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The Kyrgyz are a warm, inviting sort of people: it's likely that you'll be welcomed into homes with as little as an introduction to acquaint you. That said, most travellers' first reason for coming to Kyrgyzstan is not to sit and chat with the locals. Kyrgyzstan is a place of stunning natural beauty, chiefly due to the mountainous terrain which occupies it. The snow-covered peaks of Tian Shan march along the southeastern border, delivering breathtaking views and great opportunities for adventure. Though few people are aware of it, Kyrgyzstan has skiing and mountaineering possibilities to match the best of 'em - the only difference is that there are fewer tourists (and, understandably, less tourist facilities). But the country's on the rise: with desperately little to sell the outside world, Kyrgyzstan is actively promoting itself as one of Central Asia's best destinations.
Stone implements found in the Tian Shan mountains indicate the presence of human society in what is now Kyrgyzstan as many as 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The first written records of a civilization in the area occupied by Kyrgyzstan appear in Chinese chronicles beginning about 2000 B.C. The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khanate in 840 A.D. Then Kyrgyz quickly moved as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years. In the twelfth century, however, the Kyrgyz domination had shrunk to the Altay Range and Sayan Mountains as a result of the Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the thirteenth century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. The Kyrgyz were conquered by Genghis Khan’s son Jöchi in 1207.
In the early nineteenth century, the southern part of what is today Kyrgyzstan came under the control of the Khanate of Kokand. The territory, then known in Russian as "Kirgizia", was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover was met with numerous revolts against tsarist authority, and many of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamirs and Afghanistan. In addition, the suppression of the 1916 rebellion in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz to migrate to China.
Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1919, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR (the term Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz). On December 5, 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a full republic of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan saw considerable cultural, educational, and social change. Economic and social development also was notable. Literacy increased, and a standard literary language was introduced. The Kyrgyz language belongs to the Western Turkic group of languages. In 1924, an Arabic-based Kyrgyz alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Latin script in 1928. In 1941 Cyrillic script was adopted. Many aspects of the Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until 1953.
The early years of glasnost in the late 1980s had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in an area of the Osh Oblast where Uzbeks form a majority of the population. Violent confrontations ensued, and a state of emergency and curfew were introduced. Order was not restored until August 1990. On August 19, 1991, when the State Emergency Committee assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the Soviet Union on August 31, 1991. Finally, on December 21, 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth of Independent States. In 1992, Kyrgyzstan joined the UN and the OSCE. Political stability appears to be elusive and current concerns in Kyrgyzstan include privatization of state-owned enterprises, expansion of Western influence, inter-ethnic relations and terrorism.
Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordering Kazakhstan, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It lies between latitudes 39° and 44° N, and longitudes 69° and 81° E. It is further from the sea than any other individual country, and all its rivers flow into closed drainage systems which do not reach the sea. The mountainous region of the Tian Shan covers over 80% of the country with the remainder made up of valleys and basins. Issyk-Kul Lake in the northeastern Tian Shan is the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan and the second largest mountain lake in the world after Titicaca. The highest peaks are in the Kakshaal-Too range, forming the Chinese border. Peak Jengish Chokusu, at 7,439 metres, is the highest point and is considered by geologists to be the northernmost peak over 7,000 metres in the world. Heavy snowfall in winter leads to spring floods which often cause serious damage downstream. The runoff from the mountains is also used for hydro-electricity. Kyrgyzstan has significant deposits of metals including gold and rare earth metals. Due to the country's predominantly mountainous terrain, less than 8% of the land is cultivated, and this is concentrated in the northern lowlands and the fringes of the Fergana Valley. The principal river is the Kara Darya, which flows west through the Fergana Valley into Uzbekistan. Across the border in Uzbekistan it meets another major Kyrgyz river, the Naryn. The confluence forms the Syr Darya, which originally flowed into the Aral Sea.
There is one exclave, the tiny village of Barak, in the Fergana Valley. The village is surrounded by Uzbek territory. It is located on the road from Osh (Kyrgyzstan) to Khodjaabad (Uzbekistan) about 4 kilometres northwest from the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. There are four Uzbek enclaves within Kyrgyzstan. Two of them are the towns of Sokh and Shakhimardan; the other two are the tiny territories of Chong-Kara and Jangy-ayyl. There also are two enclaves belonging to Tajikistan: Vorukh, located 45 kilometres south of Isfara on the right bank of the Karafshin river, and a small settlement near the Kyrgyz railway station of Kairagach.
