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III. Mine operations in the Post Sino-Japanese War era and the stance of the government

Newspapers reported that the mining operation might be ordered to stop by the first survey committee. Shimpei Goto, a member of the survey committee and the chief of the Public Health Department in the Ministry of Home Affairs, told the press that he would bring the mining operations to a halt. On 31 March Hirohata, a Chamberlain, and on 9 April Kabayama, the Minister of Home Affairs, visited the mine-poisoned areas. When Kamimuchi, the chairman. prepared the survey committee draft, there were indications that either a partial or total closing of the mine would be suggested. However, Koi Furuichi. the civil engineering adviser to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Wataru Watanabe, a non-official technician of the Bureau of Imperial Estates, and Kunijiro Wada, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Business, moved to suppress the mine-closing orientations proposed by Muneyoshi Nagaoka, an associate professor at the Agricultural University, and Hatsujiro Sakano, a technician engaged in agricultural research.

Although the press reported that Goto intended to stop operations at the mine, he did not mention this in the deliberations of the survey committee.

The victims' compensation plan proposed by some of the committee members was not taken up in cabinet deliberations in any shape or form. In this regard, the work of the committee was circumscribed by the duplicity of the government.

The government, for which military expansion was of the first order of importance, was unable to alter its basic demand for copper and as a result the mine continued operating with government support even after the great mine poisoning incident. At the same time great efforts were expended in nurturing public support for expanded militarism. The damage done by the poisons now affected 100,453 hectares of land and it was the government's task to stop the damage and improve the situation. The first survey committee managed to minimize the government's involvement as much as possible by offering tax exemption to heavily poisoned areas while issuing orders to the effect that further environmental damage should be prevented by more stringent measures than had been applied on two earlier occasions. This was as much as the government really wanted to do. That was why the government continued to make light of the situation, at the same time supressing the victims on the basis of national security.

In May 1897, the government sent 37 environmental protection articles in relation to the mine to Ichibei Furukawa. The main requirements were to build a condensation tower to cut down on sulphur emissions, as in the condensation of arsenious acid, the precipitation of smoke particles, the elimination of sulphurous anhydride caused by sulphuric acid production, the sedimentation of sludges, the precipitation of particulate matter, the provision of adequate sludge-pile catchments, and the construction of tall chimneys. The period allowed for the completion of these projects was specified, with the proviso that if the company did not meet these requirements, mine operations would be halted. Responsible for these agreements was Teizo Minami, who later became a director of the Ashio copper mine after the environmental protection construction projects had been completed. As things turned out, the tower designed to reduce sulphurous acid gas emissions was completely useless. The smoke damage worsened on the upper reaches of the Watarase River in the area of the old Matsuki Village, which was, as a result of the total damage involved, completely demolished in 1901. The construction costs for the pollution prevention tower totaled 1,040,000 yen for the entire project and the loans were partly covered by Eiichi Shibusawa of the Daiichi Bank.

It took another year before the first legislation to provide tax exemption for poison-damaged areas was enacted in May 1898. According to the circumstances there were six different tax-exemption periods. This tax-exemption legislation covered only 25,500 hectares. However, in September 1898, just after the initial legislation had been enacted, another big flood hit the area. Because this natural phenomenon caused further damage from mine poisons, in July 1899 a second round of tax-exemption legislation was enacted for the same area.

The tax-exemption legislation, however, did not deliver the farmers from their plight, nor did it foster in them a true sense of independence. With tax-exempt status they were forced to give up voting rights which were accorded only to taxpayers. Furthermore, the local governments were unable to collect taxes. In other words, the copper-mining poisons not only ravaged the farmers' land, but also threatened their lives as well; the farmers were deprived of human rights and the local governments were brought to a state of dysfunction through the tax exemption. Kuno Village in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, and Oshima Village in Gunma Prefecture became tax-free zones. The local legislative offices were brought to a complete state of paralysis because they could not collect taxes, so the village secretaries had to take on the responsibilities of the village administrators in those areas.

The flood of 1898 did even worse damage to the surrounding areas because massive amounts of slag had been released from the sedimentation pond built by the mining company. In extreme anger and frustration, over 11,001) farmers started out for Tokyo 26 September for the third mass demonstration, with demands for reinforcement of the river banks, for the sparing of the poisoned areas from further insult and for a policy of support for the bankrupt local governments. They were confronted on the way by the police and military forces. However, some 2,500 succeeded in getting to Hogima Village, Minami Adachi Province, Tokyo.

