Victor Emmanuel III of Italy

Victor Emmanuel III

Portrait in 1919
King of Italy (more...)
Reign 29 July 1900 – 9 May 1946
Predecessor Umberto I
Successor Umberto II
Prime Ministers See list
Emperor of Ethiopia
Reign 9 May 1936 – 5 May 1941
Predecessor Haile Selassie I
Successor Haile Selassie I
King of the Albanians
Reign 16 April 1939 –
8 September 1943
Predecessor Zog I
Successor Zog I (formally)
Prime Ministers See list
Born (1869-11-11)11 November 1869
Naples, Kingdom of Italy
Died 28 December 1947(1947-12-28) (aged 78)
Alexandria, Kingdom of Egypt
Burial Saint Catherine's Cathedral, Alexandria, Egypt
Consort Elena of Montenegro
Issue Princess Yolanda, Countess of Bergolo
Mafalda, Landgravine of Hesse
Umberto II of Italy
Giovanna, Queen of the Bulgarians
Maria Francesca, Princess Luigi of Bourbon-Parma
Full name
Vittorio Emanuele Ferdinando Maria Gennaro
House Savoy
Father Umberto I of Italy
Mother Margherita of Savoy
Religion None (atheist)[1][2]

Victor Emmanuel III (Italian: Vittorio Emanuele III, Albanian: Viktor Emanueli III; 11 November 1869 – 28 December 1947) was the King of Italy from 29 July 1900 until his abdication on 9 May 1946. In addition, he claimed the thrones of Ethiopia and Albania as Emperor of Ethiopia (1936–41) and King of the Albanians (1939–43), claims not recognised by all the great powers. During his long reign (nearly 46 years), which began after the assassination of his father Umberto I, the Kingdom of Italy became involved in two World Wars. His reign also encompassed the birth, rise, and fall of Italian Fascism.

Victor Emmanuel abdicated his throne in 1946 in favour of his son Umberto II, hoping to strengthen support for the monarchy against an ultimately successful referendum to abolish it. He then went in exile to Alexandria, Egypt, where he died and was buried the following year.

He was called by the Italians Il Re soldato (The Soldier King) for having led his country during both the world wars (and for Savoy's historical affinity with the battlefield, where the dynasty built much of its power), and, after Italy's victory in the First World War Il Re vittorioso (The Victorious King). He was also nicknamed Sciaboletta ("little saber") due to his height of 1.53 m (5 ft 0 in).


Early years

Young Victor Emmanuel with his mother, Margherita of Savoy, 1876.
Victor Emmanuel as a teenager, 1886.
Victor Emmanuel in 1895.

Victor Emmanuel was born in Naples, Italy. He was the only child of Umberto I, King of Italy, and his consort (his first cousin through descent from his grandfather Charles Albert of Sardinia), Princess Margherita of Savoy. Margherita was the daughter of the Duke of Genoa.

Victor Emmanuel III by Vanity Fair artist Libero Prosperi, 1902.

Unlike his paternal first cousin's son, the 1.98 m (6-foot 6") tall Amedeo, 3rd Duke of Aosta, Victor Emmanuel was short of stature even by 19th-century standards, to the point that today he would appear diminutive. He was just 1.53 m tall (just over 5 feet).[3] From birth until his accession, Victor Emmanuel was known by the title of the Prince of Naples.

On 24 October 1896, Prince Victor Emmanuel married Princess Elena of Montenegro.

Accession to the throne

On 29 July 1900, at the age of 30, Victor Emmanuel acceded to the throne upon his father's assassination. The only advice that his father Umberto ever gave his heir was "Remember: to be a king, all you need to know is how to sign your name, read a newspaper, and mount a horse". His early years showed evidence that, by the standards of the Savoy monarchy, he was a man committed to constitutional government. Indeed, even though his father was killed by an anarchist, the new King showed a commitment to constitutional freedoms.

