Has there ever been a peaceful overthrow of a dictator or monarch? By peaceful I mean without assassination, military coup, major violent protests, killing of civilians, war, etc. The closest thing I can think of is during the Glorious Revolution of England, but there were still some lives lost.

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    The word "overthrow" connotes violence, which is what you ruled out. Plenty of monarchs have left power in peaceful transitions, but I'm not sure you would call them overthrown. – Aaron Brick Sep 21 at 15:16
  • Not an answer, but I think it interesting that Franco “peacefully” restored Spain’s monarchy when he died. – WGroleau Sep 21 at 18:30
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    I didn’t say Franco was peaceful. I said the transition back to monarchy was peaceful. Franco and his cronies killed thousands. But then, his opponents were just as evil. – WGroleau Sep 22 at 11:16
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    Overthrow of a monarch, or of a monarchy? – Michael Kay Sep 23 at 19:46
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    If you want an example from English history, Richard Cromwell would be a lot closer than James VII & II. – C Monsour Sep 24 at 0:33

18 Answers 18

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The abdication of King Edward VIII of United Kingdom in 1936 was achieved without any bloodshed and resulted in ascension and coronation of his brother George as King of the United Kingdom.

Although legally an abdication there is no doubt that his hand was forced by Parliament as well as Prime Ministers of several Commonwealth dominions.

On 16 November 1936, Edward invited British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to Buckingham Palace and expressed his desire to marry Wallis Simpson when she became free to remarry. Baldwin informed him that his subjects would deem the marriage morally unacceptable, largely because remarriage after divorce was opposed by the Church of England, and the people would not tolerate Simpson as queen. ....

The Prime Ministers of Australia (Joseph Lyons), Canada (Mackenzie King) and South Africa (J. B. M. Hertzog) made clear their opposition to the king marrying a divorcée; ....

It was clear that Edward was not prepared to give up Simpson, and he knew that if he married against the advice of his ministers, he would cause the government to resign, prompting a constitutional crisis. He chose to abdicate.

Assent of the Dominion Parliaments was required because the Statute of Westminster 1931 stated (my emphasis:

And whereas it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to this Act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom :


The Greek monarchy has twice been abolished (1924 and 1974) and replaced by a republic consequent to referenda on the issue in 1924 and in 1973.


In March 1815 Napoleon returned from Elba and overthrew King Louis XVIII, beginning The 100 Days.

Firing no shot in his defence, his troop numbers swelled until they became an army. On 5 March, the nominally royalist 5th Infantry Regiment at Grenoble went over to Napoleon en masse. The next day they were joined by the 7th Infantry Regiment under its colonel, Charles de la Bédoyère, who was executed for treason by the Bourbons after the campaign ended. An anecdote illustrates Napoleon's charisma. When royalist troops deployed to stop the march of Napoleon's force at Grenoble, Napoleon stepped out in front of them, ripped open his coat and said "If any of you will shoot his Emperor, here I am." The men joined his cause.

Marshal Ney, now one of Louis XVIII's commanders, had said that Napoleon ought to be brought to Paris in an iron cage, but on 14 March, Ney joined Napoleon with 6,000 men. Five days later, after proceeding through the countryside promising constitutional reform and direct elections to an assembly, to the acclaim of gathered crowds, Napoleon entered the capital, from where Louis XVIII had recently fled.

A popular rumour is that Louis fled in such a rush ahead of Napoeon that, when the latter sat down for dinner in the palace, the seat was still warm.

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    Not sure if Edward VIII's is a valid example of a peaceful overthrow, given that no one wanted him to actually abdicate. They just did not want him to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson, and expected him to comply. After all, who would give away their Crown, their Empire, for "love"? The fact that Edward did, came as a HUGE surprise. Peaceful? Yes. Overthrow? Nope. – walen Sep 21 at 7:23
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    Could you make the case that Napoleon's case is not exactly the peaceful overthrow of a dictator, but rather the replacement of one dictator with another? – Wayne Conrad Sep 21 at 9:40
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    There's a compelling argument that it wasn't "love" but Fascism: lrb.co.uk/v10/n16/paul-foot/the-great-times-they-could-have-had – pjc50 Sep 21 at 9:49
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    I don't think the example of Greece's 1973 referendum is relevant. The country was controlled by a military junta at the time and the plebiscite not only did not get rid of a dictator, it was used by a dictator to cement his control. – terdon Sep 21 at 10:16
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    People can be pleasured with outcomes that they weren't looking for. The options given to King Edward in 1936 were: either leave Wallis and keep Government's support, or marry Wallis and have the whole Government resign on you. The abdication option was certainly not expected and, being that it was proposed by Kind Edward himself, it cannot be seen in any way as an "overthrow", however happy some people might have been after the fact. – walen Sep 21 at 10:20

Murad V, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 30 May to 31 August 1876 was deposed by the Ottoman cabinet on the grounds of insanity.

The Grand Mufti (seyhulislam)

issued a fetva justifying the act on grounds of insanity, which was supported by a medical statement signed by several Istanbul physicians declaring that it was unlikely that Murat could ever recover. The next day all the notables assembled in the Imperial Council rooms of the Topkapi Palace. Murat was deposed, and all swore loyalty to Abdulhamit II as the new sultan.

Source: S. J. Shaw and E. K Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol II

Murad's condition subsequently improved, "leading him to dabble in politics" but he never regained the throne. He died in 1904. His uncle and predecessor Abdülaziz (featured in this photo identification question), had also been deposed peacefully by his ministers but may have been forced to commit suicide a few days after his deposition.


Demaratos (ruled circa 510 to 491 BC), one of the two Kings of Sparta, was deposed by the Ephors (5 annually elected magistrates) after they were persuaded that he was illegitimate.

His political opponent and fellow King Kleomenes I urged a royal rival of Demaratos, Leotychidas, to claim that Demaratos was illegitimate. Kleomenes then bribed the Delphic Oracle to achieve a ruling which led to the Ephors deposing Demaratos on the grounds that he was not the son of his predecessor, King Ariston.


Eric of Pomerania, King of Denmark and Sweden from 1396 to 1439 was deposed by the National Councils of Denmark and Sweden following a dispute over who should succeed him.

When the Danish nobility subsequently opposed his rule and refused to ratify his choice of Bogislaw IX, Duke of Pomerania as the next King of Denmark, King Eric left Denmark in response and took up permanent residence at Visborg Castle in Gotland, apparently as a kind of a “royal strike”, which led to his deposition by the National Councils of Denmark and Sweden in 1439.

For good measure, