Image: Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland sits next to an empty chair during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall
Scanpix Norway  /  Reuters
Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Jagland sits next to an empty chair during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 12/10/2010 9:17:13 PM ET 2010-12-11T02:17:13

Clapping solemnly, dignitaries in Norway honored this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, with an empty chair.

Friday's ceremony was the first time in 74 years the award was not handed over. Liu wasn't able to collect the prestigious $1.4 million payout in Oslo on Friday because he is being held in a Chinese prison. China was infuriated when the 54-year-old literary critic won.

In 1936, Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting the award.

China repeated its claim Saturday that the world is meddling in its affairs. The ceremony was censored in China, which has seen a clampdown on dissidents and some news websites blocked in recent days.

"We oppose anyone making an issue of this matter, and oppose anyone interfering in China's internal affairs in any way," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement posted early Saturday on the ministry's website.

On Friday, police in Beijing stepped up patrols at key points, including Tiananmen Square, where witnesses say hundreds or thousands were killed when troops crushed 1989 reform protests, and Liu's apartment, where his wife is believed to be under house arrest. Authorities also tightened a clampdown on dissidents.

In China, both CNN and BBC TV channels went black at 8 p.m. local time for nearly an hour, exactly when the Oslo ceremony took place. Security outside Liu's Beijing apartment was heavy and several dozen journalists were herded by police to a cordoned-off area.

But there were no signs of trouble in the Chinese capital where memories of Tiananmen have faded for many as China has risen as a global economic and political power while guarding the Communist Party's tight hold on society.

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China also pressured foreign diplomats to stay away from the Nobel ceremony. China and 17 other countries declined to attend, including Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. At least 46 of the 65 countries with embassies in Oslo accepted invitations. Serbia, which had said it would stay away, announced Thursday that it had changed its mind and would attend.

Those accepting were not formally listed, but they include most European countries, the United States, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and South Africa.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said he regretted that Liu and his wife were not allowed to go to the ceremony as he and first lady Michelle Obama did when he won the peace prize last year.

"Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was," he said.

Empty chair to represent Liu
The prize can be collected only by the laureate or close family members. Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov of the Soviet Union and Lech Walesa of Poland were able to have their wives collect the prizes for them. Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's award was accepted by her 18-year-old son in 1991.

"We can to a certain degree say that China with its 1.3 billion people is carrying mankind's fate on its shoulders," Norwegian Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said at the ceremony in Oslo's grey-walled City Hall.

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The thousand guests rose to a standing ovation when he called for Liu's release.

"If the country proves capable of developing a social market economy with full civil rights, this will have a huge favorable impact on the world. If not, there is a danger of social and economic crises arising in the country, with negative consequences for us all."

The absence of the laureate was symbolized at the ceremony by an empty chair and a large portrait of Liu, bespectacled and smiling. After his speech, Jagland placed the Nobel award on the chair, amid applause.

Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann read out an address made by Liu, who was closely involved in Tiananmen and more recently helped found the reform group Charter 08, to a court during his trial for subversion in December 2009.

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"Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. (The) enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy," the address said.

But the former literature professor saw cause for hope.

Profiles of 10 Chinese dissidents detained ahead of ceremony

"I, filled with optimism, look forward to the advent of a future, free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme."

Jagland said Chinese attempts to control the internet showed its weakness. "Information technology cannot be abolished. It will continue to open societies."

"Liu has told his wife that he would like this year's Peace Prize to be dedicated to 'the lost souls from the 4th of June.' It is a pleasure for us to fulfil his wish."

Among the 1,000 guests at the City Hall ceremony were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Ambassador Barry White.

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China's "very public tantrum has generated even more critical attention inside and outside China and, ironically, emphasized the significance of Liu Xiaobo's message of respect for human rights," Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary general, said Thursday.

In a chaotic ceremony Thursday in Beijing, former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan was honored with the first Confucius Peace Prize — intended to put forth China's idea of peace.

Lien was absent and his aides seemed not to know anything about it. Instead, an unidentified, ponytailed girl accepted it on his behalf.

Tan Changliu, chairman of the awards committee, said the new prize should not be linked with Liu.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Nobel Prizewinner's absence speaks volumes

  1. Transcript of: Nobel Prizewinner's absence speaks volumes

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: from China , the Nobel committee today honored a Chinese activist with the Nobel Peace Prize , and his absence spoke louder than words. Our own Ian Williams has our report from Beijing .