Though parliamentary rule had been firmly established in Italy, the Statuto Albertino, or constitution, granted the king considerable residual powers. For instance, he had the right to appoint the Prime Minister even if the individual in question did not command majority support in the Chamber of Deputies. A shy and somewhat withdrawn individual, the King hated the day-to-day stresses of Italian politics, though the country's chronic political instability forced him to intervene on no fewer than ten occasions between 1900 and 1922 to solve parliamentary crises.

When World War I began, Italy at first remained neutral, despite being part of the Triple Alliance (albeit it was signed on defensive terms and Italy objected that the Sarajevo assassination did not qualify as aggression). However, in 1915, Italy signed several secret treaties committing her to enter the war on the side of the Triple Entente. Most of the politicians opposed war, however, and the Italian Chamber of Deputies forced Prime Minister Antonio Salandra to resign. At this juncture, Victor Emmanuel declined Salandra's resignation and personally made the decision for Italy to enter the war. He was well within his rights to do so under the Statuto. Popular demonstrations in favor of the war were staged in Rome, with 200,000 gathering on 16 May 1915,[4] in the Piazza del Popolo. However, the corrupt and disorganised war effort, the stunning loss of life suffered by the Italian army, especially at the great defeat of Caporetto, and the Post–World War I recession turned the King against what he perceived as an inefficient political bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, the King visited the various areas of northern Italy suffering repeated strikes and mortar hits from elements of the fighting there, and demonstrated considerable courage and concern in personally visiting many people, his wife the queen taking turns with nurses in caring for Italy's wounded. It was at this time, the period of World War I, that the King enjoyed the genuine affection of the majority of his people. Still, during the war he received about 400 threatening letters from people of every social background, mostly working class.[5]

Support to Mussolini

The economic depression which followed World War I gave rise to much extremism among Italy's sorely tried working classes. This caused the country as a whole to become politically unstable. Benito Mussolini, soon to be Italy's Fascist dictator, took advantage of this instability for his rise to power.

March on Rome

King Victor Emmanuel III (right) with King Albert I of the Belgians (left). This photograph shows Victor Emmanuel's small physical stature.

In 1922, Mussolini led a force of his Fascist supporters on a March on Rome. Prime Minister Luigi Facta and his cabinet drafted a decree of martial law. After some hesitation the King refused to sign it, citing doubts about the ability of the army to contain the uprising.

Fascist violence had been growing in intensity throughout the summer and autumn of 1922, climaxing in rumours of a possible coup. General Pietro Badoglio told the King that the military would be able without difficulty to rout the rebels, who numbered no more than 10,000 men.

The troops were loyal to the King. Even Cesare Maria De Vecchi, commander of the Blackshirts, and one of the organisers of the March on Rome, told Mussolini that he would not act against the wishes of the monarch. It was at this point that the Fascist leader considered leaving Italy altogether. But then, minutes before midnight, he received a telegram from the King inviting him to Rome. By midday on 30 October, he had been appointed President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister), at the age of 39, with no previous experience of office, and with only 35 Fascist deputies in the Chamber.

Victor Emmanuel in Darfo Boario Terme after the Gleno Dam disaster, 1923

The King failed to move against the Mussolini regime's abuses of power (including, as early as 1924, the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti and other opposition MPs) and remained silent during the winter of 1925–26 when Mussolini dropped all pretense of democracy. Later that year, Mussolini passed a law declaring that he was responsible to the King, not Parliament. Although under the Statuto Albertino Italian governments were formally answerable only to the monarch, it had been a strong constitutional convention since at least the 1860s that they were actually answerable to Parliament. By 1928, practically the only check on Mussolini's power was the King's prerogative of dismissing him from office, even if prerogative could only be exercised on the advice of the Fascist Grand Council, a body that could only Mussolini could convene.

Though the King claimed in his memoirs that it was the fear of a civil war that motivated his actions, it would seem that he received some 'alternative' advice, possibly from the archconservative Antonio Salandra as well as General Armando Diaz, that it would be better to do a deal with Mussolini.

