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Iran Report: October 25, 2004


25 October 2004, Volume 7, Number 37

DATE PROPOSED FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. An anonymous "informed source" said the Guardians Council is likely to approve a proposal that Iran's next presidential election take place on 9 June 2005, "Sharq" reported on 16 October. The source explained the date by saying it falls after school exams, which would allow academics to administer the elections. (Bill Samii)

DISUNITED REFORMIST FRONT SEEKS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. "The reformist current is now a dead current, and I think it is going to be highly unlikely for it to be able to find a unanimously agreed candidate in the forthcoming presidential election," "Kayhan" on 16 October quoted Tehran parliamentary representative Emad Afruq as saying.

As a member of the conservative Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), one might expect such negative statements from Afruq. Yet there is little question that former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi's refusal to run for president has left the reformist parties wondering who to back now. Moreover, the lack of unity in the reformist front -- a possible cause of the trouncing the reformists suffered at the polls in February -- does not help the situation.

Mustafa Derayati, a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party's (IIPP) central council, said on 15 October that, in light of Musavi's refusal to run for president, his organization will back former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin, Mehr News Agency reported. Derayati said that the IIPP has not spoken with Moin yet.

"Sharq" reported on 18 October that the more progressive reformist organizations, namely the IIPP and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), are trying to persuade the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez) and the Executives of Construction Party to back a Moin candidacy as well.

Moin is educated as a physician, but his background since the revolution makes him a good candidate for president, according to the reformist daily. Moin was born in Najafabad, home of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, but he has never been accused of close ties with the dissident cleric. Nor has he been accused of such potentially disqualifying views as ignoring religious issues like veiling, being pro-Western, or secularism. Moin, Abdolkarim Sorush, Ali Shariatmadari, and Ahmad Ahmadi were members of the Cultural Revolution Headquarters established in 1980 that was tasked with training and vetting professors, selecting students, and Islamizing universities and their curriculums. While there, his most important responsibility was serving on the committee that selected students, according to "Sharq," and he was not involved with the initial purge of the universities.

In the mid-1990s, "Sharq" continues, Moin was secretary of the Coordination Council of the Groups Following the Imam's Line, a left-wing coalition that included the MIRO and the Office for Strengthening Unity. As a minister in the Khatami cabinet, Moin twice unsuccessfully submitted his resignation -- after the violent suppression of student demonstrations in July 1999, and again after student unrest in May 2003. Moin finally resigned in July 2003, mainly because the Guardians Council rejected a bill for restructuring his ministry (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August 2003).

Former Tehran parliamentary representative and student activist Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni told a gathering of the Office for Strengthening Unity that the only presidential candidate that could challenge the conservatives is Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 16 October. If Hashemi-Rafsanjani refuses, he said, the Executives of Construction Party, the Islamic Labor Party, and the Labor House will back anyone that Hashemi-Rafsanjani recommends.

The 70-year-old Hashemi-Rafsanjani, however, continues to indicate his lack of enthusiasm for a third term as president (he was president in 1989-97). He said, in an 18 October meeting with parliamentarians and other officials, that new people must enter the political scene, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Addressing the Iran Specialists Association (Majma-yi Motakhasesan-i Iran), he said "The interests of the state necessitate that the world should feel that Iran has the potential to produce capable individuals."

Hashemi-Rafsanjani indicated that he would serve as president again only with great reluctance. "I am a soldier of the revolution and I am willing to spend the rest of my life serving the revolution and Islam. I am quite prepared to serve in any position that the state and people feel I will be of some use," he said. "However, I prefer other honest and capable individuals to assume the responsibilities of the chief executive." Hashemi-Rafsanjani added that the current international and domestic climates make management of the country difficult.

If Hashemi-Rafsanjani does decide to run, Noshahr va Chalus representative Anoushiravan Muhseni Bandpay told Mehr News Agency on 20 October, he would be beyond the range of conservative sniping. Moreover, he would be more popular than the other possible conservative candidates -- Ali Larijani, Ali Akbar Velayati, or Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad -- and he could side somewhat with the reformist front.

