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London Critical Mass under threat

IMC features | 04.10.2005 00:15 | Repression | London

On Friday 30th September, those who joined London's monthly Critical Mass ride, found themselves being issued with letters from the Metropolitan Police, threatening arrests at future Critical Mass rides, unless the 'organisers' give notice of the route at least six days in advance, and warning that the police can impose restrictions on the rides once the advance notice has been given.The letter stated that the police are reviewing their 'policy' towards critcal mass

Read Letter to Met Police Commissioner from Jenny Jones; Green Party Member of the London Assembly, The Mayor’s Road Safety Ambassador and Member of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

NEW: Audio interview with Jenny Jones (12th Oct)

A callout has been issued to make October's London Critical Mass the biggest one yet.

Londoners have held regular Critical Mass rides for the past eleven and a half years, and those who have been on them will know that rides are escorted by coppers on bikes and mootor cycles. It seems unlikely that the police do not understand that their demands are an attack on the very foundations of Critical Mass itself, which can best be described as an "unorganised coincidence". As the ride's website FAQ notes:

Nobody organises CM in the sense that they control the event - what happens at the ride is up to all the individuals. However, as with any project, some individuals are usually more involved than others, for example in printing and distributing leaflets and other publicity, or maintaining this website ;) . However, they only do the work, and don't have any authority over anybody else - their only power is to make suggestions.

Critical Mass rides are held in many cities across the globe, and if there is any one aim, it is a shared wish to see less car-dominated cities and more people cycling. The hallmark of the event is the bringing together of a wide spectrum of cyclists in an spontaneous 'disorganisation' which is not dominated by any political ideology,party, organisation or individual. Any attempt to meet the requirements of the letter would mean that the basic foundations of Critical Mass would be threatened. London Critical Mass however is not alone in facing challenges.

For some months now, cyclists on New York's Critical Mass rides, have been subject to mass arrests with police using tactics such as placing nets across the road and arresting everyone inside the nets.

New Yorkers have persisted with the rides in the face of the arrests and repression and many of those who have gone to court on the exonerated.

On a more positive note, Budapest has just experienced it's largest Critical Mass ever, with 30 000 cyclists joining the ride on September 22nd, 2005. The last year has seen a mushrooming participation in Critical Mass rides in the Hungarian capitol. The initial breakthrough came on World Carfree Day in 2004, when 4,000 riders participated. This was followed by an Earth Day Critical Mass ride on April 22 of this year with a staggering 10,000 people. The trend is still in progress. Bicycle messenger groups are in a large way to credit for organizing and publisizing this event. Otherwise organizations like the Hungarian Young Greens (Zöfi) and Clean Air Action Group have also helped in the organization.


London Critical Mass website
London Critical Mass elist archive
New York City Indymedia coverage of Critical Mass
London Critical Mass 11th Birthday Video
BBC article on London Critical Mass's 10th Birthday
DSEi Critical Mass | Video
Coverage of Nottingham's October Critical mass
Dublin Critical Mass

Other UK Cities

Coverage of Nottingham's October Critical mass
Nottingham | 2 | 3 | 4

Sheffield | 2
Southampton | 2

IMC features


Hide the following 22 comments

Possible theme

04.10.2005 09:10

On today's South London Press front page there's a report on a 50 yr old cyclist in East Dulwich having aparently been deliberately rammed by a van, the driver reversed to have a look at the mangled cyclist in the road and then sped off. The cyclist is in hospital in a serious but stable condition with broken pelvis, eye socket etc. Dulwich is about 3/4 hr from the centre so probably too far for mass to go but would be good to have some kind of mention and sympathy for the poor guy.

south london cyclist


04.10.2005 11:05

...yes anarchy, as a collective consciousness especially, is a karmic trap basically for the states abuse fear power, which thus they attempt to 'break up'. This sounds intersting anyway (bike criticalmass)...I read about the Budapest ones, and am thinking about actually coming up to London (from kent) to check this happening out..I've just bought and tidied a Indian 'Hero Royal' old style bike in lovely condition...from aguy into old vehicles and moemrobelia and so on...the bike had some old style acetaylene lights with it was suppost to be a vin tinge british bike...but its wuite recent, they still make those roadster metal braked machines there...its very posh for an Indian bike even has a built in immobiliser thingy. Loevly pioantwork, offers to, no seriously maybe see you at the next event.

