by The Rambler
Horagolla is well known as the location of Horagolla Walauwwa, the home of the Bandaranaike family. As the country seat of the Bandaranaikes it was brought into national prominence with the election of SWRD Bandaranaike as Prime Minister in 1956. A lesser known fact is that Horagolla was also the location of another family, perhaps much less known locally, but with an interesting history, who were the only other land owners of significance in Horagolla. They were the Bevens who owned a 250 acre coconut estate called Franklands and who were the neighbours of the Bandaranaikes in the village of Horagolla.
Local folk lore seem to suggest that the village of Horagolla came to be so named for the forest land dominated by Hora trees (Dipterocarpus Zeylanicus) which grew in the area prior to it being cleared for the cultivation of coconut. It is believed that the original Horagolla Walauwwa was built nearly 200 years ago, around 1820, by SWRD’s great grandfather Don Solomon Dias Bandaranaike (born in 1780) who was granted a 175 acre land by the British Government for his assistance in the construction of the Kandy Road, particularly the section between Colombo and Veyangoda. Sir James Emerson Tennent who was Colonial Treasurer of the time published his monumental two volume treatise “CEYLON” in 1859. In referring to the then existent Horagolla Walauwwa he said “the most agreeable example of the dwelling of a low country headman, with its broad verandahs, spacious rooms, and extensive offices, shaded by palm groves and fruit trees”.
According to Don Solomon’s grandson Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, the building was located on the site where his grandfather found an albino tortoise (kiri ibba) which he thought was a good omen and a suitable site to build his home. Don Solomon and his son and grandson later expanded their land holdings to cover over 3,000 acres of land some of which were maintained as hunting grounds as the area abounded in elephant, elk, and deer. The property portfolio included the Weke Group of about 900 acres of coconut, paddy, and forest land including a hunting lodge.
The wheel turned its full circle over 150 years later when the wife of Don Solomon’s great grandson SWRD Bandaranaike Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of the time in 1974, engaged in a national programme of land reform and reduced the Bandaranaike land holdings to 150 acres.
The progenitor of the Beven family in Ceylon was Drum Major Thomas Beven who arrived in Ceylon from England in the late 18th Century and was part of the 19th Regiment in Ceylon, a unit which was involved in several campaigns to oust the then reigning King of Kandy, Sri Wickreme Rajasinghe, who was finally captured with the help of Adigar Ehelapola. Interestingly, when the British together with Kandyan Chieftain Ekneligoda Dissawe took Rajasinghe as prisoner, among the low country chieftains present was Don William Adrian Dias Bandaranaike, a close kinsman of Don Solomon. Although there is no evidence on record of the role played by Thomas Beven in the regime change that unfolded at the time, the family that he founded has certainly played a significant role in the country in the 19th and 20th centuries.
His only son John married Sophia Maria Koertz whose forbears lived in Ceylon from the 17th century. He fathered a brood of 17 children of whom the fourth in order of birth was John Francis. Popularly known as Francis Beven he was born in 1847 and educated at the Colombo Academy (later renamed as Royal College).where he won the coveted Turnour Prize. He was enrolled as an Advocate at the age of 23 and at the time was one of only 21 advocates practicing in the island. * His mother being of European descent, Francis Beven was a member of the then dominant Burgher community. Beven commanded a lucrative law practice from his early days. He was also associated with the Exaniner newspaper, a bi weekly founded in 1846. It was purchased in 1859 by Charles Ambrose Lorenz reputedly the most highly regarded and famous member of the Burgher community of all time.
At the age of 23, Francis Beven became a co proprietor of the Examiner together with Lorenz and Leopold Ludovici. He was also its Editor for many years developing the paper to be a very influential and powerful voice for the Burgher community at a time when the country was under total British rule. Later the paper took a “pro Ceylonese” stance and was the voice for the entire community. The Examiner together with The Observer and Times were the only English newspapers of that era. As a busy lawyer and Editor of an influential newspaper he was both well known and powerful.
He was acting member of the First legislative Council and in the words of JR Weinman writing in 1918 “Francis Beven who hurls his thunderbolts from the Olympian heights of Veyangoda in the form of letters to the various Colombo journals, acted for some time for the late Mr Loos (in the Legislative Council). “F.B” as all Ceylon knows him is a man of great capacity. He is one of the most distinguished old boys of Royal College . Everybody who came in contact with him had the highest opinion of him.”
At the age of 34 Francis Beven had already made a fortune at the Bar especially at the Courts in Kandy where he commanded an extensive practice. A hearing impairment however impeded his further progress at the bar and in 1881, when 34 years old, he chose to try his hand at agriculture. He had earned enough at the bar to purchase a 250 acre coconut and cinnamon property near the Bandaranaike homestead. It is believed that the property was purchased from Mudaliyar DCDH Dias Bandaranaike the father of Sir Solomon and the only son of Don Solomon. Francis named his property “Franklands” and built a comfortable house to which he moved soon thereafter. The Bandaranaikes and the Bevens became firm family friends and neighbours.
