U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes:  France, October 1995 
Bureau of Public Affairs 
 
 
October 1995 
Official Name:  French Republic 
 
Geography 
 
Area:  551,670 sq. km.  (220,668 sq. mi.); largest West European 
country, about four-fifths the size of Texas. 
Cities:  Capital--Paris.  Other cities--Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, 
Strasbourg, Nice, Bordeaux. 
Terrain:  Varied. 
Climate:  Temperate; similar to that of the eastern U.S. 
 
People 
 
Nationality:  Adjective--French. 
Population:  58 million. 
Annual growth rate:  0.5%. 
Ethnic groups:  Celtic and Latin with Teutonic, Slavic, North African, 
Indochinese, and Basque minorities. 
Religion:  Roman Catholic 90%. 
Language:  French. 
Education:  Years compulsory--10. Literacy--99%. 
Health:  Infant mortality rate--7/1,000. 
Work force (25 million):  Services--66%.  Industry and commerce--28%.  
Agriculture--6%. 
 
Government 
 
Type:  Republic. 
Constitution:  September 28, 1958. 
Branches:  Executive--president (chief of state); prime minister (head 
of government).  Legislative--bicameral parliament (577-member National 
Assembly, 319-member Senate).  Judicial--Court of Cassation (civil and 
criminal law), Council of State (administrative court), Constitutional 
Council (constitutional law). 
Subdivisions:  22 administrative regions containing 96 departments 
(metropolitan France).  Four overseas departments (Guadeloupe, 
Martinique, French Guiana, and Reunion); five overseas territories (New 
Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, and French 
Southern and Antarctic Territories); and two special status territories 
(Mayotte and St. Pierre and Miquelon). 
Political parties:  Rally for the Republic (Gaullists/conservatives); 
Union for French Democracy (center-right); Socialist Party; Republican 
Party (center-right); Communist Party; National Front; Greens; Ecology 
Generation; various minor parties. 
Suffrage:  Universal at 18. 
 
Economy (1994) 
 
GDP:  $1.3 trillion. 
Avg. annual growth rate:  2.4%. 
Per capita GDP:  $24,900. 
Agriculture:  Products--wine, cheeses, cereals, sugar beets, potatoes, 
and beef. 
Industry:  Types--aircraft, electronics, transportation, textiles, 
clothing, food processing, chemicals, machinery, steel.  
Trade (est.):  Exports--$235 billion:  chemicals, electronics, 
automobiles, automobile spare parts, machinery, aircraft, foodstuffs.  
Imports--$219 billion:  crude petroleum, electronics, machinery, 
chemicals, automobiles, automobile spare parts.  Partners--EU, U.S., 
Japan. 
 
PEOPLE 
 
Since prehistoric times, France has been a crossroads of trade, travel, 
and invasion.  Three basic European ethnic stocks--Celtic, Latin, and 
Teutonic (Frankish)--have blended over the centuries to make up its 
present population.  France's birth rate was among the highest in Europe 
from 1945 until the late 1960s.  Since then, its birth rate has fallen 
but remains higher than that of most other West European countries.  
Traditionally, France has had a high level of immigration.  About 90% of 
the people are Roman Catholic, less than 2% are Protestant, and about 1% 
are Jewish.  More than 1 million Muslims immigrated in the 1960s and 
early 1970s from North Africa, especially Algeria.  At the end of 1994, 
there were about 4 million persons of Muslim descent living in France. 
 
Education is free, beginning at age two, and mandatory between ages six 
and 16.  The public education system is highly centralized.  Private 
education is primarily Roman Catholic.  Higher education in France began 
with the founding of the University of Paris in 1150.  It now consists 
of 69 universities and special schools, such as the Grandes Ecoles, 
technical colleges, and vocational training institutions. 
 
The French language derives from the vernacular Latin spoken by the 
Romans in Gaul, although it includes many Celtic and Germanic words.  
French has been an international language for centuries and is a common 
second language throughout the world.  It is one of five official 
languages at the United Nations.  In Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the 
West Indies, French has been a unifying factor, particularly in those 
countries where it serves as the only common language among a variety of 
indigenous languages and dialects. 
 
HISTORY 
 
France was one of the earliest countries to progress from feudalism into 
the era of the nation-state.  Its monarchs surrounded themselves with 
capable ministers, and French armies were among the most innovative, 
disciplined, and professional of their day. 
 
