Sitiveni Rabuka

Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka[3] CF OBE OStJ MSD (Fijian: [sitʃiˈβeni ramˈbuka]; born 13 September 1948) is a Fijian politician who has served as Prime Minister of Fiji since 24 December 2022.[4] He was the instigator of two military coups in 1987. He was democratically elected as Prime Minister of Fiji, serving from 1992 to 1999, and again in 2022, leading a three-party coalition. He also served as Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs from 1999 to 2001, and later as Chairman of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council from 2001 to 2008.

Sitiveni Rabuka
CF OBE OStJ MSD
Rabuka in 2020
Prime Minister of Fiji
Assumed office
24 December 2022
PresidentWiliame Katonivere
Deputy
  • Manoa Kamikamica
  • Viliame Gavoka
  • Biman Prasad
Preceded byFrank Bainimarama
In office
2 June 1992  19 May 1999
President
Preceded byRatu Sir Kamisese Mara
Succeeded byMahendra Chaudhry
Leader of the Opposition
In office
26 November 2018  7 December 2020
Prime MinisterFrank Bainimarama
Preceded byTeimumu Kepa
Succeeded byRatu Naiqama Lalabalavu
1st Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs
In office
1999–2001
Preceded byRatu Finau Mara[lower-alpha 1]
Succeeded byRatu Epeli Ganilau
5th Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces
In office
1987–1992
Preceded byRatu Epeli Nailatikau
Succeeded byRatu Epeli Ganilau
Chairman of the Cakaudrove Provincial Council
In office
24 May 2001  2008
Preceded byRatu Inoke Kubuabola
Succeeded byEmitai Boladuadua
Leader of SODELPA
In office
24 June 2016  28 November 2020
Preceded byTeimumu Kepa
Succeeded byViliame Gavoka
Member for Cakaudrove West
In office
1999–2001
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byManasa Tugia
Personal details
Born (1948-09-13) 13 September 1948
Cakaudrove, Colony of Fiji
Political partyPeople's Alliance (2021–present)
Other political
affiliations
Spouse
Suluweti Tuiloma
(m. 1975)
Nicknames
Military service
Allegiance
Branch/serviceFijian Army
Years of service1968–1991
RankMajor General
CommandsFijian Battalion
Battles/warsLebanese Civil War
Awards

Rabuka was elected as leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party in 2016, succeeding Leader of the Opposition Ro Teimumu Kepa, who publicly disapproved of Rabuka's nomination to replace her.[5] He was appointed as the leader of the Opposition to Parliament in 2018, following the 2018 election defeat. He was the only nomination for the position, and his nomination was moved by Ro Teimumu Kepa and seconded by Biman Prasad.[6] He was ousted as SODELPA leader by Viliame Gavoka in a leadership contest.[7] Rabuka resigned from parliament in 2020, citing that he would no longer be an obstacle to the bipartisan approach to be taken by the leaders of Fiji to create harmony and progress, and unity in Fiji.[8] He formed a new political party in 2020, named Peoples Alliance, to contest the 2022 election.[9]

Early life

The son of Kolinio Epeli Vanuacicila Rabuka and Salote Lomaloma Rabuka, he comes from the village of Drekeniwai on Vanua Levu, one of Fiji's two major islands. He was educated at Queen Victoria School, where he became the head boy in his final year. He represented Fiji in shot put, hammer throw, discus and the decathlon at the 1974 British Commonwealth Games.[10]

Military career

Rabuka was trained initially in New Zealand army schools, from which he graduated in 1973, and completed a professional development course at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[11] He did postgraduate work at the Indian Defence Services Staff College in 1979, and at the Australian Joint Services Staff College in 1982.[12] He was a senior operation plans manager for UNIFIL peacekeeping troops in Lebanon in 1980 and 1981.[13] On his return home, he was appointed Army Chief of Staff. From 1982 to 1987, he was an operations and training officer for the Fijian army, except for a two-year absence (1983–1985) when he commanded the Fijian Battalion as part of the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping force in the Sinai.[12]

