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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Noyon - Not such brotherly love in the French local elections

The local elections (yes, sorry about this, but...) are just under one month away.

And while the attention - well that of the national media at least - might be focused on the battles in France's big cities such as Paris, Marseille and Lyon, there are also some pretty interesting things (honestly guv) going on elsewhere.

Take, for example, what has all the potential to turn into a family feud (actually, it already has) in the northern town of Noyon.

The current mayor - the Socialist party's Patrick Deguise - is seeking re-election. No surprise there perhaps as French politicians at a local level seem to love staying in office for as long as possible.

Besides, Deguise has only had one six-year term in office in Noyon.

But, in an act of very unbrotherly love, the main opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) has found the ideal candidate to oppose Deguise - and quite possibly, in the process, confuse voters.

His older brother, Gérard.

Deguise versus Deguise with the far-right Front National's Michel Guiniot thrown in for good measure to the siblings' strife.

Patrick Deguise (left) and Gérard Deguise (montage of screenshots from Courrier picard interviews, September 2013)

And there's clearly little love lost between the two brothers.

Back in the last local elections (2008) the 66-year-old Deguise (Gérard) was third on the UMP's list for Noyon, a town in which he had been an elected councillor for almost two decades.

But along came 58-year-old Patrick, who had been mayor of a neighbouring village of Pont-l'Evêque, to win a traditionally centre-right town hall and simultaneously earn the wrath of his brother who seemed convinced his own "notoriety" had helped his younger brother woo "confused" voters.

'When you slog your guts out for a town for 19 years and then your brother comes along and effectively 'fires' you, it's impossible to take it well," said Deguise (Gérard).

"We used to be a very united family with definite values, but obviously the job of mayor of Pont-l'Evêque (population 803) wasn't enough for him," he added.

Determined to teach his younger brother a lesson, Gérard has decided to stand not just as a councillor, but also as mayor this time around.

It's a decision which doesn't actually amuse Patrick but rather shows that, as far as he's concerned, his brother has "an inflated ego".

"Gérard is in denial," he said. "He embodies the past and it's now too late for him."

Family get togethers must be somewhat less than fun.

Mind you, it could have been worse.

There was a rumour (unfounded apparently) at one point that another brother, 57-year-old Alain, who used to be a member of the UMP but is now a supporter of (gaullist and souverainist) Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, was thinking about putting together a list.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Local elections in France - Loc-Envel the village in Brittany with one candidate for every five inhabitants

You might remember a couple of weeks ago, a piece about how difficult it was for some villages in France to find candidates to stand for mayor in the upcoming local elections on March 23 and 30.

Well, in the village of Loc-Envel in the département of Côtes-d'Armor in Brittany, there's a problem of quite a different sort.

Too many people, it seems, want to get involved in local politics.

The current mayor, Jacques Le Gorju, has been in the job for the past 20 years but has decided not to run again for office.

At 76 he says he "has done enough" and that his "wife is tired" (???).

Jacques Le Gorju soon-to-be former mayor of Loc-Envel (screenshot Canal + "La Nouvelle Edition")

Now, quite often in small villages in France - and Loc-Envel, with a population of just 80, is one of them - "power", if you will, is handed down from generation to generation.

Or, when a mayor decides not to run again for office, someone else from the current council will head a list made up - well more or less - of the same people who are already in office.

And that might well have been what Le Gorju had been counting on. Someone from the current council would head a list to fill the seven available seats and...basta.

There would be no complaints, no opposition and everyday (political) life would continue just as it always had.

Except neither he, nor any his supporters presumably, counted on a "mutiny" of sorts "within the ranks" as one councillor, the current second deputy mayor Virginie Doyen, decided she had had enough of the old guard and wanted to do things her own way.

The 36-year-old Doyen has put together an opposing list of four other women and two men who will "be motivated" and " bring skills and new ideas to the village."

So electors will have a choice, which can't be a bad thing.

Except divisions are already occurring in the 80-strong community and are likely to lead to a bitter battle.

With just seven places on the council "up for grabs" and two lists of seven candidates, being presented, there is, in a sense, one candidate for every five inhabitants.