Although Shozo Tanaka had been sick at the time, he went to meet the farmers and advised them to leave 50 representatives with him and go back to their villages. Tanaka pledged that if their demands were not met, he would fight to the death for their cause. In this manner Tanaka became the leader of the struggle against the copper mine and began to organize the farmers. In March 1899, during the thirteenth National Diet session, Tanaka again expressed his determination. In April, at the Unryu Temple meeting, he asked the farmers to direct their demands at prefectural governments rather than the National Diet and gave guidance as to election orientations that should be taken in relation to village- and town-elected officials. The point of this planning was to train the movement leaders so as to provide a firm foundation for ensuing struggles. This organization became the basis for the next explosion of farmers' energies against the government in Tokyo. At a meeting held at the Unryu Temple on 30 August 1899, the farmers decided to go to Tokyo for the fourth time in order to meet the Ministers of Home Affairs and of Agriculture and Business during the fourteenth National Diet session which sat from November 1899 to February 1900. Information about this plan was passed to the police within the day.

The farmers' decision led Tanaka to request them to conduct a survey of the death-rate in the poisoned areas, especially in relation to the increased death-rate of newborn babies. He said that the copper mine was responsible for murder, and in order to get at the facts, he made his rounds of the various villages in which the death-rate was increasing. At the 12 September meeting in the Unryu Temple. a fourth mass demonstration in Tokyo was decided on. Table 1.4 gives the statistics submitted by Tanaka at that time.

On 18 January 1900 at the Unryu Temple, village committee members and 18 temple priests gathered for a meeting that was to call for revenge for the excessive number of deaths caused by the poisoning and to provide impetus for the continuing struggle against the government. A task force was created among young people, with the aim of strengthening the organization in areas where the movement had not yet taken off. All this was in preparation for the fourth demonstration being planned for Tokyo.

Table 1.4a. Census Results for 12 Villages in the Areas Affected by Copper Poisons in Tochigi and Ibaragi Prefectures (five years ending in November 1899)b


Births and deaths (total)


Average births/ deaths per village


Average births/deaths per 100 population in 5 years


Prefectures/ villages

Total population



Average population per village



Average population/5 years



5 years 2 prefectures/12 villages 6,182 865 939 515.17 72.08 78.25 1236.4 173.0 187.8

a. The 12 villages include 11 in Tochigi-ken and 1 in Ibaragi-ken.
b. No statistics were available for years before 1894.
c. Total population figure represents the figure for 1898.

Table 1.4b. Comparison of Birth/Death Rates for National Average,a Non- affected Areas,b and Affected AreasC

Per 100 population



National average 3.21 2.60
Non-affected areas 3.44 1.92
Affected areas 2.80 4.12

a. National average figures were taken from 1895 census figures.
b. Non-affected area figures are from Uyeno-mura, Aso-gun, Tochigi-ken in 1898.
c. Affected area figures represent the figures for 1898.

Table 1.4c. Comparison of Birth/Death Figures for Five Years Prior to and Succeeding the Incident in Kai-mura, Aso-gun, Tochigi-kena

5 years

Average number of households

Average population

Average number of births

Average number of births per 100 population

Average number of deaths

Average number of deaths per 100 population

1883-1887 127.4 741.0 21.4 2.89 15.40 2.07
1894-1898 126 726.6 29.4 4.04 31.20 3.87

a. The startling difference between the average death figures for before and after the Incident should be noted.

Source: "Ashio Dohzon kohdoku shobun seigan Tokyo jimusho," Ashio Dohzan kohdoku shobun seigan (University of Tokyo Faculty of Economics library).

Against this background of movement unification, the military police continued their investigations and the restrictions on activist involvement increased. In response to communications from the Gunma Police Headquarters, the Tochigi police chief sent to all police forces details of the farmers' plans for a mass demonstration in Tokyo. The police saw through the farmers' attempt to cover up their plan by acting as if their movements were part of a sightseeing trip to Tokyo or a visit to the Narita Temple, and in this way they were able to keep a watch on the farmers' true intentions.

On 6 February 1900, discussions pertaining to the matter of the farmers' demonstrations took place between the Tochigi Prefectural Public Peace Department and the police chief. On the 7th, a Tochigi Prefectural Police section chief met with an Ibaragi Prefectural Police section chief in order to determine the allotment of responsibilities for the demonstration-related investigation. On 8 February, the Tochigi Prefectural Police ordered the allocation of 10 police inspectors, 11 police section chiefs, and 162 policemen to the investigations. The Gunma Prefectural Police Department sent three police inspectors and 50 policemen to the Unryu Temple, and a total of 185 police were assigned to overpower and stop the demonstrations, while military forces were stationed not far away at Sano.

On 9 February, under these highly restrictive conditions, the Unryu Temple gong was sounded as a signal, followed by the Ueno, Azuma, and Watarase village gongs. In response to the sounds, 300 young men came en masse, singing songs and shouting slogans against the operation of the copper mine. Until about four o'clock the next morning, this large group went around to the various homes inviting people to join in the demonstrations. At the same time the village administrators, who were under the leadership of Shozo Tanaka in Tokyo, waited for the demonstrators to arrive so as to be able to lobby while the National Diet was in session. In this situation the village administrators also came to side with the farmers' movement against the operation of the mine.

On 11 February, the government's 140-member Copper Mining Poisons Committee met to discuss the final details of their investigations. On the 12th the military received information that the demonstrators would start on the 13th. At 7 p.m. the 12th, in the grounds of the Unryu Temple, a campfire was started and groups of farmers gathered to sing songs, beat drums, and chant prayers around it. On the 13th at about 8 p.m., about 2,500 farmers started to walk to Tokyo, their numbers growing as other farmers joined in the procession.

Farmland damaged by copper-poison contamination in a village in Aso-gun, Tochigi-ken, taken by Sen Tsuda (from T. Matsumoto, ea., Ashio koudoku sanjou gaho, Seinen Doushi Koudoku Chousakai. 1901).

When demonstrators got to Tatebayashi they were confronted by the police, and then at Kawamata, in Sanuki Village, they met with police violence. At this time more than 100 farmers were arrested, and this came to be known as the Kawamata Incident. In the fourteenth National Diet session, Shozo Tanaka resumed grilling the government daily about the injustice of the police violence against the farmers and also about the Ashio copper-mine poisonings.

The fourteenth Diet session saw the enactment of major bills that would enable Japan to become highly industrialized. In addition, the national policies that provided the basis for Japanese imperialism after the Sino-Japanese War were greatly expanded. However, 1900 was a year in which the movement leaders were arrested and the movements were fiercely repressed and forced to go into reverse.

IV. Tanaka's attempt to appeal directly to the emperor and the poisoned water-collection pond plan

Of those arrested in the Kawamata Incident, 68 persons were held for preliminary examination on the charge of collective rioting, and of these 51 were brought for prosecution to the Maebashi District Court. At this, Shozo Tanaka fought hard to reorganize the farmers and rekindle their fighting spirit, engaging lawyers for the defendants and trying to have an appropriately meaningful court struggle. He was also determined to make an appeal directly to the Emperor, since, because of government oppression, there was no other means left.

In resorting to such extreme measures, Tanaka had expected that the news media would be shocked and would report the facts surrounding the copper mine, directing public opinion against it; he also hoped that they would reveal the oppressive tactics of the police and thereby bring the public around to the side of the farmers. But these efforts of his were not very fruitful, for he found little co-operation among the news organizations.

In June 1901. Yasujiro Ishikawa, the chief editor of the Mainichi shimbun, offered his co-operation and certain ideas of his own to help win the struggle. Two days later, Tanaka landed the co-operation of Shusui Kotoku, a journalist for Yorozuchoho, who was to write an appeal to be presented to the Emperor.

In December 1900, the court passed judgement in relation to the Kawamata Incident, finding 29 guilty of rioting and 22 not guilty. An appeal was made to a higher court; in September 1901. it was to be tried in the Tokyo Court. The farmers continued their court battle to stop the copper-mine poisonings and to receive fair treatment. The proceedings were reported in Tokyo news papers and once again public interest was aroused in the copper-mining problem.

Between 6 and 12 October 1901, the poison-damaged areas were investigated by the presiding judge of the Tokyo Court, the associate judges, the public prosecution lawyers, expert witness Tohitaka Yokoi, and the defendants. All of this was reported by journalists from eight newspapers. The newspapers did not cover just the event, but informed the readers of the background. They carried articles on the poison-damaged areas and on the poverty of the farmers, referring to the situation as hell on earth and expressing their sympathy for the farmers and their antipathy to the government that refused to take responsibility for the situation. More news articles appeared and Ishikawa of the Mainichi shimbun took on a leading role in the formation of public opinion by reporting the direct appeal that Tanaka was going to make to the Emperor. By so doing, Ishikawa hoped to get more and more people to join in the mass struggle against the destruction of the environment. On 23 October, Tanaka resigned as a member of the Lower House in order to prepare for his direct appeal.

The Mainichi shimbun published a series of articles, written by women journalists, on the miseries brought about by the copper-mine poisonings. Related news articles on the struggles of the people were also printed, and the editorials took up the cause. On 30 November, Tameko Furukawa, the wife of Ichibei Furukawa, took her own life by drowning under the Kanda Bridge.

On the morning of 10 December 1901, when, after presiding at the opening of the sixteenth National Diet Upper House session, Emperor Meiji was going to his carriage, Tanaka came up to him, a written appeal in hand, shouting to him. By this action Tanaka had planned to bring the scandal of the mine poisonings into public view, hoping that one of the imperial guards would either kill or injure him. But in fact, the sergeant-at-arms fell from his horse, which had reared up in surprise, and Tanaka also stumbled and fell on his face, so he was neither killed nor injured. He was arrested on the spot and taken into custody by the police.

Tanaka's attempted appeal to the Emperor came as a great shock to the government. The Minister of Home Affairs, Utsumi, was sent to the Emperor to explain the situation, and the chiefs of the Ooura and Kojimachi Police Departments were, likewise, sent to the Prime Minister to explain matters. Tanaka was examined by Public Prosecutor Kawabuchi and by the chief of the Kojimachi Police Department. He told them that his actions had been an attempt to reach the Emperor with his appeal, and kept secret his connections with the newspaper publisher Ishikawa. Dr. Okunuki gave Tanaka a psychiatric examination, and declared that he was indeed perfectly sane. Tanaka was released at 7.30 the same evening.

Tanaka's appeal did not work as planned. but it astounded the public at large. Many people from different walks of life began to involve themselves in attempts to improve the terrible situation caused by the mine poisonings. On 27 December 1901, a trip to the poisoned areas was planned and about 800 students from 40 colleges, universities, and high schools joined it. They were deeply moved by the damage done to the environment, and so they organized movements designed to spread the news about the grim reality of the destruction and the need to help the farmers. This was the first of the numerous student movements that were to come.

With this escalation of the anti-mine movement, the National Diet was moved to discuss the situation. In January 1902, the government decided to form another Mine Poisons Survey Committee in order to manipulate public opinion, and on 15 March, along with the announcement of the Kawamata Incident Tokyo court decision, made the membership of the second survey committee known. The court had decided that none of the farmers were guilty of mass rioting, but that three persons had violated the policy security law and that the remaining 47, one of whom was dead, were innocent of any crime. The case was then appealed to the Tokyo High Court.

Although the membership of the Second Mine Poisonings Survey Committee included Hatsuziro Sakano, who had argued for a halt to mining operations in the first committee, and Yoshinao Kozai, who once surveyed the agricultural systems damage at the request of the farmers, the core was composed of such dignitaries as Yoshito Okuda of the Ministry of Justice, who acted as chairperson, and Ryuzo Tanaka, the Chief of the Mine Bureau, along with new bureaucrats from the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance, all of whom were prone to side with Furukawa Nor did the other members of the committee, such as Professor Wataru Watanabe, of the engineering department of Tokyo University, and Professor Kawakita, one of Watanabe's colleagues, represent the farmers.

