September 26th, 2011
02:44 PM GMT
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Athens (CNN) – They say a crisis can bring out the best or worst in people, a society or on a continent. Seeing the Greece situation unfold first hand and talking to politicians, business people and those on the streets, one can witness how divided this country of 11 million people on the tip of southern Europe is becoming.

The divisiveness is multi-layered; first within the ruling, socialist Pasok party itself. On the left, party members yearn for the days of the current prime minister's father in the 1980s, Andreas Papandreou, when state ownership was the call to arms, a large public sector provided employment and an equally large safety net. On the right of that party, those who are aware the country is living on borrowed time and money.

Within Parliament, there is no sense of a common good. Prime Minister George Papandreou and the leader of New Democracy Antonis Samaras –despite being college room-mates in the past - cannot rally their party rank and file members to finally deliver deep, overdue reforms.

Most alarming as one who has covered this country since the 1990s is the division amongst the Greek people. On one side, members of the public sector, making up one fifth of the workforce (the largest in percentage terms in Europe) and the private sector on the other. The latest austerity plans call for a 20% reduction in pension payments for those making more than $1650, a 40% cut for those who retired before 55 and 30 thousand furloughed state workers. They will not be terminated but will see a reduction in their wages.

As part of the package, there is a new round of tax increases. Property taxes will be in place from 2011-2014, joining a handful of tax "enhancements" introduced since the crisis began. The private sector says they are bearing the brunt of the revenue burden and state workers say the wealthy have made tax evasion an art form. Finally, there is a small, but vocal camp which says it is time to exit the euro and the majority who still believe the young currency can offer stability and discipline.

One source in the ruling party described today's climate as a "frustrating mess" with nasty in-fighting and complete uncertainty about the future. That uncertainty has lead to what can be described as an austerity trap. Consumer confidence has plummeted as the country chalks up its third year of recession. The numbers are alarming. Unemployment is at a record 16.3%; it is a frightening 40% amongst those in their prime employment years between 30-44, according to the government. GDP in the 2nd quarter collapsed by 7.3%.

While Greek society is being torn apart by government debts of nearly one and half times their economy, one parliamentarian complained about being a guinea pig in the euro experiment. As one leading Greek industrialist suggested today, Greece needs to integrate more with Europe, not less. Governance is vital, EU-wide budget targets and mandatory reforms are what can keep Greece and its neighbors on the path to reform and eventually recovery. The problem is, with 17 members of the eurozone, many with very different visions of a common market and a unified Europe, that is proving difficult in the best of times and nearly impossible during a crisis.

A decade ago, Greece was enjoying the booms times of massive spending on the 2004 Olympics. EU structural funds poured in to build motorways and bridges and thanks to euro membership that brought in record low interest rates consumers went on a borrowing spree. In 2003, Greece grew nearly 6% and 4% the year after. That was the time to push through labor reforms, restructure investment laws and to have a European-wide system for budgetary controls.

It was a missed opportunity and now the Greek people are pointing fingers at each other and looking to Europe for a solution.



soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. ElitistNot

    Greece is only a country divided amongst the Greeks and the Rothschilds who are ripping off the country and enslaving the Greeks. Their government doesn't listen or do anything the people want; are are Rothschild puppets.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  2. Argyris

    I liked your article, i am not a fun of the conspiracy theories and i really believe that we need "FIRST" to solve
    our internal problems. The current government along with Nea Dimokratia are the rulers of Greece for the last
    30 years...the people are allowing 2 families to control Greece for 3 decades...we miss a true leader!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  3. Scott

    Funny how so many citizens could be miliking their gov't of so much and still have the gaul to blame others for their problems.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  4. Maria

    I speak Greek but live in the US. I have been following the news from afar, but I do read quite a few Greek blogs and listen to the programs on Greek radio and tv. I do not see a country as divided as in the past. In fact, the people seem united regarding what they do not want– and that is the current political system. They do not want the ruling so-called socialist party, which ran on the exact opposite policies of what it is actually delivering. The problem with the Greek protest movement is that it has yet to find its leader. Once it does, it will be a powerful force.