And just to add to the fun, as in all villages in France with a population of less than 1,000, Loc-Envel voters can cross out or remove names from lists while voting.

In other words, the count will based on votes cast for each individual and not the lists. 

So who'll end up being mayor or even sitting on the council is...well, just about anybody's guess.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

"Balancing goats" video goes viral

You know how the Net is awash with videos showing cats (and less often perhaps dogs) doing the cutest, craziest things?

That "aaaah" factor guaranteed to make you smile.

Well the latest animal video to go "viral" is French and features creatures not commonly recognised for being endearing.


"Max Muro" (that's the name of the user on YouTube) uploaded the antics of his goats as they discovered the joys of a flexible sheet of steel on February 17.

And already it has been viewed more than seven million times.

Balancing goats (screenshot from YouTube video)

"Sunday, around lunch time, " he writes. "The 'family' discovered a new game: I filmed my goats (whose name will remain secret out of respect for their privacy) quite literally swinging"

He apparently only wanted to send the video to a friend but others quickly picked up on it and even (in the second version) set the one minute clip to music.

A great way to begin the week.

Now how do you do those annoying smiley symbols?

VIDÉO - Des chèvres jouent les équilibristes par rtl-fr

Friday, 21 February 2014

Friday's French music break - Johnny Hallyday, "20 ans"

Friday's French music break this week is from a singer you may well know - after all he has been around long enough.

Yes, it's that national monument or treasure (or perhaps both) depending on your tastes, Johnny Hallyday.

And the latest single from the ageing rocker "20 ans".

Johnny Hallyday (screenshot from "20 ans" official video)

It has just won "Original song of the year" at Les Victoires de la musique (the French equivalent of the Grammys) which took place at Le Zénith in Paris on February 14.

Mind you, it wasn't exactly the most popular winner of the night with whistles of disapproval from some sections of the audience as the ceremony's host, Virginie Guilhaume, opened the envelope to announce "The winner is..."

Now those rooting for the other contenders in the category in which Johnny (well he can't be referred to by his surname now, can he?) won, clearly didn't realise just how much the dinosaur of the French music scene "deserved" it.

The song - written by Christophe Miossec (lyrics) and David Ford (music) and taken from Johnny's critically acclaimed and commercially successful (that'll help keep him accustomed to his international star lifestyle of a man world famous in France) most recent album "L'Attente" (the best in a long time") had all the hallmarks of a winner about it.

Little matter that Johnny was up against two of last year's best-selling artists, Stromae with two songs "Papaoutai" and "Formidable", and Maître Gims' "J'me tire".

Forget all those statistics and the fact that both artists dominated the charts in 2013 and in fact continue to do so.

Take a look at the stats - for what they're worth.

YouTube views of the offical clips:

"Papaoutai" - 116 million +
"Formidable" - 64 million +
"J'me tire" - 51 million +
"20" ans - official audio and video combined - around one million

Chart history (taking into account sales, downloads and radio play)

"Papaoutai" - four weeks at number one and still in the charts a mere 39 weeks after its release.
"Formidable" - six weeks at number one - and still in the Top 200 charts  after 36 weeks.
"J'me tire"  - 48 weeks (and counting) in the charts - four of which were at the top.
"20 ans" -  five whole weeks in the official Top 200 peaking at 38.

Those figures seemed to count for little on the night.

What really mattered was that the song was sung by Johnny.

And even though the 70-year-old, with a career stretching back decades,  wasn't present at the ceremony, he clearly had (and has) legions of fans who made sure he wasn't forgotten.

You see, the category "Original song of the year" was open to voting from Joe Public, which meant presumably that Johnny's fans mobilised en masse to give him a win when everyone expected Stromae (who put in a stunning medley performance of his two hits and picked up three other gongs including "Male artist of the year) to sweep the board.

So a "deserved" win for the old codger and, dear reader, this week's choice for Friday's French music break.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

France's longest serving mayors finally call it a day

It's the kind of story that would (if it hasn't already) feature in the lunchtime "let's feel good about France" show anchored by Jean-Pierre Pernaut: both of the country's longest-serving mayors will step down at next month's local elections.

