Ilham Aliyev chaired the first meeting of the Organizing Committee of the European Olympic Games due to be held in Baku in 2015

02 february 2013, 19:30

President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev has chaired the first meeting of the Organizing Committee of the European Olympic Games due to be held in Baku in 2015.

The head of state made opening remarks at the meeting.

Opening remarks by President Ilham Aliyev

- Today we are holding the first meeting of the Organizing Committee of the European Games. As you know, at the end of last year, in December, the General Assembly of the European Olympic Committee decided to conduct the first European Games in Azerbaijan in 2015. The European sports and Olympic family overwhelmingly supported the candidacy of Baku.

It is a great historic event because these will be inaugural European Games even though the Olympic Games originally appeared in Europe and were later revived on the European continent. But European Games have not been held before. The fact that the first Games are to be held in Baku is, of course, a great achievement, our great success. On 17 January, in order to conduct the European Games at a high level, an Organizing Committee was established, and today we are holding the first meeting of the Organizing Committee.

Of course, a crucial role in making this historic decision was played by the international authority of our country. Over the recent years, Azerbaijan has managed to assert itself globally as a dynamic, modern and strong country. Although we have lived as an independent country for only 21 years, Azerbaijan is recognized worldwide as a very reliable partner and a trusted friend. Our international reputation is confirmed by Azerbaijan’s election as a member of the UN Security Council. This was also a historic decision. This historic decision, which coincided with the 20th anniversary of our independence, essentially became a manifestation of the work done in 20 years. Today, Azerbaijan is a member of number one organization in the world, while in May last year we presided over the UN Security Council.

Of course, due to our strengthening international positions and footprint, the interests of our country will be secured more fully. Of course, it was this factor that served as the basis for the decision to award the European Games to Azerbaijan. Along with this, of course, a role was played by the dynamic economic development of our country. Azerbaijan's economy developed even during the crisis years, which is confirmed by all influential international organizations. Last year, the world's leading rating agencies Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's upgraded the credit rating of our country. While the ratings of some developed countries were downgraded, ours was upgraded.

I recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos. I can say that Azerbaijan and the developments ongoing in our country were in the spotlight there. As you know, the forum brings together the world’s political and economic elite. It is very encouraging that the international community and the political and economic elite of the world have a very positive opinion about Azerbaijan. It is no coincidence that according to the Davos World Economic Forum, the Azerbaijani economy is ranked first in the CIS and 46th in the world for competitiveness. These factors, of course, have also played a role in the decision to award the Games to Baku.
Over the past nine years, our economy has grown three times. It is a diversified and sustainable economy today. There are excellent opportunities to expand economic development. At the same time, of course, we have extensive financial resources, and this factor has also contributed to the decision to hold the Games in Baku.

There are other reasons. The sports infrastructure created in our country in recent years meets world and international standards. The sports facilities already built and under construction at the present time will enable us to host the Games at a high level. I believe that our key sports facilities will allow us the opportunity to host the Games. If it is necessary to build additional sports facilities, we will do that before 2015.

The holding of these Games in Baku is also supported by our people at the highest level. We have always felt this support. As you know, Azerbaijan has twice nominated its candidacy for playing host to Olympic Games. Surveys held at the time revealed that the population of Azerbaijan supports the holding of Olympic Games in Baku. And this factor also plays an important role.

The city infrastructure is being modernized. Baku is one of the most beautiful cities in the world today. It is noted for its beauty, historical appearance and modernity. Additional measures will be taken to develop the urban infrastructure. We will continue to develop Baku to make it even more beautiful.

We already have extensive experience in conducting prestigious international events. Azerbaijan regularly hosts European and world championships. The World Football Cup for girls was held in Azerbaijan for the first time last year. For over two weeks all the athletes and visitors of our city felt welcome by the Azerbaijani people and saw the rapid development ongoing in our country. FIFA and UEFA leaders gave a very high assessment to the championship and the level of its organization.
So by conducting these activities and demonstrating our organizational abilities, we somewhat apply new standards. These are Azerbaijani standards. Any international event is held in Azerbaijan and in Baku at a high level, and I think the European Games will also be held at a high level.