Whatever the circumstances, Victor Emmanuel showed weakness from a position of strength, with dire future consequences for Italy and for the monarchy itself. Fascism was a force of opposition to left-wing radicalism. This appealed to many people in Italy at the time, and certainly to the King. In many ways, the events from 1922 to 1943 demonstrated that the monarchy and the moneyed class, for different reasons, felt Mussolini and his regime offered an option that, after years of political chaos, was more appealing than what they perceived as the alternative: socialism and anarchism. Both the spectre of the Russian Revolution and the tragedies of World War I played a large part in these political decisions. At the same time, the Crown became so closely identified with Fascism that by the time Victor Emmanuel was able to shake himself loose from it, it was too late to save the monarchy.

Lateran Treaty

In 1929, Mussolini, on behalf of the King, signed the Lateran Treaty. The treaty was one of the three agreements made that year between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See. On 7 June 1929, the Lateran Treaty was ratified and the "Roman Question" was settled.

Loss of popular support

Victor Emmanuel, 1913 portrait.

The Italian monarchy enjoyed popular support for decades. Foreigners noted how even as late as the 1940s newsreel images of King Victor Emmanuel and Queen Elena, born Princess Elena of Montenegro, evoked applause, sometimes cheering, when played in cinemas, in contrast to the hostile silence shown toward images of Fascist leaders.

On 30 March 1938, the Italian Parliament established the rank of First Marshal of the Empire for Victor Emmanuel and Mussolini. This new rank was the highest rank in the Italian military. His equivalence with Mussolini was seen by the king as offensive and a clear sign, that the ultimate goal of the fascist was to get rid of him.

As popular as Victor Emmanuel was, several of his decisions proved fatal to the monarchy. Among these decisions were his assumption of the imperial crown of Ethiopia, his public silence when Mussolini's Fascist government issued its notorious racial purity laws, and his assumption of the crown of Albania.

Emperor of Ethiopia

Victor Emmanuel III visiting Hungary - 1937
King Victor Emmanuel III in his uniform as Marshal of Italy in 1936.

Prior to his government's invasion of Ethiopia, Victor Emmanuel travelled in 1934 to Italian Somaliland, where he celebrated his 65th birthday on November 11.[6][7] In 1936, Victor Emmanuel assumed the crown as Emperor of Ethiopia. His decision to do this was not universally accepted. Victor Emmanuel was only able to assume the crown after the Italian Army invaded Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

The League of Nations condemned Italy's participation in this war and the Italian claim by right of conquest to Ethiopia was rejected by some major powers, such as the United States and the Soviet Union, but was accepted by Great Britain and France in 1938. In 1941 Italy's possession of Ethiopia came to an end only after five years of its annexation to the Italian Empire.

The term of the last acting Viceroy of Italian East Africa, including Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, ended on 27 November 1941 with surrender to the allies. In November 1943 Victor Emmanuel renounced his claims to the titles of Emperor of Ethiopia and King of Albania,[8] recognizing the previous holders of those titles as legitimate.

King of the Albanians

The crown of the King of the Albanians had been assumed by Victor Emmanuel in 1939 when Italian forces invaded the nearly defenseless monarchy across the Adriatic Sea and caused King Zog I to flee. The Italian invasion of Albania was generally seen as the act of a stronger nation taking unfair advantage of a weaker neighbour.

In 1941, while in Tirana, the monarch escaped an assassination attempt by the 19-year-old Albanian patriot Vasil Laçi.[9] Later, this attempt was cited by Communist Albania as a sign of the general discontent among the oppressed Albanian population. A second attempt by Dimitri Mikhaliov in Albania gave the Italians an excuse to affirm a possible connection with Greece as a result of the monarch's assent to the Greco-Italian War.

Image of Victor Emmanuel on a 1941 lira.

Final efforts to save crown

On 10 June 1940, ignoring advice that the country was unprepared, Mussolini made the fatal decision to have Italy enter World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. Almost from the beginning, disaster followed disaster. In 1940 Italian armies in North Africa and in Greece suffered humiliating defeats. During the invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Victor Emmanuel moved to a villa owned by the Pirzio Biroli family at Brazzacco in order to be close to the front.[10] In late 1941, Italian East Africa was lost. In 1942, Italian Libya was lost. Early in 1943, the ten divisions of the "Italian Army in Russia" (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR) were crushed in a side-action the Battle of Stalingrad. Before the end of 1943, the last Italian forces in Tunisia had surrendered and Sicily had been taken by the Allies. Hampered by lack of fuel as well as several serious defeats, the Italian Navy spent most of the war confined to port as a result the Mediterranean Sea was not in any real sense Italy's Mare Nostrum. While the Air Force generally did better than the Army or the Navy, it was chronically short of modern aircraft and had limitations sufficiently evident for it to be excluded by Italy's allies from a part in the Battle of Britain.