During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), France was the dominant power 
in Europe.  But overly ambitious projects and military campaigns of 
Louis and his successors led to chronic financial problems in the 18th 
century.  Deteriorating economic conditions and popular resentment 
against the complicated system of privileges granted the nobility and 
clerics were among the principal causes of the French Revolution (1789-
94). 
 
Although the revolutionaries advocated republican and egalitarian 
principles of government, France reverted to forms of absolute rule or 
constitutional monarchy four times--the Empire of Napoleon, the 
Restoration of Louis XVIII, the reign of Louis-Philippe, and the Second 
Empire of Napoleon III. 
 
After the Franco-Prussian War (1870), the Third Republic was established 
and lasted until the military defeat of 1940. 
 
World War I (1914-18) brought great losses of troops and materiel.  In 
the 1920s, France established an elaborate system of border defenses 
(the Maginot Line) and alliances to offset resurgent German strength.  
France was defeated early in World War II, however, and occupied in 
1940.  The German victory left the French groping for a new policy and 
new leadership suited to the circumstances.  On July 10, 1940, the Vichy 
Government was established.  Its senior leaders acquiesced in the 
plunder of French resources, as well as the sending of French forced 
labor to Germany; in doing so, they claimed they hoped to preserve at 
least some small amount of French sovereignty. 
 
The German occupation proved quite costly, however, as a full one-half 
of France's public sector revenue was appropriated by Germany.  After 
four years of occupation and strife, Allied forces liberated France in 
1944.  A bitter legacy carries over to the present day.  A nation-wide 
debate has emerged over how much responsibility France should bear for 
the crimes and collaborations of the Vichy regime. 
 
France emerged from World War II to face a series of new problems.  
After a short period of provisional government initially led by Gen. 
Charles de Gaulle, the Fourth Republic was set up by a new constitution 
and established as a parliamentary form of government controlled by a 
series of coalitions.  The mixed nature of the coalitions and a 
consequent lack of agreement on measures for dealing with Indochina and 
Algeria caused successive cabinet crises and changes of government. 
 
Finally, on May 13, 1958, the government structure collapsed as a result 
of the tremendous opposing pressures generated in the divisive Algerian 
issue.  A threatened coup led the parliament to call on General de 
Gaulle to head the government and prevent civil war.  He became Prime 
Minister in June 1958 (at the beginning of the Fifth Republic) and was 
elected President in December of that year. 
 
Seven years later, in an occasion marking the first time in the 20th 
century that the people of France went to the polls to elect a president 
by direct ballot, de Gaulle won re-election with a 55% share of the 
vote, defeating Francois Mitterrand.  In April 1969, President de 
Gaulle's government conducted a national referendum on the creation of 
21 regions with limited political powers.  The government's proposals 
were defeated, and de Gaulle subsequently resigned. 
 
Succeeding him as President of France have been Gaullist Georges 
Pompidou (1969-74), Independent Republican Valery Giscard d'Estaing 
(1974-81), Socialist Francois Mitterrand (1981-95), and neo-Gaullist 
Jacques Chirac (elected in spring 1995). 
 
President Mitterrand's second seven-year term ended in May 1995.  During 
his tenure, he stressed the importance of European integration and 
advocated the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European economic 
and political union, which France's electorate narrowly approved in 
September 1992. 
 
President Jacques Chirac has vowed that fighting unemployment (more than 
11% overall; 25% among younger, unskilled workers) will be his top 
priority. 
 
GOVERNMENT 
 
The constitution of the Fifth Republic was approved by public referendum 
on September 28, 1958.  It greatly strengthened the authority of the 
executive in relation to parliament.  Under the constitution, the 
president is elected directly for a seven-year term.  Presidential 
arbitration assures regular functioning of the public powers and the 
continuity of the state.  The president names the prime minister, 
presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes 
treaties. 
 
The president may submit questions to a national referendum and can 
dissolve the National Assembly.  In certain emergency situations, the 
president may assume full powers.   
 
Besides the president, the other main component of France's executive 
branch is the cabinet.  Headed by the prime minister, who is the nominal 
head of government, the cabinet is composed of a varying number of 
ministers, minister-delegates, and secretaries of state.  Parliament 
meets in regular session twice annually for a maximum of three months on 
each occasion.   Special sessions are common.  Although parliamentary 
powers are diminished from those existing under the Fourth Republic, the 
National Assembly can still cause a government to fall if an absolute 
majority of the total Assembly membership votes to censure. 
 