Kyrgyzstan is made up of 7 provinces. The capital, Bishkek, is an independent city with the status of a province.
Lake Issyk Kul is a beautiful lake, and the largest in the country, located in the northwest of the country. In fact, it is the second largest alpine lake in the world and the surrouding area comprises snow-capped Tien Shan mountains at an elevation of 3,000 to 4,000 metres above sea level. The lake itself is at 1,300 to 1,600 metres. There are many activities here and it is one of the most favorite places in Kyrgyzstan to go hiking into the mountains surrounding the lake. There are also many beaches along its shore which are popular for swimming and sunning, although the water is cold, even in summer. Karakol is one of the most popular places along the shores of the lake and there are many things to explore from here.
The beautiful Ala-Archa National Park is only about an hour away from the capital Bishkek. The park has many things to offer travellers, including walking, trekking and climbing. There are magnificent hikes to glaciers and waterfalls and experienced hikers even can climb to the Ak-Sai Canyon and Ak-Sai Glacier which are surrounded by fantastic hih peaks.
Altyn Arashan is located a short drive east of Karakol and is located in the extreme east of the country. Altyun Arashan is a beautiful mountain gorge with very spectacular roads which are only navigatable by four-wheel drive trucks. The area is at 3000 metres above sea level and known for its curative hot springs as well. The valley is a very popular place amongst trekkers and climbers but there are more easy day walks to offer travelles as well.
Kyrgyzstan has a bitter climate, with harsh conditions, especially during the long and cold wintermonths of November to March. Much of the country is at higher altitude so much of the country has got summers which are not overly hot. Rain or snow is possible year round but on average it is a dry country. Spring and autumn are wetter than the rest of the year when sunny and dry conditions rule the country. In the lower parts of Kyrgyzstan, summers are around 27 °C maximum, and around 15 °C at night. During winter, temperatures are between -5 °C and -15 °C but also here temperatures can drop well below -30 °C sometimes.
Kyrgyzstan Airlines is the national airline of Kyrgyzstan with its base at Manas International Airport (FRU) near the capital Bishkek. It operates a limited number of international flights to Delhi, Ürümqi, Karachi, Dushanbe and Incheon (Seoul). Connections with Europe are directly with another airline Kyrgyzstanwhich has charter flights to and from Frankfurt. BMI has flights to London while Istanbul is served by Turkish Airlines. There are also several flights to Moscow from another smaller international at Osh (OSS).
Kyrgyzstan - Kazakhstan/Russia vv
Two trains a week link the capitals of Russia and Kyrgyzstan. From Moscow, trains leave on Thursdays and Sundays at 11.15pm, arriving in Bishkek on Mondays and Thursdays at 2.30 at night. Trains leave Bishkek around 10 in the morning on Mondays and Thursdays, arriving in Moscow on Thursdays and Sundays just after 3 in the afternoon.
Trains go via Almaty in Kazakhstan.
There are many border crossings to get to and from Kyrgyzstan, including the one mentioned below but several more if you have a 4wd, especially crossing into Kazakhstan or Tajikistan. Arrange your visa and documentation (international driving permit, insurance, green card) and you won't face more problems than a long row or so.
There are many daily bus and minibus connections between Bishkek and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
Buses also go about three times daily to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Note that these buses travel through Kazakhstan and you have to arrange a transit visa for this route. From the east, you can take a taxi or minibus from Osh to Dustlyk/Dostyk and then get a shared taxi to Andijon. Direct cars to Tashkent are available from Osh Guesthouse. To China, you can take the Torugart Pass (3752 meters) but you need to arrange Chinese transport before you leave as well. The newer and easier border crossing is the Irkeshtam Pass linking Kashgar with Osh and the Fergana Valley. There are no restrictions like at the Torugart and you can take taxis, hitch on trucks etc.
To Tajikistan, the main border crossing for travellers is at the Bor Döbo checkpoint on the Pamir Hwy, between Murgab district and Sary Tash. To travel on the Pamir Hwy you need a permit. From the Fergana Valley it’s possible to cross from Batken to Isfara in Tajikistan.
There are several daily flights between Bishkek and Osh. There are also a few flights a week between Bishkek and Jalal-abad and Batken. The flights are operated on local airlines using 30-40 year old soviet planes. On the other hand, the mechanics and pilots are well trained how to operate these old beasts.