Clue for the cops: PSSST: Go and arrest bliar...he's an international war criminal


King Amdo

"Policy Review"

04.10.2005 11:40

I find this quite disturbing. The police saying they are currently reviewing their policy of policing the critical mass cyclists can only lead two ways.

Given the police usually 'facilitate' - with the std procedure for the police being to accompany the cyclists (police cycles and motorbokes mostly) with little intervention - they're either going to back off and leave people to cycle in peace, or they're going to intervene to block people's way and perhaps detain or arrest them.

Let's see what happens. Take cameras along when cycling, video cameras all the better.


Documents some of you might be interested in....

05.10.2005 12:36

Dear UK,

I am one of the attorneys who represents the Manhattan environmental organization, Time's Up!, in a lawsuit the City of New York has filed against it in New York State Supreme Court. I was pleased to hear that Still We Ride: The Movie, a documentary about the crackdown here that was recently screened in several locations your way, was so well received by the community. I was shocked to hear about the Scotland Yard letter. I thought some of you might be interested in learning more about what has been going on here. Since August of 2004, almost 650 cyclists have been arrested in connection with Critical Mass rides. Scores are fighting open criminal cases. It all began with the attached letter to Time's Up!. Some of you may find the rhetoric in the "Notices to Cyclists" flyers interesting. I am also attaching two of Judge Pauley's decisions in Bray v. City of New York, the so-called "Critical Mass" case, along with a copy of the complaint the City has filed against Time's Up! in the lawsuit currently pending in State court.

I urge you to check these pages and link up with NYC cyclists in the coming months.

My advice, if any of you will take it, is to make as big a political stink about the proposed amendment to the policy of facilitating the rides as soon as you can. Part of what appears to have happened here is that the City has thrown so much money at criminalizing the rides that they have scared off many folks who don't want to risk getting arrested and encouraged the folks who come to play out the "cyclists play cat and mouse with cops" script. Most municipalities the world over eventually learn that corking and otherwise facilitating Critical Mass rides makes political and public safety sense; the deeper each "side" becomes entrenched in its respective position, however, the more difficult a political solution becomes -- or so it seems here.

In solidarity,

mail e-mail:
- Homepage:

Letter from NYPD to Time's Up!

05.10.2005 18:54

from the pdf above:



Office of the Chief of Transportation
One Police Plaza - Room 1107
New York, N.Y. 10038

September 23, 2004

Times Up
49 East Houston Street
New York, N.Y. 10012

Dear Times Up:

I have been informed that there is a ``Critical Mass'' bike ride scheduled for Friday,
September 24 in Manhattan. Last month thousands of riders drove through the city
breaking numerous traffic laws and I personally observed many acts of Disorderly
Conduct and Obstructing Governmental Administration violations of the Penal Law.

Traffic was significantly impeded and dangerous conditions, both to riders and others,

I suggest that you work within the framework of our laws and apply for a permit for the
ride, which then might be sanctioned by the Police Department under our rules and

You may call the Operations Unit of Patrol Borough Manhattan South, telephone #212-417-
7484, and ask for Lieutenant Joseph Canecco or Assitant Cheif Bruce Smolka to discuss
applying for such permit.

Michael Scagnelli
Chief of Transportation
New York City Police Department


first extention of SOCPB

06.10.2005 21:39

Seems to me this is just one of the first extentions of the Seroius Organised Crime and Police Bill. And a crackdown on a group that has been fairly prominent in the demonstrations this summer - G8, DSEi.

That's why all these photographs are being taken by FIT teams. Who's causing the most distruption and who do we [the Met] need to deal with first.

I'm sure we'll see further extentions like this and the restriction of demonstrations even outside the exclusion zone, like the Dorchester DSEi banquet.

Only one thing for it, people, and you don't need me to spell it out for you.

Okay for now.

Jason N. Parkinson
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07.10.2005 13:37

This is something of an inevitable next step by the cops. CMs mistake was accepting
without any resistance the bike cops when they started their tailing of the mass.
First they tailed; then they nannyed : then they started to throw their weight around.
Now weve got a load of cop lovers on the mass.
We should have really concentrated on losing these unwelcome guests from day one.
Too many people wingeing on about being "unorganised" (whats wrong with organising
ourselves?) and not being a "demonstration" (we always were).