The National Assembly is the principal legislative body.  Its deputies 
are directly elected to five-year terms, and all seats are voted on in 
each election.  Senators are chosen by an electoral college for nine-
year terms, and one-third of the Senate is renewed every three years.  
The Senate's legislative powers are limited; the National Assembly has 
the last word in the event of a disagreement between the two houses.  
The government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of 
parliament.  The government also can link its life to any legislative 
text, and unless a motion of censure is introduced and voted, the text 
is considered adopted without a vote. 
 
The most distinctive feature of the French judicial system is that it is 
divided into the Constitutional Council and the Council of State.  The 
Constitutional Council examines legislation and decides whether it 
conforms to the constitution.  Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, it only 
considers legislation that is referred to it by parliament, the prime 
minister, or the president; moreover, it considers legislation before it 
is promulgated.  The Council of State has a separate function from the 
Constitutional Council and provides recourse to individual citizens who 
have claims against the administration. 
 
Traditionally, decision-making in France has been highly centralized, 
with each of France's departments headed by a prefect appointed by the 
central government.  In 1982, the national government passed legislation 
to decentralize authority by giving a wide range of administrative and 
fiscal powers to local elected officials.  In March 1986, regional 
councils were directly elected for the first time. 
 
Principal Government Officials 
 
President--Jacques Chirac 
Prime Minister--Alain Juppe 
Ambassador to the United States--Francois Bujon de l'Estang 
Ambassador to the United Nations--Alain Dejammet 
 
France maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 4101 Reservoir Rd. NW, 
Washington, DC  20007 (tel. 202-944-6000). 
 
POLITICAL CONDITIONS 
 
France held presidential elections in the spring of 1995.  The victor, 
Jacques Chirac of Rally for the Republic (RPR), assumed the presidency 
on May 17, 1995.  It was the third presidential race for Chirac, the 
former mayor of Paris and a 30-year fixture on the French political 
scene.  Shortly after the final results were announced, Chirac selected 
his long time RPR ally, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, to be the next 
Prime Minister.  Chirac's other cabinet choices reflect his emphasis on 
economic recovery, combating unemployment, and repairing the welfare 
safety net. 
 
France's political system combines a strong executive--in the person of 
the president--with a parliamentary system that includes a powerful 
prime minister.  This hybrid system can result in the president and 
prime minister being from different parties, a situation known in France 
as a "cohabitation government."  Chirac's assumption of the presidency 
marked an end to the two-year cohabitation government of Socialist 
President Francois Mitterrand and the center-right government headed by 
Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.  Thus, the Chirac victory completes the 
turnover of the government to the conservatives that began with the 
March 1993 landslide (80%) victory for the conservative coalition in the 
parliamentary elections (484 out of 577 Assembly seats). 
 
Chirac's margin of victory over his Socialist opponent, Lionel Jospin, 
in the second and final round of the presidential elections was much 
smaller (53% to 47%) than conservatives' margin in the 1993 legislative 
elections, leading to optimism on the part of the French left that it 
will improve its representation in the National Assembly in the next 
round of parliamentary elections, which must be held before April 1998. 
 
ECONOMY 
 
With a 1994 GDP of more than $1.3 trillion, France is the fourth-largest 
Western industrialized economy.  It has substantial agricultural 
resources, a diversified modern industrial system, and a highly skilled 
labor force.  In 1994, France's economic growth rate was 2.4%.  The 
estimated growth rate for 1995 is 3.1%. 
 
Government policy stresses investment promotion and maintenance of 
fiscal and monetary discipline.  It seeks to ensure the franc's 
stability and strength within the European Monetary System.  The 
government continues to exert considerable control over the industrial 
sector both through planning and regulatory activities and through 
direct state ownership, although a modest privatization program has been 
implemented.  This policy has helped keep France's inflation rate (1.6% 
in 1994) low compared with rates among the other Group of Seven (G-7) 
industrial countries. 
 
One main area of concern, however, continues to be an unemployment rate 
that is now over 11%.  France's well-developed and diversified 
industrial enterprises generate about one-third of the GDP and employ 
about one-third of the workforce.  This distribution is similar to that 
of other highly industrialized nations.  The most important areas of 
industrial production include steel and related products, aluminum, 
chemicals, and mechanical and electrical goods. 
 
