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Summit of the Americas: Police Fire Tear Gas Into Crowd of Protesters

Aired April 20, 2001 - 17:52   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

These are live pictures of Quebec City, Quebec, where the leaders of some 33 countries in the Western Hemisphere have gathered for the Summit of the Americas, a summit of Western Hemispheric leaders, there to talk about free trade.

CNN White House correspondent John King has been keeping an eye there. He's covering President Bush.

John, I understand you have someone with you?


France Taschereau owns a restaurant here inside the perimeter. And I wanted to bring her in just for the perspective of a local businesswoman, who was expecting, I assume, to do quite well: 34 leaders from around the world coming to your city to meet.

What is your reaction -- personal reaction as a citizen of this city to the tear gas on the scene we've seen here today? And what impact has it had on your business?

FRANCE TASCHEREAU, HOTEL MANAGER: OK. Like you saw today, it was a big day for us. We have to plan an emergency plan for all the employees and all the customers inside. Like you saw on TV, there has been gas. So we have decided to put everything inside in case of -- we lock the doors. And we make sure that everybody was safe inside. And we called all the employees to tell them that it won't be necessary for tonight to come to work.

KING: So you are going to lose some money today.

TASCHEREAU: For sure, much money, because it's Friday night. And, usually, Friday night is one of the big nights of the week for restaurants, shows and everything. So it's a small day for us.

KING: OK, France Taschereau, thank you very much.

TASCHEREAU: Thank you.

KING: Judy, that just a taste of the impact on the business here -- again, a meeting like this usually a boon to the businesses and certainly the restaurant industry -- but this restaurant already inside the security perimeter, so access this site limited to begin with -- and very close to the perimeter, where we saw considerable activity by the police using tear gas.

And at that perimeter, we can still look up the street and see two, maybe three dozen police officers now standing side by side just watching down the hill, but certainly standing by in case the relative calm that appears to have taken over right now gives way again to any disruptive protests -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King. And I'm sure if that restaurant closed own, that's just emblematic of what many other businesses are doing. We're looking -- we were just looking at videotape of protesters working really hard and then succeeding in knocking down one of the fences -- the perimeters set up to allow these national leaders, presidents, to conduct their meetings.

Now you're looking at a live picture in the aftermath of more tear gas canisters being thrown. You can see police there. You can also see some of the protesters' flags waving and so forth.

Joining me in Washington: John Podesta, who was chief of staff to President Clinton. John was there in Seattle in December of 99, a very similar situation.

John, from the perspective of somebody who is on the inside, as you approach a meeting like this one, clearly you want your meetings to go on. The protesters don't. How do you keep from having something like this defeated, which -- at least so far -- they have already succeeded in doing?

JOHN PODESTA, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, it's obviously a challenge, Judy.

And I think that -- I can't say that I miss the challenge. But the -- I think we learned some things in Seattle. And I think people concluded at the end that there was a little bit of an under-reaction at the beginning of that. That was the first of these big protests.

WOODRUFF: Under-reaction?

PODESTA: Under-reaction. I think when we -- when the World Bank and IMF meetings came to Washington then the following spring, I think the D.C. police and the federal authorities did a good job. We closed a couple federal government agencies to reduce traffic.

And I think when things looked like they were going to get a little bit out of hand, the D.C. police came in and moved relatively quickly. And the net result was that there were peaceful protests that went on during the course of those meetings. But the meetings also went on and the delegates to the meetings got to their meetings on time. And so I think the situation, when well-planned, was handled fairly well.

Now, they have a somewhat different situation that I -- I can't sit here and second-guess... WOODRUFF: Right.

PODESTA: ... how they are applying it against here. But it takes a lot of planning. It takes a lot of coordination. And I think it takes forces that are used to dealing with protests -- and, as you might remember, Chief Ramsey going out on the line and being pretty good...

WOODRUFF: Here in Washington.

PODESTA: ... pretty good humored about bit, and talking to the protesters, and keeping things calm. And he was able to keep things under control. So I think we did learn those lessons. And I think, obviously, the authorities in Quebec are going to have to assess what's going on now. And they're going to have to try to react to that over the next couple of days so that the meetings can go on, the leaders can sit face-to-face and discuss what they have to discuss.

WOODRUFF: Well, that -- that is what I want to ask you about. What is the fine line that they have to be walking right now in Quebec City, where -- they want the meetings to take place. They want security. They want protection for these leaders who are there, presidents and prime ministers and others. But at the same time, they don't want to come down so harshly on these protesters that they trample on their rights.

PODESTA: Sure. I think...

WOODRUFF: So how do you know you're drawing the line in the right place?

PODESTA: Well, I think that -- again, most of the people who I'm sure are in Quebec City who are there to protest, who feel left out, outside the room, are there peacefully and ought to be able to stay there and peacefully protest and make their points. And the question is: How do you contain, corral and take...

WOODRUFF: We're watching more -- I should say we're watching more tear gas


PODESTA: ... and really take the people who are committed, really, to commit acts of violence off the street quickly, so that the other people who are there to protest can go ahead and protest and the meetings can go on. Again, I think we did -- were able to find the formula to that in D.C. We obviously weren't able to find it in Seattle. And I think that the authorities look like they're going to have to struggle with that throughout the weekend.

WOODRUFF: Well, how do you make a distinction between those protesters who are there, as you say, not to completely disrupt, but just to have their voices heard?

PODESTA: Well, I think you could see -- you could watch the pictures and... (LAUGHTER)

PODESTA: I mean, it's not too hard to


WOODRUFF: Because we don't have our cameras trained on those -- right now, we've got our cameras trained on those who want to disrupt.

PODESTA: No, that's exactly right. But it's -- it's -- I think it needs a little bit of common-sense application by the police to figure out who's there to really make trouble and cause violence. And I think you have got to deal with that.

You know, if they want to get arrested, I think, at some point, you have got to decide you've got to give them what they want. On the other hand, I think that people who are there to peacefully protest and deal with the issues that they have come to talk about, you have got to try to make some space for them as well.

WOODRUFF: We're looking at pictures now. These are live pictures from Quebec City. We've just seen another tossing back and forth of tear gas canisters -- quite a bit of it. The city is just filled with the smoke, the vapors that come when the tear gas is -- those canisters are thrown.

It's so thick you can't really see. Now, it's just beginning to clear a little bit. And you're beginning to be able to see the people there on the ground. But it's -- there's no doubt, John Podesta, that the police feel they have to do something. They clearly feel threatened by these people.

PODESTA: Well, and again, I think they need to get control of the situation, to figure out how to proceed in a way that takes the violent people off the street and lets the rest of the people demonstrate in peaceful areas.

I heard John King's report. I understand that there are other people in other areas and in other places that want to argue their points on the environment, on labor standards, etc., and that ought to be their right in a free and democratic country.

But a part of being a free and democratic country is that we be able to argue these things out through the ballot box and through dialogue rather than through, you know, through violent protests.

WOODRUFF: But as we were noting, and as I said just a moment ago, it's the people who are the most violent and who are willing to disrupt the most who are getting, at least right now, who are getting the most attention. We're not hearing their argument but...

PODESTA: Well, of course that...

WOODRUFF: ... we're watching the results, the fruits of their labor.

PODESTA: That's always a judgment of the media, as well, Judy, and that's why they're there.

WOODRUFF: Well, you are exactly right about that. It is the judgment of the news media and one of our own, White House correspondent Kelly Wallace, is down there very close to the line where this last tear gas episode took place.

Kelly, what are you seeing? Are the protesters just pushing further and further through?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, just now some people just, someone just threw a bottle. What, I am probably exactly where that correspondent from the Canadian radio station was because you saw people playing Frisbee and kind of taunting the police. And then the police just basically fired a number of canisters of tear gas at once to push the protesters back and then it was calm for a little while. And then the protesters started moving forward with sort of these barricades, trying to come forward, at which point the police just fired some more tear gas.

This has kind of been an ongoing situation, although I just, you know, as I mentioned, someone threw a bottle. That's really the first sign of that. We've had some people throw some snowballs, but that was sort of the first bottle that I've seen coming through and the police are just standing back. But it's sort of a stand-off that keeps going back and forth between the police and the protesters.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, are you able to get enough of a perspective to tell whether, who it is who's having to back up here, whether, is it the police who are having to back up or the protesters?