I believe that the confidence shown to us by the European sporting family also rests hugely on the successes of our athletes. Azerbaijan is known in the world and Europe as a sports nation today. Our athletes are proving successful in European and world championships and in Olympic Games. In the Summer Olympics in London, Azerbaijan achieved a historic victory – we won 10 medals and finished 15th among European countries. Of course, the successful performance of our athletes has influenced the decision to hold the Games in Baku.

Of course, a role was played by other factors. But these are the main factors. And now the period of preparation begins. It will be a very challenging period. In contrast to summer Olympic Games, we have only two years to prepare. As you know, six to seven years are allowed for a country to prepare for summer Olympics. Thus, the city which will host Olympic Games in 2020 will be determined in September this year.

So the country that will play host to the 2020 Games will have six to seven years to prepare. We have only two years to carry out preparatory work. This is tremendous responsibility, but at the same time it is great trust and honor. I am sure that all relevant structures will spare no effort to conduct these Games at a high level and we, as always, will show Europe and therefore the whole world the power of our country, the hospitality of our people and the dynamic development of Azerbaijan.
As I have mentioned, the Organizing Committee has been set up to conduct the Games at a high level. It includes representatives of government agencies, members of the National Olympic Committee, athletes and public figures. The chairperson of the Organizing Committee is Mehriban Aliyeva. I can say that Mehriban Aliyeva also led the Organizing Committee for last year’s "Eurovision" song contest. By all accounts, the "Eurovision" song contest was held in Baku at the highest level. Perhaps it was the best contest in the history of "Eurovision". All the organizational issues were resolved, while visitors got acquainted with the beauty of our city and felt very comfortable. This was facilitated by the hospitality of the people, as well as public order and stability of our city. I am confident that the Organizing Committee under the leadership of Mehriban Aliyeva will justify the confidence placed in us by the European Olympic Committee, and these Games will go down in the Olympic history not just as the inaugural European Games but also as the most beautiful Games ever. 

Today we will review the work to be done by the Organizing Committee, and the floor is given to the chairperson of the Organizing Committee, Mehriban Aliyeva.

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Remarks by the chairperson of the Organizing Committee, Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva

- Dear Mr. President!

Dear meeting participants!

On 8 December 2012, the 41st General Assembly of the European Olympic Committee held in Rome decided to conduct the first 2015 European Olympic Games in Azerbaijan. The secret ballot involving 48 out of 49 National Olympic Committees that are members of the European Olympic Committee, in which 38 countries voted in our favor, eight against and two members abstained, resulted in awarding the first European Olympic Games to Baku. The fact that the inaugural European Games will be held in Baku is a historic event for our country and the European Olympic movement as a whole. The rapid development of Azerbaijan, which has become a regional leader, our standing in the world, the current public and political stability have created the confidence in the international community that Azerbaijan will be able to successfully organize this significant event. This decision represents a high assessment on the part of the International and European Olympic Committees of the high-level organization of multiple sporting events, world and European championships in our country, the achievements of our athletes in international competitions and, in general, the work done in the field of sports in Azerbaijan.

It is beyond doubt that this event is yet another victory for our country, for Azerbaijan. Mr. President, please allow me to congratulate you on this victory and express deep appreciation for your confidence on behalf of all the members of the Organizing Committee.

Based on the experience we have acquired by conducting various international events in Azerbaijan, including the European and world championships and the "Eurovision-2012" song contest, we will do our best to ensure that the first European Olympic Games are held at the highest level. We will do our utmost to justify your confidence.

And now, with your permission, I would like to bring to your attention some important issues related to the preparatory work for the European Games due to be held in Baku.

The inaugural European Games are scheduled for June-July 2015. They are expected to be joined by member-states of the European Olympic Committee. In accordance with the agreement reached with the European Olympic Committee, the upcoming competitions in Baku will be joined by about 5,000 athletes. Official delegations are expected to include a total of 1,000 people. About 2,000 representatives of foreign media will come to Baku to provide media coverage of the event. In accordance with a preliminary arrangement with the European Olympic Committee and European sports federations, the program of the first European Games should include at least 12 out of 28 Olympic sports and two non-Olympic sports. This is the general rule. European sports federations have already submitted letters of intent to conduct competitions in 17 Olympic sports. These are wrestling, handball, volleyball, gymnastics, beach volleyball, boxing, judo, taekwondo, badminton, fencing, shooting, archery, table tennis, swimming, diving, water polo and rugby-7. Considering the fact that European Games are to be conducted for the first time ever, negotiations with the European Olympic Committee on many issues are still continuing, therefore the figures voiced today may change. Talks are ongoing with the European Olympic Committee and European sports federations to determine the two non-Olympic sports to be included in the program of the competition.
Dear Mr. President, at the initial stage of preparations for the first European Games we have identified competition venues.

