The Solomon Islands form a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, that consists of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of 28,400 square kilometres (11,000 sq mi). The capital, is Honiara, located on the island of Guadalcanal.
The Solomon Islands are believed to have been inhabited by Melanesian people for many thousands of years. Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña was the first European to arrive in Solomon Islands in 1568 and named them Islas Salomón. The United Kingdom established a protectorate over the Solomon Islands in 1893. In the Second World War there was fierce fighting between the Americans and the Japanese in the Solomon Islands campaign of 1942–45, including the Battle of Guadalcanal.
Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of the Solomon Islands, at present Elizabeth II, as the head of state. Gordon Lilo Darcy is the eleventh and current Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands.
The country's official name, as established in the Constitution of Solomon Islands and as used by government as well as by the country's press, is "Solomon Islands", with no definite article. Its name is thus reflected in international organisations such as Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. In other English-speaking countries, however, the definite article is often added.
It is believed that Papuan-speaking settlers began to arrive around 30,000 BC. Austronesian speakers arrived c. 4000 BC also bringing cultural elements such as the outrigger canoe. It is between 1200 and 800 BC that the ancestors of the Polynesians, the Lapita people, arrived from the Bismarck Archipelago with their characteristic ceramics.
The first European to visit the islands was the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, coming from Peru in 1568. The people of Solomon Islands were notorious for headhunting and cannibalism before the arrival of the Europeans.
Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-19th century. They made little progress at first, because "blackbirding" (the often brutal recruitment or kidnapping of labourers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji) led to a series of reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labour trade prompted the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in June 1893.
In 1898 and 1899, more outlying islands were added to the protectorate; in 1900 the remainder of the archipelago, an area previously under German jurisdiction, was transferred to British administration apart from the islands of Buka and Bougainville, which remained under German administration as part of German New Guinea. Traditional trade and social intercourse between the western Solomon Islands of Mono and Alu (the Shortlands) and the traditional societies in the south of Bougainville, however, continued without hindrance.
Under the protectorate, missionaries settled in the Solomons, converting most of the population to Christianity. In the early 20th century, several British and Australian firms began large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the islanders benefited little.
In 1908, the islands were visited by Jack London, who was cruising the Pacific Ocean on his boat, the Snark.
Second World War
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) under aerial attack during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, most planters and traders were evacuated to Australia, and most cultivation ceased. Some of the most intense fighting of the war occurred in the Solomons. The most significant of the Allied Forces' operations against the Japanese Imperial Forces was launched on August 7, 1942, with simultaneous naval bombardments and amphibious landings on the Florida Islands at Tulagi and Red Beach on Guadalcanal.
The Battle of Guadalcanal became an important and bloody campaign fought in the Pacific War as the Allies began to repulse Japanese expansion. Of strategic importance during the war were the coastwatchers operating in remote locations, often on Japanese held islands, providing early warning and intelligence of Japanese naval, army and aircraft movements during the campaign.
Sergeant-Major Jacob Vouza was a notable coastwatcher who after capture refused to divulge Allied information in spite of interrogation and torture by Japanese Imperial forces. He was awarded a Silver Star Medal by the Americans, which is the United States' third-highest decoration for valor in combat. Islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana would be noted by National Geographic for being the first to find the shipwrecked John F. Kennedy and his crew of the PT-109. They suggested using a coconut to write a rescue message for delivery by dugout canoe, which was later kept on his desk when he became the president of the United States.
The Solomon Islands was one of the major staging areas of the South Pacific and was home to the famous VMF-214 "Black Sheep" Squadron commanded by Major Greg "Pappy" Boyington. The Slot was a name for New Georgia Sound, when it was used by the Tokyo Express to supply the Japanese garrison on Guadalcanal. Of more than 36,000 Japanese on Guadalcanal, about 26,000 were killed or missing, 9,000 died of disease, and 1,000 were captured.