    IAN WILLIAMS reporting: In a solemn Oslo ceremony, this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner was celebrated with an empty chair. Instead, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is in this Chinese prison, serving 11 years for subversion for promoting democracy. His wife's under house arrest in this apartment complex, silenced along with dozens of associates. The crackdown has had one simple objective, to prevent anybody, his wife here or other family, friends or supporters, from getting to Oslo to receive the prize on his behalf.

    Unidentified Reporter: The controversy surrounding this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner is growing.

    I. WILLIAMS: The government has blacked out international broadcasts about the peace prize and blocked Web sites , even some references this evening to empty chairs.

    Unidentified Woman #1:

    I. WILLIAMS: The authorities have angrily condemned the award and called the Nobel jury anti- China clowns. Though more clownish was China 's alternative, the hastily arranged Confucius Peace Prize . It was awarded to a little girl on behalf of a former Taiwanese vice president , though it turned out he knew nothing about it, which has triggered an outpouring of scorn in Taiwan , including this animated satire aimed at China 's heavy handedness. And in spite of China 's best efforts, students at Liu Xiaobo 's old university today knew about the award, albeit warily so.

    Unidentified Man: Some think it's good, but some think it's bad.

    I. WILLIAMS: While angry petitioners chose the day of the Nobel Prize , International Human Rights Day , to protest over land grabs and official brutality, knowing the international spotlight was on Beijing .

    Unidentified Woman #2:

    I. WILLIAMS: 'Where are our human rights ?' they demanded, the police soon providing an answer. The empty chair provides another. Ian Williams ,

Photos: Ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo

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  1. A children's choir bows after performing at the ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo at city hall in Oslo on Friday, Dec. 10, 2010. Liu, a democracy activist, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to Beijing's one-party communist political system. An empty chair was left for Liu on the podium. (John McConnico / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A protester holds up a cardboard reading 'No meddling in China's internal affairs' as pro-Chinese authorities demonstrators take to the street in Oslo to voice their opposition to the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. (Morten Holm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. King Harald V, left, and Queen Sonja, second from left, arrive with the Nobel Peace Prize committee during the ceremony for the Nobel Laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo at the city hall in Oslo. (Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Activists of Amnesty International wear masks with the face of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, with protest banner reading; 'Your message can save lives', during a rally in Berlin on Friday. (Stephanie Pilick / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Actors Denzel Washington and Anne Hathaway attend the ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo at city hall in Oslo. (John McConnico / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A pro-democracy protester cries during the live broadcast of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Hong Kong's Charter Garden on Friday. (Tyrone Siu / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Thorbjoern Jagland sits next to the Nobel diploma and Nobel medal placed on the empty chair during the ceremony in Oslo. (Heiko Junge / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A security man, only a hand shown, tries to keep a cameraman from shooting video footage Friday outside the residential compound where Liu Xia, the wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, lives in Beijing. China tightened a wide-ranging clampdown on dissidents and blocked some news websites ahead of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Andy Wong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The Nobel diploma awarded Liu Xiabo reads: 'The Norwegian Nobel Committee has in accordance with the testament of Alfred Nobel, drawn on November 25th 1895, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010, to Liu Xiaobo'. It is signed by the Committee members Thorbjoern Jagland, Kaci K. Five, Ellen-Marie Ytterhorn, Sissel Roenbeck and Aagot Valle. (Berit Roald / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A picture of this year's Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo at an exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo on Friday. (Scanpix Norway / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Protesters toast Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobao in Hong Kong on Friday. (Mike Clarke / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Explainer: China human rights detainees for 2010

  • BEIJING – As Oslo gets ready to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, China has been hard at work preparing for a media storm. Amnesty International claims hundreds of people have been detained, interrogated or arrested by the Chinese government ahead of Friday’s award ceremony.

    Profiled below are 10 prominent Chinese social activists who in 2010 have been jailed, put under house arrest or, in one case, even denied access back into China.

    These men and women represent a broad spectrum of Chinese society, in age, religious belief and socio-economic background.

    They are now fighting – and sometimes losing – important battles over social issues like the rights of HIV patients, freedom to protest and private property. 

  • Liu Xiaobo

    Image: Workers prepare the Nobel Peace Prize laureate exhibition 'I Have No Enemies
    TOBY MELVILLE  /  Reuters
    Workers prepare the Nobel Peace Prize laureate exhibition "I Have No Enemies" for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo December 9, 2010. 