No, this piece isn't about Marseille's Jean-Claude Gaudin who has been in the job for the past 18 years and is seeking re-election for a fourth term.

Incidentally, some bright spark at the local online news site Marsactu came up with the statistic that, should Gaudin win again in March, he would have accumulated 120 years worth of political mandates (and the salaries and benefits that go along with them) by 2017, the year when the non-cumul de mandats law is (if ratified by the Conseil constitutionnel) due to come into force.

Anyway, Gaudin's 18 years in the top job in Marseille (almost) pale into insignificance when compared to the time Arthur Richier has spent as mayor of the village of Faucon du Caire in the département of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

The 92-year-old (yes, you read correctly) has been mayor of the village (current population of 59) since...deep breath...1947.

Arthur Richier (screenshot France 3 report)

Richier has held 11 consecutive mandates for a total of 66 years in office.

But he has decided not to stand again in the elections in March, preferring instead to hand over to someone younger.

"If someone isn't able to put a full list together, I'll accept a position on the council," he said.

"But I'm not looking to stand for the post of mayor again."

Hang about though.

The title is in the plural - and Richier is only "one" of the country's longest serving mayors.

What about the other?

Over in the village of La Bastide-de-Bousignac in the département of Ariège (population 339)
Roger Sénié has been mayor for exactly the same length of time but unlike Richier isn't quite ready to hand in his sash yet.

Or at least he wasn't when interviewed last December when he insisted he wanted to stand for a 12th term in office.

Portrait du doyen des candidats aux élections... par BFMTV

But since then, Sénié too has had time to reflect and probably realising that his 61-year-old son, who is also currently on the council, wasn't willing to "step into his shoes" listened to reason.

"I've only recently taken the decision not to stand," he said.

"I'll be 94 in a few months and family and close friends have convinced me it's time to stop."

Roger Sénié (screenshot BFM TV)

M. Gaudin in Marseille (and probably many others of France's 36,000 mayors), are you taking note?

You might only be 75 but don't you think perhaps...?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Friday's French music break - Jabberwocky featuring Élodie Wildstars, "Photomaton"

Friday's French music break this week is another one of those electro-pop jobs, sung in English.

It's "Photomaton" by the group Jabberwocky featuring the vocals of Élodie Wildstars.

It might well be familiar to some of you as the song has also been used recently in a commercial for the Peugeot 208.

Peugeot 208 Pinocchio commercial (screenshot)

Peugeot's "Pinocchio" is a harmless enough video, unlike the official one, which is both sexually explicit and contains scenes of a man being strangled (how delightful) and has been "age restricted" based on YouTube's "community guidelines".

Still, sex and violence seem to sell with the video having been watched over two million times.

Jabberwocky, also known as JBBRWCK because vowels are clearly superflous when being trendy, are a three piece electro-pop group of...wait for it...medical students from Poitier.

Camille Camara, Emmanuel Bretou et Simon Louis Pasquer met around four years ago, each having already dabbled with music.

Camara and Bretou had apparently played in a school rock band together while Pasquer was into sampling in a hip hop group and did a little mixing too.

(screenshot from official video)

Photomaton is the group's first release and its commercial success (it peaked at number two in France) follows a familiar pattern for acts trying to break through to a wider public...YouTube.

Once they had written the lyrics and the melody and found  Élodie Wildstars to sing lead, it was just a matter of recording, mixing and posting on YouTube (the "official video" came several months later) with a national radio station picking it for its playlist and a Paris record label (Pain Surprise) contacting the group to sign and manage them.

The lyrics, according to Pasquer who wrote them, "tell the rather hazy story of the anger of a girl 'on the edge'."

"They (the lyrics) contrast with the melody which is kind of sweet," he says.

"It's the sort of music you can listen to when you're happy or sad."

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

How about, it's just a pretty good example of electro-pop music and basta?

Anyway, here's an amateur video of the group performing live in Poitiers in October 2013.

For that "age restricted" official video, you can click here.

And of course, there's also the Peugeot commercial for those who cannot get enough of the song.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Anyone out there fancy standing for mayor in the French local elections?

Voter apathy - or at least a general disinterest in politics - is not an unknown phenomenon in elections.