There is only one railway line offering regular passenger services. It runs from Bishkek to Balikchi at the western end of Lake Issyk-Kul. You can reach Osh from Uzbekistan. There are plans for a north-south line in the future.
You can only rent cars with a driver and prices are relatively high. Petrol shortages are a thing to bear in mind as well. For temporary residents it is possible to get a licence and drive yourself. You need an international driving permit and a few photos.
Buses and minibuses go to most major cities and towns, but services are slow, crowded, uncomfortable and can be dangerous as well. Shared taxis are a much better way to get around. Prices are higher but it is much more reliable and faster as well.
Other than an organised trip on Lake Issyk-Kul, there are no means to travel around by boat in this highland country.
Citizens of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA do not require a letter of invitation. Citizens of Japan do not need a visa to enter Kyrgyzstan.
Citizens of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA (Aug 2010) with valid Kazakh tourist visa can travel also to Talas, Chui (including Bishkek) and Issyk Kul Oblasts of Kyrgyzstan. However if you have a single-entry Kazakh visa and you cross the border from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan, you can't return to Kazakhstan on this visa. Most customs officers don't know about this agreement, which can cause long obstructions at border crossings. A similar agreement applies reciprocally in Kazakhstan, but not for all abovementioned nationalities.
See also: Money Matters
The official currency is the Kyrgyzstani som (written as 'сом' in the Kyrgyzs Cyrillic alphabet or sometimes abbreviated as 'с' ), divided into 100 tyin. The ISO international symbolisation is KGS. Banknotes are available in 10 tyin, 50 tyin, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, and 5000 som denominations. Coins are available in 10 tyin, 50 tyin, 1 som, 3 som, 5 som and 10 som denominations.
There are few opportunities for foreigners, except with development organizations, that generally hire off-shore. There are also few opportunities to teach European languages, as many Kyrgyz that studied abroad have returned with near fluency and will charge much less than you.
If you wish to volunteer, there is a very active and diverse NGO community that would appreciate your assistance.
You could also work for local language schools. The London School in Bishkek is usually good for working as a TEFL teacher or learning Russian and Kyrgyz languages.
For those who are interested in learning Kyrgyz or Russian languages - there are universities you can go and there is a private school called the London School. The London School in Bishkek offers pretty cheap individual lessons for about $4/hour and home stay/cultural programs.
The languages of Kyrgyzstan are Russian and Kyrgyz, a Turkic language related to Uzbek, Kazakh, and, of course, Turkish. Kyrgyz is more common in rural areas whereas Russian is the urban language of choice, and it's not uncommon to meet ethnic Kyrgyz people in Bishkek who cannot speak Kyrgyz. English, while becoming more popular, is still rarely spoken, so in order to effectively communicate one must at the very least learn a few basic words (yes, no, please, thank you, etc.) in Russian or Kyrgyz, depending on the location. If you are lost completely, try to ask young people, especially students.
Like most of the rest of the former Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which can present a problem for Western travellers. However, the characters are not too hard to learn and once that is done you'll find that many of the words are familiar. For example, "ресторан" transliterated into the Latin alphabet is "restoran," which means "restaurant." But be careful as Cyrillic is used for Kyrgyz as well as Russian.
Kyrgyz food is the product of a long history of pastoral nomadism and is overwhelmingly meat-based. And, if we are saying overwhelmingly, it means really overwhelmingly. Those with vegetarian fixations may wish to revise their habits, purchase their own fresh fruit, vegetables, and fresh bread from one of the many small stands or food bazaars that are ubiquitous in every city, eat in Chinese restaurants or stay with bread and tea only. While people from the West are programmed to think of large vegetables as desirable, small and flavourful is the rule here. the same approach is valid for pistachios and almonds as well. Washing vegetables before consumption is recommended.
Besh barmak (literally: five fingers, because the dish is eaten with one's hands) is the national soupy dish of Kyrgyzstan (Kazakhs would probably disagree). For preparation, a sheep or horse is slaughtered and boiled in a large pot. The resulting broth is served as a first course. The meat is then divided up between those at the table. Each person in attendance receives the piece of meat appropriate to their social status. The head and eyes are reserved for guests of honour. The remaining meat is mixed in with noodles and, sometimes with onions, and is traditionally eaten from a large common dish with the hands, although nowadays more often with a fork or spoon. If you can land an invitation to a wedding, you'll most likely get a chance to eat besh barmak, although you can also find it in traditional restaurants. Kyrgyz people like soupy food in general, those foods that are served as a kind of pasta in Russia such as pelmene, they prefer as soup.
