France facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
French Republic
République française
Flag National emblem
Motto: 
"Liberté, égalité, fraternité"
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Anthem: "La Marseillaise"
Location of  Metropolitan France  (dark green)– on the European continent  (green & dark grey)– in the European Union  (green)  —  [Legend]
Location of  Metropolitan France  (dark green)

– on the European continent  (green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (green)  —  [Legend]

Territory of the French Republic.a
Territory of the French Republic.a
Capital
and largest city
Paris
Official languages French
Demonym French
Government Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
 -  President Emmanuel Macron
 -  Prime Minister Manuel Valls
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house National Assembly
Formation
 -  Frankish Kingdom
(unified by Clovis)
486 
 -  Kingdom of France
(Treaty of Verdun)
843 
 -  French Republic
(National Convention)
1792 
 -  Current constitution
(Fifth Republic)
4 October 1958 
Area
 -  Total 674,843 km2 (41st)
260,558 sq mi
 -  Metropolitan France
   - IGN 551,695 km2 (47th)
213,010 sq mi
   - Cadastre 543,965 km2 (47th)
210,026 sq mi
Population
  (2012)
 -  Total 65,350,000 (19th)
 -  Metropolitan France 63,460,000 (22nd)
 -  Density 116/km2 (89th)
301/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $2.254 trillion (9th)
 -  Per capita $35,548 (24th)
GDP (nominal) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $2.609 trillion (5th)
 -  Per capita $41,141 (23rd)
Gini (2008) 32.7
medium
HDI (2013) Increase 0.893
very high · 20th
Currency
  • Euro
  • CFP franc
(EUR, XPF)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Drives on the right
Calling code 33
Internet TLD .fr
a. Excluding Adélie Land in Antarctica, where sovereignty is suspended.

France (French: France), officially the French Republic (French: République française), is a country in Western Europe. Its capital city is Paris. It is a member of the European Union. It is known for its culture, its many monuments and structures, and places such as the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Giverny, Mont Saint Michel, Versailles, and Notre Dame de Paris. France is divided into 13 régions that are further subdivided départements.

The country has been one of the great powers since the end of the 17th century. In the 18th and 19th centuries it had a big colonial empire across West Africa and Southeast Asia. Now, this does not exist.

It is the most visited country in the world. About 82 million foreign tourists visit it every year. France is a founding member of the European Union. It has the largest land area of any member. France is also a founding member of the United Nations, and a member of the G8 and NATO. It is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. It has nuclear weapons, including active warheads, and also has nuclear power plants.

Some well-known cities in France include Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Rennes and Nantes.

History

The name "France" comes from the Latin word Francia, which literally means "land of the Franks" or "Frankland".

The borders of modern France are about the same as those of ancient Gaul. Celtic Gauls inhabited Ancient Gaul. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul for Rome in the 1st century BC. Eventually, the Gauls adopted Roman speech (Latin, from which the French language evolved) and Roman culture. Christianity first appeared in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. It became firmly established by the fourth and fifth centuries.

Map France 1477-fr
France in 1477. Red line: Limit of the Kingdom of France; Light blue: the royal domain

In the 4th century AD, the Germanic tribes, principally the Franks invaded the Gauls. This is how the name Francie appeared. The modern name "France" comes from the name of the Capetian Kings of France around Paris. The Franks were the first tribe of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire to convert to Christianity rather than Arianism. The French called themselves "the most Christian Kingdom of France".

The Treaty of Verdun (843), divided Charlemagne's Empire into three parts. The biggest area was Western Francia. It is similar to modern France.

The Carolingian dynasty ruled France until 987, when Hugh Capet became King of France. His descendants, the Direct Capetians, the House of Valois and the House of Bourbon, unified the country with many wars and dynastic inheritance. The monarchy was the most powerful during the 17th century and the reign of Louis XIV of France. At that time, France had the largest population in Europe. The country had a big influence over European politics, economy, and culture. French became the common language of diplomacy in international affairs. Much of the Enlightenment happened in France. French scientists made big scientific discoveries in the 18th century. France also conquered many overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Louis le Grand; Rigaud Hyacinthe
Louis XIV, the "sun king" was the absolute monarch of France and made France the leading European power.

France had a monarchy until the French Revolution in 1789. King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed in 1793. Thousands of other French citizens were also killed. Napoleon Bonaparte took control of the Republic in 1799. He later made himself Emperor of the First Empire (1804–1814). His armies conquered most of continental Europe. The metric system was invented by French scientists during the French revolution.

After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, another monarchy arose. Later Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte created the Second Empire in 1852. Louis-Napoléon was removed after the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. The Third Republic replaced his regime.