Political commentators in Iran warn that these divisions over a candidate will torpedo the reformists' election hopes. "Given the existence of divisions within the 2nd of Khordad Front [named after the date of President Mohammad Khatami's May 1997 election]," Musavi-Khoeni is quoted as saying in the 16 October "Farhang-i Ashti", "it seems unlikely it will be able to play an effective role in the [upcoming presidential] elections." He recommended that the reformist grouping increase its popular support by opening its doors to the national-religious activists and the banned-but-tolerated Freedom Movement. Musavi-Khoeni said the Islamic Iran Participation Party has accepted the Freedom Movement and its members have participated in some IIPP events; he said other political organizations should do the same. (Bill Samii)

PROPOSAL TO IMPOSE AGE LIMITATION FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES MET WITH CRITICISM. According to Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution, a presidential candidate must be of Iranian origin and have Iranian nationality; must be a resourceful administrator; must have a good record; must be trustworthy and pious; and must believe in the Islamic republic system and its fundamental principles. A more controversial aspect of the article on presidential qualifications is its assertion that the president must be a religious-political individual (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi). This vague sentence leads to questions on whether or not the president should be a clergyman. For that matter, it leaves it unclear as to whether or not a woman can be president.

Now a new controversy has emerged, with reports that some legislators want to amend the election law and place a ceiling on the age of presidential candidates. According to a report in "Toseh" on 30 September, the legislation proposes that a candidate should be no older than 30.

"Old age affects physical and mental ability, and it is necessary to revise the maximum age of the candidates," Kabutar-Ahang representative Reza Talai-Nik said in the 14 October "Farhang-i Ashti." He went on to dismiss the 30-year figure and said a maximum age has not been set. Other amendments to the election law, Talai-Nik said, touch on how long campaigning can last, campaigning materials (posters and literature), conducting the election, and media activities.

On 13 October, the state news agency's "Iran" newspaper reported that a group of legislators wants to amend the presidential election law by imposing an age limit. The newspaper cited legislators from both sides of the aisle who expressed their opposition to the amendment, and quoted Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Mirlohi as saying the bill would limit the public's electoral power.

Conservative legislator Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini criticized the proposed legislation on 18 October, Mehr New Agency reported. One day earlier, parliamentary presiding board member Hamid Reza Hajibabai said no such bill has been prepared or presented to the presiding board, Mehr News Agency reported. Another legislator, Alaedin Borujerdi, said he knows of no such proposal.

The proposed age ceiling is 65, according to an editorial in "Mardom Salari" on 19 October. This would make Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani ineligible, and it also would rule out former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi.

Any changes to the election law will be reviewed by the Guardians Council in light of Article 115, council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 23 October, IRNA reported. Elham added that, according to the constitution, only a man could be president. (Bill Samii)

KHATAMI SPEAKS OUT FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told the parliamentary women's faction, during a meeting on 18 October, that the budget bill for next year should allocate more money for female heads of household and unattended children, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. Khatami added that social justice was the most important objective of the country's 1979 revolution.

In fact, gender-related provisions of the Fourth Five-Year Plan are now under attack. Parliamentarians decided during the 17 August legislative session to remove the phrase "establishment of sexual justice" from the plan, "Sharq" reported on 17 August. The legislators also altered articles relating to the government's role in supporting women and enhancing women's economic rights, as well as setting up and enforcing "sexual justice in legal, social, and economic aspects."

"Sharq" bemoaned the silence of female legislators during parliamentary discussion about eliminating the reference to "establishment of sexual justice."

In Rome, meanwhile, Tehran parliamentary representative Fatimeh Alia and Karaj parliamentary representative Fatimeh Ajorlu attended a conference on children's rights, IRNA reported on 18 October. Alia spoke out against abortion and criticized international inaction on the rights of children in occupied countries, which she listed as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. Ajorlu also spoke at the event. About 200 female legislators from around the world attended the conference. (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATURE CONSIDERING GENDER AND EDUCATION? An anonymous parliamentarian said during the 17 October legislative session that a number of his colleagues, particularly the ones from Isfahan, are considering draft legislation on the separation of sexes at universities, "Hambastegi" reported on 18 October. Mohammad Taqi Rahbar, a representative from Isfahan and a Friday prayer leader there, told "Hambastegi" that he is not aware of such legislation and there is no need for it.

Parliamentarian Nafiseh Fayazbakhsh denied the existence of such a legislative proposal after the 18 August session, "Resalat" reported on 19 August, and attributed such accusations to factional politics.

