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Transcript of Media Briefing by Sect (West) on upcoming visit of President (August 31, 2018)

September 04, 2018

Dir (XP), Dr. Venkatachalam Murugan: Good afternoon friends. It is pleasure to welcome you all for this press briefing. Before we begin let me request you to please put your mobile phones on silent mode.

As you all know President of India will be visiting three European countries Cyprus, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic from September 02 to September 09. To brief you about his visits we have with us Secretary (West) Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam from Ministry of External Affairs, Dr. Anju Kumar, Jt. Secretary (Central Europe) and Mr. Ashok Malik, Press Secretary to the President. Please listen to their briefing, after that the Q&A session will follow. Now let me ask Secretary (West) to brief you.

Secretary (West), Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam: Thank you Venkatachalam. Namaskar and welcome for this briefing this afternoon. I know this is late afternoon on a Friday and all of you are here with some effort and I really appreciate your presence here.

So as Venkatachalam just mentioned Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji would be on visit to Cyprus, Bulgaria and Czech Republic from 02-09 September, 2018. So Rashtrapati Ji is leaving on the three nation visit as I mentioned earlier. All three Central European countries are important on account of a number of factors that we can look at. They have, each one of them, specific geo-strategic location which is very important. If you picturize the map in your mind Cyprus is on almost the opening of East Mediterranean Sea surrounded by a number of important countries where a number of regional developments are also taking place.

Bulgaria is not very far in South Eastern Central Europe on the Black Sea and so its location is also strategic. And then Czech Republic is neighboring Germany so it has got its own very important location. All three of them are members of the European Union which is a very important trade, economic and technological partner for India with the total population of, I think, over 500 million, so it in its own right an important factor.

The membership of all these three countries, they have access to the EU market. All three of them are growing well, I think over 3.5 percent, if I am not mistaken, for all of them.

Their economic growth is backed by technology backed economic growth so that is another positive aspect of their economies. Most importantly with all three countries we have very friendly ties which have been historically friendly and close relationship with each of these countries so it is a very important political symbol as well that Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji is undertaking state visits to these three countries.

Because of this friendly ties we have also been receiving good support and we are working together with them and extend to each other good support in multilateral forums. The position of all three countries on issues of concern to India have been supportive. So these are the positive factors, in fact common features you could say for each of the three visits.

It is also interesting that our Bollywood has found its way now or finding its way into this region and these countries and the physical beauty of the landscape in these countries seems to have attracted. Some scenes here and there in some movies are already being shot there so we hope this will be a factor in improving the people-to-people relationship between India and these friendly countries.

Coming to Cyprus, this is the first leg of the visit of Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji. Rashtrapati Ji will arrive in Cyprus in the afternoon of 02 September. In the evening he will address the Indian community in Cyprus. Indian community is about 7000. It comprises of students, business professionals especially in the IT sector, tourism sectors and also some care givers.

Amongst the important engagement of Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji, he would also be addressing extraordinary session of the House of Representatives which has been specially convened for him. So that would be one of the important features of the program in Cyprus. There would also be a lecture at the Cyprus University. So these would be the important programs but main program would be the engagements that he will have with the leadership of Cyprus.

There are some deliverables that we are working on and they are under consideration by the two sides. So following the visits I think we would be in a better position to talk about them.

Cyprus is geographically and in terms of population, it is not a very large country. It is a small island nation. It has about 1.1 million people. In the beginning I think I explained the strategic location, it is in proximity to West Asia and North Africa region. It has membership of the EU and this makes it an important country in the region. It has a liberal tax regimes which facilitates two way investments. Cyprus has been a close friend to India. The foundations of India-Cyprus close relationship were laid by the alignment in world views of our founding fathers and great leaders Mahatma Gandhi and President Archbishop Makarios III.

We have supported Cyprus during its freedom struggle and during other important developments. India has always extended unwavering support to Cyprus’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. On its part Cyprus has generally supported India’s stands on regional, multilateral and other issues. Cyprus has supported our membership of the Australia Group. It continues to support our membership application for the NSG. It also supports India’s claim for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

The President of Cyprus His Excellency Mr. Nikos Anastasia came on a state visit to India in April last year and he had comprehensive discussions on all issues of mutual interests and the bilateral and multilateral arena.