    Also, I do not see the see that the so-called socialists are divided. They make a show of arguing but in the end when it is time to vote, they all vote the party line. As for Mr. Samaras, I do not know how much different he would be than the current government, but I am happy that he has not agreed to the bipartisan offers of Mr. Papandreou, who sounds more like an American politician than a Greek one, perhaps owing to his having been born in the US. The current austerity path Greece is on is a disastrous one, and bipartisanship would only make it that much more difficult to course correct when a proper government takes power.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  5. Jannenman

    Maybe i am wrong but:
    They are talking of an amount of money needed as big as 1.000.000.000.000 euro (12 zero's). And there are 11 million greecs. Thats 100.000 euro per greec?!
    Am i crazy or does the rest of europe have to pay so they can all live in a private villa?
    Is this for real?

    September 27, 2011 at 5:05 am |
  6. Paul Johnston, PhD Economics

    THIS IS THE FRAUD OF THE CENTURY. THE EU, IMF and ECB are run by criminals like the FED's Tim Geithner who rig the markets, then want the taxpayer to cover their mistakes... Time to say NO, and stand up and fight for your rights People!

    September 27, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  7. Dagmar

    @Maria- You offer a lot of criticism but don’t provide any ideas about solutions. Greece is about to default on their loans, the guys from the 'World Bank collection agency' are going to show up in vans and begin repossessing their "stuff". Seriously, you speak to a "proper government" correcting the course? What course correction do you suggest? How is the country going to save money, repay their debt and foster economic growth? The statistics are staggering, 20% of the Greek population works for the govt, 40% unemployment amongst those between 30-44 years...in other words parents with school children! Furthermore, Greek citizens appear to be refusing to accept reality. They are going to ‘protest’ against any government cuts? Hopefully, this will not involve destruction of public property, since no one is going to repair or replace it! I agree with you, we are facing similar challenges in the United States. I am very disillusioned by the political parties and by the social polarization that the political parties seem to stir up. Rather than bringing Americans together to face some unpleasant truths, they simply spew invective and move forward with their own agendas.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:27 am |
  8. Costas G (MD, PhD)

    @Paul Johnston – Thanks Paul for making the most sensible comment here.

    Public opinion in Greece favours a solution where those responsible for the crisis should foot the bill too. The Greek people are not directly responsible for the present situation – their only fault was that they put their trust in those that have governed Greece over the last decades. The expressed popular opinion is that unbearably heavy taxation of the working class, the pensioners and even the unemployed (!) is unjust and obviously unable to boost the state's vaults. At the same time the share of the rich in taxation is an insult to any form of logic. Greece is only "responsible" for ~2% of the EU deficit and as Paul Johnston (above) points out the whole brew-up is the FRAUD OF THE CENTURY. The financial "aid" from the "Troika" (the EU, IMF and ECB) is at high interest and those EU countries "complaining" should acknowledge that they are making a PROFIT from this market rigging at the expense of Greece, Ireland Portugal, Spain and Italy. Greeks regard the current government as an IMF puppet show and are not prepared to accept any more of the cuts imposed by the Troika. Mass protests and civil disobedience (e.g. refusal of payment of new taxes) is the latest and fast-spreading development in Greece. Frankly, about 50% of the population is not simply refusing to pay the new taxes – they are UNABLE to do so! Winter is approaching and today electric power rose by 60%! The cost of basic home needs has spiked. Wages have been halved and all benefits discontinued. Hospitals are understaffed and without sufficient supplies. Schools started the new school year without books (!) and not enough teachers – even some school subjects have been removed (lack of teachers) although there are thousands of unemployed. Prices are soaring higher every day and tens of thousands simply can't meet the cost of living (literally!). Simply put, this just cannot continue – the pressure is in the red and the top will soon blow. This is neither a wish or a prophecy of calamity... it is a normal and natural consequence.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  9. Dave

    This is happening worldwide at least the greeks have got the guts to protest at the fraud comitted by the banks ,if you talk about bubbles bursting get ready this will be the big BANG.................................................................................