On orders from the committee, a survey was carried out by 21 university assistants and many engineers from different industries. The results of the survey were reported to the committee in October and in March 1903 the final results were submitted to Prime Minister Katsura. In May of the same year the report on Ashio copper-mine poisonings was presented to the eighteenth Diet session. However, besides this, another report was handed to the Prime Minister, containing committee members' subjective views and supporting the government's intentions in relation to the mine. This report was entitled "Opinions Related to the Living and Working Conditions of the Victims by Poisoning," and reflected the false presumption that slag-related poisons found in the Watarase River were residual products left over from before the initiation of the environmental protection measures taken at the mine, and that the extent of poisoning was minimal. It did not lay the blame at the feet of the mining enterprise; in fact, it supported the continuation of the mining operations.

The allegation was that the damage to the agricultural infrastructure had been caused by what remained in the environment from past floods, while the poisons contained in the smelting-related smoke and the related random loss of forested areas were ignored. The committee successfully ended by skirting the issue, recommending that flood-control systems be constructed.

There were six items in the reports that were concerned with protecting the farmers from the mine poisons. The following three are the main ones.

First, poisons were to be eliminated from the production processes at the Ashio copper mine. This meant that the company had to take measures to supplement and improve the preventive ones started in 1897. However, nothing was said about the smoke damage, because effective means of preventing it were yet to be discovered. In July 1903, the committee ordered the company for the fifth time to carry out a 15-item construction project designed to eliminate the mining-related poisons.

Second, land values were to be depreciated in the areas surrounding the Watarase River. This was the government's response to the farmers' requests for the poisoned land to be partially exempted from taxes. In October 1903, the government decided on a plan for land-tax reductions and passed a bill relative to the plan in the twentieth Diet session; this was announced in March 1904. The land that had been seriously affected by the poisons was divided into ten different groups, with tax-relief ranges from 80 to 15 per cent. This legislation became effective at the beginning of 1904. This was the second set of measures taken by the government to provide relief to the farmers. But the total amount allowed by the legislation for deductions came to only about 23,000 yen.

The poisoning of the farmland was a clear violation of the farmers' rights. However, the government only took measures that resulted in the lowering of land taxes through land devaluation, but there was no compensation for the farmers from the Furukawa Company that operated the mine. This meant that the articles in the Imperial Constitution relating to property rights were reserved only for industrial capitalists.

Furthermore, the policies related to land devaluations and reductions in tax rates favoured only landowners and provided no help to tenant farmers. But for both tenants and landowners, the suffering increased as time went on, and even fairly wealthy farmers gradually became impoverished, since the land was unable to recover from the poisoning and had become permanently unproductive. In this situation the local government again faced financial difficulties and were unable to solve the problem of poverty, especially in relation to farmers who were forced to leave the land.

The third item stipulated that flood prevention works be done. The Tone and Watarase rivers and their tributaries were to be repaired and a large poisons catchment constructed at the point where both rivers meet. The flow slope of the Watarase is gentler than that of the Tone, so the water from the Tone reverses into the Watarase, causing poisons to accumulate in the lower reaches of the Watarase. Therefore, the government's plan was to provide for the disposal of these poisons where they are at their highest concentration. At the time of the announcement of this project there was no indication as to where this plan was to be carried out, but only a hint of a 2,800- to 3,800-hectare area to be set aside for such purposes. However, the plan to construct a poisons catchment basin was kept secret because farmers in the area of the proposed basin would have to be transported as emigrants to Hokkaido.

The Watarase River flows into the Tone, from which the Edo River divides itself. The flood in 1896 brought great damage to Tokyo and the government was concerned with possible public outrage. In 1898 the estuary bottom of the Edo River was covered with concrete and the mouth of the river was narrowed to one-third its original width at Sekiyado. Then the point where the Watarase joins the Tone was widened so that the Tone water could run back into the Watarase. The poison problems in the lower reaches of the Watarase originated with the destruction of the natural environment where the river rises, and, as the poisons increased in the river, the construction in the lower reaches of the river systems only served to complicate and worsen the problems. All the construction work in and around the rivers was done for the purpose of creating a large poisons catchment basin.