Local councils were established in the 1950s as the islands stabilised from the aftermath of the Second World War. A new constitution was established in 1970 and elections were held, although the constitution was contested and a new one was created in 1974. In 1973 the first oil price shock occurred, and the increased cost of running a colony became apparent to British administrators.
Following the independence of neighbouring Papua New Guinea from Australia in 1975, the Solomon Islands gained self-government in 1976. Independence was granted on 7 July 1978. The first Prime Minister was Sir Peter Kenilorea, and the Solomon Islands retained the Monarchy.
Commonly referred to as the tensions or the ethnic tension, the initial civil unrest was mainly characterised by fighting between the Isatabu Freedom Movement (also known as the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army) and the Malaita Eagle Force (as well as the Marau Eagle Force). (Although much of the conflict was between Guales and Malaitans, Kabutaulaka (2001) and Dinnen (2002) argue that the 'ethnic conflict' label is an oversimplification.
In late 1998, militants on the island of Guadalcanal commenced and had a campaign of intimidation and violence towards Malaitan settlers. During the next year, thousands of Malaitans fled back to Malaita or to the capital, Honiara (which, although situated on Guadalcanal, is predominantly populated by Malaitans and Solomon Islanders from other provinces). In 1999, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was established in response.
The reformist government of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu struggled to respond to the complexities of this evolving conflict. In late 1999, the government declared a four month state of emergency. There were also a number of attempts at reconciliation ceremonies but to no avail. He also requested assistance from Australia and New Zealand in 1999 but this was rejected.
In June 2000, Ulufa'alu was kidnapped by militia members of the MEF who felt that although he was a Malaitan, he was not doing enough to protect their interests. Ulufa'alu subsequently resigned in exchange for his release. Manasseh Sogavare, who had earlier been Finance Minister in Ulufa'alu's government but had subsequently joined the opposition, was elected as Prime Minister by 23–21 over Rev. Leslie Boseto. However Sogavare's election was immediately shrouded in controversy because six MPs (thought to be supporters of Boseto) were unable to attend parliament for the crucial vote (Moore 2004, n.5 on p. 174).
In October 2000, the Townsville Peace Agreement, was signed by the Malaita Eagle Force, elements of the IFM and the Solomon Islands Government. This was closely followed by the Marau Peace agreement in February 2001, signed by the Marau Eagle Force, the Isatabu Freedom Movement, the Guadalcanal Provincial Government and the Solomon Islands Government. However, a key Guale militant leader, Harold Keke, refused to sign the Agreement, causing a split with the Guale groups. Subsequently, Guale signatories to the Agreement led by Andrew Te'e joined with the Malaitan-dominated police to form the 'Joint Operations Force'. During the next two years the conflict moved to the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal as the Joint Operations unsuccessfully attempted to capture Keke and his group.
New elections in December 2001 brought Sir Allan Kemakeza into the Prime Minister's chair with the support of his People's Alliance Party and also the Association of Independent Members. Law and order deteriorated as the nature of the conflict shifted: there was continuing violence on the Weathercoast while militants in Honiara increasingly turned their attention to crime and extortion. The Department of Finance would often be surrounded by armed men when funding was due to arrive. In December 2002, Finance Minister Laurie Chan resigned after being forced at gunpoint to sign a cheque made out to some of the militants. Conflict also broke out in Western Province between locals and Malaitan settlers. Renegade members of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) were invited in as a protection force but ended up causing as much trouble as they prevented.
The prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness, widespread extortion and ineffective police prompted a formal request by the Solomon Islands Government for outside help. With the country bankrupt and the capital in chaos, the request was unanimously supported in Parliament.
In July 2003, Australian and Pacific Island police and troops arrived in the Solomon Islands under the auspices of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). A sizable international security contingent of 2,200 police and troops, led by Australia and New Zealand, and with representatives from about 20 other Pacific nations began arriving the next month under Operation Helpem Fren. Since this time some commentators have considered the country a failed state. However, other academics argue that rather than being a 'failed state', it is an unformed state: a state that never consolidated after decades since independence.