From India former President Pratibha Patil visited Cyprus in 2009 and then other leaders have also visited Cyprus before that.

On the economic front Cyprus has recovered from the economic challenges that it faced following the economic difficulties that Europe and the rest of the world faced a few years ago. It is the eighth largest investor in India. Though our bilateral trade has remained in the zone of about $80-100 million per annum and I hope this visit will also provide an opportunity for us to look at ways to diversify our bilateral trade.

State visit from India to Cyprus is coming after a few years. So the visit of Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji will convey the message of India’s keen desire and commitment to continue deepening and strengthening our friendly relationship with Cyprus. SO we hope that this important visit will achieve this objective of conveying our strong commitment to the friendship between India and Cyprus.

Now we come to Bulgaria which will be the next stop in this journey. This is again a very close relationship. The visit to Bulgaria will be from 4 September to 6 September. India Bulgaria ties are again very close, very warm and very friendly. Our relationship is actually not just close and friendly but also historical. Our cultural ties are also historical with Bulgaria.

According to some sources they date back as much as eighth century AD. There are supposed to be similarities between the old Indian script Brahmi and the ancient Bulgarian script Glagolitsa, between these two scripts there is supposed to be some similarity.

The 19th century Bulgarian revolutionary Georgi Stoykov Rakovski was a great Indologist. I am told that there is a school in New Delhi named after the 19th century Bulgarian revolutionary, Georgi Stoykov Rakovski Sarvoday Kanya Vidyalay. It is in Defence Colony, so if any of you have any curiosity you can visit that school.

The Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited Bulgaria in 1926. Our diplomatic relations were established in 1954 so it is a very long relationship. Rashtrapati Ji will undertake his first visit to Bulgaria between 4 September to 6 September, 2018 at the invitation of His Excellency, the President of Republic of Bulgaria Mr. Rumen Radev.

This will be presidential visit to Bulgaira after 15 years. The last one being in 2003 by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, so it has been a long gap and given the strong friendly ties that we have we hope to convey through this visit India’s commitment to the friendship between India and Bulgaria.

Important elements of the program of course include the engagement with His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Bulgaria and also the Prime Minister, His Excellency Mr. Boyko Borisov. Then banquet which President will host for our President. There will be an address to the Indian diaspora which is relatively small in Bulgaria. The size of Indian residents is about 250 and there is also another 400 people which are kind of floating population.

There is also an India-Bulgaria Business Forum that we hope will spur the economic relations with Bulgaria further. Approximately 250 business representatives are expected to attend this event. An interesting element of this visit is that the President would address the students at Sofia University on the topic of "Education as an instrument of change and shared prosperity.” This will be telecast by Doordarshan in India because the address is on 5th September which is the Teacher’s Day so it is a very interesting coincident and symbolism that the President would address the students of Sofia University on the topic of education.

The other elements of the program would include laying a wreath at the Unknown Soldier’s monument. Then there is a renowned sculptor of Bulgaria, Ivan Rusev who has made a statue of Gandhi Ji and they are proposing to install it in a park so we hope that that will also be a part of the program.

Again we are working on some deliverables which are currently under discussion and following the visit we will definitely share them with you because the exchange or signing whatever happens will happen in front of media.

Coming to the importance of Bulgaria, it is a very important partner for India. It is a member of the European Union and NATO but for us the more relevant part is the membership of EU. They have just successfully concluded the six monthly EU presidency from Jan to Jun 2018. They continue to support India’s aspirations for permanent membership of United Nations Security Council and also the NSG.

Bulgaria also supports the Indian draft on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in UN. On the economic front Bulgaria’s GDP is $54 billion and our bilateral trade is around $315 million. We see considerable untapped potential and we hope that this business event that will be done over there and the visit itself would give a boost to the ongoing relations between our two countries.

Bulgaria’s membership of the EU and flat 10% tax rate and also the comparatively lower wage rate makes it interesting for Indian companies and also we hope that we will be able to show that India is also an attractive destination for Bulgarian companies.