The competitions can be conducted in the Sport and Concert Complex named after Heydar Aliyev, the National Tofig Bahramov Stadium, the Baku Crystal Hall, the "Sarhadchi" Sports Complex, the Palace of Hand Games, the "8th km" Stadium, the Shooting Center and the Baku Expo Center.

The construction of the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre and the Gymnastics Complex is to be completed by 2015, so these new sports facilities will also be used during the Games. The official opening and closing ceremonies of the first European Games are to be held at the Olympic Stadium with 65,000 seats, which is under construction near Lake Boyukshor in Baku.

I would like to bring to your attention the preliminary proposals regarding the sports facilities where competitions in various sports will be held. The wrestling and judo competitions are to be conducted at the 7,100-seat Sport and Concert Complex named after Heydar Aliyev. The handball and volleyball competitions are to be held at the Baku Crystal Hall, which seats 25,000 spectators. The rugby-7 competition is to be held at the "8th km" stadium which can accommodate 11,000 spectators. The competitions in table tennis, fencing and taekwondo are to be held at the Baku Expo Center. Boxing events are to take place at the 3,250-seat "Sarhadchi" Sports Complex, badminton at the 1,628-seat Palace of Hand Games and archery at the 7,000-seat "Shafa" Stadium.

During the first European Games, the competitions in Olympic and rhythmic gymnastics are to be held at the Gymnastics Complex. Competitions in swimming and diving are to be held at the aquatic center currently under construction in Baku. A temporary arena is to be built near the center to host the water polo competition. If track and field events are to be held, we can use the 32,200-seat National Stadium named after Tofig Bahramov. A temporary arena for beach volleyball is to be built at the boulevard.

Dear Mr. President!

Negotiations have been initiated with leading companies of the world with extensive experience in the organization of the official opening and closing ceremonies of the European Games. Work is under way to determine the logo and slogan of the Games, to approve a symbol and compose the official anthem of the European Games. These will go down in history as the attributes of the first European Games. An open competition of logos of the first European Games has already been announced.

According to the rules, the medals awarded to winning athletes at the European Games are to be made by the National Olympic Committee of the host country and approved by the European Olympic Committee. Proposals on the design of the medals are being prepared now.

An athletic village is to be set up to house the athletes who will participate in the Games. Representatives of the media will be housed in the media village. The center to be established in this village and the media center of the Baku Crystal Hall will have the required conditions for them.

During the Games, i.e. in June-July 2015, numerous visitors will come to Baku. We have established the number and the capacity of hotels in Baku and Absheron that will house the athletes, official delegations, tourists and visitors. To further expand the available choice, the recreation centers near Baku and new hotel complexes under construction will also be used.
One of the most important issues we are facing is the propaganda and information support for this event in the world. As a first step, it is necessary to create an Internet portal with comprehensive information about the Games. Starting this year, we should begin a broad information campaign about the Games in the world media, prepare publications and advertisements about our country as a whole, our achievements in the field of sports, in particular, the installation of banners and posters. It is necessary to discuss the engagement of influential European and world media in the propaganda campaign and to review prospects for cooperation with them.

The engagement of the youth has become widespread all over the world today. We have a lot of experience in this field. When organizing the "Eurovision-2012" song contest, we effectively used the assistance of young people and volunteers, and our youth proved very effective. Therefore, the work of volunteers will also be used in the organization of the first European Games.
The broadcasts of the first European Games are of particular importance. Currently, negotiations are under way with relevant organizations over provision of broadcasting rights. We are working to attract international and local sponsors to the Games.

The preparation of Baku, the host city of the European Games, is of particular importance. All relevant organizations are preparing proposals on upgrading the urban infrastructure, improving the transport system, ensuring security, optimizing the medical service, using information and communication technologies more broadly, and drawing up travel routes and cultural programs.

At today's meeting, we will discuss the information received about the rules of the Games and the main directions of our activity. We will share the results of monitoring related to the solution of the most pressing issues. The information you see on the screen is of general nature.

In order to conduct the Games at a high level, a working group consisting of representatives of relevant organizations will be set up. A comprehensive action plan is being drafted covering all areas and identifying the responsibilities of each structure in relation to the competition. This action plan will be submitted for your consideration in the short term.
Mr. President, in conclusion we would like to express our gratitude to you for our confidence. Please rest assured that the inaugural European Games will go down in the history of our country as yet another victory for you and every Azerbaijani citizen. Thank you.

Closing remarks by President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

- I believe that this meeting is a very important step in our preparations for the work lying ahead. But the presentation made here shows that work has already begun. I am very pleased that the Organizing Committee has prepared its proposals in a very short period of time. Thus, there is already an excellent basis for doing the preparatory work at the highest level. We can say that our goals on all the directions have been generally identified and are clear. Now it is time to start doing specific work on every direction, so that we could hold the Games at a high level.

In the first place, of course, it is necessary to prepare the sports facilities. The presentation indicated that the venues of the upcoming events are already known. But the facilities currently under construction should be commissioned on time. First and foremost among them, of course, is the Olympic Stadium. Work has already begun there. The Gymnastics Center – work is also under way there, masonry has been completed. The aquatic center – its construction has already started and I am sure it will be finished on time, as this is also a very important facility. And not just for the Games – the construction of a modern water sports center is extremely important for Baku. This decision was made several years ago. The decision to conduct the European Games in Baku had not been made yet when we began this work, prepared a project and conducted an exchange of views on possible locations. Finally, the aquatic center will be built on an area of the city after the Flag Square which has been prepared as part of the development plan of Baku. I believe that this is the right place because a center designed for water sports should be built on the seafront. I am sure that this palace will have an interesting architectural design and functional features.

So the commissioning of sports facilities is crucial. I am aware that the Organizing Committee is holding discussions associated with the placement of athletes. There are several opinions. Of course, the Azerbaijani state can build an accommodation for athletes. But we need to see whether it is possible to use the existing and already constructed buildings.
When we submitted our proposal on accommodating the visitors to the European Olympic Committee, it certainly reflected this issue as well. But if we look at the previous periods and at our applications for hosting Summer Olympic Games, we can see that the issue of a shortage of hotels has always been the stumbling block for approval of our documents. In other words, I recall the expert group of the International Olympic Committee pointing to a lack of hotel rooms in its comments to us.

Therefore, we, in particular, the tourism and construction companies working in the private sector, should try to take steps to build additional, new hotels. The Mayor’s Office of Baku and other relevant organizations should submit their proposals regarding available locations. We should chose places, then they should be shown to companies so the latter could build new hotels before 2015. A total of five five-star hotels were opened in Baku over the past two years. I don’t think that five five-star hotels have been opened elsewhere in the region or on the continent in the last 18 months. But despite that, more hotels are still necessary.

Perhaps it will be necessary to build mainly four- and three-star hotels in Baku from now onwards. Locations must be selected and projects submitted. If necessary, the Organizing Committee may also review such projects.
It was indicated in the presentation that travel routes would also be identified. This is also a very important issue. Of course, the Games are a major sports festival. But at the same time, they will allow us the opportunity to introduce our country to visitors, tourists and the world community.

I am very pleased that a lot is also being done in the districts to build the tourism infrastructure. New tourism centers are emerging in various parts of our country. Azerbaijan has many wonderful and picturesque places with beautiful nature. At present, these places are being landscaped and rebuilt. I can mention the Shahdag ski resort. The availability of fine hotels in other regions makes them attractive to tourists. The visitors coming to Baku, the tourists should certainly use these opportunities. Travel routes should be determined.

The investment made in the transport sector in recent years has contributed to the improvement of the transport infrastructure in the regions as well. New international airports have been built in the regions.

Highways are under construction, railways are being modernized. In other words, travel routes should also agree with the transport infrastructure. We have to address this issue in a comprehensive manner. I believe that the new experience gained in this area will contribute to the development of tourism in Azerbaijan in the future, because after the Games this experience and infrastructure will continue to serve us for years to come.