Bojnurd parliamentary representative Ismail Gerami Moghaddam, on the other hand, said that such a proposal requires extensive discussion, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 September. If there is going to be sexual segregation, he said, it should be omnipresent, not just in universities. The bill should call for segregation in cinemas, restaurants, and government offices, he said, and soon they will have to "segregate the footpaths and streets." (Bill Samii)

LEGISLATOR DIES. Mohammad Ali Nabizadeh, the parliamentary representative from Gachsaran, Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmad Province, died of heart failure in Shiraz on 15 October, state television reported. Born in 1950, he is to be buried in his native village of Del. The sixth-parliament veteran was sworn in on 29 August, three months after the rest of his colleagues, because he had been hospitalized due to a heart attack, "Resalat" reported on 31 August. (Bill Samii)

ONLINE JOURNALISTS CAUGHT IN 'SPIDERWEB.' About 150 people gathered at the Society of Professional Journalists' office in Tehran on 21 October to protest the continuing arrests of Iranian journalists and Internet activists, the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) and dpa reported. Those at the gathering decided to send a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asking that the judiciary cease its actions against journalists and the media.

Among the prominent people in attendance were former parliamentarian Ahmad Burqani-Farahani, dissident cleric Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Mustafa Tajzadeh of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization and the Islamic Iran Participation Party, and Ebrahim Yazdi of the Freedom Movement.

A number of the people who have been arrested recently write mainly for online publications, a phenomenon necessitated by the crackdown on the print media. Javad Gholam-Tamimi, the editor of "Mardom Salari," was arrested on 19 October, according to the "Sharq" website (http://www.sharghnewspaper.com/). The editor was summoned to the court and arrested after being informed of the charges against him, which relate to allegedly illegal websites. Omid Memarian was arrested on 10 October for contributing to reformist websites, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=11598). Memarian, as well as Shahram Rafizadeh, Hanif Mazrui, and Ruzbeh Mir-Ibrahimi, are accused of propaganda against the regime, threatening national security and incitement to rebellion, and insulting leading figures in the regime."

The aforementioned individuals are cited in a 29 September editorial in "Kayhan" newspaper titled "The Spider's Web." Affiliated with the supreme leader's office, "Kayhan" is one of Iran's more hard-line high circulation dailies. Hussein Shariatmadari, author of the editorial and the supreme leader's representative at the Kayhan Institute, describes a network with an "American identity" but an "Iranian identity card." The "Kayhan" editorial names a number of exiled journalists and uses the partial names of people still living in Iran. After working with reformist media and perhaps winning some awards, alleged members of this supposed network are sent overseas so they can criticize Iran -- the editorial then identifies some Iranian employees of foreign broadcasting organizations.

This vast conspiracy has branches throughout Europe, according to the "Kayhan" editorial, and, coordination of the alleged network takes place in Prague at the "Radio Farda building." The editorial goes on to falsely accuse Radio Farda of "dependence on the CIA," and it says the network acts through websites, reformist newspapers, extremist organizations, and its operatives in the government. Control and direction of the network allegedly comes from the U.S., which shapes and manipulates information from the network in Iran. This allegedly manipulated information is then relayed as news to Europe and then back to Iran.

Shariatmadari writes that he refers to this network as a "spiderweb" because a Koranic verse states that those who choose somebody other than God as their friend will build the shakiest and weakest house, like a spider.

It is difficult to explain the timing of the "Kayhan" editorial. Iran has been a target of international broadcast organizations for many years. Moreover, "Kayhan" and other hard-line media, as well as a number of state officials, have openly criticized international broadcasting previously (see, for example, "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 May 2001). Identifying specific people could reflect an effort to intimidate them into silence. The regime would find it difficult to get at the expatriate broadcasters but it can reach their relatives in Iran. Indeed, in the case of Netherlands-based online journalist Sina Motallebi it has already done this by arresting his father (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 September 2004).

One week later, Shariatmadari wrote that the journalists' association has written to the head of the judiciary and complained about his editorial about "The Spiderweb," "Kayhan" reported on 6 October. Shariatmadari retorted that the alleged network was not established by the Iranians he named because they are just "second-rate soldiers." (Bill Samii

NORWEGIAN FIRMS AMONG BIDDERS ON IRANIAN OIL FIELD. Two Norwegian oil companies, Norsk Hydro and Statoil, are bidding to develop the Yadavaran oil field in Iran's Khuzestan Province, Radio Farda reported (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/10/5d215c23-eed2-41bf-9b63-c4a64e395734.html). The companies submitted their tenders in late September, Norway's "Aftenposten" daily reported on 17 October. Iranian Oil Engineering and Development Company official Ali Akbar Al-i Aqa said in August that the Yadavaran field has proven reserves of some 17 billion barrels, and Tehran is negotiating with China, France, and Russia, as well as Statoil, on the field's development (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 August 2004).