There are some interesting elements here that I thought I should highlight. For example, the Sofia University where Rashtrapati Ji would be speaking on Teacher’s Day, it has an Indology Department which has been conducting courses at graduation and post-graduation levels for the last 35 years. One of the lecture halls in the Indology department is even named Rabindranath Tagore Hall. There is a visiting chair for a professor of Hindi from India in the Indology department of Sofia University and in Delhi in the Jamia Milia Islamia University, I am told that there is a place for a professor in Bulgarian language. I haven’t been to the university but those of you who have probably would have a better idea about that.

Students from Indology department of Sofia University are also sometimes sent to Kendriya Hindi Sansthan. So you can see that learning Hindi and Indology are of great interest to people of Bulgaria. There is an Associate Professor of Sofia University Mr. Galina Ruseva Sokolova who was honored with the Vishwa Hindi Samman during the recently concluded World Hindi Conference in Mauritius, so this is another interesting element of this beautiful relationship that we have with Bulgaria.

Now we come to the last leg of Rashtrapati Ji’s visit which is to the Czech Republic. Indo-Czech relations are again warm and friendly and they predate the independence. The Kingdom of Bohemia and Moravia traded with India in 9th and 10th Century AD. So again this is a relationship that goes back a very long time.

Neta Ji Subhash Chandra Bose had association there. There is an interesting linkage that that he found the Indo-Czech Association in Prague in 1934. Again another very interesting feature of this visit is that the Charles University at Prague had a Sanskrit Chair in 1850, so as long as ago as 1850 they had a Sanskrit chair. Similarly Bata company setup its operations in 1930 and it became a household name and it has been so much a part of our lives that we have adopted Bata Shoe Company as almost our own.

The program of Rashtrapati Ji has interesting elements. Of course there will be meeting with the Hon’ble President, His Excellency Mr. Milos Zeman who will also host festive lunch. Then with the Prime Minister Mr. Andrej Babis and also with the President of House of Deputies. Rashtrapati Ji will address a business forum. Over 60 Indian companies are traveling to the Czech Republic and almost the same number of Czech companies will gather for B2B interactions.

At the Charles University, which I mentioned earlier, our Rashtrapati Ji will have interaction with the Czech Indologist. There is also bust of Rabindranath Tagore there and Rashtrapati Ji will pay his honor to the great freedom fighter and Nobel Laureate through a floral tribute.

Rashtrapati Ji will also visit the ELI Beamlines International Laser Research Institute. Now the ELI Beamlines Research Center aspires to install and run the world’s most intense laser systems. These beam lines will enable ground breaking research not only in the field of physics and material science but also in biomedical research and laboratory astrophysics. So through this it also demonstrate how much advanced scientific and technological knowhow, there is an interest in the Czech Republic and it exists in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic has been a very good friend for us for such a long time. It is technologically advanced and strategically located country in Central Europe. I think I spoke about the location earlier. It is one of the fastest growing Central European if not the fastest growing Central European economy. It is a member of EU, of the OECD and all the multilateral export control regimes. We have diplomatic relations between the two countries from 1947.

On the economic front Czech Republic’s GDP stands at about $200 billion. Our bilateral trade annually $1.07 billion. It is a fast growing economic storehouse in Central Europe. Many Czech companies have made investments in India in different sectors.

Czech majors have recently announced significant investments in automotive segment in Make in India. Last month Skoda Cars announced investment of $1 billion over two years or five years. But anyway that was an announcement which has already been made. I just mentioned to jog your memory.

Indian companies have also invested in the Czech Republic. A number of companies like Infosys, Tata, Ashok Leyland, Arcelor Mittal I mean a number of them are present there.

Yoga and Ayurveda are popular in Czech Republic as also in other countries. Indian films are popular just as I mentioned about the other two countries. They have good universities that offers state of the art academic options for Indian students and I hope Indian students will be able to higher academic pursuits in the Czech Republic. Charles University has a strong South Asia department. Several Czech Indologists have been working on India over the years. Padamshri was awarded to Czech Indologist Prof. Dusan Zbavitel who translated 60 Sanskrit works including the Upanishads.

