jahrhunderte insgesamt allein 17 Millionen Afrikaner gefangen genommen und als Sklaven in die muslimische Welt verkauft wurden. Die Dokumentation versucht nachzuvollziehen, warum dieses Thema ebenso wie der Sklavenhandel zwischen afrikanischen Ländern bis in die heutige Zeit ein Tabu geblieben ist.

Jeder weiß Bescheid über den von den Europäern organisierten Sklavenhandel von Afrika nach Amerika und über die elf Millionen Afrikaner, die unter schlimmsten Bedingungen wie Vieh auf Sklavenschiffen verfrachtet wurden. Dieser Menschenhandel ist heute Gegenstand einer aktiven Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Weniger bekannt ist jedoch der Verkauf von Sklaven aus Schwarzafrika in den Orient und in die arabisch-muslimische Welt. Schätzungen zufolge wurden im Laufe von 14 Jahrhunderten insgesamt 17 Millionen Afrikaner als Sklaven in muslimische Länder verkauft.

Außerdem befasst sich die Dokumentation mit dem der Öffentlichkeit noch weniger bekannten innerafrikanischen Menschenhandel, den afrikanische Königreiche Jahrhunderte lang betrieben - lange bevor die Europäer die afrikanischen Küsten für sich entdeckten. Ferner veranschaulicht die Dokumentation durch bisher unveröffentlichte Fotos, dass der Sklavenhandel in der muslimischen Welt und Schwarzafrika bis in die Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts weiterblühte.

Wie wurden die Sklaven gefangen genommen? Welche Arbeiten mussten sie verrichten? Diese und andere Fragen beantworten die Experten Salah Trabelsi, Ibrahima Thioub, Henri Medard und Mohamed Ennaji. Die arabischen und afrikanischen Historiker erläutern, warum die Geschichte des Sklavenhandels in der afrikanischen und muslimischen wie in der westlichen Welt ein heikles Thema ist und bleibt. Dahinter stehen diverse Ängste: Angst davor, den Sklavenhandel nach Amerika zu banalisieren, Rachegedanken zu schüren und des Rassismus oder der Kolonisierung beschuldigt zu werden - alles Gründe, die einer Vergangenheitsbewältigung heute noch im Wege stehen.

(Frankreich, 2008, 45mn)
ARTE F - Regie: Antoine Vitkine

Sklaven für den Orient (Les esclaves oubliés) by Antoine Vitkine, France 2008

Documentary preview and full length video at Veoh Network

Slaves for the Orient (Les esclaves oubliés, Sklaven für den Orient) by Antoine Vitkine (program description, French and German languages)

More information about ARTE.TV documentaries and cultural programs can be found at the ARTE +7 website and the ARTE TV website (French and German language).

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Prominent African Leaders Publish Open Letter for Free and Fair Elections in Zimbabwe

It’s not everyday that I receive a request from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to help out with an urgent initiative to support good governance in Africa, but that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday this week. My friend Risha Chande who works for the foundation sent a message asking for help. Risha was formerly employed at Panos London and a key staffer behind the wonderful AfricaVox Project for the 2007 G8 Summit at Heiligendamm, Germany. Therefore I am breaking my 8 week pause from writing and publishing to Jewels in the Jungle in order to lend a helping hand to all of the people of Zimbabwe who are fighting for the right to free and fair elections in their country, many having to pay a heavy price with their very lives.

Mo Ibrahim Foundation* (founded by Mo Ibrahim, one of Africa’s most successful telecommunications entrepreneurs) and the Kofi Annan Foundation (I cannot seem to find anything online about a new foundation founded by the former Secretary-General of the UN) have teamed up with a long list of prominent African political, civic, and social leaders to write and publish an open letter calling for free and fair elections in the upcoming June 27th runoff poll in Zimbabwe. Among the signatories are outstanding world leaders such as the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai (Kenya), Bishop Desmond Tutu (South Africa), Professor Kwame Appiah of Princeton University (Ghana), and Anglican Church Archbishop of York, John Sentamu (Uganda).

Note*: You can read more about the
Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership at the foundation’s website. Also see the transcript from “How to Rank Good Governance: The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achivement in African Leadership” (a 2007 Bookings Institution conference) and read this 2006 article about the launch of the prize at the BBC News online.

The open letter along with other information can be found at the
Zimbabwe 27 June Campaign website ( The organizers and signatories need our help (blog authors, blog readers, and the global online community). You can visit the website and add your name to the open letter in support of this important initiative by some of Africa’s most respected leaders and scholars. If you are an online author, journalist, or simply someone who publishes stuff to your personal website on a regular basis, you should write about the Zimbabwe 27 June Campaign and include a link to the campaign’s website in your posts, news articles, or on your social networking site.

It is about time that a group of Africa’s prominent leaders, especially leaders who are truly working hard to promote democracy, good governance, and the rule of law in sub-Saharan African countries, step forward and speak out strongly against the violence and terror orchestrated by Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF goons and thugs. Zimbabwe’s neighbors including South Africa’s President
Thabo Mbeki and ANC President Jacob Zuma along with key leaders of South African Development Community member countries have been able to accomplish absolutely nothing with their so-called “soft diplomacy” toward Robert Mugabe’s reign of terror.

It is time for Mugabe and his generals to give up their death grip on the people of Zimbabwe and the people of the Southern Africa region. This man is a disgusting example of leadership and a disgrace to Africans everywhere. Mugabe and his cadre of generals and other criminals need to step down and prepare for exile in the country of one of their close allies (China is a good choice as the government in Beijing has been supporting this despotic lowlife for years).