    September 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  10. Just another Greek fighter

    The article is disapointing... but what else could someone expect from CNN??
    The Greek dept could be declared as illegal (in its vast majority) cause the lenders, at the time they were lending, knew that the borrowing goverments was spending the money with non-transparent methods.. If you just study the Greek-political scandal history you will know why there is efforts today to stop independent authorities from re-xamining where this huge "dept" came from.
    The international mafia of bankers is running this game!
    There is absolutly NO possiility that Greece will not default. We, the Greeks know that, the EU commision knows that, the bankers know that.... Preaty everybody who doesnt read CNN-type of news knows that!
    But before the country is officialy bankrupt there is one more thing that the elite can do in order to profit from the situation they have created. And this is to sell the country and kill the remailning welllfare.This is what they are doing right now.
    This is the truth about what is going on in Greece and dont let anybody school you about Greek people pointing fingures at each other.... Political system is corruppt – Monetary system is corrupt. – We have a crisis here

    September 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  11. Johnson

    Why should the Greeks have to pay taxes when Germany is so rich?

    September 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  12. Lambick

    Funny, how some people when in trouble always seem to blame that on someone else. The fact of the matter is that the Greek govt., knowing it was borrowing much more than it could ever repay (simple calculations, nothing fancy) just went on recklessly. But the govt. was smart enough to share the borrowed spoils with the unions. The money was partially used to give every Greek and his nephew a job with the govt., but not for long because he was pensioned before he really got used to the job. Anyone, especially a union worth its salt, knows that this kind of labour relations in a very modest economy is the result of some kind of trick. The big beers, by the way, get away with the big money from the borrowed pile, because the same govt. conveniently forgot to tax them. No use blaming the EU/ECB/IMF and all other conspirators for the trouble they are in: the Greek govt. just organised an ugly and vulgar fraud. And the unions repay the govt.: they now organise protests, threatening to tear the place apart if the creditors demand their money back too hard. Bit of blatant blackmail, no?

    September 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  13. Just another Greek fighter

    Ignorant Lambick... so much detached from the Greek reality. Do you have any idea what the Olympics cost for Greece? Do you know how many billions in Siemens scandal? and about the German submarine scandal? and about the State selling asets to the church and then buing them back in the 10th price..???
    When was the last time you were in Greece to witness alll this money fllowing around??
    What you are saying is a joke...A bad one!!!

    September 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  14. Dave

    all governments and banks are corrupt not just greece ,banks created money out of thin air and created a false economy worldwide ,this money doesnt really exist its just numbers on a pc screen .....the euro will fail very soon anyway the banks gambled and lost.............

    September 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  15. Rick

    The root of the problem is the same as the US. 70% of all income in Greece is untaxed. Thats right, untaxed. Payroll taxes on the middle class is mandatory, but not on the rich who do not get 'paid'. This amounts to 70% of the total personal income. The problem is not that the community wants some return from their government, it is that the social contracts that have been agreed upon in the past can not be funded by current revenue streams. You can only cut benefits (break the social contract) or tax everyone equally. Guess what is going to happen and who they will blame. Don't believe me? Look it up.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  16. Mark

    Funny how Greeks blame each other, and they are all right. Private sector workers avoided paying tax, public workers avoided to actually work (or even show up at work), but still getting paid. Not all of them sure, but a great number of them. And to blame the political parties is an even bigger joke, people kept on voting for the same two parties like forever. Why? Personal benefits. I don't feel sorry for most of the Greeks, although I love many of them, time to point to themselves and focus on how to fix this mess from a personal perspective.

    September 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  17. Garry

    I like the way some of the people here characterise the Greek situation. Sometimes I have hope that not everyone in the world is so stupid and blind as to believe everything he talking heads and politicians/banksters tell us.Posters Paul Johnston and Costas G and Dave have it right. Idiiot posters like Johnson, Lambick and Scott are going to have to say the same about themselves soon...as what is happening in Europe is definitely coming to the US and the rest of the world. What will they say then? Oh, it's different here, it's not OUR fault...right!