Most other dishes encountered in Kyrgyzstan are common to the other countries of Central Asia as well. Plov or osh is a pilaf dish that at a minimum includes julienne carrots, onion, beef or mutton, and plenty of oil, sometimes raisins. Manti are steamed dumplings that normally contain either mutton or beef, but occasionally pumpkin. Samsa are meat (although sometimes vegetable or cheese) pies that come in two varieties: flaky and tandoori. Flaky somsa are made with a phyllo dough while tandoori somsa have a tougher crust, the bottom of which is meant to be cut off and discarded, not eaten. Lagman is a noodle dish associated with Uyghur cuisine, but you can find everywhere from Crimea to Ujgurs. Most of the time it is served as soup, sometimes as pasta. The basic ingredients of lagman (plain noodles and spiced vegetables mixed with mutton or beef) can be fried together, served one on top of the other, or served separately. Shashlik (shish kebabs) can be made of beef, mutton, or pork and are normally served with fresh onions, vinegar and bread
Almost all Kyrgyz meals are accompanied by tea (either green or black) and a circular loaf of bread known as a lepeshka. The bread is traditionally torn apart for everyone by one person at the table. In the south of Kyrgyzstan, this duty is reserved for men, but in the north it is more frequently performed by women. Similarly, tea in the north is usually poured by women, while in the south it is usually poured by men.
Many private citizens rent out their flats to foreigners and a fairly luxurious flat could be agreed for quite low price a week. Noting that the average salary was $US44 in 2004, now it could twice as big, you may think you are paying excessively. Look for cable TV, toilet and bath and clean quarters. More adventurous visitors may wish to stay in a "yurta," for example in Bishkek it costs from 3 dollar a night in "yurtadorm". These are boiled wool tents used by nomads. Some tourist agencies in Bishkek will arrange this sort of stay, but be prepared to truly live the lifestyle of the nomad which includes culinary delicacies which may seem foreign to the western palette.
For those wishing to have home stays arranged in advanced there with the Community Based Tourism (CBT). They can organize home stays in most cities and villages in Kyrgyzstan. They can also arrange yurt stays and trekking. While many such organizations keep the majority of payment for themselves, CBT Kyrgyzstan claims that between 80 to 90% of payment will go to your host family. Amenities will vary between homes and locals, but overall some great travel experiences can be had such as, being invited to an impromptu goat feast, or enjoying fermented mares milk with nomads.
Drinking is one of the great Kyrgyz social traditions. No matter if you are served tea, kymys, or vodka, if you have been invited to a Kyrgyz person's table to drink, you have been shown warm and friendly hospitality. Plan to sit awhile and drink your fill as you and your host attempt to learn about each other.
When offered tea, you might be asked how strong you want it. Traditionally, Kyrgyz tea is brewed strong in a small pot and mixed with boiling hot water to your desired taste. If you want light tea, say 'jengil chai'. If you want your tea strong and red, 'kyzyl chai'. You might notice that they don't fill the tea cup all the way. This is so that they can be hospitable and serve you lots of tea. To ask for more tea, 'Daga chai, beringizchi' (Please give tea again). Your host will happily serve you tea until you burst. So once you've truly had your fill and don't want to drink any more, cover your tea cup and say, 'Ichtym' (I've drunk). Your host will offer a few more times (and sometimes will pout if you say no), this is to make sure that you are truly satisfied. Once everyone at table has finished drinking tea, it is time to say, 'Omen', and hold your hands out palms up and then brush the open palms down your face.
When entering a local store, you might goggle at the amount of vodka on display. Introduced by the Russians, vodka has brought much joy and sorrow to the Kyrgyz over the years. Most vodka you will find for sale was made in Kyrgyzstan and can provide travellers with one of the worst hangovers known, mainly if you are stupid and buy one of cheaper ones. But for approx. €2 you can have good kyrgyz vodka, ex. Ak-sai. Some professional vodka drinkers say that this is because foreigners don't know how to properly drink vodka. To drink vodka in the right way, you need to have zakushkas (Russian for the meal you eat with vodka). This can consist of anything from simple loaves of bread to full spreads of delicious appetizers. Quite common are sour or fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, and of course meat.