Occasional masser

Legal challenge

07.10.2005 16:53

Phil Michaels - a lawyer with the Friends of the Earth Rights and Justice centre - has written to Superintendent Gomm asking for a formal retraction of their letter on the basis that it is based on a misunderstanding of the law and is itself unlawful.


Some more thoughts

07.10.2005 20:31

> CMs mistake was accepting without any resistance the bike cops

That's got nothing to do with it.

> Too many people wingeing on about being "unorganised" (whats wrong with organising
> ourselves?) and not being a "demonstration" (we always were).

Speak for yourself. The critical mass is different things to different people and certainly not procession or demonstration.

The critcal mass is a monthly event and unfortunatly some people have adopted the term and bits of the concept to refer to actions involving bikes during mobilisations such as against the G8 and DSEi.

The tactic is a good one and the police are now going to try to close off the option.

If a mistake has been made it was the use of the phrase critical mass in relation to protests.

Finally, lets be clear about what laws they are proposing to use. The Guardian article was a pile of unresearched crap that suggests this is all about parlament square... it is not.
The Serious and Organised Crimes law that relates to the non-protest zone has certainly been raised by the cops but remember that critical mass predates the law so if it is a demonstration it is excempt anyway.

The important bit is simply the unlawful procession bit. This applied whether the mass goes.


text of guardian article

07.10.2005 22:40

After the jenny jones letter, so far only the guardian has covered the story:


Guardian: Cyclists to defy police in pedal power revolt

Hugh Muir
Friday October 7, 2005
The Guardian

Up to a hundred cyclists will defy a police order and ride their bikes around Westminster to highlight new public order restrictions.

Scotland Yard has been warned that the monthly Critical Mass bike ride will go ahead without police permission. After last month's ride, the Met warned cyclists the event will be illegal without six days' notice and permission.

In a letter to the police Jenny Jones, a member of the Metropolitan police authority and road safety adviser to the mayor of London, said: "The police should be catching criminals, rather than making up stupid laws.",3604,1586675,00.html



Even ACPO doesn't seem to think the actions of the police are legal.

08.10.2005 09:08

From ACPO's declaration of policy...


Public Safety Policy


1.1 In general the public perception is that the Police are the lead
agency for approving all public events, including those which take
place on the public highway. In reality the Police have no authority to
either approve or ban such events and in fact, Police powers to
regulate traffic for planned events are extremely limited. Furthermore,
the Police have no general duty to preserve public safety at any public
event, except where there are imminent or likely threats to life.


Comaprison with U$A

15.10.2005 16:22

It is interesting to compare what is happening with london now with the more 'advanced' policing of CMs in Portland, Oregon:


Re: Some more thoughts

20.10.2005 23:09

> Speak for yourself. The critical mass is different things to different people and certainly not procession or demonstration.

It clearly *is* a procession, and arguably organised in the eyes of the law (as per Flockhart vs Robinson).

> The critcal mass is a monthly event and unfortunatly some people have adopted the term and bits of the concept to refer to actions involving bikes during mobilisations such as against the G8 and DSEi.

Unfortunate for who?

> If a mistake has been made it was the use of the phrase critical mass in relation to protests.

Only in the eyes of those who think the police have some right to tell cyclists what to do.

veni, vidi, velo

NYC Critical Masser sympathizing with London Critical Massers

21.10.2005 16:08

I've been doing the New York City Critical Mass for almost 10 years. Over the years we had confrontations with the police but nothing close to what's happening now. I've been arrested twice and my bike seized 4 times. They have been arresting 15 - 50 cyclists every month since Aug 04. It would be a lot more arrests if we hadn't built up strategies over the months on how to avoid arrests. My one suggestion, that has helped tremendously to get press, build support and have cases dismissed, is to have as many people possible to videotape the ride next week in case they really do try to arrest people.