WALLACE: Well, I think it goes back and forth. I mean the police have basically come, I would say, 100 yards forward, gained about 100 yards in ground since I've been here for about an hour. Then they've sort of had the protesters kind of coming forward a bit and so the police have been standing still.

So it's the police who are sort of gaining ground, but the protesters are continuing to come forward and right now the police are sort of in a stand-off. They're not moving forward. I did see someone else throw another bottle, though, so it does, you know, again -- and now the police have just fired about four canisters of tear gas into some dozens of protesters.

So again, it's, you know, this stand-off continuing here.

WOODRUFF: And Kelly, when you say people are throwing bottles, we assume you mean protesters are throwing bottles full of liquid or...

WALLACE: Well, you know, I can't...

WOODRUFF: You can't tell.

WALLACE: The two bottles have come from the side where the protesters are and they landed pretty close to where I'm standing where the police are lined up. So, you know, they've just come from the direction of where the protesters are and police responding in kind by sending the canister of tear gas their way.

WOODRUFF: And Kelly, we're hearing dogs barking where you are. We assume those are police dogs?

WALLACE: Yes, exactly. Police dogs right here, you have some police in riot gear with a couple of dogs and then they're just sort of standing back, though, not quite clear if they're sort of moving forward. We have seen, Judy, since we've been here, yeah, the police, Judy, now seem to be moving a little forward. This is what happens. They're now taking, you know, a few steps forward and they've sort of been doing this throughout this afternoon we've been here, a few steps forward all at once trying to push the protesters back a little bit.

WOODRUFF: And Kelly, the police are not using any form of, they're not really using anything other than the tear gas, is that fair to say?

WALLACE: That is fair to say. Right now, as I've mentioned, they're sort of standing and then starting right now, you know, to move forward a little bit and then periodically shooting tear gas. Like right now they're, you know, about six officers all at once firing tear gas into the crowd. But it's basically a stand-off. The protesters may sort of move forward and then the police are responding.

WOODRUFF: And Kelly, just to give us a little bit of perspective, how far is what -- we're looking at this picture right now, police sort of walking away from our camera. How far is this from where the opening ceremonies are due to take place?

WALLACE: Well, you know, that's a good question. I know it's, I believe, I'm told that it's the western perimeter, and again, they are, I would say that the protesters and where this action is going is about even 200 yards down from even the chain link fence where it is sort of one area cordoned off where the, you know, leaders will be gathering.

So I would say it's, you know, several hundred yards from even getting into where it is these meetings will take place. I don't know if you can see, Judy, now, it just seems like the police have fired a number of canisters of tear gas, crowds sort of cheering, but you're probably seeing this picture on TV right now.

WOODRUFF: Yeah, we're looking at a pretty, well, it looks white to us.


WOODRUFF: It's pretty much all the residue of the tear gas and we were hearing, I think, a helicopter a moment ago. The reason I'm asking you about how far you are from what's going on, because it is because, as John King reported a little while ago, they are still saying that the official ceremonies will get underway, the opening ceremonies, at 7:30 Eastern, which is about not quite an hour and a half from now. But, you know, without knowing, you know, the logistics for each one of these leaders, I would say it's an open question as to whether that will begin on time.

WALLACE: Right. Well, again, as you noted, I mean, the leaders are staying in different places. But, you know, as John keeps mentioning, as well, the perimeter is still cordoned off. And so where the leaders have to go to have meetings or to have this opening session is in a cordoned off area and the protesters are not anywhere near getting inside.

But obviously security is tight and, you know, concerns are mounting just by the situation and by what the police are having to do in terms of keeping the protesters, moving them away from even getting close to that fence and disrupting this meeting from even beginning.

WOODRUFF: Now, Kelly, what was that?

WALLACE: Tear gas canisters, Judy. It's become a periodic sound. These are sort of, you know, a few minutes will go by and then the police will shoot a few into the crowd and the protesters, you know, none of them wearing gas masks and as John felt the effects of it, it's pretty overwhelming when this gas comes upon you.

And so, you know, it's amazing that they're continuing to stay out there and not able to take in with gas masks, the gas that's coming their way periodically.

WOODRUFF: Well, how, are you able to tell how they are dealing with it? I mean did they bring cloth or something to put in front of their faces? Are you close enough?

WALLACE: Yeah, many of them are putting cloths around their faces and it does look like a few do have gas masks on, now that I can get a little bit closer. Yeah, a number of that are close are standing, you know, about 50 feet from the protesters have gas masks on. But the others just are putting sort of cloths around their face and obviously just sort of moving away as soon as they see a tear gas canister fired on them.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, we are looking at, we were just looking at pictures of the Canadian, the police there in Quebec City marching in, as a group. And these now, these are still live pictures. We're getting glimpses of different scenes where police seem to be gathered around. I'm not sure this is a live picture. We're saying live but I think we saw this identical scene a little while ago and it was, yeah, I don't think it's live cause I remember looking at this young man with the blue backpack and they turned him and had him stand up and so forth.

This is just an example of what has been going on in the last couple of hours where, as Kelly has been saying, the tear gas is fired, some of the protesters brave the tear gas and charge right into where the police are and then they are taken away.

Now, I think this is a live picture. You're seeing the residue, the little, the cloud of gas there. This is a live picture. You're seeing the residue, the little, the cloud of gas there. This is a live picture. More and more of the protesters seem to be clearing out themselves, but we can't tell just how far away they are. Our camera is far enough back and as it zooms in you get a sense of the line of police, but you don't really have a sense, I think, of the engagement on the other side. I think we're probably being told we have to stay back at this point.

Kelly, are you able to help us out on that?

WALLACE: Yeah, I don't know what picture you're seeing Judy, but I do know that the police have been starting to, you know, get tougher with us, and they are keeping us and our cameras behind the police line. They said if you want to go on the other side then you have to stay on the other side and not come back. So they're sort of being tight with us in terms of staying behind the police lines.

And now, as you mentioned, after, if you're looking at the same thing that I'm looking at, you know, there's a number of canisters of tear gas and the protesters are sort of pushed back, it looks like about 100 yards away from where this police line is, you know, the first time in a bit of time that there's no protesters sort of standing in the street and waving signs or coming close. They seem to have been pushed back quite a bit.

WOODRUFF: And just to be clear, we keep hearing this sound. It sounds like shots are being fired but it is, as far as we know, it's only those tear gas canisters?

WALLACE: Absolutely. I mean as far as we know when we've been here that, you know, the sound is alarming, of course, but that they are tear gas canisters. We have not seen anything -- Judy, I don't know if you're seeing this picture. The police are now moving forward. They're taking the banners, the barricades down and they're moving forward. They've just arrested someone or just taken someone from the street and we're kind of walking behind the police now as they move forward down the street, my colleague Burke (ph) here getting some pictures of one of the protesters who's just been handcuffed and is obviously going to be taken into custody, wearing some sort of mask.

So they've just now moved forward again maybe another 25 feet, tearing up the barricade which the protesters were pushing forward. And it seems like they're going to kind of keep doing this, moving forward to try and keep the protesters as far away from the perimeter and where the summit meetings are going to take place.

WOODRUFF: All right, well, as we keep an eye on Kelly and John King and our other correspondents on the ground there in Quebec City, all of us keep an eye on what's going on, we are going to take a short break. We'll be back with our continuing live coverage of the events in Quebec City, the Summit of the Americas.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Well, one of your officers put their foot on my head.



WOODRUFF: Back with our live coverage of events in Quebec City, Canada. Quebec, where we have 34 country, the leaders of 34 countries in the western hemisphere gathered for the Summit of the Americas. But the story right now is very much on the streets of Quebec City. You're looking at a helicopter hovering over the area where, for the last several hours, a push and tug situation between police and protesters. The protesters knocking down barriers, wire fences that had been put up to keep them back.

Now, these are live pictures. It's 6:15 Eastern Time. These are live pictures of the crowd. This looks like we are now, our camera is among the protesters who have managed to knock down some of these fences. The police have tried to reinstate them, but it's been just a push and tug, pull back and forth for the last few hours.