The Kyrgyz for generations have made their own variety of beverages. At first, these drinks might seem a bit strange, but after a few tries they become quite tasty. Most are mildly alcoholic, but this is just a by-product from their fermentation processes.
In the winter, Kyrgyz wives brew up bozo, a brew made of millet. Best served at room temperature, this drink has a taste somewhere between yogurt and beer. On cold winter days, when you are snowed in, five or six cups gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.
In the spring, it is time to make either jarma or maxim. Jarma, a wheat based brew, has a yeasty beerlike quality but with a gritty finish (it is made from whole grains after all). Maxim, a combination of corn and wheat, has a very sharp and zesty taste. It is best served ice cold and is a great pick me up on hot days.
Summer sees yurts lining the main street selling kymys, fermented mares milk. Ladled out of barrels brought down from the mountains, this traditional drink is one of more difficult to get used to. It has a very strong and pungent foretaste and a smoky finish. Kymys starts off as fresh horses milk (known as samal), the samal is then mixed with a starter made from last year's kymys and heated in a pot. The mixture is brought to just before boiling and then poured into a horse's stomach to ferment for a period. A local grass called 'chi' is then roasted over a fire and cut into small pieces. Once the milk is finished fermenting, the roasted chi and milk are mixed in a barrel and will keep for the summer if kept cool.
Tang is another drink thought to be useful for the health and good for hangovers. It is made from gassed spring water that is mixed with a salted creamy yogurt called souzmu.
Kyrgyz have their own cognac distiller, which produces excellent, albeit highly sweet cognac, with the preferred brand being "Kyrgyzstan Cognac", which the locals sometimes call Nashe Cognac, meaning "our cognac".
You can also find an excellent selection of not so excellent local and imported beers as many Kyrgyz have been taking to drinking beer versus harder spirits. Locally produced beers include Arpa, Nashe Pivo, and Karabalta. Arpa is highly recommended by beer connoisseurs. While being considered a common person's beer, its style is somewhat similar to an American Pale Ale (less hoppy than its Indian counterpart). Due to the fact that Kyrgizes prefer more vodka than beer (actually, half litre of both costs the same...), beer is staying in tubes for longer time. Regular cleaning service is not common. Bottled beers are better, except their strange habit to pour all the beer into the glass at once.
There are also a multitude of bottled waters (carbonated or still) from various regions of the country. Especially popular with southerners is the slightly saline "Jalalabad Water".
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Kyrgyzstan. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Kyrgyzstan. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for several days or more in the period of March to November.
Malaria does, but only at lower elevations in the south and in Bishkek from June to October. Pills are not necessary; buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Kyrgyzstan is constantly engulfed in strifes and political turmoil, and several countries advise foreigners to not travel to Kyrgyzstan at this time.
While the US travel advisory tells foreigners that some attacks on Westerners have occurred, the view of Kyrgyz people on this is varied. Fights and assaults generally focus around nightclubs and bars, just as in any other large city. There is to date no indication that Bishkek is particularly dangerous to foreigners. As for other cities in the Kyrgyz Republic, there is little evidence. Tourists will of course be drawn by Kyrgyzstan's amazing natural beauty although travel by car through mountain passes and villages is not advisable.
In the past there have been occasional reports of foreigners being approached by persons impersonating police and asking for documents in order to find an excuse to extort money. These reports are uncommon, but one should always be on guard.
You will find internet access in Bishkek fairly easy to locate as there are a number of internet cafes. Outside Bishkek, access may be more difficult to find, although a number of internet cafes are opening in some of the regional centres such as Osh, Djalal Abad, Tokmak and Karakol.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Kyrgyzstan's country code is +996.
There are three GSM-based operators in Kyrgyzstan: MegaCom, Beeline and O!.
Coverage and speed are good in the major cities, but can be very slow to non-existent in the countryside. When purchasing a SIM card, you officially have to show a photo ID. Since March 2014 SIM registration in Kyrgyzstan is compulsory. Existing SIM card holders must register personal ID details by March 2015 or face disconnection. Start-up price for prepaid SIM cards is around 125-200 Som.
http://kyrgyzpost.kg/ru|Kyrgyzpost]] is the national postal service in the country. Services are relatively cheap but slow. It might take weeks for a letter or postcard to arrive in your home country. For packages, use international courier services like DHL, FedEx, TNT or UPS.
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