As Italy's fortunes worsened, the popularity of the King suffered. One coffee-house ditty went as follows:

Quando Vittorio era soltanto re
Si bevea del buon caffè.
Poi divenne Imperatore
Se ne sentì solo l’odore.
Oggi che è anche Re d’Albania
Anche l’odore l’ han portato via.
E se avremo un’altra vittoria
Ci mancherà anche la cicoria.
"When our Victor was plain King,
Coffee was a common thing.
When an Emperor he was made,
Coffee's odour it did fade.
Since he got Albania's throne,
Even the odour has flown.
And if we have another victory
We're also going to lose our chicory."[11]

On 19 July 1943, Rome was bombed for the first time in the war, further cementing the Italian people's disillusionment with their once-popular King.

Coup d'état against Mussolini

Main article: 25 Luglio

On the night of 25 July 1943, the Grand Council of Fascism voted to adopt an Ordine del Giorno (order of the day) proposed by Count Dino Grandi to ask Victor Emmanuel to resume his full constitutional powers under Article 5 of the Statuto. In effect, this was a motion of no confidence in Mussolini.

The following afternoon, Mussolini asked for an audience with the king at Villa Savoia. When Mussolini tried to tell Victor Emmanuel about the Grand Council's vote, Victor Emmanuel abruptly cut him off and told him that he was dismissing him as Prime Minister in favour of Marshal Pietro Badoglio. He then ordered Mussolini's arrest and he proceeded to renounce the usurped Ethiopian and Albanian crowns in favour of the legitimate monarchs of those states. Victor Emmanuel had been planning this move to get rid of the dictator for some time.

Publicly, Victor Emmanuel and Badoglio claimed that Italy would continue the war as a member of the Axis. Privately, they both began negotiating with the Allies for an armistice. Court circles—including Crown Princess Marie-José—had already been putting out feelers to the Allies before Mussolini's ousting.

Armistice with the Allies

On 8 September 1943, Victor Emmanuel publicly announced an armistice with the Allies. Confusion reigned as Italian forces were left without orders, and the Germans, who had been expecting this move for some time, quickly disarmed and interned Italian troops and took control in the occupied Balkans, France and the Dodecanese, as well as in Italy itself. Many of the units that did not surrender joined forces with the Allies against the Germans.

Fearing a German advance on Rome, Victor Emmanuel and his government fled south to Brindisi. This choice may have been necessary to protect his safety; indeed, Hitler had planned to arrest him shortly after Mussolini's overthrow. Nonetheless, it still came as a surprise to many observers inside and outside Italy. Unfavourable comparisons were drawn with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who refused to leave London during the Blitz, and of Pope Pius XII, who mixed with Rome's crowds and prayed with them after Rome's working-class neighborhood of Quartiere San Lorenzo had been destroyed by bombing.

Ultimately, the Badoglio regime in southern Italy raised the Italian Co-Belligerent Army (Esercito Cobelligerante del Sud), the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force (Aviazione Cobelligerante Italiana), and the Italian Co-Belligerent Navy (Marina Cobelligerante del Sud). All three forces were loyal to the King.

On 12 September, the Germans launched Operation Eiche and rescued Mussolini from captivity. In a short time, he established a new Fascist state in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana). This was never more than a Nazi-dominated puppet state, but it did compete for the allegiance of the Italian people with Badoglio's Allied-controlled government in the south.

Realizing that he was too tainted by his earlier support of the Fascist regime, in April 1944 Victor Emmanuel transferred most of his powers to his son, Crown Prince Umberto. By so doing, Emmanuel relinquished most of his power while retaining the title of king. This status was formalized shortly after Rome was liberated on 4 June, when he turned over his remaining powers to Umberto and named him Lieutenant General of the Realm.