And in the upcoming local elections in France there'll probably be plenty who just couldn't be bothered to make it to the polling stations.

But in the village of Ouvrouer-les-Champs in the département of Loiret, there's another kind of apparent indifference to the March 23 and 30 votes.

Nobody wants to stand to be mayor.

André Galhac is stepping down after just one term in office and none of his team - nor anyone else come to that - has come forward as a candidate.

André Galhac, mayor of Ouvrouer-les-Champs - looking for a successor ((screenshot BFM TV)

"If nobody stands then the election will not take place," said Galhac, stating perhaps the obvious.

"And the management and administration of the village will be taken over by the Préfecture."

And he's right.

The law in France has provisions for just such cases.

A 'special delegation' is formed to carry out the functions of the local council until a by-election can be held three months later. And if there still aren't any candidates then the Préfecture can propose merging the village - in this case - with a neighbouring one.

It's all there on the official website for "special cases" in local elections along with, for example, villages in which there are no voters (!!!) or in which there are only second homes.

Clearly Ouvrouer-les-Champs case is far from being an isolated one.

La Membrolle-sur-Longuenée (population, just under 2,000) in the département of Maine-et-Loire had problems finding anyone to stand until the current mayor Jean-Louis Gascoin "went public" in appealing for potential candidates back in December.

There are now two who've come forward.

And just to add another angle to the ongoing saga of local election stories, Laurent Jaoul the mayor of the town of Saint-Brès in the département of Hérault is actively encouraging opposition candidates to stand against him in his bid for re-election.

Laurent Jaoul, mayor of Saint-Brès - looking for someone to run against him (screenshot TVSudMedias)

"In a democracy there has to be a place for debate," he said.

"I've outlined all my plans and projects but no other candidate from the major parties (Jaoul is independent) has as yet managed to finalise a list," he continued.

"It would be the first time in 40 years that there hadn't been alternative lists proposed," he added, insisting that "yes" he really wanted to be elected but also have competition.

If anyone fancies "helping out" either Galhac in Ouvrouer-les-Champs or Jaoul La Membrolle-sur-Longuenée, check out the conditions for becoming a candidate.

You have until March 6 to get your act together.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Caroline Bartoli, a more than reluctant politician running for mayor

With the first round of voting in local elections in France just over a month away, things are becoming interesting.

All right. Let's not exaggerate.

Most people probably aren't that captivated by the possible outcome.

Anyway, one thing that's certainly receiving its fair share of media coverage is the race to become mayor of Paris.

It's politics at its most professional - that doesn't necessarily mean at its best - likely to go to a second round slugfest between the Socialist party's Anne Hildalgo, the "heiress apparent to the current mayor Bertrand Delanoë,  and the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM).

Those two make the headlines often enough - so let's not spend too much time singing their praises or analysing their chances.

Just to say that opinion polls put Hildalgo in the lead at the moment

But that might begin changing now that NKM - who according to genealogists is a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia (and no, that has nothing at all to do with this piece, just an interesting titbit to throw into the conversation at dinner parties perhaps) has the official backing of one of the country's political heavyweights.

Yep, the former president (and president-in-waiting?) Nicolas Sarkozy showed up at NKM's most recent rally in Paris on Monday evening to liven up an event as only he can.

"I'm here because Nathalie is a friend," he told reporters.

"She was a courageous and intelligent spokesperson during my (presidential) campaign and the least I can do is to show my gratitude for that."

Nicolas Sarkozy présent au meeting de NKM "par... par BFMTV

From the pomp and professionalism of politicians with greater aspirations, how about looking at the other end of the spectrum.

Someone who's standing albeit reluctantly.

How about someone few French had ever heard of...until her appearance on France 3 last week.

Caroline Bartoli is the candidate of the wonderfully-named Divers gauche (DVG), or Miscellaneous left in the race to become mayor of Propriano, a town in the south of Corsica.

Caroline Bartoli (screenshot France 3 Corse)

And Bartoli only seems to have one campaign policy - to keep the seat warm for her husband, Paul-Marie Bartoli.

You see, he (Paul-Marie) is the current mayor, but for legal reasons, is ineligible to stand - some problem with previous campaign funds apparently.