For his service in Lebanon, Rabuka was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1980, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1981 Birthday Honours List.[14][15]

1987 Fijian coups d'état

Rabuka, by now a colonel, emerged suddenly from obscurity on 14 May 1987 when he staged the first of two military coups to reassert ethnic Fijian supremacy, following the 1987 election, which had brought an Indo-Fijian (ethnic Indian)-dominated government to power. Deposing the elected government, he handed power over to the governor-general, Penaia Ganilau, a high chief whom he expected to implement ethnic Fijian interests. When, however, Ganilau attempted to reinstate the abrogated constitution, Rabuka carried out a second coup on 28 September that year. At first he pledged his allegiance to the Queen, but on 7 October he issued a decree (Declaration – Republic of Fiji Decree 1987 No. 8)[16] proclaiming a republic, abolishing the 113-year link to the British Monarchy. He handed over power on 5 December to an interim administration, headed by Ganilau as President and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara as Prime Minister, but remained Commander of the Army and Minister of Home Affairs, the National Youth Service, and the Auxiliary Army Service. Ganilau and Mara did not feel strong enough to dismiss Rabuka, but the public support they enjoyed as high chiefs was such that he did not feel strong enough to depose them. An uneasy truce existed between Ganilau and Mara on the one hand and Rabuka on the other.

Rabuka was seen as a hero by the Indigenous members when he overthrew Fiji's first Indian government to install an indigenous Fijian ruling class.[17] During the time of the coup, Rabuka was sometimes referred to in the press as "Colonel Steve Rambo."

In 2006, Rabuka finally apologised for having executed the coups. Fiji Live reported on 28 March that Rabuka had told India's Ahmedabad Newsline, while visiting India for medical treatment, that he regretted his role in the coups, which he described as "democratically wrong."[18]

Political career

Prime Minister of Fiji (1992–1999)

Following the adoption in 1990 of a new constitution that guaranteed ethnic Fijian domination of the political system, Rabuka was chosen to lead the newly formed Soqosoqo ni Vakavulewa ni Taukei in 1991. This party won the parliamentary election of 1992 and Rabuka became Prime Minister. His government was weakened from the outset, however, by a leadership challenge by former Finance Minister Josefata Kamikamica. In 1994, Kamikamica left the party with five of his supporters, depriving Rabuka of a parliamentary majority. A parliamentary election to resolve the impasse was held three years early; the Fijian Political Party won a plurality but fell two seats short of an absolute majority in the 70-member House of Representatives. Rabuka formed a coalition with the small General Voters Party, a small party supported almost entirely by general electors, who comprised Europeans, Chinese, and other minorities. He also agreed to negotiate with moderate leaders of the Indo-Fijian community to draft a controversial new Constitution, which removed most of the provisions that had biased the political system in favour of indigenous Fijians.

The elections of 1999 were the first in many years to see real competition between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians for power. Rabuka lost these elections, and was replaced by Mahendra Chaudhry, the first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister.

2000 Fijian coup d'état

Following his electoral defeat, Rabuka was elected Chairman of the Great Council of Chiefs. He was forced to relinquish this post in 2001, however, in the wake of allegations made against him by former President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of complicity in the Fiji coup of 2000, which deposed both Mara and the Indo-Fijian Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, on 19 May 2000. Claiming that the coup leader George Speight – who was then in custody and was later convicted of treason – was only a front, Mara appeared on the Close-Up television program on 30 April 2001 and revealed that on 21 May 2000, two days after the coup, he had confronted Rabuka and Isikia Savua, the police chief, about their possible involvement in it. "I could see it in their faces," Mara declared. Ratu Mara told the programme that within half an hour of Speight's forcible occupation of the Parliament, Rabuka had telephoned Government House (the official residence of the President) to offer to form a government. He further alleged that the Counter Revolutionary Warfare Unit of the Army had been involved in the coup after receiving training on a farm owned by Rabuka.