There are about 500 Indian students in Czech universities. This visit is taking place after a number of years so once again we hope that the visit will boost our existing friendly ties with this important strategic country and also this visit to Czech Republic as well as to the other two countries will help us to find newer areas for cooperation in business, science & technology etc. Now I would like to give the floor to the press secretary to the President.

Press Secretary to President, Shri Ashok Malik: Thank you Ma’am. After a very comprehensive briefing given by the Secretary there is very little to add.

This is the fifth state visit being undertaken by President Kovind. It is also the first visit of his second year as President. In his first year he visited 10 countries. At the end of this visit it will be a total of 13 countries. This is his second visit to Europe. He was in Greece as part of his previous state visit. This is of course the first full-fledged visit to Europe to three countries. Of these countries he has visited one, the Czech Republic earlier in his capacity as a Member of Parliament.

He looks forward to a very rich and substantive program in all the three countries and as the Secretary explained business will form a very important part of the deliberations and conversations in all three countries.

Cyprus is one of the largest investors in India and a very important financial center in the EU. Bulgaria and the Czech Republic will see business forums with business delegations travelling from India and the President will address these delegations along with his counterpart from Czech Republic and from Bulgaria.

There are also visits to universities which is part of the President’s almost his protocol now because he does like visiting universities and interacting with students and scholars. He looks forward to addressing Sofia University and its academic community on Teacher’s Day and he also looks forward to his interaction with the Czech Indologists at the Charles University which is one of the great universities of the world.

All three countries, as the Secretary explained, have been visited by several Indian Presidents and Heads of Government and Heads of State, so in that sense this is the first state visit where the President is not visiting a country that has never been visited by a previous President. That is all I have to say and be happy to answer any questions.

Question: ………….. Inaudible …………..

Press Secretary to President, Shri Ashok Malik: Mr. Purushottam Rupala, Minister of State for Panchayati Raj and Agriculture is going as the MoS. And Shri Sunil Kumar Singh, MP Lok Sabha from Chatra, Jharkhand and Shri Ram Shakal, a recently nominated member in Rajya Sabha, earlier he was in Lok Sabha. These are going.

Question: The discussions that the President will have with the leadership of these three countries, it will focused on shoring up trade and investment?

Secretary (West), Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam: As will all interactions the discussions don’t focus narrowly on any one particular issue but cover a wide range of areas of mutual interests covering our bilateral relationship which is both political, economic, scientific, cultural, people to people all different areas of interest to both countries.

Press Secretary to President, Shri Ashok Malik: If I could add that there are business forums taking place in two of these countries, would tell you about the importance of business relations which shows a lot of effort is being put into it. In the case of Cyprus as I explained they are very important financial center and trade partner.

Secretary (West), Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam: The reason why we are emphasizing the economic part is not because we will be discussing only economics, when we will meet the leadership we will discuss wide canvas of issues but at the same time all three countries have the potential for better economic cooperation and we hope to be able to build upon that during this visit.

Jt. Secretary (Central Europe), Ms. Anju Kumar: If I may add to this, you see basically we should see that there is a changing image of India all over. So the experience of all these countries that are there they look at India in a different way, as a model for opportunity and we offer so much to them in terms whatever technology they have, we can scale it up to the size of Indian market, for them it is a game changing situation. So they are very interested in investing in India and coming to India.

Question: Jaisa hum business ki baat kar rahe hain, aapne kaha ki ye bahut badi component hai aur aap log us par jyada focus kar rahe hain. In teeno deshon ko lekar, teeno EU ke member hain to Rashtrapati Ji ki is visit ko lekar aap kaise dekhate hain ki hum India European market me in enter kar raha hai, usko lekar aapki koshishein kya rahengi? Doosara aapne kaha hai ki Rashtrapati Ji, yadi Malik Ji bata sakein, ki wo universities mei jaa rahe hain aur khaskar Teacher’s Day par wo ek lecture bhi denge, Charles University jaa rahe hain aur doosare deshon mein bhi. Yahan jab aap people to people connection ki baat karte hain jispar Pradhanmantri Narendra Modi hamesha focus kar rahe hain to kya is baare mein aap batayenge ki kiya academic roop mein, in teeno deshon ke saath, kyonki yahan par hamare Indian students ki sankhya bahut kam hai, to use lekar aap logon ka is visit mei kya focus rahega?