The large French colonial empire in the 19th century included parts of West Africa and Southeast Asia. The culture and politics of these regions were influenced by France. Many ex-colonies officially speak the French language.

The country was where both the First and Second World Wars took place. During the First World War, millions were killed in the trenches including over a million in the Battle of the Somme. The conditions were very poor. The last surviving veteran was Pierre Picault who died on 20 November 2008 at the age of 109. During the Second World War, Nazis occupied France. The Allies landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944 and began the Battle of Normandy. German forces lost France in just a few months.

Geography

Location and borders

France cities
A relief map of Metropolitan France, showing cities with over 100,000 inhabitants.

The vast majority of France's territory and population is situated in Western Europe and is called Metropolitan France, to distinguish it from the country's various overseas polities. It is bordered by the North Sea in the north, the English Channel in the northwest, the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean sea in the southeast. It land borders consist of Belgium and Luxembourg in the northeast, Germany and Switzerland in the east, Italy and Monaco in the southeast, and Andorra and Spain in the south and southwest. With the exception of the northeast, most of France's land borders are roughly delineated by natural boundaries and geographic features: to the south and southeast, the Pyrenees and the Alps and the Jura, respectively, and to the east, the Rhine river. Due to its shape, France is often referred to as l'Hexagone ("The Hexagon"). Metropolitan France includes various coastal islands, of which the largest is Corsica. Metropolitan France is situated mostly between latitudes 41° and 51° N, and longitudes 6° W and 10° E, on the western edge of Europe, and thus lies within the northern temperate zone. Its continental part covers about 1000 km from north to south and from east to west.

France has several overseas regions across the world, which are organised along different :

France has land borders with Brazil and Suriname via French Guiana and with the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the French portion of Saint Martin.

Climate

Most of the low-lying areas of metropolitan France excluding Corsica are located in the oceanic climate zone, Cfb, Cwb and Cfc in the Köppen classification. A small part of the territory bordering the mediterranean basin lies in the Csa and Csb zones. As the French metropolitan territory is relatively large, the climate is not uniform, giving rise to the following climate nuances:

  • The west of France has strictly oceanic climate – it extends from Flanders to the Basque Country in a coastal strip several tens of kilometres wide, narrower to the north and south but wider in Brittany, which is almost entirely in this climate zone.
    • The climate of the South is also oceanic but warmer.
    • The climate of the Northwest is oceanic but cooler and windier.
  • Away from the coast, the climate is oceanic throughout but its characteristics change somewhat. The Paris sedimentary basin and, more so, the basins protected by mountain chains show a stronger seasonal temperature variability and less rainfall during autumn and winter. Therefore, most of the territory has a semi-oceanic climate and forms a transition zone between strictly oceanic climate near the coasts and the Semi-continental climate of the north and centre-east (Alsace, plains of the Saône, the middle part of the Rhône, Dauphiné, Auvergne and Savoy).
  • The Mediterranean and the lower Rhône valley experience a Mediterranean climate due to the effect of mountain chains isolating them from the rest of the country and the resulting Mistral and Tramontane winds.
  • The mountain (or alpine) climate is confined to the Alps, the Pyrenees and the summits of the Massif Central, the Jura and the Vosges.
  • In the overseas regions, there are three broad types of climate:
    • A tropical climate in most overseas regions: high constant temperature throughout the year with a dry and a wet season.
    • An equatorial climate in French Guiana: high constant temperature with even precipitation throughout the year.
    • A subpolar climate in Saint Pierre and Miquelon and in most of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands: short mild summers and long very cold winters.

Environment

Parcs naturels français
Marine (blue), Regional (green) and National (red) natural parks in France
Massif du Mont-Blanc (hiver panoramique)
Mont Blanc is the highest summit in Western Europe.

France was one of the first countries to create an environment ministry, in 1971. Although it is one of the most industrialised countries in the world, France is ranked only 17th by carbon dioxide emissions, behind less populous nations such as Canada or Australia. This is because France decided to invest in nuclear power following the 1973 oil crisis, which now accounts for 75% of its electricity production and results in less pollution.

Like all European Union members, France agreed to cut carbon emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by the year 2020, compared to the U.S. plan to reduce emissions by 4% of 1990 levels. As of 2009, French carbon dioxide emissions per capita were lower than that of China's. The country was set to impose a carbon tax in 2009 at 17 euros per tonne of carbon emitted, which would have raised 4 billion euros of revenue annually. However, the plan was abandoned due to fears of burdening French businesses.