Sir Solomon in his memoirs “Remembered Yesterdays” recalls his visit to Europe in 1914 where he met Mr and Mrs Francis Beven also holidaying in London. The family connection may have been so close that Francis Beven’s youngest brother H.O. Beven negotiated with Sir Solomon to lease the latter’s Weke Estate. That transaction soured later and Sir Solomon wrote “I was also compelled to go to law at this period (1915) as a result of some differences with HO Beven, who was the lessee of my Weke Estate. I was very sorry, as we had been friends for a long time. The late Mr W. Wordsworth tried the case (which was decided in my favour, with Beven cast in stiff damages), and I was represented by Mr EJ Samarawickrema (now KC) instructed by Messrs FJ and G de Saram while Mr EW Jayawardene (also now KC) instructed by Messrs Mack appeared on the other side. The case went up in appeal, and the damages were a little reduced.”
Francis Beven seemed to have lived in style emulating the life style of his illustrious neighbour Sir Solomon who was the confidante of successive Governors of Ceylon and known for his lavish entertainment of visiting royalty. With a palatial residence served by a string of domestic staff, Francis was also in the lap of luxury. He had married at the age of 23 and had seven children. The eldest son Francis Lorenz was educated at Royal College (as were his other sons). who on his return from England in 1895 was admitted to Holy Orders and served as Curate of St Paul’s Church, Kandy and later appointed Archdeacon of Colombo. Another son Osmund was a Medical doctor. The third son Alan Karl took to planting and was in charge of Franklands although Francis was still its owner and chief occupant. A smaller bungalow was built on the property where Alan resided with his family. Family lore suggests that despite father and son living in separate houses on the same property, relationships were formal as was customary in Victorian times. When Francis had Alan and family over for a meal for instance, the invitation was on a hand written card served on a silver platter delivered by a liveried butler!!
A brief reference to another sibling of Francis Beven may not be out of place here. The eldest sibling was John George James born in 1843 and died before he was a year old. The next was Thomas Edwin who was later a well known Proctor in Kandy and a Lieut Colonel in the Ceylon Light Infantry. He fathered 10 children among whom were the two daughters Harriet and Florence who occupied the family home “Rose Cottage” on Victoria Drive, Kandy after Edwin died in 1919. In October 1947 the two sisters, then in their late seventies met with tragedy. They employed four servants including a gardener and on that fateful night two intruders broke into their home with the aim of robbing the house. The sisters were strangled and Florence succumbed to her injuries while the elder Harriet recovered miraculously. She however died the following year. Two servants including one named KG Siyadoris who was a trusted servant for over 12 years were charged with their murder but were acquitted after a trial at the Kandy Assizes presided over by Justice C. Nagalingam.
Francis passed away in 1921 at the age of 74 and elder son Lorenz moved into the property which upon Lorenz’s death in 1947 passed on to Alan. Alan’s daughter Molly married Douglas Hennessy, Superintendent of Police better known as the author of the popular memoir “Green Aisles” which wistfully recounted their life in a home built in the middle of the jungle in Horawapotana. The Hennessys later moved to Quetta in Baluchistan after bidding a tearful farewell to their jungle home and pets including a pet bear, and finally retired in Australia.
With the death of Anura Bandaranaike the last surviving direct male descendant of Don Solomon, Horagolla Walauwwa would presumably be now owned by lateral descendants. As for Franklands, Alan willed the property to the Anglican Church and there ended the Bevens’ century old connection with Horagolla. For some years the legal firm of Julius and Creasy managed the property on behalf of the church.
The Bandaranaikes and the Bevens have in their own way played dominant roles in the development of Sri Lanka during colonial days and their generational triumphs and vicissitudes seem to mirror to some degree the hey day of British colonial rule and its ultimate demise. Three generations of Bevens could be identified in the accompanying photo viz Francis, his son Alan Karl and grandson Francis Vandersmagt. The descendants of the Bevens have since chosen to seek greener pastures overseas for their future generations. Francis Vadersmagt, Beven’s son Francis Hildon who migrated to Australia in the 1960s now lives in retirement after a successful career in Melbourne. Hildon like his forbears attended school at Royal College and in his youthful days in Colombo was a skilled spear fisherman and skin diver and prominent member of the old Kinross Swimming and Life Saving Club. The Bandaranaike family however for their part continued to play a dominant role in post independent Sri Lanka, their well known contribution being indelibly marked in the recent history of the country.
* The other advocates in 1870 were James De Alwis, C. Britto, R. Cayley, Muttu Coomaraswamy, Harry Dias, W.D. Drieberg, J.H.Eaton, J.W. Ferguson, Nicholas Gould, C.S.Hay, C.A. Lorenz, R.F.Morgan, O.W.C. Morgan, R.H.Morgan, P.P.Mutukrishna, Louis Nell, P de M Ondatje, D. Purcell, J. Van Langenberg, and C.C. Wyman.
(Courtesy elanka, Australia’s premier website for Lankans Down under)
Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective
by Harshana Rambukwella
Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).
Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.
Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.
Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.
But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.
Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.
However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.
Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies
No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment
by jehan perera
The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.
There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.
The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.
The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.
In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.
In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.
Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.
It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.
To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.
Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity
By Hema Arachi
T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.
This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.
President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”
A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.
During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.
I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”
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