BurundiÕs Political Crisis: A Nation Back on the Brink


An often overlooked country in the Central African mosaic, Burundi recently began an optimism-filled journey filled to establish a democratic and peaceful post-conflict nation. Following the 2005 elections that brought current President Pierre Nkurunziza to power and gave his Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie-Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) political party the majority in the National Assembly, hopes were high that Burundi would begin to heal and move forward from the country?s 1993-2005 civil war. The United Nations Mission in Burundi (ONUB), satisfied with the country?s progress up to that point, packed up their things and left, only leaving behind an integrated regional office and its staff. However, the optimism felt by Burundians and the international community was short-lived because it was not long after the elections that political intrigue reared its head.

In August 2006, former Burundian President Domitien Ndayizeye and his Vice President Alphonse-Marie Kadege were accused of plotting a coup that included plans to assassinate President Nkurunziza, the Secret Service Chief, and several military officials. Several others were also arrested as accomplices. They were supposedly working in concert with dissident Congolese General Laurent Nkunda [batware], Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) Chief of Staff General James Kabarebe, and ?retired? General Salim Saleh (aka Caleb Akandwanaho), Uganda?s Minister of State for Microfinance and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni?s brother. Accused ringleader Alain Mugabarabona, who implicated Mr. Ndayizeye in the plot, claimed he was tortured by the Documentation Nationale into delivering a false confession.1 Eventually, due to lack of evidence, Mr. Ndayizeye, Mr. Kadege, military officer Damien Ndarisigaranye, lawyer Isidore Ruyikri, and politician Deo Niyonzima were acquitted of all charges on 15 January 2007. At the same time as the coup proceedings, local and international human rights organizations were reporting that the Burundian Government was committing widespread human rights abuses. Journalists and radio personalities who reported on Mr. Ndayizeye?s detention, or expressed doubts on the veracity of the charges, were accosted by the police and thrown into jail on claims they were threatening public order. Many Burundians were suspicious of the charges because Mr. Ndayizeye is a member of the Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) and Mr. Kadege is a member of the Union pour le Progrès National (UPRONA), both oppositional parties of the CNDD-FDD.

The coup plot was apparently fabricated to provide a pretext for the Burundian Government to stifle dissent stemming from a growing discontent with the perceived incompetence and indifference demonstrated by President Nkurunziza, particularly with his handling of the alleged coup. His refusal to tackle governmental and military corruption, as well as his failure to prosecute human rights violators in the intelligence services, police, and military, was creating a rift within the CNDD-FDD. At the center of the divide was CNDD-FDD Chairman Hussein Radjabu.

Prior to the elections, Chairman Radjabu established close ties with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and visited him on 15 August 2005, shortly after the Senatorial elections.2 Sources state the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gave Chairman Radjabu funds to distribute to his allied CNDD-FDD politicians for their 2005 elections campaigns.3 Naturally, the RPF expected to be paid back with favorable policies once they were elected. Chairman Radjabu was expected to utilize his powerful position as the chairman to influence government policies and decisions to be favorable to the RPF; to secure Burundi?s political support for Rwanda?s admission into the East African Community (EAC), which Burundi had also applied to join, 4 and to secure Burundi?s cooperation in extraditing individuals charged with committing genocide by the Rwandan Government.

President Nkurunziza also wanted to be on good terms with President Kagame. This was evident from the day he took office. President Kagame personally attended the inauguration ceremony in Bujumbura and told President Nkurunziza, “Your victory is our [Rwanda?s] victory. This shows that the Great Lakes region is going to recover peace soon. Then we will put our efforts together to fight our common enemies, which are poverty and stupidity.”5 On 20 November 2005, Antoinette Batumubwira, Burundi?s Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation, delivered a “message of peace” to President Kagame on behalf of President Nkurunziza.6 Only nine days later, President Nkurunziza visited Rwanda on an official state visit to meet with President Kagame and discuss policies.