(As you said that business is a very big component and we are focusing on it. As all the three countries are member of EU and it seems that India is entering EU market through them, so what would be India’s effort in that direction? Second, if Mr. Malik can tell, President Ji will be visiting universities and especially he will be delivering a lecture on Teacher’s Day. He will be visiting Charles University and other universities as well. Here when we talk about people to people connection, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been emphasizing upon, so could you tell me if academically, what will be your focus as the number of students in these countries is very low?)

Secretary (West), Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam: Aapne pehle to EU ke sandarbh mein sawal kiya. EU jaisa ki maine kaha tha ki EU Bharat ka ek bahut mahatvapoorn economic partner hai. EU countries ki total jansankhya takreeban 500 million hai. Ek bahut bada hamara trade partner hai, investment partner hai, scientific, technology ke roop mein wo hamare saath mei acchha partner hai. Pradhanmantri Ji ne bhi jo pichhale saal mein yatrayein kii hain, Bharat mein jo India-EU Summit hua hai, ye sabko dekhkar aapko nazar aayega ki Bharat ke liye EU ka kya mahatva hai aur European Union ke liye bhi Bharat mahatvapoorn desh hai.

So is sab ko dekhate hue tabhi maine shuruaat mein hi ye kaha tha ki ek important feature jo hai, in teeno countries ka wo ye hai ki ye teen hi desh EU ke member hain aur apne aap mein unke andar ek economic capability hai aur EU ke andar hone ke kaaran unki ek apni significance hai. To ye Bharat ke liye ek bahut mahatavapoorn opportunity hai ki Rashtrapati Ji wahan jaa rahe hain, do country mein to specifically business event bhi ho raha hai aur wo isiliye ho raha hai taaki dono desho ki jo business ki jo entities hain, chaahe wo business people ho chaahe wo business ki companies ho, un dono ko ek doosare ke baare mei maloom chale taaki hamara ye jo rishta hai, isko hum aur mazboot kar sakein.

Jahan tak ki academic kshetra ka sawal hai, to jaise ki Ashok Ji ne kaha ki Rashtrapati Ji isko bahut mahatva dete hain, wo jaakar bachhon se milna pasand karte hain, isliye ye teeno aur khaskar ke Charles University jahan 1850 mein Sanskrit ki Chair ban gai, Sofia University jahan 35 saal se Indology department hai, to ye sab hamare liye ek important elements hain jinko ki hum recognize karke isko aur aage badhaana chaahte hain.

Bharat se jaane waale vidyarthiyon ki sankhya bhale aapko kam lag rahi hogi par yadi aap ye dekhien ki Europe mein agar 500 students ek desh mein hain to bhi sankhya utni chhoti nahi hai. To ye perspective ki baat hai, number aur Rashtrapati Ji wahan jaayenge jab to Bharat mein students ko jyada maloom padega un universities ke baare mein to isase aur people to people rishtey badhenge. Har element hota hai jisase hum ye ummeed karte hain ki shayad hamare people to people relations is se aur mazboot ho jaayein aur is kadi mein Rashtrapati Ji ki visit to bahut hi important hai.

(You asked about EU, as I told you earlier EU is an important partner for India. Total population of EU countries is about 500 million. They are a very big trade partner, investment partner for us and a partner in the field of scientific technology also. Prime Minister has also made visits here last year and there was this India-EU Summit held in India. So you can see that EU is a very important partner for us and similarly we are important for country for EU.

Keeping all that in mind I had earlier said that all the three countries are members of EU and they themselves have an economic capability within them and because they are members of EU it becomes very significant. So this a very good opportunity that Rashtrapati Ji is visiting these countries and in two countries there are specific business events and it is being organized so that the business communities or companies of both the countries get to know each other and help us to further strengthen our relationship.

As far as academics is concerned, as Mr. Malik said, President gives a lot of importance to it and he likes to interact with students and scholars and especially in Charles University where there has been a Sanskrit chair since 1850 and the Indology department of Sofia university. So these are all very important elements for us which we recognize and want to enhance them further.