Of course, we will take additional steps to enhance security. The presentation made today contained a few words about that. In general, we are regularly enhancing security measures in the country and in our city. A significant role in the decision to award the Games to Baku belongs to the fact that the crime situation in Azerbaijan is very positive. I can say that Azerbaijan, including the city of Baku, is one of the safest places in the world. On average, about 30-40 crimes per day are committed in the country. Their absolute majority are not grave crimes. So for a country of 9.3 million people this is a very low crime rate.

Of course, we should take preventive measures to keep the crime situation at this level. I think that an important component of the preventive measures has been the installation of surveillance cameras in our city a few years ago. Now there are new kinds of cameras. The minister said this in his remarks. They also have a face detection feature, which will be very important in always keeping the crime situation at a low level.

We should take other measures as well. Of course, we should take special security measures. Security measures should be taken at sports facilities, hotels and other places. These measures should be taken by all appropriate structures – the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of National Security, the State Border Service and other relevant law enforcement agencies. I am sure that, as always, we will achieve what we want in this area. Coordination work between all law enforcement agencies, especially before and during the Games, must be organized at an even higher level.

Issues related to transportation are very important. This has been reported here. I can say that I have attended all Summer Olympic Games since 2000. And I can personally confirm that it is transport problems that have caused the most problems for visitors. In 2000, I attended the Olympic opening ceremony as President of the National Olympic Committee and in 2004 already as President of Azerbaijan. I can say that as far as transport issues are concerned, there is no big difference between ordinary citizens and the head of state. Both as President of the National Olympic Committee and as head of state I have had to spend time in traffic jams in various cities. This indicates that traffic problems even in the most developed countries and the most developed cities of the world are not resolved properly during the Games. It is the transport issues that were of particular concern to both ordinary citizens and heads of state and were not resolved at the appropriate level. I wouldn’t like to mention those cities, but my experience suggests that, unfortunately, transport issues are of concern perhaps to everyone. Ordinary citizens, spectators, visitors, tourists, official delegations have had to spend hours in traffic jams. So I can say that for someone who has come to a city watch the Games this is the most difficult ordeal. These days people coming to another city to watch the Games book a hotel room in advance and then choose other places of recreation. But transport issues can not be predicted in advance. When people are faced with such a situation, this, of course, worries them. Therefore, despite the tremendous work carried out in Baku in recent years to improve the transport infrastructure, further measures must be taken.

A special program must be prepared for the comfort of athletes and visitors.

There are designated lanes in other cities. But these lanes are not very effective. Other measures are also taken. But as someone who has attended a number of the Olympic Games, I can honestly say that transportation issues have not been resolved at the appropriate level anywhere. I think that we must apply our standards to the Games due to be held in Baku. After that, the Azerbaijani and Baku standards can serve as a model for others. We must approach this issue comprehensively too. Of course, we should update the vehicle fleet. We should bring in new buses and taxis. We will examine this issue separately.

New road junctions will be put into operation prior to the Games. I can say that these projects were planned on earlier. We do not envisage these projects specifically for the Games. But, of course, special measures should be taken to provide easy access to the venues of events.

Among the work to be carried out, an important place belongs to other infrastructure, especially power supply. A lot has been done in this area in Azerbaijan in recent years. Over the last few years we have commissioned new power plants with a capacity of 1,500 megawatts. The power grid of Baku is being reconstructed. Now we are exporting electricity to different countries. There are still some problems with transmission lines in the districts and in Baku. The restoration of transmission lines and installation of new transmission pylons, of course, require great attention. I am sure that by 2015 this entire economy will be completely renewed. Thus, our energy system will be fully updated both in Baku and in the regions.

I am sure that the work related to information and communications will be carried out at the proper level. Appropriate measures were taken in connection with the "Eurovision" song contest. Especially when we consider that this year has been declared “The Year of the ICT” in Azerbaijan and the fact that special attention is being paid to this sector. Yesterday I signed a decree on the establishment of a University of Information Technology. This area should receive special attention. In other words, the athletes coming here, visitors and experts should freely use all the opportunities. We are laying broadband Internet lines to every population center of the country. This is a very important project. One of the factors demonstrating the importance of this project is that funds for its financing have been allocated from the State Oil Fund. We must make sure that in the time left for the Games in Baku the entire work related to this field is carried out at the highest level.