In an interview with Fiji's Daily Post on 2 July 2001, Rabuka angrily denied the allegations, saying that they were the ravings of "an angry old man" and "very unbecoming of a national leader and of a statesman." The charges, however, were repeated on the floor of the Senate on 23 October 2004 by Adi Koila Nailatikau, Mara's daughter.

Former Attorney-General Sir Vijay Singh published a memoir in 2006, supporting the allegations against Rabuka. Fiji Village quoted Singh on 18 August 2006 as saying, at the launch of his memoir, "Speaking Out", that Rabuka had told him personally that he was one of the ring-leaders and that real target of the coup was not the Chaudhry government, but Ratu Mara, and that Mara had voiced his own suspicions about Rabuka to Singh. "On Monday (following the Friday coup) I had a telephone conversation with the President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. He had no doubts that it was Mr Sitiveni Rabuka and Mr Isikia Savua", the then Commissioner of Police "who had organised the miserable affair at parliamentary complex," Singh said. Rabuka refused to comment on Singh's allegations, citing sub judice.

Alleged role in 2000 mutiny

Rabuka was also accused of instigating or supporting the mutiny that took place at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks on 2 November 2000. In an interview with the Fiji Times on 12 November 2000, the Military Commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama charged that while the revolt was in progress, Rabuka had visited the barracks with his army uniform in the car, ready to take over command of the army. He also allegedly started issuing orders to soldiers. "Rabuka's words to one of my colonels at the height of the shootings raised my suspicions," Bainimarama said. "He said the Colonel should listen to his instructions. He also criticised my leadership." Bainimarama accused Rabuka of leading soldiers astray by using "confusing" and "deceiving" words.

Bainimarama also accused Rabuka of having "politicised" the Counter Revolutionary Warfare (CRW) unit, which he had founded as a bodyguard in 1987, to favour both the mutiny and the earlier takeover of parliament in May. Members of the CRW were involved in both the May coup and the November mutiny.

Bainimarama's version was supported by Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula, who led the counteroffensive to put down the mutiny. On 13 November 2000, he said that rebels interrogated by the military had implicated Rabuka. He accused Rabuka of trying to take civilians into the barracks to act as human shields for the mutineers, and stated that Rabuka's intention was to "claim military leadership and ultimately overthrow the Government of the day."

Rabuka, a retired officer, denied supporting the mutiny, but refused to comment on an accusation from Bainimarama that he had called a meeting of senior officers loyal to him to depose Bainimarama.

2006 arrest

Rabuka's denials of the allegations against him did not end the controversy. On 14 May 2005, The New Zealand Herald reported in its Weekend Herald edition that the Fiji police force was close to making a decision on whether to charge certain unnamed individuals, one of whom the Herald believed to be Rabuka. The report quoted Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes as saying that a major hindrance to their investigation was a "cone of silence" among the close associates of the suspects.

Rabuka was arrested on 11 May 2006 on charges of inciting Lieutenant Colonel Viliame Seruvakula to commit a military mutiny on 2 November 2000, in the aftermath of the 2000 coup. He was alleged to have approached Seruvakula back on 4 July that year, with a view to overthrowing the Military Commander, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. He entered no plea, was released on $F 1000 bail, and was required to surrender his passport. He was ordered to report to the Namadi police station between 6 am and 6 pm every Monday and Saturday, and was warned not to try to influence any witnesses, according to a Fiji Live report. It was announced on 17 June that at the request of the Director of Prosecutions, the case had been transferred to the High Court due to the serious nature of the charge.

Rabuka appeared in the High Court on 30 June and pleaded not guilty, Fiji Village reported. The trial was set for 20 October, but this was later changed to 6 November.

