Revisiting the Events, Sights and Sounds of the Aftermath of 2005 Ethiopia Election

By Maru Gubena

Five year ago, though there were feelings of uncertainty and fearfulness about the future direction of Ethiopia itself, as well as its politics – including the possible transfer of power from the regime of Meles Zenawi to the then opposition parties – a good number of Ethiopians both at home and in the Diaspora were not just active but were energized and determined to fight against the factors and actors that divide us, to cultivate and expand a sense of togetherness and unity, and to do everything in our capacity to be sincere and respectful to each other, helping our country with collective hands and fresh thoughts. Yes, even though some of us felt a growing anxiety, especially due to the absence of well structured, professionally functioning and legally framed organizations in the Diaspora, a disproportionately high number of Ethiopians indeed anticipated that a harmonious society and a relatively peaceful, free and economically prosperous Ethiopia were being shaped and set on the right path for the first time in the entire history of our country. Consequently, the period was marked by plentiful, memorable sights and sounds of Ethiopian get-togethers, the publication of enormous number of articles, radio transmissions and demonstrations held throughout the international community protesting against the brutal killings of Ethiopians, including women and children, in support of what was then Kinijit and its leadership, from which Ethiopians were enthusiastically and with excitement awaiting relative freedom and democracy, expecting to face and test both its fruits and challenges.


Unfortunately, however – even though many of my compatriot politicians and political activists might not want to recognize this, to avoid creating impediments to their short term political agendas – whether we live in Ethiopia or in the Diaspora, and whether we belong to the ruling regime or opposition groups, one tends to feel that our blood, cultural behaviours and attitudes seem immune or perhaps inappropriate to the concepts of democracy, equality, individual freedom and human rights. Indeed, as the past two or more decades of political upheavals and experiences have shown, family affiliations, comradeship, group interests and regionalism are more urgent, more imperative to us than the complex collective issues and problems of the people of Ethiopia as a whole.


Yes, in Ethiopian culture equality, individual freedom and democracy are unknown quantities; they are strange to us, even though most Ethiopians expressed repeated wishes and uninterrupted prayers that the fears and anxieties voiced by a few concerned Ethiopians were wholly unfounded, and that instead the winds of change and democracy blowing above the mountains of Ethiopia would become more rapid and powerful. Meanwhile, the actual fashioning of implementable democratic strategies and the possibilities for working hand in glove with all stakeholders, while maintaining a sense of integrity and accountability, quickly became a tricky business, difficult to integrate with the mindsets and cultures of Ethiopians. Everything related to the opposition movements was emotionally loaded; once group oriented, they soon became to be dominated by personal and group interests and rivalries. Consequently, internal conflicts, infighting and rifts within the various movements and groups were rife, both in our homeland and in the Diaspora. This contributed to the untimely and complete dissolution of Kinijit and its disappearance from the political landscape of Ethiopia, which in turn left us today in complete darkness and confusion, with no a single reliable political party or socio-political movement to engage with and support.


Chronicling the Forgotten and Unrecorded Recent Events and Wars


As if writing up crucial historical and political events is forbidden by God or culturally restricted, we Ethiopians in general remain apathetic, appearing unconcerned about recording our own socio-economic and political processes and events, including the origins and dissolution of political parties and movements. This is notwithstanding that these political parties or movements are part and parcel of the political landscape and history of our country. They were established with the objective of adding helping hands and voices to support the process of democratization of the country, even though the opposition leaders and their supporters have been unable to communicate effectively and tirelessly and to avoid repeated confrontations and infighting. The recent unexpected dissolution of Kinijit and the unhappy split among its top leaders is a case in point. In fact, no one among those involved in Kinijit politics and activities knew in advance about the measures undertaken by Engineer Hailu Shawel during that chilly winter season, except a very few insiders or others very close to him.