France also has been very successful in developing dynamic 
telecommunications, aerospace, and weapons sectors.  With virtually no 
domestic oil production, France has relied heavily on the development of 
nuclear power, which now produces about 75% of the country's electrical 
energy.  Nuclear waste is stored on site at reprocessing facilities. 
 
Membership in France's labor unions accounts for about 10% of the 
workforce.  Included in the composition of the several competing union 
confederations are the largest, oldest, and most powerful unions:  the 
Communist-dominated General Labor Confederation, the Workers' Force, and 
the French Democratic Confederation of Labor. 
 
Trade 
 
France is the second-largest trading nation in Western Europe (after 
Germany).  In 1993, France achieved a record trade surplus, about $15 
billion.  The surplus was partly attributable to the surge in exports 
due to greater competitiveness of French products, which, in turn, was 
partly due to low domestic inflation and wage costs.  For 1994, the 
country's trade surplus rose even higher, to about $16 billion.  Its 
total trade for 1994 amounted to more than $450 billion.  Trade with 
European Union (EU) countries accounts for 60% of French trade. 
 
In 1994, U.S.-France trade totaled about $33 billion.  U.S. exports 
accounted for 8.5% (or about $18 billion) of France's total imports.  
U.S. electronic production and testing equipment, electronic components, 
telecommunications, computers and peripherals, analytical and scientific 
instrumentation, medical instruments and supplies, broadcasting 
equipment, and film programming and franchising are particularly 
attractive to French importers. 
 
Principal French exports to the United States are aircraft and engines, 
beverages, electrical equipment, chemicals, cosmetics, and pet-care 
products. 
 
Agriculture 
 
Good climate, fertile land, and modern technology have combined to make 
France the leading agricultural producer in Western Europe. 
 
It is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of dairy 
products, wheat, and wine.  Although more land is devoted to pasture and 
grain, some of France's best land is planted in wine grapes. 
 
FOREIGN RELATIONS 
 
A charter member of the United Nations, France holds one of the 
permanent seats in the Security Council and is a member of most of its 
specialized and related agencies. 
 
Europe.  France is a leader in Western Europe because of its size, 
location, strong economy, membership in European organizations, strong 
military posture, and energetic diplomacy.  France generally has worked 
to strengthen the global economic and political influence of the EU and 
its role in common European defense.  It views Franco-German cooperation 
as the foundation of efforts to enhance European security. 
 
President Chirac has declared his support for eventual implementation of 
economic and monetary union and is committed to maintaining France's 
central role in the EU.  France remains a firm supporter of the 
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other 
efforts at cooperation. 
 
France has assumed a leading role in trying to resolve the conflict in 
the former Yugoslavia.  Its troops represent the largest contingent of 
the UN Protection Force stationed in the area. 
 
Furthermore, a number of French organizations have played an active role 
in providing humanitarian assistance to victims of the war. 
 
Middle East.  France supports the Middle East Peace Process as 
revitalized by the 1991 Madrid peace conference.  In this context, 
France backed the establishment of a Palestinian homeland and the 
withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territories.  Recognizing the 
need for a comprehensive peace agreement, France supports the 
involvement of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians and Israel 
in a multilateral peace process.  France has been active in promoting a 
regional economic dialogue and has played an active role in providing 
assistance to the Palestinian Authority. 
 
Africa.  France plays a significant role in Africa, especially in its 
former colonies, through extensive aid programs, commercial activities, 
military agreements, and cultural impact.  Key advisory positions are 
staffed by French nationals in many African countries.  In those former 
colonies where the French presence remains important, France contributes 
to political, military, and social stability. 
 
Asia.  France has extensive commercial relations with Asian countries, 
including China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan (which presents 
serious competition in automobiles, electronics, and machine tools).  
France has taken a leading role in efforts to achieve a settlement to 
the Cambodian conflict, and, at the Tokyo Conference in June 1992, 
French and American leaders met to discuss Cambodian reconstruction.  
France is also seeking to broaden its commercial influence in Vietnam 
and Laos. 
 
Latin America.  France supports strengthening democratic institutions in 
Latin America.  It supports the ongoing efforts to restore democracy to 
Haiti and has agreed to participate in Phase II of the UN Mission in 
Haiti. 
 