Forests account for 28% of France's land area, and are some of the most diverse in Europe, comprising more than 140 species of trees. There are nine national parks and 46 natural parks in France, with the government planning to convert 20% of its Exclusive Economic Zone into a Marine Protected Area by 2020. A regional nature park (French: parc naturel régional or PNR) is a public establishment in France between local authorities and the French national government covering an inhabited rural area of outstanding beauty, in order to protect the scenery and heritage as well as setting up sustainable economic development in the area. A PNR sets goals and guidelines for managed human habitation, sustainable economic development, and protection of the natural environment based on each park's unique landscape and heritage. The parks foster ecological research programmes and public education in the natural sciences. As of 2014 there are 49 PNRs in France.

According to the 2012 Environmental Performance Index conducted by Yale and Columbia, France was the sixth-most environmentally conscious country in the world, one place higher than the previous report in 2010.

Geology, topography and hydrography

Val cenis stausee
The topography provides a major source of water and hydropower thanks to the numerous dams throughout the mountain ranges (Mont-Cenis lake.)

Metropolitan France has a wide variety of topographical sets and natural landscapes. Large parts of the current territory of France were raised during several tectonic episodes like the Hercynian uplift in the Paleozoic Era, during which the Armorican Massif, the Massif Central, the Morvan massif, the Vosges and Ardennes ranges and the island of Corsica were formed. These massifs delineate several sedimentary basins such as the Aquitaine basin in the southwest and the Paris basin in the north, the latter including several areas of particularly fertile ground such as the silt beds of Beauce and Brie. Various routes of natural passage, such as the Rhône valley, allow easy communications. The Alpine, Pyrenean and Jura mountains are much younger and have less eroded forms. The highest peak of the Alps is Mont-Blanc at 4809 metres above sea level. Although 60% of municipalities are classified as having seismic risks, these risks remain moderate. The coastlines offer contrasting landscapes: mountain ranges along the French Riviera, coastal cliffs such as the Côte d'Albâtre, and wide sandy plains in the Languedoc. The river system of France comprises the four major rivers Loire, Seine, Garonne and Rhône and their tributaries, whose combined catchment includes over 62% of the metropolitan territory. Other water courses drain towards the Meuse and Rhine along the north-eastern borders. France has 11 million square kilometres of marine waters within three oceans under its jurisdiction, of which 97% are overseas.

Divisions

FrenchTop25Cities
Map of the 25 largest urban units by population

The 13 regions and 96 departments of metropolitan France includes Corsica (Corse, lower right). The Paris area is expanded. France is divided into (administrative) regions. 22 of them are in Metropolitan France:

Corsica has a different status than the other 12 metropolitan regions. It is called collectivité territoriale.

France also has five overseas regions:

These four overseas regions have the same status as the metropolitan ones. They are like the overseas American states of Alaska and Hawaii.

Then France is divided into 101 departments. The departments are divided into 342 arrondissements. The arrondissements are re-divided into 4,032 cantons. The smallest subdivision is the commune. On January 1, 2008, INSEE counted 36,781 communes in France. 36,569 of them are in metropolitan France and 212 of them are in overseas France.

Government

The government of France is a semi-presidential system determined by the French Constitution of the French Fifth Republic. The constitution declares the nation to be "an indivisible, secular, democratic, and social Republic". It provides for a separation of powers.

Military

Gaule96
Nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle
French Republican Guard Bastille Day 2007 n4
French Republican Guard

The French armed forces are divided into four branches:

  • The Armée de Terre (Army)
  • The Marine Nationale (Navy)
  • The Armée de l'Air (Air Force)
  • The Gendarmerie Nationale (A military force which acts as a National Rural Police)

France has about 359,000 military personnel. France spends 2.6% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. This is the highest in the European Union. France and the UK spend 40% of the EU defence budget. About 10% of France's defence budget is for its nuclear weapons force.

Foreign relations

See also: European Union and United Nations Security Council

France is a member of the United Nations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and has veto rights. It is also a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It hosts the headquarters of the OECD, UNESCO and Interpol. In 1953, the United Nations asked France to choose a coat of arms to represent them internationally. The French emblem is now on their passports.

France was a founding member of the European Union. In the 1960s, France wanted to exclude the United Kingdom from the organisation. It wanted to build its own economic power in continental Europe. France and Germany became closer after World War II. This was to try to become the most influential country in the EU. It limited the influence of the new Eastern European members. France is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). However, under President de Gaulle, it left the joint military command. In the early 1990s, France received criticism for its underground nuclear tests in French Polynesia. France vigorously opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. France retains strong political and economic influence in its former African colonies. For instance it has supplied economic aid and troops for peace-keeping missions in the Ivory Coast and Chad.