Indeed, while most of us living in the western world were enjoying the approaching Christmas and New Year holiday shopping so quietly and happily, some holding firmly the hands of lovely little children or someone we love dearly, the unexpectedly speedy winds of the long smoldering rift among Kinijit leadership reached its ultimate climax. And, much to the astonishment and shock of politically conscious Ethiopians, the chilly December Winter season of 2007 marked the end of the main opposition party, Kinijit, when the Chairman of the party, Engineer Hailu Shawel abruptly announced the suspension of five top leadership figures, including Judge Birtukan Mideksa, then Vice Chair of the party; Mayor-Elect of Addis Ababa city, Dr. Berhanu Nega; Kinijit Spokesperson, Dr Hailu Araya; Engineer Gizachew Shiferaw and Brook Kebede. The announcement of the suspension was posted and/or transmitted through the Ethiopian Diaspora media outlets.


As can be imagined and as is always the case in Ethiopian political culture, the suspended individuals felt deeply offended, that the actions undertaken by Engineer Hailu Shawel were unfounded, and that the words and tone of the announcement were antagonistic, disparaging and autocratic, they responded instantaneously and heavy handedly – much to the displeasure of Engineer Hailu Shawel and his supporters – by establishing their own political party and movement, at home and in the Diaspora. The end of 2007 and the subsequent years were not marked just by the suspension of five key Kinijit figures and the establishment of a new political party and movement; more damagingly, there was also a declaration of a highly intense cyberwar among the supporters of each political group – each firing its tanks and guns from its own warzones and hidden fortresses, unknown and remote from its targeted enemies. As understood by most of us, the announcement of the suspensions and the subsequently established movement and political party marked the final dissolution of Kinijit, thereby dashing the immeasurable and intense, though short-lived, hopes and expectations Ethiopians had for both Kinijit and its leaders.


A related event took place some six weeks prior to the suspensions carried out by Engineer Hailu Shawel. Strangely, almost unbelievably, even the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) activists – with almost four decades of experience in politics and conflict resolution, and who had managed to regroup, primarily during the campaign and the aftermath of the May 2005 Ethiopian parliamentary election – were not spared by the spreading cruel, unforgiving disease of divisiveness. One would certainly not imagine that the hostile winds of division would dare to shake and tear the rocky houses built by those who were the direct victims of both the Dergue and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and suffered so tremendously at their hands – those who had held secret and dangerous meetings in various Ethiopia cities, waged urban wars, and who spent time together so closely and intimately as brothers, sisters and comrades under the chilly winters and summers of the Assimba mountains. Unfortunately, however, we who envisaged that the houses of EPRP were built upon heavy, immovable rocks and that decades of life and political experience and wisdom would not be so easily and so simply cracked were wholly in error. Yes, we were utterly wrong because, notwithstanding the incalculable sacrifice made by the generation that withstood the early years of Ethiopia’s socio-economic and political upheavals, accompanied by a climate of irreversible and irreparable destruction and of trust and confidence in each other, and the wisdom and life experience built up by the EPRP over decades, including their unhurriedly, carefully constructed rocky and immovable houses, appeared full of holes – weak and unable to hold back the strong, speedy winds carrying both long existing animosities and newly conceived hostilities and resentments among Ethiopian political activists.


Many politically conscious Ethiopians, especially those who belong to the generation had hoped that the long-held ideology of EPRP, the lost comrades, brothers and sisters in the cities of Ethiopia and in the vicinity of the mountain of Assimba, and the deep-seated and painful memories of the struggle would serve the entire EPRP, activists and other sympathizers, as sources of motivation, as fuel providing energy, and as a vital linkage, keeping them together and united for as long as the resistance requires them, and even beyond. Unfortunately and sadly, however, the hopes most us associated with both the blood and the ideology of the generation did not materialize. After some months of rumors in some Diaspora media outlets about increasing disagreements and wrangling, the actual split of EPRP into two camps became a reality at an Extraordinary Congress held on 29 October 2007 in Washington DC, which was marked by a fierce debates and the exchanges of unpalatable words, statements and accusations among long-time friends and war comrades who together had survived repeated attempts on their lives in the cities, the bush and the deserts of both their country of origin and their countries of exile within the region of the Horn of Africa. As can be imagined, the news was received by member activists, sympathizers and by others who belong to the generation with astonishment and sadness.