Kelly Wallace you're there on the ground. Tell us where you are and what you're seeing.

WALLACE: Well, Judy, again, I'm on the western side of the perimeter, it appears, and during that commercial break the police pretty much did a steady move. For viewers that are listening, those are not gunshots, as you point out. They are firing canisters of tear gas. The police went forward, I would say, about 75 feet. So again, as you said -- and now they're moving forward again.

This sort of picked up over the past 20 minutes or so. The police, you know, continuing to move forward to kind of push the protesters further and further back from this chain link. Now they're aggressively -- not aggressively, moving forward consistently. Police are in one fine line. Dozens are here and firing tear gas to try and get the protesters further and further away. I'd say they've gone about 100 feet so far. And we, again, are right behind the police. The police are pushing us back but we are literally right behind the police as they try and push these protesters away from the summit meeting.

WOODRUFF: Kelly, let me ask you, are you able to tell, are the police simply reestablishing the original perimeter or are they trying to create a situation where the protesters are even further away from these meetings than they were originally going to let them be?

WALLACE: Yeah, that's a great question and I don't know the answer to it. I believe that they are pushing them further away and creating a bigger perimeter because the chain link -- Judy, I have to go. I just got some gas in my gas mask. So let me take a break and I'll come back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelly Wallace. Of course we want to let you do whatever you need to do. We appreciate her and our camera crew there working under what are clearly adverse circumstances. Joining me here in the studio in Washington watching all this very closely, our own Bill Schneider. Bill, you know, as we watch these protesters and what they're doing out on the streets, we get away from the issues, the reasons these people came there in the first place. I mean they're not just there to be seen on television. That's part of what they're doing, but they've got some very real issues.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They do have real issues. They've stated them very clearly. They're against trade and they're against globalization because too many people suffer as a result of trade deals that they feel are unfair for the people who become losers as a result of those deals. But we should point out, also, those deals create a number of people who win. There's always a balance involved.

I think there are two kinds of activities and we should make a distinction. There are protesters on the streets of Quebec who want their voices heard and their presence seen because they want to make it known that they are speaking for the powerless and the disadvantage who they believe are victims of these trade deals.

But there's another constituency of disrupters whose ultimate objective is somewhat different, not just their voices heard and their presence seen. They want to keep these meetings from taking place. That's why they're breaking down the perimeter fences. That's why they're trying -- their ultimate victory will be if the meetings are postponed, delayed or canceled.


SCHNEIDER: Because they believe these meetings are conspiratorial meetings among power holders in the thrall of corporate interests who want to perpetrate trade deals for the profit of multinational corporations that cause ordinary working people to suffer. That is, perhaps, a stark characterization, but that is the way I think a lot of those people who are trying to disrupt these meetings see it. They think they're evil, they're conspiratorial and they want it stopped at any cost.

WOODRUFF: Is there a way to know what percentage that group makes up of all the protesters who are there? I mean, and by the way, we don't know the numbers. I mean at one point we were told a few thousand and then we were also told a little later 20,000, 30,000 people.

SCHNEIDER: I'm sure that they are a minority of all the people who are showing up in Quebec to make their presence known, the disrupters.

WOODRUFF: A minority?

SCHNEIDER: They are a minority, I'm quite convinced. But I believe their objectives would probably evoke the sympathy of a majority, even though their methods would not.

WOODRUFF: Well, if they had their way, the leaders -- now, there are 34 countries.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

WOODRUFF: It's not just the United States and Canada we're talking about. This is, you know, what is it, from the very northern tip of Canada and the Canadian provocations all the way down to the southern tip of South America in Chile.

SCHNEIDER: From the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, is the way they put it. This would be a gigantic free trade. It would be sort of NAFTA on steroids, hemispheric NAFTA covering North and South America and Central America. You know, the ultimate objective for them is, if they declare victory, it would be the meeting did not take place. It had to be canceled.

Right now it's been postponed for a little while, but they would declare victory, the disrupters, if the meeting simply did not take place. That would be what, that would be winning, from their point of view.