In April 2006, allegations that the newly elected Prime Minister Snyder Rini had used bribes from Chinese businessmen to buy the votes of members of Parliament led to mass rioting in the capital Honiara. A deep underlying resentment against the minority Chinese business community led to much of Chinatown in the city being destroyed. Tensions had also been increased by the belief that large sums of money were being exported to China. China sent chartered aircraft to evacuate hundreds of Chinese who fled to avoid the riots. Evacuation of Australian and British citizens was on a much smaller scale. Further Australian, New Zealand and Fijian police and troops were dispatched to try to quell the unrest. Rini eventually resigned before facing a motion of no-confidence in Parliament, and Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as Prime Minister.
2007 earthquake and tsunami
On 2 April 2007, the Solomon Islands were struck by a major earthquake followed by a large tsunami. Initial reports indicated that the tsunami, which mainly affected the small island of Gizo, was several metres high (perhaps as high as 10 metres (33 ft) according to some reports, 5 metres (16 1/3 ft) according to the Foreign Office). The tsunami was triggered by an 8.0 magnitude earthquake, with a hypocenter 349 kilometres (217 miles) northwest of the island's capital, Honiara, at Lat −8.453 Long 156.957 and at a depth of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles).
According to the United States Geological Survey the earthquake struck at 20:39:56 UTC on Sunday, 1 April 2007. Since the initial event and up until 22:00:00 UTC on Wednesday, 4 April 2007, more than 44 aftershocks of a magnitude of 5.0 or greater were recorded in the region.
The death toll from the resulting tsunami was at least 52 people, and the tsunami destroyed more than 900 homes and has left thousands of people homeless.
Land thrust from the quake has extended out from the shoreline of one island, Ranongga, by up to 70 metres (230 ft) according to local residents. This has left many once pristine coral reefs exposed on the newly formed beaches.
The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy and has a parliamentary system of government. Queen Elizabeth II is the Monarch of the Solomon Islands and the head of state; she is represented by the Governor-General who is chosen by the Parliament for a five-year term. There is a unicameral parliament of 50 members, elected for four-year terms. However, Parliament may be dissolved by majority vote of its members before the completion of its term.
Parliamentary representation is based on single-member constituencies. Suffrage is universal for citizens over age 21. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is elected by Parliament and chooses the other members of the cabinet. Each ministry is headed by a cabinet member, who is assisted by a permanent secretary, a career public servant, who directs the staff of the ministry.
Solomon Islands governments are characterized by weak political parties (see List of political parties in Solomon Islands) and highly unstable parliamentary coalitions. They are subject to frequent votes of no confidence, and government leadership changes frequently as a result. Cabinet changes are common.
Land ownership is reserved for Solomon Islanders. The law provides that resident expatriates, such as the Chinese and Kiribati, may obtain citizenship through naturalization. Land generally is still held on a family or village basis and may be handed down from mother or father according to local custom. The islanders are reluctant to provide land for nontraditional economic undertakings, and this has resulted in continual disputes over land ownership.
No military forces are maintained by the Solomon Islands, although a police force of nearly 500 includes a border protection unit. The police also are responsible for fire service, disaster relief, and maritime surveillance. The police force is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the governor-general and responsible to the prime minister. On 27 December 2006, the Solomon Islands Government said it had taken steps to prevent the country's Australian police chief from returning to the Pacific nation. On 12 January 2007, Australia replaced its top diplomat expelled from the Solomon Islands for political interference in a conciliatory move aimed at easing a four-month dispute between the two countries.
On 13 December 2007, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was toppled by a vote of no confidence in Parliament, following the defection of five Ministers to the Opposition. It was the first time a Prime Minister lost office in this way in the Solomon Islands. On 20 December, Parliament elected the Opposition's candidate (and former Minister for Education) Derek Sikua as Prime Minister, with 32 votes to 15.