As if the shock and astonishment experienced by Ethiopians at the split of the EPRP and the measures undertaken by Engineer Hailu Shawel had not been enough, the unforgiving, cruel winds of divisiveness continued, spreading into the bodies of other political activist groups like a contagious disease. Even though society regards women, in comparison to their male counterparts, as more tolerant, sensible and capable of resolving disagreements and conflicts through softly, wisely and diplomatically crafted talk and other means of communications, due to an apparent absence of training in effective communication and conflict resolution within organizations, and also due to the affiliation of most of the leading members of the International Ethiopian Women’s Organization (IEWO) to one or the other of the political groups, there was no way to prevent the powerful and spreading disease of separation from entering the body of this group as well. Consequently, within just a few months after the split within EPRP, the IEWO group, to which I was once invited to speak, giving an overview about the future role and direction of Ethiopian opposition parties, made its irreconcilable decision to follow the footsteps of Kinijt and EPRP. It became two IEWO groups in early 2008, and exactly as other Ethiopian social and political groupings, they too decided to create two separate groups, each with its own website, but with significantly fewer activities, including face-to-face gatherings, and with fewer activist members, especially in comparison to the initial months of the IEWO.


The three tragic events described here, which took place in just under six months, illustrates how we Ethiopians evidently find it extremely difficult to work together on issues related to our country, unless we are forced to it either by extreme economic hardships or political and other pressures. These three most unfortunate examples show also how far removed our political culture is from becoming mature. What is more confusing, even embarrassing, is that – while we are not even in a position to maintain a friendly and peaceful climate while engaging each other in mature political discussions, and to manifest integrity and democratic minds while working together in groups – individual Ethiopians, even those who have already split up and established their own talking shops and groups are still talking so boldly and so loudly about their irrevocable determination to free Ethiopia from the entangled chains of the repressive regime of Meles Zenawi. They also repeatedly raise billion dollar questions, such as what exactly would be the best strategy and the shortest road to travel to destroy Meles Zenawi and those around him? Instead of first asking themselves why on earth we Ethiopians are so culturally stubborn, so unable to work together on the issues of our country and to sort of what exactly went wrong with us, including how we can be cured of our culturally inculcated diseases of family and group orientation and regionalism in relation to Ethiopian politics? Why, actually, do we still talk about destroying the power structure of the tyrannical regime when over ninety percent of us cannot even look at and talk to those who belong to other opposition political groupings in civil terms, genuinely, and with clean and clear minds?


In summary, though difficult to measure in objective terms, I would nonetheless dare to say that the price to be paid for the direct and indirect repercussions of these tragic events and related infighting would be, as has already been witnessed, the gradual disappearance of political movements and politically active community members, the breakup of already weakened social relationships and work within the Ethiopian Diaspora community, and unquestionably – and more essentially – the extension of the lifespan of Meles Zenawi by an additional two or more decades, unless some kind of coup d’état within his own circle, possibly by the armed forces, were to occur.



Maru Gubena

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2 Responses to Revisiting the Events, Sights and Sounds of the Aftermath of 2005 Ethiopia Election

  1. Sisay says:

    The analysis is very shallow and pessimistic to say the least

  2. Getachew Reda says:

    From GETACHEW REDA (Ethiopian Semay)

    Dear created. Dr.Maru:

    I appreciated your commentary and concern to show us where went wrong with the opposition side. Having said that, you failed badly to show us or failed to see the other isde and let it free out of the hook from the mess it. I am talking about the bias you reflect when you deal with Kinijit split. You accused Engeener Hailu Shawel for the split while leaving others without touching nothing- (even one word). I didn’t expect you from such a heavy weight educated fellow coming out with such superficial commentary.
    First of all, I don’t know why you only threw all the causes for the split to Hailu Shawel. I am sure unless, it is some reason behind it that I do not understand for your siding with the other havoc creators called Bertukan, Andargachew, Lidetu and Berhanu…and the rest by throwing all the bad names and responsibility to Hailu Shawel for the split.
    You and I knew that there was a strong group lead by Andargachew that can manipulate the entire Kinijit just from being outside in the Diaspora as powerful as the Kinijit itself. If you remember “Ato Andargachew Tsige, a senior official of the Kinijit International Leadership, is currently in Accra, Ghana, to attend the annual African Union Summit. Ato Andargachew is carrying the following message from Kinijit to be delivered at the 3-day summit which will convene today:” Do you remember that news? That much this individual and his other groups were so strong even stronger than the Hailu Shawel himself after hailu was still in jail. What do you think he was doing while he was in such power?
    Not only that, the problem was very complex and way heavy than what you only judge to hailu Shawel. The filring of the gangs by Hailu was not the cause of the split. The split strated and casued before the firing action. The conflict of power started.Read the following and tell me all these groups other than Hailu were not additional problem to the cause of the split. Bertukan herself was manipulated by these gangs and even strted to apologize Tigrayans in behalf of kinijit that have nothing to with all her mythical apology to us. But, she was told and manipulated and informed by some one behind the screen to play cheap politics as Gizachew diod in Mekele. Please do read and give us your opinion, if it was only Hailu as the cause for the split. I encourage you to go further than that. Thanks Getachew Reda- editor Ethiopian seamy Please do read the attached article below.