    September 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  18. Shemp

    To Gary, who seems like he has a chip on his shoulder against anyone telling their opinion on Greece. Sure, the US may have the same problem as Greece, but it won't be like that because as long as China keeps buying our treasury bonds, we'll sail on and on. America is a good brand and people will always buy it. Unfortunately, Greece is a crappy knock-off brand and so no one trusts it. That's why they are not doing well. Sure, American's debt makes Greece's debt look like an allowance, but even after the US downgrade by S&P, the treasury bonds still flow and even more.

    USA is here to stay. Jealous non-Americans, or self-loathing Americans need not respond.

    September 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  19. Rob

    • Did the trillion dollar bailout of American banks work? Or did it just buy us a little time; lest we forget the reason the banks needed a bailout in the first place – because so many are not able to repay their debts.

    • We can do another round of printing money and fund the banks and keep the rich flushed with cash ... but it’s still not going to fix the underlying problem – Greed.

    • The problem is the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. And when the poor get poorer how can they repay their debts. So governments, controlled by the rich, step in to cover what the rich might have lost otherwise – and with your money no less.

    • Why are the rich getting richer and the poor poorer? There are only so many dollars out there to go around; for one group to take more, then another needs to accept less.

    • The vast wealth stemming from natural resources are going into the pockets of a very few people ... the principle shareholders of resource based companies. When a company goes public – the rich get first dibs. That is the gr8est crime of all – hidden in plain view to all.

    • When a company such as Standard Oil … goes public to become Chevron Oil … there is a preliminary phase where “preferred customers” .. The very richest … are able to call first dibs on new stock and bond offerings.

    • While no buying and selling occurs during this early phase... nonetheless ... on the morning a stock starts trading.... large blocks are sold to preferred customers from prearranged deals that are not open to the public, but are rather private and exclusive .... Really it should be called the private market system ... not a free market economy, but rather a highly controlled economy of, by and for the rich – not the people.

    • Moreover, the rich do not even need to use their own money to purchase their holdings. The preferred customers own their 1st tier investment firms which are usually also Banks … as such they can borrow from the FED (central Bank) at prime – almost interest free. And, if their investments go bad ... no problem, they have their agents in government to take the money from you (as taxes) to cover their losses. When you lose ... who covers your losses?

    • The net effect is 98 % of natural resource based companies are now owned by the richest 1% – purchased with your money no less – your public money new from the Central Bank or your money on deposit in their banks.

    • Moreover, by the same modality….. The richest 1% own 98 % of public assets (natural resources) by owning the companies that own the leases to natural resources.

    October 2, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  20. Rob

    • Imagine you’re out on lake Ontario, a little boat ride with your family, and along comes the police asking to see your permit to be out on the lake.

    • A few hundred years ago some European land baron type happened upon Lake Ontario and claimed it for himself. This family then hired the police to ride around on their lake to collect royalties from anyone who would drink, take, or ride on its waters.

    • I would submit that if you dip your bucket into this lake and walk away with some of its water, then process this bucket of water to make it pure ... then this bucket of purified water (that you made) becomes your water. And you can then sell your water to whomever you want. How much time you can get in payment for your water depends on how much of your time you put into making it.

    • You could try to charge more time than what it cost you to make it, but then others could simply go make their own water rather than pay your price. So you would need to stay fair in your pricing; but if you owned the lake, then you can charge any premium and people will have to pay you. There are underground lakes of Oil, Gas and Ores that some small groups of greedy people have claimed for themselves.

    • This tells the story of the correct allocation of natural recourses. Capitalism as it is presently structured is the source of all poverty, misery and wars in this world. So long as the bottom line- is the bottom line – and wars make more money than peace ... then there will always be wars on earth and no peace.

    • Capitalism needs correction in the area of allocation of natural resources. It’s not about taking from the rich to give to the poor ... it’s about not taking from the poor what is rightfully theirs to give to the rich. It’s about restructuring capitalism to be a free market system that works for everyone and not just the few greedy who have claimed lakes of Oil and Ore for themselves.