Economy

A380 Reveal 2
The first completed Airbus A380 in Toulouse on 18 January 2005. Airbus is a symbol of the globalisation of the French and European economy.

France's economy has nearly 2.9 million registered companies. The government has a considerable influence over railway, electricity, aircraft, and telecommunications firms (as it owns big companies like SNCF and EDF (French electricity)). France has an important aerospace (design of aircraft and spacecraft) industry led by Airbus. It can also launch rockets from French Guiana.

France has invested a lot in nuclear power. This made France the smallest producer of carbon dioxide among the seven most industrialised countries in the world. As a result, 59 nuclear power plants generate most of the electricity produced in the country (78% in 2006, up from only 8% in 1973, 24% in 1980, and 75% in 1990).

Agriculture

Glass of champagne
Champagne, widely regarded as a luxury good, originates from the Champagne region in northeast France.

France has historically been a large producer of agricultural products. Extensive tracts of fertile land, the application of modern technology, and EU subsidies have combined to make France the leading agricultural producer and exporter in Europe (representing 20% of the EU's agricultural production) and the world's third biggest exporter of agricultural products.

Wheat, poultry, dairy, beef, and pork, as well as internationally recognised processed foods are the primary French agricultural exports. Rosé wines are primarily consumed within the country, but Champagne and Bordeaux wines are major exports, being known worldwide. EU agriculture subsidies to France have decreased in recent years but still amounted to $8 billion in 2007. That same year, France sold 33.4 billion euros of transformed agricultural products.

France produces rum via sugar cane-based distilleries almost all of which are located in overseas territories such as Martinique, Guadeloupe, and La Réunion.

Demographics

On 1 January 2008, it was estimated that 63.8 million people live in France, including in the Overseas Regions of France. 61,875,000 of these live in metropolitan France, the part of the country that is within Europe.

Religion

About 85% of the people living in France are Roman Catholic, 10% are Muslim.

Ethnic groups

The major ethnic groups living in France today are descended from Celtic people and Roman people. The significant minority groups living in France are:

Culture

Claude Monet 1899 Nadar
Claude Monet, founder of the Impressionist movement

Language

French is the official language of France. It belongs to the Romance language group, which includes Italian and Spanish. Many regional dialects are also used in France. Alsatian, a German dialect, is spoken in Alsace and in parts of Lorraine in eastern France. French was the language of diplomacy and culture in Europe between the 17th and 19th century and is still widely used.

Some people in France also speak Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, German, Flemish, and Occitan.

Religion

France religiosity
religion percent
Christianity
  
54%
Not religious
  
31%
Islam
  
4%
Judaism
  
1%
Other religions
or no opinion
  
10%

France is a secular country and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The population is about 51% Roman Catholic, and 31% of people are agnostics or atheists. 4% are Muslim, 3% say they are Protestant and 1% say they are Jewish. 10% are from other religions or do not have an opinion about religion. There are also Zoroastrian, Unitarian Universalist, Jain and Wiccan communities. Religions founded in France include Raelism.

According to a Poll in 2005:

  • 34% of French citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
  • 27% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
  • 33% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

Literature

Dartagnan-musketeers
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

French literature began in the Middle Ages. French was divided into several dialects at the time. Some authors spelled words differently from one other.

During the 17th century, Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, Molière, Blaise Pascal and René Descartes were the main authors.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, French literature and poetry reached its best. The 18th century saw writings of authors, essayists and moralists as Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As for French children's literature in those times, Charles Perrault wrote stories such as "Little Red Riding Hood", "Beauty and the Beast", "Sleeping Beauty" and "Puss in Boots".

Many famous French novels were written in the 19th century by authors such as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Jules Verne. They wrote popular novels like The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte-Cristo, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Les Misérables. Other 19th century fiction writers include Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Théophile Gautier and Stendhal.

Famous novels were written during the 20th century by Marcel Proust, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Houellebecq.

Sports

TourDeFrance 2005 07 09
The Peloton (means "pack" in French) of the Tour de France

The Tour de France cycling race in July is one of the best-known sporting events. It is a three-week race of around 3,500 km that covers most of France and ends in the centre of Paris, on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. Football is another popular sport in France. The French team won the FIFA World Cup in 1998 and the UEFA European Football Championship in 1984 and 2000. France also hosts the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race. France also hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and finished fourth. France is closely associated with the Modern Olympic Games. At the end of the 19th century, the Baron Pierre de Coubertin suggested having the Olympic Games again. France hosted the Summer Olympics twice, in 1900 and 1924, in Paris. France also hosted the Winter Games three times: in 1924 in Chamonix, in 1968 in Grenoble, and in 1992 in Albertville.