Security Issues.  French military doctrine is based on the concepts of 
national independence, nuclear deterrence, and military sufficiency.  
France is a charter signatory to the North Atlantic Treaty and is a 
member of the North Atlantic Council and its subordinate institutions.  
Since 1966, it has not participated in the North Atlantic Treaty 
Organization (NATO) integrated military command structure, although it 
remains a member of some alliance military bodies. 
 
The French army currently is undergoing a major reorganization which 
aims at reducing personnel, garrisons, and headquarters; enlarging a 
reduced number of corps and divisions; and modernizing equipment.  In 
1993, the French armed forces numbered about 270,000; in 1997, after 
restructuring, the level will be 227,000. 
 
France's foremost arms control concern relates to the worldwide 
proliferation of ballistic missiles, nuclear technologies, and 
conventional weapons.  In each of these areas, France has worked closely 
with the United States in a determined effort to preclude such advanced 
technologies from spreading to unstable regions.  Moreover, it has 
actively participated in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) 
process and the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. 
 
President Chirac announced in June 1995 his decision that France would 
complete a series of eight nuclear tests in 1995 and 1996.  The French 
Government indicates that these tests are designed to ensure the safety 
and reliability of the French nuclear weapons force.  President Chirac 
has underlined France's commitment to negotiate and sign a Comprehensive 
Test Ban Treaty by the end of 1996. 
 
U.S.-FRENCH RELATIONS 
 
Relations between the United States and France are active and cordial.  
Mutual visits by high-level officials are conducted on a regular basis.  
Bilateral contact at the cabinet level has traditionally been active. 
France and the United States share common values and have parallel 
policies on most political, economic, and security issues. Differences 
are discussed frankly and have not been allowed to impair the pattern of 
close cooperation that characterizes relations between the two 
countries. 
 
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials 
 
Ambassador--Pamela Harriman 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Avis T. Bohlen 
Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs--William Bellamy 
Minister-Counselor for Economic Affairs--John Medeiros 
Financial Attache--Sara Paulsen 
Minister-Counselor for Commercial Affairs--Peter Frederick 
Counselor for Labor Affairs--Vacant 
Counselor for Scientific and Technological Affairs--Jerome J. Bosken 
Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs--James L. Ward 
Minister-Counselor for Administrative Affairs--Charles R. Allegrone 
Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs--Christopher Snow 
Defense Attache--Col. Daniel Larned (U.S. Army) 
 
Consuls General 
 
Consulate General, Marseille--Jackson C. McDonald 
Consulate General, Bordeaux--Alan Eastham, Jr. 
Consulate General, Strasbourg--Shirley E. Barnes 
 
The U.S. embassy in France is located at 2 Avenue Gabriel, Paris 8 (tel. 
[33] (1) 4312-2222).  The United States also is represented in Paris by 
its mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and 
Development. 
 
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION 
 
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the Department of State recommends that Americans avoid 
travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security 
information, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. 
embassies and consulates in the subject country. They can be obtained by 
telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the 
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a 
modem with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications 
on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available 
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, D.C. 20402, tel. (202) 783-3238. 
 
Emergency information concerning  Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. 
 
While planning a trip, travelers can check the latest information on 
health requirements and conditions with the U.S. Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 
provides telephonic or fax information on the most recent health 
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on 
food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet 
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication 
number CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the Superintendent of 
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. 
(202) 512-1800. 
 
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (see "Principal Government 
Officials" listing in this publication). 
 
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to 
register with the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" 
listing in this publication). Such information might assist family 
members in making contact en route in case of an emergency. 
 
Further Electronic Information: 
 
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB 
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful 
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to 
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and 
telephone line. 
 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, 
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press 
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. 
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet: 
 
Gopher:  dosfan.lib.uic.edu 
URL:  gopher://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ 
WWW:  http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/dosfan.html 
 
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis 
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at 
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and 
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of 
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh, 
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250. 
 
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy 
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government 
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS 
information, call (202) 512-1530. 
 
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(gopher. stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 
482-1986 for more information. 
 
======================================== 
Background Notes Series  --  Published by the United States Department 
of State  --  Bureau of Public Affairs  --  Office of Public 
Communication  --  Washington, DC  --  Series Editor:  Marilyn J. 
Bremner 
 
France  --  Department of State Publication 8209  --  October 1995 
 
This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without 
permission; citation of this source is appreciated.  For sale by the 
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, DC  20402. 
(###)
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