500 students may seem a small number to you but if you look at it that 500 students in one particular country of Europe then it really is not that small a number. So numbers is just a matter of perspective and when the students back in India will come to know that President of India went in those universities so this will further enhance people to people connect.

With every element of the program or relations we hope that this will further enhance our people to people connect and in that context this visit of Rashtrapati Ji is very important.)

Press Secretary to President, Shri Ashok Malik: Rashtrapati Ji shiksha ko bahut mahatva dete hain. Unka ek direction tha ki har state visit par ya to academic community or university or students ke saath ek kaaryakram rakha jaaye. Main ye nahi kahta ki jo pehle Rashtrapati they wo nahi karte they, wo bhi karte the magar inka ek directive hai ki koshish keejiye ki har jagah ek ho.

Jaisa aapne students aur people to people contact ki baat kahi, dekhiye ye people to people contact continues sometimes even without government knowing. Rashtrapati Ji usko aur encourage karenge, jaise ki Ma’am ne bataya ki Charles University ka Indology department bahut hi purana hai aur wahan ke jin Indologists se President interact karenge wo Bharat ki kai bhashayein bolte hain, Bharat ke baare mei unki jaankari hai. To unse knowledge sharing aur unse baat karne ye bahut badi baat hai.

(Our President gives a lot of importance to education. He has issued a direction that in all of his state visits at least one program with the students, university or with academic community should be there. I am not saying that the earlier president did not do it, he also used to do it but the current President has issued directive that at least one such program should be there.

As you have talked about students and the people to people contact, see sometime the people to people contact continues even with the government knowing. President will encourage it further and as Ma’am said the Indology department of Charles University is very old and the Indologists which President will interact with there has very good knowledge about India and speaks many Indian languages. So sharing with him is a very important thing.)

Question: Can you give us some idea of agreements to be signed and does that include defense cooperation agreement also?

Secretary (West), Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam: At this stage I think it would be best if we don’t talk about it because I always like to wait for the dignitaries to actually first be the witnesses to the process of signing and exchanging. So as I said earlier, following the visit these will be known but we are working on deliverables for each visit and they cover different areas but I would not like to go into the specifics at this time.

Question: 01 September se 15 September Bharat mein Hindi pakhwada manaya jaa raha hai aur ye teen country ka daura jo kar rahe hain, ismein Hindi ko protsahan ke liye bhi in university mein ko Hindi ka pathyakram shuru karwane ki koi yojana hai ya nahi?

(Hindi fortnight is being celebrated from 01 – 15 September, so are there any plans to start some kind of Hindi curriculum to promote Hindi in these countries which President is visiting?)

Secretary (West), Ms. Ruchi Ghanashyam: Jaise ki maine aapko pehle bataya ki Indology departments to in dono university mein already hain aur Hindi ki chair bhi hum negotiate kar rahe hain par wo sab cheezein to jab negotiate ho jaayengi to behtar hoga ki usi ke baad bolein.

Mahaz Rashtrapati Ji wahan jaakar bol rahe hain Indologists ke saath interaction kar rahe hain, usi se Indologists ko itna bada protsahan milega Rashtrapati Ji ke jaane maatra se. Hindi to already wahan par padhaai jaa rahi hai ya hamari koi baat chal rahi hai dono Bulgaria mein aur Czech Republic mein.

(As I said earlier that the Indology departments in both the universities is already working and we are also negotiating about Hindi chair and I think it would be best if we talk about them once we have negotiated and finalized about them.

Mere interaction of President with the Indologists there would be such a big encouragement for them. Hindi is already being taught there and we are also in discussions regarding this with both Bulgaria and Czech Republic.)

Jt. Secretary (Central Europe), Ms. Anju Kumar: Hindi pakhwada sab missions mein manaya jaata hai, university ko involve karke, Indian bachhon ko involve karke har jagah manaya jaata hai. Usmein cultural programs bhi rahte hai, Hindi pe bhashan bhi rahta hai, competition bhi rahta hai.

(Hindi fortnight is celebrated in all the missions by involving universities and Indian students. This includes cultural programs, lectures in Hindi and it includes competition also.

Dir (XP), Dr. Venkatachalam Murugan: Since there are no more questions we conclude this briefing. Thank you all for joining in.



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