    Age: 54

    Birthplace: Changchun, Jilin Province

    Activist career: A distinguished professor and writer, Liu has been politically active since 1989 during the Tiananmen Square protests, where he notably helped persuade students to return home before soldiers forcibly cleared the area. For his participation in the demonstrations, Liu served 19 months in jail.

    Since then, Liu has been in and out of jail and forced labor camps for criticizing China’s Communist Party and arguing in favor of rights like democratic elections, an end to one-party rule and greater governmental accountability.

    Liu’s work culminated in 2008 with his work on “Charter 08,” a manifesto created and signed by more than 350 Chinese activists calling for a timeline for the democratization of China.

    Issued on Dec. 10, 2008, and now signed by more than 10,000 people, Liu never got to witness the public release of the charter. He was detained two days before in connection to his work on it and formally arrested June 23, 2009, on the charge of, “inciting subversion of state power.”

    Liu was convicted and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment on Dec. 25, 2009. An appeal in early 2010 was heard and rejected.

    Current status: Serving an 11-year prison sentence in Liaoning province. Liu Xiaobo will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 2010. 

  • Tian Xi

    Image:Tian Xi
    China Geeks blog
    Tian Xi, a young AIDS activist in China.

    Age: 23

    Birthplace: Gulü, Henan Province

    Activist Career: In 1996,when he was 9 years old, Tian Xi was in an accident that left him with a mild concussion and requiring a blood transfusion. That transfusion inadvertently gave him HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

    China in the mid-’90s was a hotbed of medical schemes gone awry. Popular programs in which poor farmers could sell their blood to harvest the valuable plasma and have the blood re-injected – often with dirty, reused needles – as well as unregulated blood-buying programs created an environment ripe for the spread of HIV.

    Since discovering he was HIV positive in 2004, Tian Xi has been working to improve public awareness of the plight of AIDS victims in China and has tried to increase compensation for those wrongly infected.

    When a meeting with the director of the hospital where he believes he contracted the virus became heated, Tian flew into a rage and smashed a computer, fax machine and other office supplies.

    The next day Tian was detained and later formally charged with "intentionally damaging property."

    Current status: Tian Xi is still detained. His case went to trial, and he is currently awaiting a ruling.

  • Yu Jie

    Image: (FILES) This file photo taken on July 7,
    PETER PARKS  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Yu Jie, the 36-year-old author of "Wen Jiabao: China's Best Actor," seen in a file photo taken in July7, 2010.

    Age: 37

    Birthplace: Chengdu, Sichuan Province

    Activist career: A best-selling author who began producing literary works at age 13, Yu Jie is an outspoken critic of China’s Communist Party. His work is banned in China.

    Since his graduate school years at Beijing University, Yu – a devout Christian – has criticized the Communist Party on religious freedom, the stifling of democracy and other topics.

    Yu has been frequently detained, most recently in August 2010, when Chinese police became aware of his latest book printed in Hong Kong, “China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," a critical look at the country’s prime minister.

    Current status: Since his  latest book was published Yu Jie has remained under house arrest in Beijing. His computer, phone and other communication devices have been confiscated.

  • Feng Zhenghu

    Image:
    AFP-Getty Images
    Chinese human rights activist Feng Zhenghu at the Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, on Nov. 12, 2009 while he was stuck in limbo at the airport after his country's communist government denied him the right to return home.

    Age: 56

    Birthplace: Wenzhou, Zhejiang

    Activist career: A onetime economist turned human rights lawyer, writer and blogger, Feng Zhenghu spent three years in prison for “illegal business activities,” but he claims that a book he wrote criticizing Chinese regulations on foreign investment was the real reason for his jailing.

    Since his release in 2004, Feng has written a number of pieces that call attention to the practice of forced evictions by local governments in China.

    Feng garnered worldwide attention when he was denied re-entry to China eight times during a span of 92 days in 2009-2010.

    Though possessing the required documents to enter Tokyo, Feng instead elected to stay in an airport terminal at Japan’s Narita International Airport, where he started a blog and Twitter account and angrily wrote about his status and China’s intolerance toward his political views.

    Netizens from around the world were drawn to his writing, and he claimed to receive more than 1,500 emails and 20 phone calls a day.