I'm a volunteer for Time's Up! (group being sued by the city) who is working with the producers of Still We Ride documentary to get this DVD shown as many places as possible. I will be coming to London in November / December and would love to help with organizing a screening; as much as I can from a distance. I have some leads but it seems their screenings will be too soon for me to get to London. I was looking at possibly the weekend of Nov 5th or 12th or Dec 30th after the Dec Critical Mass.

Here is the NY Times article that describes my confrontations with the police.

Good luck on the ride next week!!


PS. I went on the London CM about 3 years ago and it was great fun!!

mail e-mail:
- Homepage:

Critical Mass

24.10.2005 11:06

Why pick on bikes? There is a critical mass of cars on the road every minute of every day. What happened to the right to pass and repass on the public highway?

- Homepage:

On the legality of London Critical Mass

28.10.2005 13:58

On the legality of London's Critical Mass

On the September 2005 Critical Mass ('CM') in London, police handed out leaflets warning participants that this it is unlawful event and that they were at risk of arrest. This article attempts to examine some of the legal issues, from the viewpoint of a regular participant in the Mass who happens to be legally experienced. It is currently in draft.

Important Note: The information and commentary do not, and are not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or Mass. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or Mass and not to rely on the information or comments herein.

First, a note on police powers
The police can arrest simply if they have grounds to suspect an offence is being committed, however for the arrestee to be convicted of that offence, there has to be enough evidence to satisfy a court so that it is sure of guilt, aka “beyond reasonable doubt”. Of course being arrested is not a pleasant experience now, especially in our Orwellian society with the police having rights to fingerprint, photograph and DNA swab you. However most of those arrested in protest situations do not end up with a conviction.

In terms of what police can publicise it's a bit more complex. Clearly if the police say that something is illegal when it is in fact legal, this has puts people in fear of doing something they have a right to do. This is known in Human Rights law as a “chilling effect”. The difficulty is that there seems to be no case law under section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 ('the Act'), indeed no record even of any prosecutions.

Section 11 (“Advanced notice of public processions”) states:
1)Written notice shall be given in accordance with this section of any proposal to hold a public procession intended-
(a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons,
(b) to publicise a cause or campaign, or
(c) to mark or commemorate an event,
unless it is not reasonably practicable to give any advance notice of the procession
2)Subsection (1) does not apply where the procession is one commonly or customarily held in the police area (or areas) in which it is proposed to be held...
3)The notice must specify the date when it is intended to hold the procession, the time when it is intended to start it, its proposed route, and the name and address of the person (or of one of the persons) proposing to organise it.

The Act later on helpfully clarifies that a “Public procession” means a procession in a public place!

Is Critical Mass a public procession?
Possibly, it depends on the particular facts, the two issues being whether processions need to be on foot and the degree of order of the participants.

In terms of the Mass being on pedal cycle (and also wheelchairs, in-line skates and skate boards), this does not seem to affect the issue of whether it is a procession or not. While Lord Denning in Kent v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (1981) TLR 15 May defined a public procession as the “act of a body of persons marching along in orderly succession”, this seems contradicted by more recent regulations on seat belts that provides a defence to not wearing one where involved in a public procession.

The leading case of Flockhart v Robinson [1950] 2 KB 498 viewed a public procession as a “body of persons” - in other words mode of movement was irrelevant – that is orderly formation. In that case a group of unionists had been walking along Picadilly in “loose formation” then suddenly they closed up and a “procession came into being spontaneously and without any prior arrangement”.

Much of the time London Critical Mass is what a judge might call a disorganised rabble. It has no predetermined route so sometimes when it stops at a junction one section will go off one way and other people another way. Sometimes cars or buses find themselves in the middle of it, so too do pedestrians and non-massing cyclists. Until the police shepherd people in, it does not ride in tight formation, cyclists are all over the place. Indeed at those times it is the police who are 'organising'.

Is it a controllable public procession?
Tourists following guides holding forth umbrellas shouldn't need to notify the police, nor groups of ramblers, school children walking in crocodile formation or indeed cyclists going for a ride together. For that reason section 11 was drafted only to apply to political public processions.

The police continue to insist on calling Critical Mass as the CHARM ride, which once stood for Cyclists Have A Right to Move, although few participants have ever heard of this name. Their fiction conveniently helps them side step the fact that whatever the “intent” of the original Mass eleven years ago, it is now just a social event which people do for fun.