1946 referendum

Within a year, public opinion forced a referendum on whether to retain the monarchy or become a republic. On 9 May 1946, hoping to win over voters to the monarchist cause, Victor Emmanuel formally abdicated, and was succeeded by son Umberto II. This move failed. In the referendum held a month later, 52 percent of voters favoured a republic, and the Kingdom of Italy was no more. Some historians (such as Sir Charles Petrie) have speculated that the result might have been different if Victor Emmanuel had abdicated in favour of Umberto shortly after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, or at the latest had abdicated outright in 1944 rather than simply transferring his powers to his son. Umberto had been widely praised for his performance as de facto head of state beginning in 1944, and his relative popularity might have saved the monarchy. The Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini declared that he would not come back to Italy as a subject of the "degenerate king" and more generally as long as the house of Savoy was ruling;[12] Benedetto Croce had previously stated in 1944 that "as long as the present king remains head of state, we feel that Fascism has not ended, (...) that it will be reborn, more or less disguised".[13]

In any event, once the referendum's result was officialized, all male members of the House of Savoy were required to leave the country, never to return. Taking refuge in Egypt, Victor Emmanuel died in Alexandria the following year, and was buried there, behind the altar of St Catherine's Cathedral. He was the last surviving grandchild of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. In 1948, Time magazine included an article about "The Little King".[11]


Busts of King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena; forecourt of the Russian Orthodox Church (Church of Christ the Saviour, St. Catherine and St. Seraph). Sanremo, Italy

The abdication prior to the referendum probably brought back to the minds of undecided voters the monarchy's role during the Fascist period and the King's own actions (or lack of them), at the very moment monarchists hoped voters would focus on the positive impression created by Umberto and his wife, Princess Maria José over the previous two years. The 'May' King and Queen, Umberto and Maria José, in Umberto's brief, month-long reign, were unable to shift the burden of recent history and opinion.

Victor Emmanuel III was one of the most prolific coin collectors of all time, having amassed approximately 100,000 specimens dating from the fall of the Roman Empire up to the Unification of Italy. On his abdication, the collection was donated to the Italian people, except for the coins of the House of Savoy which he took with him to Egypt. On the death of Umberto II in 1983, the Savoy coins joined the rest of the collection in the National Museum of Rome. Between 1910 and 1943 Victor Emmanuel wrote the 20-volume Corpus Nummorum Italicorum, which catalogued each specimen in his collection.[14] He was awarded the medal of the Royal Numismatic Society in 1904.

Titles, styles and honours

Styles of
King Victor Emmanuel III
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir

Titles and styles




Titles of the Crown of Italy

Relief of coat of arms of Victor Emmanuel III in Rhodes, Greece

From 1860 to 1946, the following titles were used by the King of Italy:

Victor Emmanuel III, by the Grace of God and the Will of the Nation, King of Italy, King of Sardinia, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Armenia, Duke of Savoy, count of Maurienne, Marquis (of the Holy Roman Empire) in Italy; prince of Piedmont, Carignano, Oneglia, Poirino, Trino; Prince and Perpetual vicar of the Holy Roman Empire; prince of Carmagnola, Montmellian with Arbin and Francin, prince bailliff of the Duchy of Aosta, Prince of Chieri, Dronero, Crescentino, Riva di Chieri and Banna, Busca, Bene, Brà, Duke of Genoa, Monferrat, Aosta, Duke of Chablais, Genevois, Duke of Piacenza, Marquis of Saluzzo (Saluces), Ivrea, Susa, of Maro, Oristano, Cesana, Savona, Tarantasia, Borgomanero and Cureggio, Caselle, Rivoli, Pianezza, Govone, Salussola, Racconigi with Tegerone, Migliabruna and Motturone, Cavallermaggiore, Marene, Modane and Lanslebourg, Livorno Ferraris, Santhià Agliè, Centallo and Demonte, Desana, Ghemme, Vigone, Count of Barge, Villafranca, Ginevra, Nizza, Tenda, Romont, Asti, Alessandria, del Goceano, Novara, Tortona, Bobbio, Soissons, Sant'Antioco, Pollenzo, Roccabruna, Tricerro, Bairo, Ozegna, of Apertole, Baron of Vaud and of Faucigni, Lord of Vercelli, Pinerolo, of Lomellina, of Valle Sesia, of Ceva Marquisate, Overlord of Monaco, Roccabruna and 11/12th of Menton, Noble patrician of Venice, patrician of Ferrara.