    Current status: Though never actually formally arrested or detained by Chinese police, upon returning to his home in Shanghai, Feng has found himself subjected to regular government and police surveillance. 

  • Bai Dongping

    Age: 47

    Birthplace: Beijing

    Activist Career: A longtime member of China’s activist movement, Bai began his activism in 1989 at Tiananmen Square, where he joined an illegal workers' union that supported the student protesters.

    Since then, Bai has been active in providing legal assistance to the many petitioners who come from all around China to Beijing to beg the central government for justice when they feel they have no recourse back home. The petitioners are mostly from other provinces and a source of deep embarrassment for provincial officials who fear appearing ineffective or weak in front of Communist Party officials in Beijing.

    Bai’s work with the “Petitioners and Rights Defender’s Group” caught the attention of local police, who detained Bai on Nov. 27, 2010, after he posted a photograph of Tiananmen Square student protesters on QQ, a popular Chinese online chat service.

    According to Bai’s wife, Yang Dan, police officials called her the next day and informed her that Bai had been picked up under the ubiquitous charge of “incitement to subvert state power.”

    Current status: Police officials told Yang Dan that her husband would be held in detention for 30 days. The timing of his detention – as well as the rounding up and harassing of other activists – so close to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has many speculating that this is a concerted effort by the ruling Communist Party.

  • Gao Zhisheng

    Image: Gao Zhisheng
    Gemunu Amarasinghe  /  AP
    Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer, during his first meeting with the media after he resurfaced in Beijing, China on April 7, 2010. He later disappeared again and his whereabouts are unknown.

    Age: 44

    Birthplace: Shanxi Province

    Activist career: A self-taught lawyer, Gao built a Beijing law practice working on behalf of victims of medical malpractice and evicted landowners.  His reputation was so great that he was selected by the Ministry of Justice in 2001 as one of “China’s 10 Best Lawyers.”

    However, his work on behalf of Falun Gong members and illegal undercover Christian churches soon irked government officials.

    In 2006, his law license was revoked and he was arrested under the charge of “inciting subversion.”  Though he was later released, Gao was still subjected to near constant government surveillance and harassment.

    In early 2009, Gao’s wife and two children fled to the United States and sought asylum. They now live in New York.

    Soon after, Gao was suddenly taken into government detention again. Despite reporters badgering government officials to comment on Gao’s whereabouts, he wasn’t seen or heard from again until March 2010, when he showed up in Beijing long enough to renounce his political activism before disappearing again.

    Current status: Gao has not been seen or heard from since April 2010, and the police have refused to give any information about his whereabouts. 

    In September, 30 members the U.S. Congress signed a letterurging President Barack Obama to push the Chinese government for the release of Gao, as well as Nobel prize winner, Liu Xiaobo.

  • Wu Yuren

    Image:
    Courtesy Wu Yuren
    Wu Yuren, a prominent Chinese artist and activist.

    Age: 39

    Birthplace: Jintan, Jiangsu Province

    Activist career:  A prominent artist in Beijing’s burgeoning art community and a signee of the infamous “Charter 08,” Wu led a group of artists in their resistance against real estate developers trying to take over their studios.

    In February 2010, Wu and other leaders organized a march down Beijing’s main thoroughfare, Chang’an Avenue. 

    Any organized march draws concerns from China’s leaders, but the fact that this march was on the main avenue that crosses through the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square caused police to quickly take action.

    After the march had covered 500 yards, police broke it up and later detained Wu.

    The protest worked: Wu and the other artists were later able to sit down with the developers and negotiate compensation. Wu and many of the artists then moved their studios to Beijing’s most well-known art area, the 798 district.

    However, a later dispute between Wu and the property managers led to his arrest. Police allege that he assaulted a police officer, and he was charged with “obstructing public security.”

    Current status: According to his Canadian wife, Karen Patterson, Wu Yuren is  in the Chaoyang District Criminal Detention Center. His trial has started, but they are awaiting news of when the next trial date will be.

  • Zhao Lianhai

    Image:
    Zhao Lianhai
    Zhao Lianhai, center, celebrates his son's 5th birthday.

    Age: 38

    Birthplace: Beijing

    Activist Career: Zhao Lianhai’s activism began in September 2008 when he discovered that his 3-year-old son had a kidney stone.

    In the following few weeks, Zhao discovered that his son and nearly 300,000 other children in China had in fact been poisoned in one of the biggest food safety scandals to hit the country.