    A few points on Professor Mesfin’s interview with VOA

    Monday, 22 October 2007 00:00
    By Bekele Habte, October 22, 2007
    While my previous article was based on Professor Mesfin’s interview with the DW Radio, this second part focuses on his must listen interview with the VOA. In his VOA interview, the highly esteemed professor went further and opened up his heart to pour out his disappointment that he had been holding back for the last 3 years. In a paradoxical way, I am pleased to see the good professor visibly parting from the harmful tradition of unnecessarily covering up everything /ሽፍንፍን/ to openly address the very crisis that has been eating Kinijit from within. Below are some of the most important issues the good Professor raised which I would like to highlight.
    1.መረን የለቀቀ የስልጣን ጥማት (Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat) – power mongering:
    Professor Mesfin clinically pointed out the root cause of Kinijit’s current fiasco. Without fear of anyone, the good professor bravely said “the current crisis with in Kinijit leadership is a result of few individuals’ insatiable appetite for power (Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat)”. He further stated that the current embarrassing power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Engineer Hailu is not the first. He stressed this problem had manifested itself in the power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Ato Lidetu in the early days of Kinijit formation. So, the power struggle within Kinijit leadership is rather an extended struggle for power than being a new phenomenon. While the power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Ato Lidetu is concluded with the elimination of Ato Lidetu from Kinijit, the consequence of the power struggle between Dr Birhanu and Engineer Hailu is not yet clear. This time, what all observers suggest is that the unhealthy and misplaced power struggle might lead to a complete breakup of the coalition than a clean defeat of one of the two power contenders.Hence, from Professor Mesfin’s interview one can safely conclude the following:
    First, the only person who is the common denominator in this power struggle (Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat) within Kinijit is Dr Birhanu. As Prof. stated, it was first with Ato Lidetu and now with Engineer Hailu. Now one may rightly ask: is this just a mere coincidence or has Dr. Birhanu been working systematically to eliminate potential power rivals from the party in hope of dominating the coalition?
    Second, one of the four parties that had no mass base was that of Dr Birhanu’s Keste-damena. It joined the coalition to play the role of mediating the two parties, namely Engineer Hailu Shawel’s AEUP and Ato Lidetu’s UEDP-Medhin (see የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ, page 243, last paragraph). This suggests that the two biggest parties will have no motive to undermine or eliminate Dr. Berhanu. If they had had this fear, they wouldn’t have let Dr Birhanu to join their union as mediator or otherwise.
    Third, unlike Dr Birhanu, Engineer Hailu Shawel and Ato Lidetu were by and large household names to the Ethiopian people due to their long time involvement in the struggle for realization of democratic rights and unity of the Ethiopian people. To be honest, Dr Birhanu was a relatively unknown figure with no contribution to the Ethiopian people struggle against tyranny before the formation of Kinijit.
    Fourth, as shown above Kestedamena had no mass base apart from founding members and one office in Addis Ababa when Kinijit was formed. In fact, Kestedamena was established a day before Kinijt was officially formed (see የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ, page 197, last paragraph). Now thanks to Dr. Berhanu’s lieutenants in Diaspora, Ato Andargachew Tsige and Ato Berhane Mewa of KIL, Kestedamena has been recruiting loyal supporters even well after the complete merge of Kinijit to become a force to be reckoned with. Not only that, the plan was brilliantly executed among unsuspected Ethiopians, that many prominent websites and radios negligently show their allegiance to Dr Birhanu and KIL rather than the political party called Kinijit. Such actions validate Prof. Mesfin’s account that some parties had been busy in creating a sectarian movement (buden) within Kinijit in direct violation of the agreement the four parties signed to cease their individual party activities.