That "disentitlement" (grabbing around for a synonym here) will be lifted in May - sadly, for Bartoli (Paul-Marie), two months after the elections.

What to do?

That's where Caroline steps in to show her mettle, putting in a Q&A performance on France 3 Corse last Thursday of which any aspiring politician would

When her candidature was announced in January, Bartoli (Caroline) declared she had "no desire to start a political career" and true to her "promise" the interview on France 3 showed exactly that.

Bartoli was convincing in her lack of political nous, resorting to reading answers that bore little relation to the questions asked.

Take a listen to the interview. It's only five minutes long. You might learn something in the art of how not to answer any of the questions posed by a journalist.

Bartoli's response at around two minutes 30 when asked about how she would deal with building permits and the problem of too many holiday homes pretty much sums it up.

She consults her notes...can't find the right answer...and so replies, "I'll continue my husband's policy" seemingly unclear as to what it was or is.

MUNICIPALES - En Corse, Propriano c'est une... par France3CorseViaStella

Monday, 10 February 2014

Miserable start for France at Sochi Winter Olympics

It's all a bit sad at the moment - France's performance at the Winter Olympics in Sochi that is.

All right, so it's only early days yet, but already TV commentators and sports reporters are finding "reasons" for the distinct lack of medals from those, such as biathlete Martin Fourcade, who were supposedly favourites to finish on the podium.

Heck, even that great winter sporting nation, Great Britain has one medal thanks to Jenny Jones' third place finish in the snowboard slopestyle.

Yes it could, for those clueless among us, be mistaken for the elaborate brass monkeys version of skateboarding but it was/is apparently one of the most popular events at the Winter X Games (that stands for extreme sports and risqué.)

As if to add insult to injury (well when you're talking sports, you've got to trot out the clichés) the French Yahoo site isn't helping matters either with the banner giving the most recent tally of medals - Norway in the lead at the time of writing moment, followed by Canada...and then "0" for France.

(screenshot from Yahoo France front page)

Back in 2010 in Vancouver, the French also got off to a slow start, but in the end managed to take home 11 medals including two gold.

Mind you, none of them came from the country's much vaunted Alpine skiing team which, given the unforgettable performance of Marion Rolland, didn't really come as much of a surprise.

Do you remember that moment when Rolland (sadly injured for this year's games) in true sporting journalism hyperbole, "carried the hopes of the country in the women's downhill?

...for all of three seconds.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Nouvelle Star 2014 contestant Yseult Onguenet - is there no end to her talent?

Remember Friday's French music break a couple of weeks ago featuring Nouvelle Star (Pop Idol) contestant Yseult Onguenet?

Well here she is again with her version of Michel Polnareff's 1977 song "Lettre à France" - phenomenal!

Yseult Onguenet (screenshot Nouvelle Star, D8)

Watch the reaction of Sinclair (the judge on the right when looking from the back and the left when face on). He's completely blown away - and that from a man who's usually very critical.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Friday's French music break - Voca people

What, no particular song for this week's Friday's French music break?

Just a "group"?

Well yes. And the "group" isn't even French at that.

It's Voca people,  "an Israel-based ensemble performing vocal theatre combining a cappella and beat box vocals to reproduce the sounds of an entire orchestra" (thank you Wikipedia).

The eight-piece troupe is coming to the end of a run at the Bobino theatre in Paris, where it has been playing to packed houses for the past four months, and is about to take the show on the road around France.

So that's your French connection - as tenuous as it might be.

Plenty has been written about the somewhat thin "plot" of the 90-minute show elsewhere.

It centres on eight "aliens" whose spaceship has crash-landed on Earth and who need the "power of musica" to be able to take off again.

That force comes from touching humans (the audience) and sets them off on several musical trips from pop to classical, some old standards to film sound tracks, and because this is France, a medley of French hits.

One thing's for sure, Voca people put on a quirky show with some remarkable vocal gymnastics making it hard to believe that no instruments are involved and you're just listening to voices.

The whole performance is sheer nonsense from beginning to end, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable, and even the most curmudgeonly will leave with a smile on their faces or, at least, a tune in their heads.