Cuisine

Terrine de saumon au basilic
Basil salmon terrine

French cuisine has influenced the style of cooking throughout Europe, and its chefs work in restaurants throughout the world.

The roots of modern haute cuisine lie in chefs like La Varenne (1615–1678) and the notable chef of Napoleon, Marie-Antoine Carême (1784–1833). These chefs developed a lighter style of food compared to the food of the Middle Ages. They used fewer spices, and more herbs and creamy ingredients.

Typical ingredients like roux and fish stock, and techniques such as marinading, and dishes such as ragout, were invented. Carême was an expert pâtissier (pastry-maker), and this is still a mark of French cooking. He developed basic sauces, his 'mother sauces'; he had over a hundred sauces in his repertoire, based on the half-dozen mother sauces.

French cuisine was introduced in the 20th century by Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935). He was a genius at organisation. He worked out how to run large restaurants, as in a big hotel or a palace; how the staff should be organised; how the menu was prepared. He had methods for everything. Escoffier's largest contribution was the publication of Le Guide Culinaire in 1903, which established the fundamentals of French cookery. Escoffier managed the restaurants and cuisine at the Savoy Hotel and Carlton Hotel in London, the Hôtel Ritz Paris, and some of the greatest cruise ships.

Escoffier, however, left out much of the culinary character to be found in the regions of France.

Gastro-tourism and the Guide Michelin helped to acquaint people with the rich bourgeois and peasant cuisine of the French countryside in the 20th century. Gascon cuisine has also had great influence over the cuisine in the southwest of France. Many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in variations across the country. Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, playing different roles regionally and nationally. In the north of France, people often prefer to use butter to cook. In the south, they prefer olive oil and garlic. In France, each region has its own special dish; choucroute in Alsace, quiche in Lorraine, cassoulet in the Languedoc-Roussillon, and tapenade in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.

In November 2010, French gastronomy was added by UNESCO to its lists of the world's 'intangible cultural heritage'.

Tourism

Chateau-de-versailles-cour
The Palace of Versailles is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France.
Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF retouched
Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa is the World's best known work of art, on permanent display at the Louvre, the World's most visited museum.

With 83 million foreign tourists in 2012, France is ranked as the first tourist destination in the world, ahead of the US (67 million) and China (58 million). This 83 million figure excludes people staying less than 24 hours, such as North Europeans crossing France on their way to Spain or Italy. It is third in income from tourism due to shorter duration of visits. France has 37 sites inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage List and features cities of high cultural interest, beaches and seaside resorts, ski resorts, and rural regions that many enjoy for their beauty and tranquillity (green tourism). Small and picturesque French villages are promoted through the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (litt. "The Most Beautiful Villages of France"). The "Remarkable Gardens" label is a list of the over 200 gardens classified by the French Ministry of Culture. This label is intended to protect and promote remarkable gardens and parks. France attracts many religious pilgrims on their way to St. James, or to Lourdes, a town in the Hautes-Pyrénées that hosts several million visitors a year.

Mont Saint-Michel DSC 0203
The Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most visited and recognisable landmarks in France. It is one of the 39 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France.

France, especially Paris, has some of the world's largest and renowned museums, including the Louvre, which is the most visited art museum in the world, the Musée d'Orsay, mostly devoted to impressionism, and Beaubourg, dedicated to Contemporary art. Disneyland Paris is Europe's most popular theme park, with 15 million combined visitors to the resort's Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park in 2009.

With more than 10 millions tourists a year, the French Riviera (or Côte d'Azur), in south-east France, is the second leading tourist destination in the country, after the Paris region. It benefits from 300 days of sunshine per year, 115 kilometres (71 mi) of coastline and beaches, 18 golf courses, 14 ski resorts and 3,000 restaurants. Each year the Côte d'Azur hosts 50% of the world's superyacht fleet.

Another major destination are the Châteaux of the Loire Valley, this World Heritage Site is noteworthy for its architectural heritage, in its historic towns but in particular its castles (châteaux), such as the Châteaux d'Amboise, de Chambord, d'Ussé, de Villandry and Chenonceau. The most popular tourist sites include: (according to a 2003 ranking visitors per year): Eiffel Tower (6.2 million), Louvre Museum (5.7 million), Palace of Versailles (2.8 million), Musée d'Orsay (2.1 million), Arc de Triomphe (1.2 million), Centre Pompidou (1.2 million), Mont Saint-Michel (1 million), Château de Chambord (711,000), Sainte-Chapelle (683,000), Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (549,000), Puy de Dôme (500,000), Musée Picasso (441,000), Carcassonne (362,000).

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