    Fifth, in his recent book entitled ‘የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ / Yenetsanet Gohe Sikede’, Dr Birhanu had confessed his plan of disbanding AEUP and UEDP-Medhin by pushing for an urgent and complete merge among the four parties. It is obvious that the two parties, if left alone with their significant support from the people, Dr Birhanu’s ambition to control those parties would have remained a dream. In other words, for Dr Birhanu to come out of obscurity and control the very essence of Kinijit, he indeed needed to urgently dissolve the two solid parties. Hence, Prof. Mesfin’s assertion that there was a sectarian (buden) struggle to dominate kinijit does not only make sense, it is also consistent with Dr. Birhanu’s own statement in his book (see የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ, page 243, last paragraph).
    Put simply, Kestedamena’s lack of mass base at home, Dr Birhanu’s anonymity coupled with the perceived success of Kinijit could have triggered this power struggle. Now, it is logical to conclude that Dr Birhanu has to work tirelessly to dissolve AEUP and UEDP-Medhin urgently while embarking his own cult building through active involvement of KIL. Hence, Prof. Mesfin diagnosis of the problem is right to the point and Dr. Birhanu’s insatiable appetite for power could be the root cause of the conflict.
    God forbid, if Dr Birhanus’ insatiable appetite for power is not nipped at the bud urgently and come may a third round power struggle with in Kinijit leadership, I bet, it would most probably be either between Dr Birhanu and Mrs Birtukan Mideksa or between Dr Birhanu and Ato Muluneh Eyoel.
    2. On Dr Birhanu’s book (የነጻነት ጎህ ሲቀድ/ Yenetsanet Gohe Sikede):
    I also agree with Professor Mesfin’s characterisation of Dr. Berhanu’s book as Dr. Birhanu writing a book about Dr. Birhanu. In short it is “ገድለ ብርሀኑ/ Gedle Birhanu/” than a complete and balanced account of Kinijit’s movement. In spite of all the persistent media hype and spin from KIL, the book has nothing to do with the true picture of Kinijt. From the front cover of the book with its controversial Ethiopia’s map, its further dedication of the book to Ato Seye Abraha to the last page of conclusion, the book rarely reflects the view of the kinijit movement apart from telling the glories of Dr. Berhanu and his beliefs.
    Like the good Professor, I personally have no problem if Dr Birhanu writes a book. In fact, I am pleased that he wrote a book and it is a very good culture that we should encourage all our politicians and celebrities to write their biography. However, as pointed by Professor Mesfin, my main problem with the book is that, starting from the title to the conclusion, the book does not reflect at all the views of the vast majority of the Ethiopian people. As far as I am concerned, I just failed to see any “ጎህ / Gohe”, in fact, thanks to Dr Birhanu’s poor negotiation skill with EPRDF and the WEST after election 2005, it seems darkness we are facing. For any independent and critical reader, it easy to note that Dr Birhanu attempted to oversell himself by unashamedly giving the lion’s credit to himself, while taking no responsibility for the catastrophic failure of Kinijit.
    My second problem with the book is that it not only failed to give due credit and necessary respect to other big players of Kinijit but also it tries to paint notably Engineer Hailu as an incompetent leader and AEUP as undemocratic party and a one-man show. Was the purpose of the book to bring Dr Birhanu out of obscurity and into the much craved popularity by building his cult even at the cost of tarnishing the good names of his main rivals, notably Engineer Hailu and AEUP? Is the current shocking allegation of Dr Birhanu and his buden towards Engineer Hailu the exact replica of the allegation in his book? Does that mean Dr Birhanu was preoccupied to overtake Engineer Hailu’s position even while he was in prison? Was the book written by Dr Birhanu about Dr Birhanu to pave way to his ‘Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat’ in mind? I am beginning to think that it may be the case!!
    3. A call to rally around Mrs Birtukan?
    Professor Mesfin unhesitatingly and with authority told us to rally around Mrs Birtukan Mideksa and to give her the necessary all round support in her fight to get Kinijit out of the current crisis. What does he mean by this? Does he want us to read between the lines?