Just one tip. 

If you're thinking of going along to see them and you're not into touchy-feely stuff, steer clear of the orchestra seats or those nearest the stage.

Because part of the show - perhaps a little too big a part for some - involves audience participation as the chosen few are dragged up on to the stage as props in the "love scenes".

You've been warned!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

François Hollande suspends family law reform - an electoral strategy or a U-turn?

The French president, François Hollande, has decided to put on the back burner  (for the moment but also maybe the forseeable future) plans to introduce reforms to the family law which, among other things, would have given female same-sex couples access to procréation médicalement assistée ("medically assisted procreation", PMA)  and in vitro fertilisation as well as changing the law on surrogate mothers.

But why the apparent back pedalling?

After all, this was a man who - half-heartedly perhaps - had included his support for the reform (to PMA) in his presidential election campaign in 2012.

First up, of course, those half a million (according to organisers) or 100,000 (if you believe the police) reactionaries of "La Manif pour tous" who took to the streets of Paris on Sunday to "uphold traditional family values" (what???) and who are now congratulating themselves for having persuaded Hollande to change his mind.

Screenshot from YouTube video of "La Manif pour tous" demonstration, Paris February 2, 2014

Screenshot from YouTube video of "La Manif pour tous" demonstration, Paris February 2, 2014

"It's a victory," said Ludovine de la Rochère, the president of "La Manif pour tous".

"It's a victory because what was outlined in the bill clearly wasn't in keeping with what is in the best interests of the child and the family," she continued.

"I'm delighted the government has decided not to try to introduce the reforms. It has obviously realised that those who demonstrated on Sunday were respectable people."

That's one way of looking at the decision, although Rochère seemed to forget that the reform also dealt with the status of step parents (presumably not an acceptable part of her "traditional family values"), the right of adopted children to know the names of their birth parents and making single-parent adoption easier.

Ludovine de la Rochère (screenshot from YouTube video of "La Manif pour tous" demonstration, Paris February 2, 2014)

The other main reason is provided by the opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) who clearly believe Hollande is playing a political game ahead of the local elections in March.

"The strategy is to say that every potential controversial law will be put on the backburner until after the local elections," said the president of the UMP, Jean-François Copé.

"It's very serious. It's a way of lying to the French and it's completely outrageous."

Dominique Bertinotti (screenshot BFM TV interview)

Probably the reason for Hollande's decision - badly timed though it might be - lies somewhere between the two with, as usual, his inability to show some cajones when it counts.

Hollande certainly didn't and doesn't want to encourage the mobilisation of opposition in the run-up to the local elections.

But his last-minute change of heart also threatens to throw his own party into some disarray.

He doesn't want to give his opponents political ammunition and these sort of social reforms - no matter how much they might be needed - are highly contested and divisive.

Equally striking perhaps was the way in which the decision was taken.

Hollande, in his usual style, ummed and ahed and in the process allowed an opposition - albeit apparently apolitical - to seize the agenda and later claim its victory.

And it contradicts not only the idea that this government is one truly committed to social reform but also counters positions it had previously held.

Just a year ago, the minister for family, Dominique Bertinotti, who had been charged with responsibility for drafting propositions, assured parliament that PMA would be "addressed in the context of the family bill" and that it was "a strong commitment from a government that has a clear position on this issue."

She also had the backing (at the time) of the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who said that, "PMA deserved a (parliamentary) debate and would be included in the bill."

So it has been left up to the government's spokesperson, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, to put the usual spin on what is surely another failure of Hollande to show he has any courage in his (lack of) convictions.

Vallaud-Belkacem insisted that the bill had not been shelved as a reaction to recent "events" but rather because "it simply wasn't ready to be presented to parliament."

But at the same time she outlined that the government's priorities lay elsewhere, namely to fight unemployment (Hollande has already failed to live up to his promise to stop the monthly rise by the end of 2013) and the so-called "Responsibility Pact", giving companies tax breaks to take on new employees.

And Bertinotti? Good trooper that she is, she's remaining silent...for the moment.

But what's the betting she's one of the ministers looking for a new job when Hollande eventually gets around to reshuffling his government.
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