    • When does one man have a right to stop another? I would submit that if by allowing someone to continue on their way – if someone might get hurt – then and only then do we have a right to stop them.

    • However, we do not have a right to stop others for the purpose of charging a fee before allowing people to continue on their way. We do not live in a Free Market economy ... we live in the illusion of a free economy.

    • For example: Suppose you work as a fisherman on the west coast of Canada and one day you and all the other fishermen working on the boat do the math and realize that you could be making 300,000 dollars a year instead of 100,000 a year.

    • So you and all the other fishermen working on the boat decide to pool your money together to purchase your own commercial fishing boat and start your own biz. So what’s there to stop you? A fishing quota ... not a free market economy, but rather a very centrally controlled almost communist like government.

    • One man owns 95% of the fishing quota on the west coast of Canada and he’s not even a working fisherman. (Jim Paterson if I remember correctly – the same family that financed the rail road in western Canada). The other 5% of the quota is owned by fewer than 10 more and they also are not even working fishermen.

    • Fishing quotas should be granted freely and equitably among all the working fishermen. And if new fishermen are attracted by high profits, then nothing “legal” should block new fishermen from entering this line of work. Whatever the quota is, it should be shared among all the people who want to work in that field.

    • As more people move to work in some field ... margins will come down... others will then be attracted to other fields with more profits and where more people are needed to work.

    • This is not about giving to the poor ... it’s about not taking from the poor what is rightfully theirs ... that’s why the poor and poor ... because they pay too much for the right to continue on their way – extortion.

    October 2, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  21. raika45

    I may not be that bright but 11 million people raked up a debt running into billion of euros?On top of it the EU is bailing them out but the Greeks are complaining that their lifestyle is curtailed by the conditions imposed?Why don't the EU just kick their butt and let them live on their own.Maybe then they will come to their senses.

    October 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  22. Paul Johnston, PhD Economics

    I have lived in Greece for 30 years and I can tell you no amount of bailout funds will help this country because it is the two main political parties who have ruined Greece through 30 years of financial mismanagement and just plain greed. Until this major problem is addressed and these corrupt people are removed from leadership, whatever EU, IMF funds are given them will not work, but only continue to be stolen, mismanaged, wasted and lost down the drain. Why do you think there are hundreds of thousands of Greek citizens in the streets protesting their leadership? Why hasn’t the Euro Parliament asked for these criminal Greek Leaders to be arrested and tried and made to return the stolen funds from the EU and the People?

    Paul Johnston, PhD Economics

    October 2, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  23. 1alan1

    I read today that some people have had their debts forgiven. So if this spreads Goldman Sachs will be have to get a bailout from the US.

    October 2, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  24. raika45

    Greece with11million people in debt for billions of euros.May be the GUINNESS book of records want to look at it.

    October 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  25. Disgrunlted

    Have read all the above remarksfrom Greek fans and not, but still have not understood their end results. Am I so disturbed or another confused human ? For over 35 years, the Greeks had no disciplinary action anywhere, especially starting from the governments, resulting in bogus laws being passed for immunities, no jurisdictional penalities, etc. Money was squandered recklessly, and as a result few made large profits, including the political cliques of the time. The people voted foolishly for their favouritising parties, and enjoyed the new borne wealth to them. No one wanted to accept the economic figures and state of the country lest he may be considered a Cassandra, thus now having to face the music. The music is not pleasant at all ,and more so as it is being run by a non competent government and under strict measures imposed by the IMF/EU. Taxing left right and centre the private sector and now a few years later the public sectors wont solve the problem. The problem can be solved only through proper heavy investments in productive units throughout the country, and revising the IMF/EU obligations towards a longer stretch of repayments. The reorganising of the public sectors, various social structures, and the banking systems, will also be needed undoubtedly. But currently there is no governing authority in sight, able to tackle these matters without bearing a heavy electorate voting loss. Does this mean the Greeks are in a stale mate status ? Or is this only a symptom of world economic politics and freehand economic practices ? Where are the men with balls who can tackle this epidemic ?