    My personal understanding is that Prof. Mesfin didn’t tell us to rally around Dr Birhanu to save the split with in Kinijit. It is a fact that Professor Mesfin has worked closely with Dr Birhanu and he is in a better position to judge Dr Birhanu’s character and ambition. In my view, the good professor must have felt uneasy by Dr Birhanu’s ‘Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat’ not to recommend people to rally around Dr Birhanu as he used to do up until the formation of Kinijit. When the professor hints people to follow Mrs Birtukan, he is effectively implying people to dismiss Dr Birhanu as a power monger and distance themselves from Dr Birhanu’s self-centered distractive discourse.
    What I understood from Professor Mesfin when he urged people to rally around Mrs Birtukan is that, he is also at the same time sending a coded signal to Mrs Birtukan to stop being an instrument to Dr Birhanu’s ‘Meren Yelekeke Yeseltan Timat’, to come out of Dr Birhanu’s shadow and assert her authority so as to serve the interest of kinijit rather than satisfying the insatiable appetite of Dr Birhanu for power. Put differently, Professor Mesfin is pleading to Mrs Birtukan to stop being used as a Trojan horse by Dr Birhanu to meet his personal unlimited power ambition.
    What I found more worrying about Dr Birhanu’s insatiable appetite for power is that he is not even currently a member of Kinijit Executive Committee. Yet, he is acting and behaving as if he were Kinijit’s president. The media coverage for him is as if he were Kinijit’s chairman. He is a very late comer in the fight against tyranny. His resilience, defiance and gut to fight tyranny till the end are not yet tested. The prudence of his judgment and negotiation skill seems a bit shaky as witnessed after the election. His knowledge of TPLF/EPRDF seems very superficial not to mention his close proximity with prominent EPRDF men.
    Yet, rather than buying the much needed time and aiming to take Kinijit’s top job eventually but gradually if he has to, Dr Birhanu is prematurely jockeying himself to take over Kinijit from Engineer Hailu using Mrs Birtukan Mideksa as his Trojan horse. Dr Birhanu is not alone in jockeying himself to the post of next ‘emperor’ of Kinijit, his lieutenants in the Diaspora too needed to get rid of others to assume the highest office.
    Allow me to explain what I mean briefly. First Dr Birhanu’s blatant power struggle with Ato Lidetu and the means he used to kill Ato Lidetu’s political career was a warning sign for all who might stand against him. Now Engineer Hailu is given the exact dose of medicine and he might not recover from the damage inflicted on him. At the same time, Dr Birhanu has oversold himself in his book and by his KIL supporters, unsuspected websites and radio stations as the only bright, intelligent, and young person with a clear vision to remedy all the ills of Ethiopia. This strategy smells like that of the communist era than the traits of a potential leader of a liberal democratic party. Dr Birhanu presents himself to the West as liberal who is the only one among the opposition willing and able to engage the West while painting his colleagues as hardliners, etc. Of course in parallel, there is a deliberate tarnishing of the good name of every perceived and potential opponent of Dr Birhanu by Dr Birhanu and his buden as feudal, insane, Weyane, Kehadi, dictator, old, and backward looking etc.
    What do all these spinning add up to? Of course, for me, it all adds up to Dr Birhanu working day and night to satisfy his insatiable appetite for power using Kinijit but not to promote the collective interest of Kinijit. That is why I fully agree with Prof. Mesfin’s sharp diagnosis of Kinijit’s problem.
    Conclusion: Now Professor Mesfin has opened our eyes. He has eloquently pinpointed to us where the main problem of Kinijit lies. There is no a single difference of ideology, strategy or tactic among the warring faction of Kinijit leaders. We can not find a single person who is in a better position to give such an open and accurate account. It is now up to us to make good use of the comment and get the job done. Lastly, I wish our beloved Professor a speedy recovery and may God be with him.
    Related links:
    1. A few points on Professor Mesfin’s interview with the DW Radio
    2. Professor Mesfin on VOA (Audio)

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