After the CNDD-FDD electoral victory, Chairman Radjabu used his considerable political influence to secure appointments for his loyalists in senior governmental positions. This cadre of politicians reportedly embezzled untold millions of government funds into Chairman Radjabu?s coffers.7 Anyone who questioned him on any of his police was threatened by the National Intelligence Service (SNR), fired from their job, or forced into exile. For example, one CNDD-FDD Member of Parliament (MP), Mathias Basabose, was ejected from the party and accused of ordering the police to beat journalists after he publicly accused Chairman Radjabu of involvement in judicial tampering and embezzlement.8

In July and August 2006, 31 civilians were killed by the Burundian Armed Forces (FAB) and SNR agents in Muyinga Province, where Mr. Radjabu hails from. Arrest warrants were issued for five suspects, including the commander of the Fourth Military Region, Colonel Vital Bangirinama, but they were never carried out. The government’s unwillingness to publicly investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible added to the continually eroding trust Burundians had in their elected officials. Additionally, as the claims of human rights violations continued to pile up, the Burundian Government asked the United Nations (UN) Special Representative to Burundi, Nureldin Satti, to leave the country.

MP and CNDD-FDD President Leonard Nyangoma initiated an investigation into the accusations against Chairman Radjabu. After gathering considerable evidence supporting the claims, Chairman Radjabu lost some of his influence within the CNDD-FDD party. However, it was not enough of a loss to prevent him from exacting revenge. He used his influence to have the National Assembly vote to strip Mr. Nyangoma of his immunity and his parliamentary seat. Then, Mr. Nyangoma was fraudulently charged with gun possession and insulting the president, forcing him into temporary exile. This caused a schism in the CNDD-FDD between supporters of Chairman Radjabu and President Nyangoma, and through it all, President Nkurunziza remained silent, fearful of Chairman Radjabu?s retaliation if he raised any objections.

Following this incident, CNDD-FDD Vice President Alice Nzomukunda resigned in September 2006, because she was fed up with Chairman Radjabu ignoring the state institutions and interfering with efforts to create a functional democratic government.9 She shared sentiments with several of the long-time CNDD-FDD politicians. For one, they cannot believe Chairman Radjabu and other CNDD-FDD politicians were in league with the RPF after all the history between them.10 In the space of less than a year, Burundi had two presidents assassinated in plots attributed to RPF leaders: Melchior Ndadaye (21 October 1993) and Cyprien Ntaryamira (6 April 1994).11 The CNDD-FDD was originally founded as a military movement (FDD) in 1994 to oppose the elements of the FAB and the Burundian Government who were involved in the assassination of President Ndadaye. Collaboration with the RPF is seen by these MPs-and many civilian Burundians-as a betrayal of what Burundians are striving for: a democratic Burundi free from its past history of ethnic violence and free from the political influence of its geographic neighbors. Eventually, 30 CNDD-FDD MPs would withdraw from the government in protest of governmental policies and inaction.12

President Nkurunziza made the situation even worse by replacing Ms. Nzomukunda with CNDD-FDD official Ms. Marine Barampama, a close ally of Chairman Radjabu.13 Tensions were further increased when Chairman Radjabu unilaterally traveled to Kigali in November 2006. French judge Jean-Louis Brugière released international arrest warrants for President Kagame and several of his top RDF officials after charging them with the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira after completing a several year investigation. After the announcement, Chairman Radjabu unilaterally travelled to Rwanda and met with President Kagame. While shaking the President?s hand, Chairman Radjabu publicly proclaimed Burundi would fully support President Kagame and his associates against the French. ?”I am here to assure him [Kagame] of our [Burundi?s] government?s support at this time,” he stated.14 Chairman Radjabu?s actions angered Foreign Minister Antoinette Batumubwira.15 According to sources in the region, it was about this time President Kagame agreed the CNDD-FDD MPs allied with Mr. Nyangoma should be removed.16 Chairman Radjabu followed up with the dismissal of Mr. Mathias Basabose, the CNDD-FDD official in charge of good governance. Mr. Basabose, not one to be muscled out so easily, launched an investigation that revealed Chairman Radjabu hatched the fabricated coup plot and used the climate of suspicion and fear it generated to arrest his political opponents and suppress the local media outlets. He also implicated SNR Chief Adolphe Nshimirimana in the coup plot.17 At this point, in the face of such damning evidence, President Nkurunziza came out of his political hibernation and demanded answers from Chairman Radjabu and Mr. Nshimirimana. Chairman Radjabu blamed Mr. Nshimirimana for the whole thing.18 Fearing for his personal safety, Chairman Radjabu fled to the South African Embassy for a short time at the end of January 2007 after the SNR suddenly ordered his bodyguards to be replaced for no apparent reason.19 Chairman Radjabu likely thought Mr. Nshimirimana was plotting revenge for receiving the blame for all the allegations.