    Several milk companies, most prominently, Sanlu, were accused of knowingly allowing the chemical melamine to be added to watered down milk to artificially boost protein levels and pass quality tests.

    Six babies were known to have been killed by melamine poisonings, though that number is suspected to be far higher.

    The Sanlu Co. was destroyed by the scandal and its chairwoman sentenced to life in prison for her complacency in the scandal. And in December 2008, 22 other dairy companies were ordered to pay compensation to families affected by the scandal.

    For Zhao and other families in China affected by the poisonings, the compensation – $30,000 for a death, $4,500 for serious illness and $300 for a moderately ill child – was simply not enough to pay the immediate medical bills and to mollify concerns about future organ damage to the children that may require additional treatment.

    Zhao started a website to organize families and to facilitate discussion online about the compensation. He also organized parents to talk to the media about the scandal and to picket courthouses to demand justice.

    Censors soon shut down the website, and Zhao found himself under police surveillance.

    In November 2009, police arrested Zhao under the charge of “inciting social disorder.”

    On Nov.10, 2010, the court found Zhao guilty and sentenced him to two and a half years in jail.

    Current status: Zhao Lianhai is serving his prison term. His wife – who is unemployed – and two children are currently living off donations from supporters.

  • Cheng Jianping

    Image:
    Cheng Jianping Twitter
    Cheng Jianping seen in her Twitter profile photo.

    Age: 46

    Birthplace: Zhejiang Province

    Activist career: Originally based out of Zhejiang, Cheng began her activism in 2006 after the alleged rape and murder in Hubei of Gao Yingying. Government officials quickly ruled it a suicide and claimed Gao had leapt to her death from the roof of the hotel she worked at.

    Various bruises and cuts on her wrists and face, however, suggested foul play.

    As the government worked to shut down media coverage of the death, Cheng left her job and traveled to Hubei to provide assistance to Gao’s family.

    Working through China’s popular messaging service QQ, Cheng posted stories and videos that called attention to Gao’s case and helped find financial and legal assistance for the family as they geared up to fight for justice for their daughter.

    Though the investigation never progressed beyond its initial stages, Cheng had found her calling. “This campaign completely changed my values of life,” said Cheng in an interview soon after. “I realize the root of all this country’s tragedy was the system – a system without supervision.”

    She worked as an activist protesting against forced evictions of homeowners by land developers and called attention to the plight of child slavery after 1,500 children were rescued after being enslaved at brick kilns in Shanxi.   

    Despite her activism, what landed her in jail was a tweet.

    Cheng’s reposted a sarcastic tweet from her fellow activist and fiancée, Hua Chunhui, on Oct. 17, 2010, that mockingly called for the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo to be attacked.

    Japan and China at the time were engaged in a tense war of words over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and the capture of a Chinese fishing boat captain by the Japanese navy in those disputed waters.

    Ten days later – the day her fiancée says they were planning to be married – authorities arrested Cheng for “disrupting the social order” and summarily convicted her.

    Current status: Cheng Jianping is serving a year’s sentence at the Shibali River women’s labor camp in Henan.

  • Liu Xianbin

    Image:
    Courtesy of Rights Protections
    Liu Xianbin in an undated photo.

    Age: 42

    Birthplace: Suining, Sichuan province

    Activist career: Liu Xianbin personifies the political dissident who remained in China post-1989 to push for political change from within.

    Active in the pro-democracy demonstrations as a student in Tiananmen Square and Chengdu in 1989, Liu did not end his activism after the crushing of the movement.

    Liu continued to write essays calling for the formation of a democratic party in China and chastising government officials for the harsh tactics they used against those who participated in the 1989 democracy movement.

    Twice in the ’90s, first in 1992 for two years and again in 1998, Liu was arrested for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement."

    Since being released from prison in 2008, Liu has continued his work as an activist.

    In addition to being one of the original signees of Charter 08 soon after his release from prison, Liu has been vocal in criticizing substandard building practices at schools in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and has provided support for other political dissidents currently in jail, including Liu Xiaobo.

    On June 28, 2010, security officers went to Liu’s home in Sichuan and took him to the Suining City Public Security Bureau. According to the detention notice given to his wife, his detention was ordered due to the suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

    Current status: Liu Xianbin has been in detention since June 28, 2010.

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