Fiji Village reported on 6 September that Rabuka had been refused permission to travel to Papua New Guinea for a golf tournament. Judge Gerard Winter ruled that the charges against Rabuka were serious and that he must not be allowed to abscond. Permission to leave Fiji would therefore be granted for medical emergencies only; the golf tournament did not qualify, he declared.

On 11 December 2006, Rabuka was found not guilty on two counts of inciting a mutiny. The judge cast a deciding vote after the panel of assessors was split.[19]

2006 parliamentary election

In early 2005, Rabuka ruled himself out of contesting the 2006 parliamentary election, but on 7 May said he was reconsidering, following appeals from Fijian businessmen and former politicians to be part of a move to unite all ethnically Fijian parties in a joint ticket to contest the next election. "I am genuinely interested because I have always been for Fijian unity," he said. He has stressed that he believes that political unity among indigenous Fijians is essential to prevent the election of an Indo-Fijian dominated government in 2006. He admitted, however, that he was seen as "a stumbling block" by many, but added, "I want to change all that." On 29 May, he said that political unity among the Fijian people should not be looked at half-heartedly as a possibility but wholeheartedly as a need. He accused Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who has also called for unity among ethnic Fijians, of hypocrisy, saying that in the 1990s there was only one mainstream Fijian party, but that others had split from it and founded numerous competing groups. Qarase and his Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) were implied to be among those responsible for the disunity.

On 21 August, Rabuka said he was of the opinion that Prime Ministers defeated at the polls should not stand again. Former Prime Ministers remaining politically active led to instability, he said, pointing to recent political upheavals in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands as examples. "It is healthy for party leaders who become prime ministers after being defeated at general elections to take the responsibility for the defeat and bow out of active politics and just become an adviser or remain as a party supporter but not in the front seat running for another election."

On 19 October, Rabuka said that the current parliamentary team representing Cakaudrove enjoyed his full support. He said he would follow the will of the people, however, in deciding whether or not to contest the 2006 elections. Current members of Parliament from Cakaudrove include Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the paramount chief of the Tovata Confederacy, Manasa Tugia, and Niko Nawaikula.

Despite his role in the formation (30 July 2005) of the Grand Coalition for Fiji, an electoral pact of five political parties supported mostly by indigenous Fijians, to contest the 2006 elections, Rabuka expressed doubts about its workability on 27 December. Public feuding threatened to derail the project, he warned. The recent attack on the 1997 Constitution by Nationalist Vanua Tako Lavo Party leader Iliesa Duvuloco had upset him, he said.

At the same time, Rabuka said that another coup would be unlikely and that given the disunity among indigenous Fijians, attitudes towards a non-indigenous Prime Minister would not matter. The multi-party Cabinet provisions of the Constitution could not be implemented if either the SDL or the Fiji Labour Party (FLP) won the election, he said; if the two parties found the provision unworkable, they should have amended the Constitution and had had five years in which to do so.

On 7 February 2006, Rabuka said that he was still considering whether to contest the forthcoming elections. He thought it "unwise", without elaborating, to contest seats in his native Cakaudrove, or those held by members of the Grand Coalition, and might contest only if an urban open constituency was available. He considered, however, that given his length of time out of politics, making a comeback would be difficult. He also called for all political parties to be, and be seen to be, representing all ethnic groups. Otherwise, the racial faultline in Fijian politics would not be overcome, he said.

In the end, Rabuka decided not to contest the election, and his party fielded only one candidate.