At present the Zimbabwe opposition leader
Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC Party leaders are considering a possible withdrawal from the June 27th poll in the face of the mounting violence and increase of cold-blooded murder of its party members and helpless citizens all across Zimbabwe. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice turned up the heat on Robert Mugabe during a special closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council meeting on June 19th but I doubt that her attempts will amount to very much. The top UN political official, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe, issued a statement after the UNSC meeting that the violence in Zimbabwe was “unacceptable” which is diplomatic talk meaning that the organization is prepared to do (absolutely) nothing to stop the election violence in Zimbabwe and the theft of the will the Zimbabwean people.

Below is the text from the Open Letter organized by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Kofi Annan Foundation as it appeared in the press release of June 13, 2008:

African civil society leaders unite to call for free and fair election process in Zimbabwe

H.E. Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Wangari Maathai among those calling for an end to violence and intimidation in the run up to June 27 presidential run-off

Friday, June 13th 2008 – Prominent African leaders from across civil society are today issuing a public call for an end to violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe ahead of the presidential run-off elections at the end of the month.

In an open letter which is published today and signed by former heads of state, business leaders, academics and leading campaigners, the group calls for appropriate conditions to be met so that the second round of the presidential election is conducted in a peaceful and transparent manner that allows the citizens of Zimbabwe to express freely their political will.

Civil society groups and individual citizens are invited to counter-sign the letter at a special website

The full text of the letter says:

It is crucial for the interests of both Zimbabwe and Africa that the upcoming elections are free and fair.

Zimbabweans fought for liberation in order to be able to determine their own future. Great sacrifices were made during the liberation struggle. To live up to the aspirations of those who sacrificed, it is vital that nothing is done to deny the legitimate expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.

As Africans we consider the forthcoming elections to be critical. We are aware of the attention of the world. More significantly we are conscious of the huge number of Africans who want to see a stable, democratic and peaceful Zimbabwe.

Consequently, we are deeply troubled by the current reports of intimidation, harassment and violence. It is vital that the appropriate conditions are created so that the Presidential run-off is conducted in a peaceful, free and fair manner. Only then can the political parties conduct their election campaigning in a way that enables the citizens to express freely their political will.

In this context, we call for an end to the violence and intimidation, and the restoration of full access for humanitarian and aid agencies.

To this end it will be necessary to have an adequate number of independent electoral observers, both during the election process and to verify the results.

Whatever the outcome of the election, it will be vital for all Zimbabweans to come together in a spirit of reconciliation to secure Zimbabwe’s future.

We further call upon African leaders at all levels – pan-African, regional and national - and their institutions to ensure the achievement of these objectives.

The signatories are:

Abdusalami Alhaji Abubakar - Former President of Nigeria (1998-1999)

Kofi Annan - Former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2007), Nobel Laureate and member of The Elders

Professor Kwame Appiah - Laurence S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University

Boutros Boutros-Ghali - Former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-1997)

Lakhdar Brahimi - Former United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq and South Africa, member of The Elders

Pierre Buyoya - Former President of Burundi (1987-1993, 1996-2003)

Joaquim Chissano - Former President of Mozambique (1986-2005)

Achmat Dangor - Author and Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund

John Githongo - Former Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics in Kenya

Richard Goldstone - Former Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

Mo Ibrahim - Founder of Celtel International and Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Sam Jonah - Former Chief Executive of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation

William Kalema - Chairman of the Uganda Investment Authority

Kenneth David Kaunda - Former President of Zambia (1964 - 1991)

Angelique Kidjo - Musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Wangari Maathai - Founder of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Laureate

Graça Machel - President of the Foundation for Community Development and member of The Elders

Thabo Cecil Makgoba - Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

Ketumile Masire - Former President of Botswana (1980-1998)

Moeletsi Mbeki - Deputy Chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs

Benjamin William Mkapa - Former President of Tanzania (1995-2005)

Festus Mogae - Former President of Botswana (1998-2008)

António Mascarenhas Monteiro - Former President of Cape Verde (1991-2001)

Elson Bakili Muluzi - Former President of Malawi (1994-2004)

Ali Hassan Mwinyi - Former President of Tanzania (1985-1995)

Kumi Naidoo - Secretary General of CIVICUS

Domitien Ndayizeye - Former President of Burundi (2003 - 2005)

Babacar Ndiaye - Former President of the African Development Bank

Youssou N'Dour -
Musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Njongonkulu Ndungane - Former Archbishop of Cape Town and Founder of the African Monitor

Moustapha Niasse - Former Prime Minister of Senegal (1983, 2000-2001)

Loyiso Nongxa - Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand

Karl Offmann - Former President of Mauritius (2002-2003)

Mamphela Ramphele - Former Managing Director of the World Bank and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town

Jerry John Rawlings - Former President of Ghana (1993-2001)

Johann Rupert - Chairman of Remgro Limited

Mohammed Sahnoun - Former UN/OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region of Africa and former Assistant Secretary-General of the OAU

Salim Ahmed Salim - Former Prime Minister of Tanzania (1994-1995) and former Secretary-General of the OAU (1989-2001)

John Sentamu - Archbishop of York
Nicéphore Dieudonné Soglo - Former President of Benin (1991-1996)

Miguel Trovoada - Former President of São Tomé and Príncipe (1991-2001)

Desmond Tutu - Nobel Laureate and Chairman of The Elders

Cassam Uteem - Former President of Mauritius (1992-2002)

Zwelinzima Vavi - General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions

Joseph Sinde Warioba - Former Prime Minister of Tanzania (1985-1990)

Notes to editors:

All the signatories are African and have added their signatures in a personal capacity rather than in their organisational role

The public are invited to endorse the letter at the following website:

This is an African initiative supported by an African Foundation, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation

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