The Cabinet Ministers urged President Nkurunziza to take further action. Realizing his presidency was in jeopardy because of the seemingly irreparable divide in the CNDD-FDD, President Nkurunziza quickly decided to remove Chairman Radjabu from the party. He consulted with the Defense Minister, General Germain Niyoyankana, and several FAB officials to prepare in case Chairman Radjabu organized a coup attempt as his countermove. Then, former militants in the FDD went to ask Chairman Radjabu to voluntarily resign and avoid a public scene. He refused and immediately tried to persuade them to help him formulate a coup. They refused his offer and quickly told President Nkurunziza about the plan. He responded by ordering the police force to prevent Chairman Radjabu from holding any political meetings and he banned Chairman Radjabu from entering the CNDD-FDD headquarters building. He also had the Minister of the Interior (Evariste Ndayishimiye) revoke Chairman Radjabu?s right to call an extraordinary session of Congress. 20

On 7 February, Interior Minister Ndayishimiye called for an extraordinary session of Congress. Chairman Radjabu fled back to the South African Embassy where he contacted his allies in Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa to garner political and military support to oppose President Nkurunziza, but they all apparently refused for the time being, realizing his days were numbered. Mr. Radjabu was removed as the party’s chairman at the Congressional session and replaced with Mr. Jeremie Ngendakumana, the former ambassador to Kenya. In late April, the National Assembly stripped Mr. Radjabu of his immunity and the police force arrested him, fearing he would still wield too much influence in the government and the CNDD-FDD even if he was no longer the party?s chairman. President Nkurunziza also removed several of his allies from the government, including the President of the National Assembly, Immacule Nahayo, and Vice President Barampama. Mr. Radjabu currently remains in jail awaiting the Supreme Court?s decision on the legality of his removal. He had an initial court hearing in May, where 200 of his supporters protested his incarceration outside the High Court in Bujumbura.21 He denies all of the allegations against him, claiming they are an invention of the SNR, who stand accused of torturing some of Mr. Radjabu’s loyalists.22

Since his imprisonment, there have been reports of civilians inciting disobedience to the current government in addition to reports of the illegal training of paramilitary units in the Muyinga Province.23 Then on 8 August 2007, a woman was murdered in Nyanza-Lac by an unknown gunman.24 A day later, President Nkuruziza visited the province and met with police and army officers stationed in the area before delivering a political sensitization speech to the people.

The fallout from the Radjabu affair generated stagnation within the government. Part of the CNDD-FDD still supported Mr. Radjabu, another part supported President Nkurunziza, and the remainder did not support either of them. Within the latter group, 30 MPs had left the government, which removed the CNDD-FDD?s majority status in the National Assembly. This meant President Nkurunziza has to appease the opposition parties in order to sway their votes and get something done, but his previous policies and his attitude during the Radjabu affair alienated the opposition parties. Since 2006, FRODEBU, the largest opposition party, has refused to join the government unless President Nkurunziza demonstrated measures to end the human rights abuses and rampant corruption. With FRODEBU and Mr. Radjabu supporters boycotting the Senate and Parliament proceedings, the CNDD-FDD does not even have enough to reach quorum, underscoring their need to create new political alliances because the Burundian Constitution prevents President Nkurunziza from dissolving the Parliament.25 To make matters worse, President Nkurunziza continued to antagonize the oppositional politicians by threatening to cut their premiums and allowances if they did not cooperate.