2006 Fijian coup d'état

The Fiji Times reported on 15 December 2006 that Rabuka stated that he saw no possibility that Laisenia Qarase, deposed as Prime Minister in a 2006 Fijian coup d'état on 5 December, would return to power. He denied supporting the coup, but said that Qarase, along with deposed President Ratu Josefa Iloilo, were weak leaders who had done nothing to forestall the coup by negotiating with the Military while there was still time. Qarase should have seen the coup coming, Rabuka said.[20]

Following the coup, he criticised Bainimarama's refusal to hold elections, saying it was because Bainimarama wanted to "[keep] away from the role of governing, people and groups he has pre-determined should not govern."[21]

2014 parliamentary election

Rabuka mostly kept a low profile after the 2006 coup. In June 2013 however, he came out and said that he would consider running in the proposed 2014 national elections, if they went ahead.[22] He sought the leadership of the newly formed Social Democratic Liberal Party (SoDelPa), the successor party to former Prime Minister Qarase's Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL), which the Military-backed interim government had dissolved, but was rebuffed after he said that he had no regrets about the 1987 coups. "I had to do what I had to do in 1987," he told the Fiji Sun on 30 January 2014.[23][24][25] A subsequent bid for the deputy leadership of the party also ran into stiff opposition.[26] He also sought nomination as a parliamentary candidate, but on 24 August, SoDelPa announced that it had decided not to nominate him.[27] Despite this, he is still a member and supporter of the party.[26]

Leader of the Opposition and 2018 parliamentary election

In June 2016, Ro Teimumu Kepa announced that she was standing down as leader of SODELPA.[28] She was replaced by Sitiveni Rabuka.[5] Rabuka led the party into the 2018 elections.

U.S Ambassador to Fiji Frankie Reed (r) with Sitiveni Rabuka (c).

On 25 May 2018, Rabuka was charged[29] by anti-corruption agency Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption in relation to the declaration of his assets and liabilities as required under the Political Parties Registration, Conduct, Funding and Disclosures Act.[30] He was tried during the election campaign and acquitted.[31] An appeal by the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption,[32] which could have resulted in Rabuka's disqualification two days from the poll, was dismissed, with FICAC ordered to pay costs.[33] Shortly before the appeal was decided Rabuka was again called in by police on unspecified charges.[34]

Rabuka won 77,040 votes in the election, gaining a seat in parliament. In a post-election interview, he said that it was unfortunate that the leaders of the two main parties were coup-leaders and that there needed to be "a move away from coup profiled people".[35]

On 26 May 2020, Sodelpa had been suspended for the breach of the Political Parties Act for 60 days effective immediately. All appointees have been declared null and void, and now have 60 days to rectify all issues or face deregistration. Thus, Rabuka can not represent himself as the leader of Sodelpa after the registrar declared the party suspension. On 29 June 2020, Sodelpa suspension was lifted.[36]

2020 SODELPA leadership contest

On 27 November 2020, Rabuka was ousted as SODELPA leader in a leadership contest. There was speculation that Rabuka would form a new party after his ousting as leader, however he later denied that he would form a new party and would continue to support SODELPA. Gavoka was formally recognised as SODELPA leader on 28 November during the party's AGM meeting. Prominent lawyer Filimoni Vosarogo was chosen as the new Deputy Leader. 21 members of the SODELPA Management Board voted for Gavoka while 20 members voted for Rabuka. The party's caucus was said to be evenly divided over whether the leadership change was the correct course of action.[37]

On 7 December, Rabuka resigned from Parliament and his position as Opposition Leader of Parliament. He made the announcement while responding to the opening of the 2020–2021 Parliament Session by President Jioji Konrote.[38][39]

On 25 July 2021, he was arrested by Fijian police after criticising government moves to amend land legislation.[40]

Prime Minister of Fiji (2022–present)

Rabuka formed a new political party in 2021, named the People's Alliance (PA), to contest the 2022 election.[9] The People's Alliance became the second largest party following the 2022 election, and managed to successfully oust Frank Bainimarama after 16 years of rule, forming a coalition government with SODELPA and the National Federation Party (NFP). Rabuka subsequently became the prime minister-designate.[41] He had been summoned to the police station after questioning the results and calling for a military intervention, despite observers calling the election free and fair.[42] After the NFP-PA coalition formed a government with SODELPA, Rabuka was sworn in as prime minister on 24 December. As part of the coalition agreement, three deputy prime ministers assumed office, NFP leader Biman Prasad, SODELPA leader Viliame Gavoka and Manoa Kamikamica.[43] Rabuka's other ministerial portfolios included information and public enterprises, civil service, foreign affairs and climate change.[44]