With regard to health issues, work in this area in Baku is moving in a positive direction. New hospitals are under construction and some of them will be opened this year and in 2014. The level of equipment is already in line with world standards. The professionalism of doctors is also growing. But given the fact that thousands of visitors will come here for the Games, it needs to grow even faster. Of course, the medical service should also further expand its capabilities. Additional ambulance vehicles may have to be purchased. As you know, we updated all our ambulance vehicles in previous years. There is not a single Soviet-type ambulance in Baku now. A new service has been set up. Efficiency is also at the proper level. Ambulances arrive to patients’ help in a timely manner. But, at the same time, further measures must be taken because thousands of visitors will be in Baku for about two weeks. We should also consider the issue of attracting doctors to English language courses. On the eve of "Eurovision" we had attracted the police to such courses. This process should be continued in the future too. It has nothing to do with the Games. The number of people coming to Baku is on the increase. Of course, police officers should speak English. It will be good if they do. The same hold true for health workers. In general, to speak a foreign language is very good. Every young man should try to learn foreign languages.

The Olympic symbol is also a very important issue because it represents the country in some way. The Games due to be held in Baku will, of course, be in the spotlight of the European public. But the symbol or symbols of Olympic Games are a very important issue. I am aware that a competition has already been announced. It is necessary to treat this issue very seriously. The public should also be able to have a say. We may put this issue on a public debate, so that the citizens of Azerbaijan could have a say. This symbol, of course, must reflect both the history and special features of our country.

We also need to ensure the participation of our athletes in the preparation for the Games. Both outstanding, famous athletes and the broad masses of sportsmen should be heavily involved in all this work. Perhaps the volunteers should also include athletes. So the sports community of Azerbaijan should be very actively involved in this work.

As for the volunteers, we already have some experience relating to "Eurovision", and it proved positive. But these Games will attract even more visitors. Therefore, of course, volunteers must be specifically instructed because their successful activity will also facilitate the success of the Games. I want to refer to my own experience again – volunteers play a very important function, their efficiency, friendliness and hospitality can create a positive impression about the country. Therefore, specially selected young people should be engaged in this work. Overall, I can see that the interest in this work is growing and our young people are actively involved in public work, the work that benefits the country. This is a very positive development.

It was noted here that the European Olympic Committee is of the opinion that these Games should not copy Summer Olympic Games. Of course, I also agree with that. At the same time, they should be conducted at a level not lower than that of the Summer Olympic Games. Naturally, these Games should have their own identity. But from the standpoint of organization, i.e. from the standpoint of doing all this preparatory work, the level of these Games should not be any lower than that of the Summer Olympics. I think that they should and will be held at an even higher level.

I do not want to go back to the summer Olympic Games held in previous years. But we are aware of all the shortcomings and issues of concern to people and athletes. We must work hard in order not to repeat those shortcomings and mistakes. These Games will have their own identity, their own standards, and I can say that we will apply these standards. In the future, European Games will be conducted on the foundation laid by us. Neither the European Olympic Committee nor we have any experience in conducting such Games. And this is a huge difficulty, a big challenge for us.

In my opening remarks I noted that we have only two years for preparations, while six to seven years are usually allowed for a country to prepare for Summer Olympic Games. There is already extensive experience of conducting Summer Olympic Games, and the International Olympic Committee has specific instructions and guidelines on each area. There are whole volumes of material. They have rules set for each area, for each direction. There are ready instructions, methodological guidelines. But there is nothing here. Under such circumstances, the entire responsibility for the solution of all organizational issues rests on us. In a way, we will set new standards for conducting these Games and the following such Games in other cities. This is a huge responsibility indeed. I want to say again that the level of these Games should not be any lower than that of Summer Olympic Games. I am confident that we will achieve that despite the fact that we will host such large representative Games for the first time. But so far Baku has successfully hosted European and world championships, the "Eurovision" song contest and other international events.

I am sure that the Organizing Committee will do the job at a high level. I have no doubt about that. Thus, Azerbaijan will again introduce itself to the world and Europe as a modern and strong state. I wish the Organizing Committee every success. You are starting hard work from now on. Thank you.

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Then a picture was taken.