President Nkurunziza made some gestures of reform, but thus far it has not proven to be enough to convince disgruntled politicians to support him. They remained skeptical about his sincerity to reform the government. President Nkurunziza released several thousand political prisoners and moved the capital from Bujumbura to the centrally located town of Gitega. He was able to attract some more international investors to the country, including Starbucks, who also currentlt works with the Rwandan and Ethiopian governments. He arrested Isaac Bizimana, the Governor of the central bank (BRB) for embezzlement. In a reconciliatory gesture, he appointed FRODEBU?s Gaspard Sindayigaya to man the post. He also fired Denise Sinankwa, the Minister of Finance, for paying the oil importing firm Interpetrol double for its services.26 He shuffled his cabinet around and included eight new ministers, but he appointed two politicians who stand accused of embezzlement and grafting, Karenga Ramadhan (former CNDD-FDD Spokesman) and Dieudonné Ngowembona (former Minister of Finance) respectively.27

Having lost all confidence in the current government, PALIPEHUTU-FNL (Parti pour la Liberation du Peuple Hutu -Forces Nationales de Liberation) leader Jean Berchmans Ndayshimiye, left the capital of Bujumbura to return to the bush, abandoning ongoing talks with the Burundian Government to implement a ceasefire. Generally considered the most militant of the Burundian armed groups, this event sparked fears of a potential return to civil war. Tanzanian and South African officials have tried to coax FNL leaders into resuming the talks in Dar es Salaam, but the offer is on the brink of failing because the FNL claims the funds South Africa provided for the talks are insufficient to pay for the group’s logistical costs to attend the meetings.28 The African Union (AU), the UN, and FRODEBU have all encouraged President Nkurunziza to open a new dialogue with them. If he succeeds peacefully, it may go a long way to winning back some political support, but only time will tell if he and his CNDD-FDD loyalists are up to the challenge. Conversely, failure in the FNL peace talks will almost certainly spell doom for Pierre Nkurunziza?s presidency.

In the meantime, violence in and around Bujumbura has increased dramatically. Vehicles have been attacked along all the roads leading into the capital. Several Belgians were robbed. Coinciding with the violence in Muyinga Province described earlier, an FAB officer and his fiancée were gunned down in front of the Bank of Credit.29 At this time, is publicly unknown if the perpetrators are members of the FNL or loyalists of Mr. Radjabu creating instability. There is the possibility someone wants the FNL peace talks to fail in order to destabilize President Nkuruziza, perhaps to the point his loyalists in the CNDD-FDD will turn on him and hold a no confidence vote. President Nkurunziza has countered the criminals by deploying FAB forces in the city, but residents are concerned human rights abuses and arbitrary detentions will increase due to their presence, which creates instability and distrust that could play right into Mr. Radjabu?s favor.

Additionally, Mr. Radjabu continues to manipulate political events from his prison cell, complicating matters further. Yet if the Burundian Government denies him of his right to due process, it could easily backfire on them and be used as a political tool by Mr. Radjabu and his supporters to demonize the Burundian Government.

The Burundian Supreme Court is expected to uphold the National Assembly?s vote to remove Mr. Radjabu as CNDD-FDD chairman, which may prompt his allies in the party to withdraw and form their own political party, exacerbating existing political divisions. Reports of militias receiving military training in guerrilla tactics in Mr. Radjabu?s home province are interpreted as a sign he may be creating an armed group to supplement his potential political party. Mr. Radjabu, a Muslim, could make a strong appeal for support to his religious minority in the predominantly Catholic nation.30 There is also the likelihood Mr. Radjabu would enlist the support of his allies in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa for political, monetary, and military support, further entrenching him in Burundi as a force to be reckoned with.

In addition to the FNL talks failing, the above scenario would create another front that civil war could resume from. Should that war begin, expect to see Mr. Radjabu?s militias covertly kill civilians with the intent of coaxing President Nkurunziza to respond with a brutal crackdown by the SNR and FAB. The militias could even cover their tracks by blaming the attacks on recalcitrant FNL fighters. The ensuing human rights abuses committed by the state forces would alienate oppositional parties and strengthen the position of Mr. Radjabu?s new party. This could lead to a no confidence vote against President Nkurunziza. That would pave the way for Mr. Radjabu?s party, who could present themselves as the political solution to the insecurity, though they were behind the destabilizing forces to begin with. It is analogous to the when the Nazi Party set fire to the Reichstag in 1933, blamed the communist party, then presented themselves as the protectorate alternative, which swiftly secured power for the party.31

Regardless of the outcome in Mr. Radjabu?s case, and even under optimal conditions, Burundi will still face challenges within its own government due to the existing political divisions. Until impunity ends and the government joins together united for the betterment of their nation, it is difficult to envision a positive forward path for Burundians. President Nkurunziza has committed the proverbial ?too little too late? for many politicians, who have moved to join oppositional groups.