WOODRUFF: All right, on that note and as we continue to look at these live pictures from Quebec City, things at least in this camera range seem to have quieted down. But we know there's been a pretty significant blast of tear gas and our own Kelly Wallace was overcome just a few moments ago. We'll continue to watch this. We'll be right back after this break.


WOODRUFF: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. We're continuing to watch these pictures from Quebec City, where leaders of 34 nations in the western hemisphere have gathered to talk trade, to talk free trade. But out in the streets of Quebec City, thousands of protesters who do not want these meetings to take place and who disagree with the fundamentals of what these leaders are discussing as they talk about setting up a free trade area of the Americas.

CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace has been there very close to the police lines. And Kelly, the last time I spoke with you, you had just been hit with a strong dose of tear gas. How are you?

WALLACE: Yes, I am fine, Judy. Sorry about that. I am wearing a gas mask, but at times it just, you know, some of the fumes just actually affect you. So, no, I am fine. Just to pick up, though, on a good point that you were mentioning, I confirmed with my colleague here, Burke Burkhorn (ph), who's been kind of on the scene for several hours, he says this is, in fact, a new perimeter, that the police have kind of moved down, probably about 200 yards since we've been here, and have now just pushed the protesters even further back from the fence. So this is, clearly the police are continuing to keep doing this, to push the protesters further and further away from the original point, the original fence, which I can see in the distance is now like 250 yards away from me.

And we have basically on three different blocks, I don't exactly what video you're seeing, but we just have sort of lines, dozens and dozens of police standing at each corner, right now standing still, and you've got what looks like several hundred protesters -- oh, Judy, I'm just I'm just being pointed out that you've got now a police truck with protesters, with a number of dozens of police officers sort of moving forward. I'm not clear on what, where this truck is going, if it's going to go down one of these blocks to push these protesters further and further away. It's not clear.

WOODRUFF: So, Kelly, just to be clear, what the police had originally set up as a perimeter, they are now enlarging. The protesters were successful in knocking down some of those original fences, but the police are now making that a bigger area where they don't want the protesters to be?

WALLACE: Exactly. I'm not sure, obviously, if this is going to continue but obviously they have moved now a good 250 to 300 feet away from that chain link fence and are now keeping the protesters away, further away from the perimeter. So that's sort of the situation at this point.

WOODRUFF: These are earlier, these pictures you're seeing now are earlier as the, just an example of what the protesters were doing to knock down these fences that have been put up for the purposes of letting these 34 leaders go about their business, conduct their meetings, some bilateral meetings, one meeting with one leader with another leader and then other certainly group meetings, which is what a summit is all about.

You can see how determined some of these protesters are. They were not going to be deterred by what the police clearly thought was going to hold them back.

We've been talking with CNN's Kelly Wallace in the streets of Quebec City. Joining me here in the Washington studio, our bureau chief Frank Sesno.

Frank, you were making the point to me a few minutes ago that there really are two summits underway in Quebec City right now.

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Judy, there always are with these sorts of events. There are the summits that take place for public consumption and there's almost always some kind of external distraction, whether it's something very dramatic like this on the streets as we're seeing unfold, and we had this even more so in Seattle, for example, or whether it's some event that is really unrelated to what's going on behind closed doors.

You know, we, I have covered these summits for years now and we also most always have that kind of, that kind of mix. What the public attention focuses on frequently has very little to do with what is actually going on behind closed doors. It may be a terrorist incident. Chernobyl happened in the midst of an international summit some years ago. And nonetheless the leaders get together and they do what they need to do.

It would be noted that, you know, we haven't talked about it much and it's probably little noted in Canada, but the prime minister of Canada announced a free trade deal just earlier today with Costa Rica, carving out their own small deal there.

So these things take place. U.S. officials said going into this they knew there would be two stories. They knew it. One would be trade. That's what they wanted to talk about. The other would be these demonstrations. They anticipated them.

WOODRUFF: All right, Frank Sesno. CNN will be continuing to monitor the situation in Quebec City. Now you're looking at video pictures, but we are going to continue to watch this throughout the evening. In just a moment, we're going to be turning it over to "MONEYLINE." And they will be bringing extensive coverage from Quebec City as we will throughout this evening. CNN will be keeping a close watch on this story as this summit gets underway and through the weekend.

I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.



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