    October 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  26. FRT

    The truth is; Greece has never had a good economy. They got into the eurozone with fake financial reports and as soon as ECB found this out, it was announced that Greece is in dept. Of course that is not suprising for non-greeks but as greece is the spoiled child of the EU, they were not satisfied with this. Greece had always been using EU funds twice more than they contribute. Eurozone countries are in doubt of kicking Greece out because are are all concerned about the future of Euro. Noone cares Greece but i think it is time for greeks to face the consequences...

    October 2, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  27. Kme

    This is where we are headed with the socialist spenders and taxers in congress and the White house. Too many voters are also like congress and the pres, they expect something for nothing. Borrowing works for awhile but it always comes to a bad end when you depend on it.

    October 2, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  28. G. Athanassoulis

    The article of Mr Defterios contains a big mistake or should I say that it rather contains a big lie propagated by various sides in the drama of the country, in order to allow the Greek goverment and her lenders to serve better and easier their goals. Greece hasn't got the largest percentage of civil servants of the EE. This falacy is used again and again. No wonder why. As a matter of fact this number is a little below the EE's average. Please try to get the correct figures from the proper EE's Agensies and then make an amendement in your statements. As far as the divide in the Greek Society, again the article got it wrong. Rightly or wrongly, at least the 80% of the people are against the goverment and its policies, which are killing all the prospects of recovery and survival of Greece and her citizens. Thus there is no divide in that matter but almost a unanimity.

    October 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  29. kjmu

    The mess now with Greece is concerning the option of having a conflict with Turkey. Turkey prime minister, Mr Erdogan has said 2 weeks ago that Turkey will make its presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and use its capabilities at a time when Greece and Cyprus are looking to exploit recently discovered gas fields off its coasts and partner with Israel to build energy facilities. Turkey, which does not recognize Cyprus's Greek government (Turkey occupy large part of Cyprus in the 70’s in a brutal operation), has bitterly complained about recent Cyprus-Israeli energy deals. This huge natural gas fields have the potential to save Greece from its economic disaster situation…but the Turks like to take it by force and the western world does neither help the Greeks nor the Cyprus's Greek government!

    October 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  30. witness

    "one parliamentarian complained about being a guinea pig in the euro experiment." He's forgetting that Greece falsified (on purpose) their deficit numbers in order to join the Euro. On the other hand, Germany is strong because she exports...a lot..Their business AND union support the bail-out. In the long run, they know its for the good of all Europe.

    October 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  31. Henk

    Sure, they were overly ambitious with the Euro. So what. Rome wasn`t build in a day. A perfect time to learn and improve the Euro for the future. And remember this brand new currency is hit by the worst global financial crisis in the past century. It`s very impressive that Europe is moving forward and really dealing with this and implementing long term reforms needed. Passing many austerity measures as well while having 27 different nations. Even the United States hasn`t passed any real austerity until this supposed commission decides on this by the end of the year. All the while the US has the largest Debt on the planet and quickly growing. All the while the US has 43 States in massive financial trouble.

    October 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  32. SAM

    Seriously? This article is so poorly written and so many of the sentences are so awkward that it is difficult to read. CNN – can't you do better? Where is the editor?

    October 3, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  33. Roy

    The Greeks protest and protest . Let them work for a change !
    They have way better benefits AND earn more money than the rest of europe . They are lazy and have cheated their way into the EU . Kick them out , they are not worthy of the EU membership

    October 3, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  34. Andreas, Certified Auditor

    Lets discuss the issue with the debt crisis. Call me on Skype: andreas.s.andreou

    November 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  35. Club Menlo USC

    Bravo Yanni

    November 30, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  36. Simon Wilby smartpower

    One adjective that defines Simon Wilby is smart. He is the CEO of Smart Power, Inc. He developed The Smart One, a revolutionary lithium battery powered by solar for cell phones and The Smart Juice which is energy with the same principle for lap tops.

    May 18, 2012 at 8:37 am |
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    September 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm |

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