President Nkurunziza and his loyalists must ensure the security of the Burundian people. The recent attacks by militants have the country on edge, and while he must respond firmly to such threats, he must not let the situation escalate into wanton human rights abuses by his security forces, as has happened in the past. The Burundian people need to be able to trust their own security forces with enforcing their safety, not contributing to the problem.

President Nkurunziza would gain back some support if he severed ties with Rwanda, but he has been unwilling to do so. As recently as April 2007, President Nkurunziza was in Kigali to ensure that relations between the two countries were still congenial following the arrest of Mr. Radjabu.32 Politically, this will be a difficult task because Burundians cannot forget the negative impact the RPF has had on their country, and yet, because of their EAC membership, Burundi?s economic future is inextricably linked with Rwanda?s, and therefore requires a positive relationship between the two for trade reasons. Moreover, it remains to be seen what, if any affect Mr. Radjabu?s influence in Uganda and Rwanda will have on Burundi?s mutual relationship with them in the EAC.

Burundi faces an uncertain future. What began in 2005 as a new beginning for a war-torn country is now a country in political chaos and many of the factors have yet to play out. Political turmoil has retarded the nation?s development and impeded the peace process for the time being. The country has returned to the brink and its fate is now in the hands of its elected officials. Only time will tell what the fate of Burundi?s people will be.

David Barouski is a freelance researcher and is also a Political Science student. He authored “Laurent Nkundabatware, His Rwandan Allies, and the ex-ANC Rebellion: Chronic Barriers to Lasting Peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” His previous works have been carried in the “Congo Vision,” “Somaliland Times,” “The Southern Times,” “Congo Panorama,” “Warsan Times,” “Golis News,” “Global Policy Forum,” “The New Nation,” and “ZMagazine/ZNet.”

1 ?Burundi?s Ex-President in Court,? BBC News. 25 August 2006.

2 ?Rwanda: President in Talks with Visiting Head of Burundi Party,? Radio Rwanda. Kigali, Rwanda. 15 August 2005.

3 Private Communication. 31 July 2007.

4 Note: Both countries were successfully admitted into the EAC on 18 January 2007.

5 “Burundi’s New President Sworn In,” SABC News. 26 August 2005.

6 “Nkurunziza Writes to Kagame,” The New Times. 20 November 2005.

7 ?The Fall of Radjabu: Burundi Says Farewell to Mr. Radjabu,? Damien Mutware. Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 7 February 2007.

8 ?Burundi MPs Investigated,? News 24. 5 May 2006.

9 “Burundi Vice-President Resigns Over Graft,” Afrol News. 5 September 2006.