For local government, the country is divided into 10 administrative areas, of which nine are provinces administered by elected provincial assemblies, and the 10th is the town of Honiara, administered by the Honiara Town Council.
- Rennell and Bellona
- Honiara City
Solomon Islands is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth, Pacific Islands Forum, South Pacific Commission, International Monetary Fund, and the European Union/African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries (EEC/ACP) (Lomé Convention).
The political stage of the Solomon Islands is further influenced by its diplomatic importance to the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China. The Solomon Islands gives diplomatic recognition to the ROC, recognizing it as the sole-legitimate government of all of China, giving Taiwan vital votes in the United Nations. Lucrative investments, political funding and preferential loans from both the ROC and PRC are increasingly manipulating the political landscape of the Solomon Islands.
Relations with Papua New Guinea, which had become strained because of an influx of refugees from the Bougainville rebellion and attacks on the northern islands of the Solomon Islands by elements pursuing Bougainvillean rebels, have been repaired. A peace accord on Bougainville confirmed in 1998 has removed the armed threat, and the two nations regularized border operations in a 2004 agreement.
Although the locally recruited British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force was part of Allied forces taking part in fighting in the Solomons during the Second World War, the country has not had any regular military forces since independence. The various paramilitary elements of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) were disbanded in 2003 following the intervention of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), and the RSIPF was disarmed. RAMSI has a small military detachment headed by an Australian commander with responsibilities for assisting the police element of RAMSI in internal and external security. The RSIPF still operates two Pacific class patrol boats (RSIPV Auki and RSIPV Lata), which constitute the de facto navy of the Solomon Islands.
In the long-term it is anticipated that the RSIPF will resume the defense role. The police force is headed by a commissioner, appointed by the governor general and responsible to the Minister of Police, National Security & Correctional Services.
The police budget of the Solomon Islands has been strained due to a four-year civil war. Following Cyclone Zoe's strike on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta in December 2002, Australia had to provide the Solomon Islands government with 200,000 Solomon dollars ($50,000 Australian) for fuel and supplies for the patrol boat Lata to sail with relief supplies. (Part of the work of RAMSI includes assisting the Solomon Islands Government to stabilise its budget.)
The Solomon Islands is an island nation that lies east of Papua New Guinea and consists of many islands: Choiseul, the Shortland Islands; the New Georgia Islands; Santa Isabel; the Russell Islands; Nggela (the Florida Islands); Malaita; Guadalcanal; Sikaiana; Maramasike; Ulawa; Uki; Makira (San Cristobal); Santa Ana; Rennell and Bellona; the Santa Cruz Islands and three remote, tiny outliers, Tikopia, Anuta, and Fatutaka.
The country's islands lie between latitudes 5° and 13°S, and longitudes 155° and 169°E. The distance between the westernmost and easternmost islands is about 1,500 kilometres (930 mi). The Santa Cruz Islands (of which Tikopia is part), are situated north of Vanuatu and are especially isolated at more than 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the other islands. Bougainville is geographically part of the Solomon Islands, but politically Papua New Guinea.
The islands' ocean-equatorial climate is extremely humid throughout the year, with a mean temperature of 27 °C (80 °F) and few extremes of temperature or weather. June through August is the cooler period. Though seasons are not pronounced, the northwesterly winds of November through April bring more frequent rainfall and occasional squalls or cyclones. The annual rainfall is about 3050 mm (120 in).
The Solomon Islands archipelago is part of two distinct terrestrial ecoregions. Most of the islands are part of the Solomon Islands rain forests ecoregion, which also includes the islands of Bougainville and Buka, which are part of Papua New Guinea, these forests have come under pressure from forestry activities. The Santa Cruz Islands are part of the Vanuatu rain forests ecoregion, together with the neighboring archipelago of Vanuatu. Soil quality ranges from extremely rich volcanic (there are volcanoes with varying degrees of activity on some of the larger islands) to relatively infertile limestone. More than 230 varieties of orchids and other tropical flowers brighten the landscape.