Both companies have other outstanding proposals to develop Iranian energy resources -- Statoil is developing three phases of the offshore South Pars gas field, and Hydro is bidding on several blocks in Luristan Province (on Statoil's activities in Iran, see http://www.statoil.com/STATOILCOM/SVG00990.nsf/0/9C507D8C44E10A9AC1256AD8002FC5BB?OpenDocument; and on Hydro's activities, see http://www.hydro.com/en/our_business/oil_energy/production/international/iran.html).

Former Statoil chief of international operations Richard Hubbard has agreed to pay a fine of $30,300 for attempting to bribe Iranian oil officials, AP reported on 18 October. Statoil announced the previous week that it will pay a $3 million fine in the case, rather than face a lengthy court case.

The fines relate to Statoil's $15.2 million deal with Horton Investments, a London-based consulting company associated with Mehdi Hashemi, the managing director of the Organization for Optimization of Energy Consumption, which is a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company. Hashemi is the son of former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Okokrim) ruled in June that Statoil and Hubbard must pay the fines (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 September, 6, 13, and 27 October, and 10 November 2003; and 5 July 2004) (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN MUJAHEDIN SURRENDER TO GOVERNMENT. Iran's Intelligence and Security Ministry announced on 20 October that nine members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) have returned from Iraq to Iran, state radio reported. The Iranian government has offered an amnesty to lower-ranking MKO personnel who return to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 October 2004).

The U.S. State Department classifies the MKO as a foreign terrorist organization, and the EU designates the MKO's military wing as a terrorist organization.

Commenting in the international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" on 18 October, Member of the European Parliament Paulo Casca said that he visited the MKO's Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and "I left the camp with the clear impression that the Iranian [Mujahedin] is a legitimate resistance movement that merits the support of the free world." Casca, a Portuguese socialist, recommended that the MKO be taken off the terrorist list.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is a cover name for the MKO, complained in a 22 October statement that one of the European incentives to dissuade Iran from enriching uranium (see below) is the promise to continue its categorization of the MKO's military wing as a terrorist group, AP reported. The statement described this offer as "shameful." (Bill Samii)

AZERBAIJANI CONSULATE OPENS IN TABRIZ. An Azerbaijani consulate opened in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz on 20 October, IRNA reported. The Iranian ambassador to Baku, Afshar Suleimani, said this development would contribute to bilateral relations, and it would facilitate trade, business, and scholarly exchanges. He went on to say that the consulate will provide visas for Iranians in the northwest who wish to travel to Azerbaijan.

Iran and Azerbaijan signed an agreement in August 1992, under which Iran received the right to open a consulate in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, which it did later that year. A reciprocal agreement on opening an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz was signed in 1993, but Tehran systematically declined to implement it.

The first Azerbaijani consul in Tabriz is Djavanshir Rasulev, whom zerkalo.az on 21 October characterized as "an experienced diplomat and well-known orientalist." Rasulev served as a Soviet diplomat in Iran and Afghanistan prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and most recently as a political officer at the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran. He has reportedly published numerous articles in the Iranian press. (Bill Samii/Liz Fuller)

INDIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL VISITS IRAN IN FACE OF U.S. SANCTIONS. Indian National Security Adviser Jyotindra Nath Dixit concluded a three-day visit to Iran on 19 October, international news agencies reported. While in Iran, Dixit met with Expediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Khatami, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, according to a 20 October report from India's Doordarshan DD-1 national television and 19 October reports from Mehr News Agency and India's PTI News Agency.

The two sides discussed cooperation in agriculture, energy, information technology, and trade, as well as the planned Iran-Pakistan-India natural-gas pipeline. The two sides also discussed the nuclear issue, with IRNA reporting on 19 October that Dixit told Khatami that India supports Iran's right to peacefully use nuclear technology.

Two former directors of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Shri Ch. Surendar and Y. Sivaraman Prasad, are among 14 entities named by the White House who will face sanctions for allegedly transferring nuclear-weapon-related technology to Iran, Reuters and "The Washington Times" reported on 22 October. The scientists are banned from doing business with the U.S. government or acquiring U.S. goods that require an export license. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-HERAT CONTRACTS AWAIT ELECTION RESULTS. Herat Province Governor Sayyed Mohammad Khairkhwah met on 20 October with the Iranian consul to the province, Ali Najafimanesh, and discussed bilateral relations, Herat television reported. Among the topics of discussion were direct flights between Mashhad and Herat, road construction, a Herati cultural exhibition in Iran, and border security. Khairkhwah told his Iranian guest that government ministries will sign contracts on new projects after the results of Afghanistan's 9 October presidential election are finalized.