10 Private Communication. 31 July 2007.

11 See: Brugière, Jean-Louis. ?The Report by French Anti-Terrorist Judge Jean-Louis Brugière on the Shooting Down of Rwandan President Habyarimana?s Plane: 6 April 1994.? English Translation. 17 November 2006; Onana, Charles. ?Les Secrets de la Justice Internationale.? Paris, France: Duboiris. 2005; Madsen, Wayne. ?Jaded Tasks – Brass Plates, Black Ops, & Big Oil: The Blood Politics of George Bush & Co.? Walterville, Oregon: TrineDay. 2006; Madsen, Wayne. ?Genocide and Operations in Africa: 1993-1999.? Lampeter, New York and Ceredigion, Wales, United Kingdom: Edwin Mellen Press, Limited. 1999; Ruyenzi, Aloys. Written Testimony of Aloys Ruyenzi. English Translation. 5 July 2004. http://www.grandslacs.net/doc/3092.pdf; Mushayidi, Deo, Onana, Charles. ?Les Secrets du Génocide Rwandais.? Paris, France: Duboiris. 2002; Ruzibiza, Abdul Joshua. ?Rwanda, l’Histoire Secrete.? Paris, France: Panama. 24 November 2005; Ruzibiza, Abdul Joshua. Written Testimony of Abdul Joshua Ruzibiza. English Translation. 14 March 2004; ?The Prosecutor v. Theoneste Bagosora, Gratien Kabiligi, Aloys Ntabakuze, Anatole Nsengiyumva.? ICTR Case Number: ICTR-98-41-T. Cross-Examination of Joshua Ruzibiza by Rashid Rashid. 10 March 2006; ?The Prosecutor v. Protais Zigiranyirazo.? ICTR Case Number: ICTR-01-71-T. Examination-in-Chief of Aloys Ruyenzi by John Philpot. 3 April 2007; Mugabe, Jean-Pierre. ?Declaration on the Shooting Down of the Aircraft Carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994.? 21 April 2000; Affidavit of Michael Andrew Hourigan. Filed at the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR). 27 November 2006; ?What Could Have Contributed to the Rwandan Slaughter of 1994?? Wayne Madsen. ExpoTimes. 14 July 2002; ?Memorandum on the Assassination of President Habyarimana.? Félicien Kanyamibwa. Organization for Peace, Justice, and Development in Rwanda (OPJDR). July 1999; ?Surviving the Genocide: An Interview With Jean-Christophe Nizeyimana,? David Barouski. ZNet. 27 June 2007.

12 ?Burundi: Grappling With a Looming Political Crisis,? IRIN News. 24 June 2007.

13 “Burundi Party Approves New VP,” News 24. 8 September 2006.

14 ?Radjabu Speaks on Behalf of the Government on Rwanda-France Issue,? Reuters. 30 November 2006.

15 ?Congress Not Likely for Radjabu?s CNDD-FDD Faction; Burundi?s Supreme Court to Decide the Case,? Damien Mutware. Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 23 February 2007.

16 Private Communication. 31 July 2007.

17 ?The Fall of Radjabu: Burundi Says Farewell to Mr. Radjabu,? Damien Mutware. Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 7 February 2007.

18 Ibid.

19 ?Burundi Ruling Party Boss Seeks Refuge,? Rwandan News Agency. 24 January 2007.

20 ?The Fall of Radjabu: Burundi Says Farewell to Mr. Radjabu,? Damien Mutware. Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 7 February 2007.

21 ?Police Disperse Supporters of Burundi Strongman,? Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 9 May 2007.

22 “Ex-Burundi Party Head to Stay Behind Bars,” The Independent. 15 May 2007; “Burundi: Donors Should Press for End to Impunity.” Human Rights Watch. Press Release. 22 May 2007.

23 ?President Nkurunziza Visits Muyinga,? Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 9 August 2007.

24 ?Five People Die in Grenade Blast,? Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 10 August 2007.

25 ?Grappling With a Looming Political Crisis,? IRIN News. 24 June 2007.

26 ?Isaac Bizimana: the First High-Profile Person to be Arrested, But Who is Next in Line?,? Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 8 May 2007.

27 ?The Opposition and Grafting Cases: a Headache for President Nkurunziza,? Burundi Réalités. English Translation. 8 May 2007; ?Burundi?s New Cabinet,? Gustave Ntaraka. East African Business Week. 23 July 2007.

28 “Peace Talks Risk Collapsing Over $54,000 Allowance,” The East African. 14 August 2007.

29 ?New Security Measures in Burundi,? Jean-Pierre Nkunzimana. The New Vision. 16 August 2007.

30 Note: Muslims comprise ~10% of the population of Burundi while Catholicism makes up 60%. (?Burundi: Religions.? Encyclopedia of the Nations. Accessed 19 August 2007. http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Africa/Burundi-RELIGIONS.html.)

31 Note: The reader should note that the Reichstag event is illustrated only to draw a comparison between the political gains gleaned from being both the cause and the solution to a problem as described in both scenarios.

32 ?Nkurunziza Lauds Umuganda,? The New Times. 2 April 2007.

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