The islands contain several active and dormant volcanoes. The Tinakula and Kavachi volcanoes are the most active.
Its per capita GDP of $600 ranks Solomon Islands as a lesser developed nation, and more than 75% of its labour force is engaged in subsistence and fishing. Most manufactured goods and petroleum products must be imported. Until 1998, when world prices for tropical timber fell steeply, timber was Solomon Islands' main export product, and, in recent years, Solomon Islands forests were dangerously overexploited. Other important cash crops and exports include copra and palm oil. In 1998 Ross Mining of Australia began producing gold at Gold Ridge on Guadalcanal. Minerals exploration in other areas continued. However, in the wake of the ethnic violence in June 2000, exports of palm oil and gold ceased while exports of timber fell. The islands are rich in undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, and gold.
Solomon Islands' fisheries also offer prospects for export and domestic economic expansion. However, a Japanese joint venture, Solomon Taiyo Ltd., which operated the only fish cannery in the country, closed in mid-2000 as a result of the ethnic disturbances. Though the plant has reopened under local management, the export of tuna has not resumed. Negotiations are underway that may lead to the eventual reopening of the Gold Ridge mine and the major oil-palm plantation.
Tourism, particularly diving, is an important service industry for Solomon Islands. Growth in that industry is hampered, however, by lack of infrastructure and transportation limitations.
The Solomon Islands Government was insolvent by 2002. Since the RAMSI intervention in 2003, the government has recast its budget. It has consolidated and renegotiated its domestic debt and with Australian backing, is now seeking to renegotiate its foreign obligations. Principal aid donors are Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, and the Republic of China.
Recently, the Solomons courts have re-approved the export of live dolphins for profit, most recently to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This practice was originally stopped by the government in 2004 after international uproar over a shipment of 28 live dolphins to Mexico. The move resulted in criticism from both Australia and New Zealand as well as several conservation organisations.
A team of renewable energy developers working for the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and funded by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), have hatched a scheme that enables these communities to access renewable energy, such as solar, without raising substantial sums of ready cash. They also use water and wind power. If the islanders were not able to pay for solar lanterns with cash, reasoned the project developers, they can pay with crops.
As of 2006, the majority 552,438 people on the Solomon Islands are ethnically Melanesian (94.5%). Polynesian (3%) and Micronesian (1.2%) are the two other significant groups. There are a few thousand ethnic Chinese.
The number of local languages listed for Solomon Islands is 74, of which 70 are living languages and 4 are extinct, according to «Ethnologue, Languages of the World». On the central islands, Melanesian languages (predominantly of the Southeast Solomonic group) are spoken. On the outliers, Rennell and Bellona to the south, Tikopia, Anuta and Fatutaka to the far east, Sikaiana to the north east, and Luaniua to the north (Ontong Java Atoll, also known as Lord Howe Atoll), Polynesian languages are spoken. The immigrant population of Gilbertese (i-Kiribati) speaks a Micronesian language. While English is the official language, only 1–2% of the population speak English; the lingua franca is Solomons Pijin.
Surprisingly, about 10% of the population has blond hair, which is a native trait and not the result of intermarriage with Europeans.
Female life expectancy at birth was at 66.7 years and male life expectancy at birth at 64.9 in 2007. 1990–1995 fertility rate was at 5.5 births per woman. Government expenditure on health per capita was at US$ 99 (PPP). Healthy life expectancy at birth is at 60 years.
The religion of Solomon Islands is about 92% Christian with the following denominations: the Anglican Church of Melanesia 35%, Roman Catholic 19%, South Seas Evangelical Church 17%, United Church in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands 11% and Seventh-day Adventist 10%. Another 5% adhere to aboriginal beliefs. The remaining adhere to Islam, the Baha'i Faith, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), According to the most recent reports, Islam in the Solomon Islands is made up of approximately 350 Muslims, including members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
In the traditional culture of the Solomon Islands, age-old customs are handed down from one generation to the next, allegedly from the ancestral spirits themselves, to form the cultural values of the Solomon Islands.