Giovanna of Italy, Tsaritsa of Bulgaria, 1937.

In 1896 he married princess Elena of Montenegro (1873–1952), daughter of Nicholas I, King of Montenegro. Their issue included:

  1. Yolanda Margherita Milena Elisabetta Romana Maria (1901–1986), married to Giorgio Carlo Calvi, Count of Bergolo, (1887–1977);
  2. Mafalda Maria Elisabetta Anna Romana (1902–1944), married to Prince Philipp of Hesse (1896–1980) with issue; she died in the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald;
  3. Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria, later Umberto II, King of Italy (1904–1983) married to Princess Marie José of Belgium (1906–2001), with issue.
  4. Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria (1907–2000), married to King Boris III of Bulgaria (1894–1943), and mother of Simeon II, King and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria.
  5. Maria Francesca Anna Romana (1914–2001), who married Prince Luigi of Bourbon–Parma (1899–1967), with issue.

See also


  1. Ansaldo, Giovanni (2002). Il ministro della buona vita. Giovanni Giolitti e i suoi tempi. Le lettere. p. 143. ISBN 8871665856.
  2. Argentieri, Letizia (1994). Il re borghese. Costume e società nell'Italia di Vittorio Emanuele III. Mondadori. p. 72.
  3. "Biography for King Victor Emmanuel III". Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  4. 10
  5. Lettere al re (1914-1918).
  6. American Philatelic Association. The American Philatelist, Volume 110, Issues 7-12. p. 618.
  7. Gufu Oba. Nomads in the Shadows of Empires: Contests, Conflicts and Legacies on the Southern Ethiopian-Northern Kenyan Frontier. p. 160.
  8. Indor Montanelli, Mario Cervi, Storia d'italia. L'Italia della guerra civile, RCS, 2003.
  9. Owen Pearson, Albania in Occupation and War: From Fascism to Communism 1940–1945, 2006, p.153, ISBN 1-84511-104-4
  10. Cervi, Mario (1972). The Hollow Legions. Mussolini’s Blunder in Greece, 1940–1941 [Storia della guerra di Grecia: ottobre 1940 – aprile 1941]. trans. Eric Mosbacher. London: Chatto and Windus. p. 279. ISBN 0-70111-351-0.
  11. 1 2 The Little King TIME Magazine, 5 January 1948
  12. Arturo Toscanini
  13. Vittorio Emanuele III
  14. "Great Collections - King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  15. "Court Circular". The Times (36775). London. 23 May 1902. p. 7.
  • Mack Smith, Denis (1989). Italy and its Monarchy. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05132-8. 

Reference 4: James Rennell Rodd [British Ambassador to Italy before and during the Great War]. Social and Diplomatic Memories. Third Series. 1902-1919. London, 1925.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.
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Victor Emmanuel III of Italy
Born: 11 November 1869 Died: 28 December 1947
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Umberto I
King of Italy
29 July 1900 – 9 May 1946
Succeeded by
Umberto II
Preceded by
Haile Selassie I
Emperor of Ethiopia
(Not internationally recognised)
9 May 1936 – 5 May 1941
Succeeded by
Haile Selassie I
Preceded by
Zog I
King of the Albanians
(Not internationally recognised)
16 April 1939 – 8 September 1943
Succeeded by
Zog I
Military offices
New title First Marshal of the Empire
1938 – 1943
Served alongside: Benito Mussolini
Succeeded by
Title abolished
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Miguel Primo de Rivera
Cover of Time Magazine
15 June 1925
Succeeded by
Charles Horace Mayo
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