In Kabul on 19 October, government spokesman Jawed Ludin noted the positive attitude of President Khatami toward Afghanistan and Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Hindukush news agency reported. Ludin went on to say, however, that some Iranian media elements have made negative comments about the presidential election (on Iranian media reactions to the election, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 October 2004). (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN TESTS STRATEGIC MISSILE. Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Ali Shamkhani said at the end of the 20 October cabinet session that Iran had tested the Shihab-3 missile in the presence of unspecified observers on that day, ISNA reported. The missile's range recently was increased to 2,000 kilometers, according to Iranian officials (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 October 2004).

Nasser Maleki, deputy chief of the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics' Aerospace Industries Organization, said on 20 October that such improvements in missile technology are applicable to more than military uses, state radio reported. Maleki said the same missiles can be modified to carry satellites into space. Such satellites could have communications or meteorological applications, he added, and this would reduce dependence on other countries' satellites.

Iran could launch its first spy satellite in March-April 2005, according to Uzi Rubin, the official who heads the Israeli Defense Ministry's ballistic-missile-defense department, "Haaretz" reported on 18 October. The alleged spy satellite, according to Rubin, weighs 170 kilograms and will carry a camera. Rubin went on to say that the Iranian missile program is being assisted by expatriate Russian specialists. (Bill Samii)

EUROPE'S NUCLEAR DEAL DOESN'T APPEAL TO IRAN. In an apparent effort to entice Iran into foregoing the enrichment of uranium, European powers will support the construction of a light-water reactor in Iran, anonymous U.S. and European officials said on 19 October, Reuters reported. Unlike heavy-water reactors, light-water reactors are not of much use for making atomic weapons. Other incentives include guarantees on the provision of nuclear fuel from Russia and the resumption of an Iran-EU trade pact. The decision to offer these incentives followed a Group of Eight meeting in Washington, D.C., on 15 October (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 October 2004).

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed during a news conference on 19 October with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer that a meeting of the so-called EU-Three (France, Germany, and Great Britain) with representatives of Iran will take place soon. British Minister for Europe Denis MacShane said the same day that Iran must halt its nuclear activities or face referral to the UN Security Council, AFP reported. Fuel-cycle activity must be suspended, MacShane said, because it is not necessary for civilian power generation.

The EU-Three on 21 October presented Iran their "last-chance offer" to end its uranium-enrichment program in exchange for concessions, dpa reported. The offer was made to Iranian representatives at International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna. The concessions include assistance in constructing a light-water nuclear reactor, as well as improved trade relations. In addition to ending uranium enrichment, Iran would pledge not to engage in nuclear activities with military objectives.

Dpa cited anonymous sources who said an Iranian response to the offer is likely before 2 November. Anonymous Western diplomats doubted that Iran would accept the European offer, AP reported on 21 October.

Iran fulfilled expectations by rejecting the EU offer. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed the offer on 24 October as "preliminary" and "unbalanced," IRNA reported. He said the proposal should have "more positive tones and its negative points must be eliminated or reduced," and added that the Europeans should provide assurances that they could implement any agreement they reach with Iran. Assefi said outright that Iran will not give up uranium enrichment permanently. Assefi said discussions with the Europeans would resume on 27 October. (Bill Samii)

IRAN VOWS NOT TO HALT NUCLEAR-FUEL PRODUCTION. Tehran's refusal to forgo uranium enrichment or other activities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle should not come as a surprise. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rohani on 19 October dismissed requests that Iran stop its production of nuclear fuel, Iranian state television reported. However, he said Iran is willing to consider a short-term suspension of uranium enrichment. "Iran will not ignore its rights with regard to its peaceful nuclear activities," he added. "There can be no debate about that."

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi said on 19 October that Iran's nuclear achievements are a matter of national pride that must be safeguarded, state television reported. "Only a small number of countries posses this capability," he said. "If we ignore this right, it will be a negative juncture in our country's history."

Asked about the possibility of not enriching uranium, Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 20 October that Iran will reject "any proposal which deprives Iran of [the nuclear] fuel cycle," state radio reported. (Bill Samii)

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