Some police still see cycling as a bit cranky and so may think that cycling is inherently political. This is as nonsensical as suggesting that the in-line skaters' ride is political in that it is to raise the cause of skating, or demonstrate support for the actions of other people skating. Indeed one sergeant at the September Mass on being asked why it was political and the skaters' ride was not said that the skaters' ride did not count as it went faster. This is a classic example of the “Ways and Means Act”, in other words the police trying to interpret an act as the means to enforce their own views and prejudices.

Many individual cyclists may have their own political views, even badges or stickers, just as school children in crocodile formation might have a number of MPH wristbands, tour parties wear Remembrance Day poppies etc. The fact that people hand out a wide range of leaflets on and before the Mass does not affect this. Even the Critical Mass leaflets themselves simply raise awareness of the existence of the Mass as a social event, a way of enjoying the streets without them being choked with motor traffic, of enjoying cycling without being crashed into by drivers.

The best argument the police might have is that following their unlawful leaflet, London Critical Mass now has the purpose of publicising the cause of its continued existence and demonstrating opposition to the police trying to shut it down.

Does it fall within the commonly or customarily held exemption?
Many of those challenging the police's view that Mass is unlawful have done so on the basis of it being customarily held over the last eleven years so that it falls within the exemption under section 11(2).

It might be argued that the route is not regular but certainly part of it is, such as going over Waterloo Bridge, and due to the Mass moving significantly faster than a march and Friday London traffic moving significantly slower than traffic normally, very little prejudice is caused by this detail.

In any event a “purposive interpretation” needs to be adopted to this sub-section which has attracted academic criticism for its vagueness: any restriction on human rights have to be interpreted proportionately so that the powers are the minimum necessary.

The argument of the police (contained in their response to a pre-action letter by solicitors attached to Friends of the Earth Rights & Justice acting on behalf of three Massees) is particularly confused. It suggests that because Critical Mass never had permission in the first place, it cannot acquire “squatters' rights” to be legal simply due to being commonly held. This misunderstands the very essence of section 11 which contains advanced notice requirements unlike other jurisdictions or indeed the Serious Organised Crime Act 2005 (in relation to the designated area around Parliament) which have police permit requirements for processions.

As stated in Public Order Law (Richard Card, 2000 at page 219) “it is not an offence simply to participate knowingly in a procession for which advanced notice has not been given”. The Act simply contains a mechanism for advanced notification of processions in certain circumstances and provides a minor penalty for those who organise processions and fail to provide the necessary notification.

Who is the organiser then?
In Flockhart it was held that “The act of organizing might in some circumstances take a lot of time and require premeditation. In other circumstances organizing might be speedily done.” In that case the fact that the defendant was at the front of the procession, and gave directions and orders which were obeyed was enough for him to be convicted although one of the three judges dissented. The organisation of the route taken was the key issue.

In the case of Critical Mass, some people discuss route possibilities on email lists, perhaps due to another cyclist being mown down by a driver at a particular location, over a beer while waiting for the Mass to set off or even once it is going. However whatever individual's plans or views as to where the Mass should go, it has a mind of its own. Even if someone tried to organise a route, it is unlikely the Mass would obey it, so that it would be hard for them to be convicted of being an organiser failing to provide advanced notice.

Allegations by the police of people at the back directions phoning to the front seem to be at best one-offs. The police have acknowledged on an individual basis that the mass is disorganised and that at times no one seems to know where it is going, which of course is why they want it to be organised. The fact is section 11 only provides for offences in relation to organisers of which there are none.

Is advanced notice reasonably practicable?
Because of the consensual, non-hierarchical nature of Critical Mass, the only way direction can be worked out is through the Mass deciding. Even were one Mass to try to decide the route of the next Mass, intervening circumstances or even just the weather could make its decision out of date.

To require advanced notice would require Critical Mass to have a route which would destroy its fundamental nature. The police already know when the Mass will take place, in which area of London (usually fairly central) and can guess numbers based on the season and prevailing weather.

One of the major strands of the argument of the police is that they need to be given notice so that they can ensure there are enough police covering the ride for participants' safety without tying up too many police so that they are diverted from fighting crime. Despite this they send unnecessarily large amounts of police along, particularly during the winter in an attempt to wrench control of the Mass. This leads to the problem that while up to about 2002 the Mass was able to police itself, and 'cork' side roads, people now rely on the police to do this as there's so many of them they have to be given something to do.