In fact, before the second survey committee was called into being, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in consultation with Tochigi and Saitama prefectures, was promoting the idea of concentrating the poisoned waters of the Watarase River in the areas of Yanaka Village in Tochigi Prefecture and Toshima and Kawabe villages in Saitama Prefecture. In January 1902, members of the survey committee representing Toshima and Kawabe heard about the plan, and immediately voiced their opposition to the idea of destroying these villages for the sake of a poisons catchment. Under the leadership of Shozo Tanaka the two villages circulated resolutions in which they refused any longer to pay national taxes or to serve in the army. This struggle halted the plan to destroy the villages; in December 1902, at a special session of the Saitama Prefectural Assembly, governor Kinoshita did not touch on the matter of the struggle against the plan, but did point out several unfavourable aspects of a poisons catchment basin in the area in question. In January 1903, the Tochigi Prefectural Assembly proposed the use of Yanaka Village as a poisoned water catchment basin in exchange for money which was to be paid to the villagers, but this plan was also rejected.

In May 1902, the Tokyo High Court totally supported the Public Prosecutor's position in the Kawamata Incident and rejected the Tokyo Court decision. Then the case was transferred to the Miyaga Court of Appeals, but in December that court ruled that the government's appeal lacked due process of law. Therefore. the defendants were all released. In order to unify public opinion in support of the national policy of militarization, the government demanded that its policies relating to the poison-damaged areas be carried out through the construction of a poisons catchment basin.

In 1903, the plans which had been rejected by Tochigi and Saitama prefectures before were once again recommended by the Second Mine Poisons Survey Committee. This plan also included the forced emigration to Hokkaido of all farmers who would be displaced by the poisons catchment basin. The government's aim was to deal with only the areas where poisons had accumulated rather than solve the mine problem at source.

In December 1903, at a cabinet meeting, it was decided that the government would start plans for a war with Russia, that it would maintain a position of neutrality with China, and that Korea should be placed under Japan's control. Moreover, the government gave instructions to the Japanese ambassador to Great Britain to seek economic aid from the British government before the start of the Russo-Japanese War. The government's policy relative to copper poisons was in reality a prelude to Japan's period of imperialism, which was only just beginning.

The government's enterprise was being brought to fruition, just as it had hoped: the burden of poisons in the upper reaches of the Watarase River would be somewhat lightened by the construction of a catchment basin, and this had caused the farmers' and people's movement to be split and weakened. Those living along the lower reaches of the river were prepared to acquiesce in the demolition of Yanaka Village for the sake of the catchment basin if this meant that their land would thereby be protected from the poisons. The village leaders were divided over the question of whether to allow their land to be submerged, and the situation was such as to allow the government to make specific water- and land-use plans. There were many people who deserted the cause, supporting the government's imperialistic designs on foreign lands.

V. Shozo Tanaka takes up residence in Yanaka village

In January 1903, when the purchase of Yanaka Village was proposed in Tochigi Prefectural Council, Shozo Tanaka declared his intention to make a haven of the village if the government would give up its plans to make the ravaged area a catchment basin. He made it clear that he intended to live in the village. His idea of "haven" meant a place where all would be guaranteed freedom and security; he also laid emphasis on the fact that all must be equal, hoping that everyone would have his own way of expressing himself, because this would lead to creativity. In these circumstances autonomy would be possible. These ideas had come to him out of the struggle surrounding the Kawamata Incident. Tanaka attempted to achieve these ideals through his fight to save Yanaka Village from demolition.

In February 1903, opposing the government's preparation for the Russo-Japanese War, Shozo Tanaka published his views on violence, and made appeals for worldwide military disarmament. He had a clear understanding of the role of the Okura, Furukawa, Mitsu, Mitsubishi, and Asano zaibatsu in Japan's land-acquisition policies in Manchuria, and understood the means by which they encouraged the government in its pursuit of imperial power. He took militarism to be the personification of capitalistic imperialism. For this reason his non-violence meant the elimination of all armed forces from the world.

He placed emphasis on the solidarity of the people, and the evening before the declaration of the Russo-Japanese War he stated that Russia was not the enemy of Japan; he went on to contend that the future of Yanaka Village was an issue of much greater importance than the coming war with Russia. He was concerned for the enhancement of socialism and justice, which he felt was a very important need for that particular period in Japan's history. He declared that he retained the right to remain a pacifist when the declaration of war was made on Russia. In July 1904, Tanaka made good his promise to live in Yanaka Village and took up residence there just as the state authorities were getting ready to demolish the village. His intention was to resist state power and in doing so defend the rights of village autonomy against the state. He personally led the fight for survival in Yanaka Village, along with those still remaining there.

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