On 26 December 2022, Rabuka approved the return of USP Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and Padma Lal, wife of the late Professor Brij Lal who were expelled from Fiji by Bainimarama's government.[45]

On 20 January 2023, Rabuka travelled to Kiribati for his first official state visit where he met President Taneti Maamau.[46] The meeting centered on enhancing diplomatic ties and fostering unity within the Blue Pacific region.[47] Previously, Kiribati withdrew from the Pacific Islands Forum in July 2022.[48]

Manager of the Pacific Islanders rugby union team

In October 2008, it was reported that Rabuka would be the manager of the Pacific Islanders rugby union team during its tour of Europe.[49]

Personal life

Rabuka is Christian.[50] He married Suluweti Tuiloma at RFMF officers mess in Nabua on 10 April 1975.[51] In 2000, he publicly admitted that he had been unfaithful to her, both before and after their marriage, and that he had fathered three children by two different women whilst engaged to Suluweti.[52]

Notes

  1. As Minister for iTaukei Affairs

References

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  2. "Sitiveni 'Rambo' Rabuka confirmed as Fiji's new prime minister".
  3. Howell, Bronwyn (22 December 2022). "Electoral Transparency Lessons for the US from Fiji". AEI. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  4. "Fiji parliament confirms Sitiveni Rabuka as prime minister after days of uncertainty". The Guardian. 24 December 2022. Event occurs at 12:40 AEDT.
  5. "Sitiveni Rabuka wins leadership of Fiji's SODELPA". RNZ International. 24 June 2016. Retrieved 24 June 2016.
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  7. "Fiji's main opposition party chooses a new leader". RNZ. 27 November 2020. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  8. "Rabuka resigns from Parliament". 7 December 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
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  10. "Islanders at the Games". foxpulsesport.com. Fox Sport. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  11. "Pitched Into A Coup". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. 15 May 1987. p. 32 via Newspapers.com.
  12. Britannica Book of the Year. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1988. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-8522-9486-4 via Google Books.
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  14. http://www.saxton.com.au/sitiveni-rabuka/"He was awarded the French Legion D'Honneur for bravery by the French Government for saving a French officer during an attack on the UN Headquarters in Lebanon in 1980."
  15. http://www.saxton.com.au/sitiveni-rabuka/" For outstanding leadership in Lebanon, Rabuka was awarded the OBE (Military Division) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 1981."
  16. "Coup Hanger-on Alipate Qetaki replaced at NLTB". Fijileaks. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  17. http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/0000230154-020/sitiveni-rabuka-at-fijian-military-training-ceremony" In April 1987, Rabuka became a hero when he overthrew Fiji's first Indian dominated government in order to install an indigenous Fijian ruling class"
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  22. Sitiveni Rabuka ready to reenter politics | General | 3 News
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  45. Fijivillage. "PM approves USP Vice Chancellor and Dr Padma Lal's return to Fiji". fijivillage.com. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  46. Journalist, Praneeta Prakash Multimedia. "PM holds fruitful discussion with Kiribati President". Fiji Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  47. Fijivillage. "PM holds meeting with Kiribati President to strengthen bilateral relations". www.fijivillage.com. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  48. Fijivillage. "PM to visit Kiribati later this week". www.fijivillage.com. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  49. "Pacific Islanders looking for a revolution as they prepare to tour Europe", The Daily Telegraph, 18 October 2008
  50. "What a friend we have in Jesus – Fiji Times Online". fijitimes.com. Archived from the original on 1 November 2013.
  51. Moceiwai, Salaseini (15 April 2015). "Couple mark milestone". The Fiji Times Online. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  52. Gamble, Warren (30 June 2000). "Rabuka admits to women on side". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
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