Police powers over traffic
The police have wide powers to direct traffic of all types, including people walking and cycling. In fact having obtained advanced notice for a procession does not provide a defence to charges of public nuisance or obstructing the highway.

The Highway Code does require cyclists to ride not more than two abreast, however breach of the code is not automatically a criminal offence. If the police do start prosecuting cyclists for causing an obstruction or issue Fixed Penalty Notices, this will highlight the discrimination against cyclists in London. While no driver has ever been prosecuted for disobeying cycle lanes, boxes (Advanced Stop Lines), or gaps and they are frequently allowed to get away with speeding and phone-driving, cyclists face a clamp down in central London.

That the police are not using these to deal with anyone causing a particular problem on the ride and instead are trying to use powers to control processions is down to the fact that they, as an organisation which is as hierarchical as possible, has a problem with a ride which is non-hierarchical. The police want Critical Mass to be formalised and turned into an organisation despite that going against its very essence.

The Serious and Organised Crime Act 2005 only applies to demonstrations and explicitly does not apply to political public processions under section 11. A Mass would have to stop for a significant period of time to lose its character and become a static demonstration. Other processions are not covered otherwise many tour groups would be in trouble. The fact that the police have attempted to cite this new law shows quite how poor their legal advice is.

The police leaflet is inaccurate, so much so that it is it rather than London Critical Mass is unlawful. Anyone arrested under the laws cited has a wide range of defences open to them and is unlikely to face conviction.

The action of the police besides being unlawful represents a volte-face, having previously received an Transport for London 999 Cycling award:

City of Westminster Taskforce, Metropolitan Police Service led by Sergeant Ray Bloye
Building community relations: The team have formed a strong partnership and mutual respect with monthly CHARM demonstrators which has reduced traffic disruption and the number of arrests.

If Critical Mass is unlawful and always has been then what has the Met been doing facilitating it for the last few years? Why are the Met highlighting their alleged community relations improvements then clamping down at a time most likely to inflame cyclists and burn the bridges they claim they've made. Many cyclists saw the film “Still We Ride” at the recent Bike Film Festival sponsored by Transport for London and were outraged by the scenes of the NYPD driving New York's Critical Mass into nets then trapping them, only to find the MPS starting to follow the same approach.

Critical Mass is a symbol of spontaneity, a defiance the Health & Safety culture where every inch of our streets are covered with lines or coloured surfacing, where every event has to be planned to oblivion and where even sorting out a drink with friends requires a protracted game of SMS ping-pong.

One of the joys of cycling in London is that you can vary your route due to the maze of irregular street patterns, not making your mind up until you reach a junction which way to go, the complete opposite of those who cannot move except in terms of the limited reality of the topological tube map. Critical Mass is the ultimate and mass expression of this freedom.

The clamp down on Critical Mass is part of a drive by Neo-Labour and their allies to regulate and control every order of our life. Either we stay riding free or slide down the slippery yet sterile slope to stewards in sponsored tabards, fixed and unflexible routes, and public liability insurance requirements spelling the death of Critical Mass.

P Edaller

Met Police appointed as CM PR agents

28.10.2005 22:33

We should all give thanks to the Metropolitan Police. CM rides in London normally attract a hundred or so riders. Last month the Met handed out leaflets saying that participants tonight would be liable to arrest and ....

tonight there must have been over 1,000 taking part and parts of the West End were at a standstill.

So well done to the Met. If they want to be the PR agent and recruiting team for CM, they're doing a good job. Otherwise they're idiots, with some egomaniac wishing to get press coverage by distributing leaflets with his name at the bottom, leaflets which themselves are unlawful (get the irony of that).

It would be funny if it were not for the fact that we're paying for these clowns through our taxes.

John Corrigan
mail e-mail:

Information would make me happy

01.01.2006 22:14

I think critical mass is an excellent idea and seems to be a healthy way of taking action. I live in Edinburgh and this city definently needs something like this. Maybe it's already in the making but any information that anyone can give on how to go about with it would be most appreciated. Thank you.

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