Radio is the most influential type of media in the Solomon Islands due to language differences, illiteracy, and the difficulty of receiving television signals in some parts of the country.
Radio - The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) operates public radio services, including the national stations Radio Happy Isles 1037 on the dial and Wantok FM 96.3, and the provincial stations Radio Happy Lagoon and, formerly, Radio Temotu. There are two commercial FM stations, Z FM at 99.5 in Honiara but receivable over a large majority of island out from Honiara, and, PAOA FM at 97.7 in Honiara and 107.5 in Auki, and, one Community FM Radio Station - Gold Ridge FM on 88.7.
Newspapers - There is one daily newspaper Solomon Star (www.solomonstarnews.com) and one daily online news website Solomon Times Online (www.solomontimes.com), 2 weekly papers Solomons Voice and Solomon Times, and 2 monthly papers Agrikalsa Nius and the Citizen's Press.
TV - There are no TV services that cover the complete Solomon Islands, but satellite TV stations can be received. However, in Honiara, there is a free-to-air channel called 'One Television', and rebroadcast ABC Asia Pacific (from Australia's ABC) and BBC World News. As of Dec 2010, residents could subscribe to SATSOL, a Digital Pay TV Service, re-transmitting Satellite Television.
Solomon Islands writers include the novelists Rexford Orotaloa and John Saunana and the poet Jully Makini.
Solomon Islands national teams in football and related sports (futsal and beach soccer) have proved among the most successful in Oceania.
The Solomon Islands national football team became the first team to beat New Zealand in qualifying for a play-off spot against Australia for qualification to the World Cup 2006. They were defeated 7–0 in Australia and 2–1 at home.
On 14 June 2008, the Solomon Islands national futsal team, the Kurukuru, won the Oceania Futsal Championship in Fiji to qualify them for the 2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup, which was held in Brazil from 30 September to 19 October 2008. Solomon Islands is the futsal defending champions in the Oceania region. In 2008 and 2009 the Kurukuru won the Oceania Futsal Championship in Fiji. In 2009 they defeated the host nation Fiji, 8–0, to claim the title. The Kurukuru currently hold the world record for the fastest ever goal scored in an official futsal match. It was set by Kurukuru captain Elliot Ragomo, who scored against New Caledonia three seconds into the game in July 2009. They also, however, hold the less enviable record for the worst defeat in the history of the Futsal World Cup, when in 2008 they were beaten by Russia with two goals to thirty-one.
The Solomon Islands' beach soccer team, the Bilikiki Boys, are statistically the most successful team in Oceania. They have won all three regional championships to date, thereby qualifying on each occasion for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. The Bilikiki Boys are ranked fourteenth in the world as of 2010, higher than any other team from Oceania.
In January 2011, the Bilikiki Boys played the Kurukuru in a friendly beach soccer match. The Bilikiki won 4–1. Previously, the two teams had met for a friendly futsal match, which the Kurukuru had won 5–3.
The Solomon Islands national rugby union team has been playing internationals since 1969. It took part in the Oceania qualifying tournament for the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cups, but failed to qualify on each occasion.
Education in the Solomon Islands is not compulsory and only 60 per cent of school-age children have access to primary education.
From 1990 to 1994, the gross primary school enrolment rose from 84.5 percent to 96.6 percent. Primary school attendance rates were unavailable for the Solomon Islands as of 2001. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect children's participation in school. Efforts and plans made by the Department of Education and Human Resource Development to expand educational facilities and increase enrollment have been hindered by a lack of government funding, misguided teacher training programs, poor coordination of programs, and a failure of the government to pay teachers. The percentage of the government's budget allocated to education was 9.7 percent in 1998, down from 13.2 percent in 1990.
Male educational attainment tends to be higher than female educational attainment. The University of the South Pacific has a Campus in Solomon Islands while the University of Papua New Guinea has also established a foothold in the country at Guadalcanal.
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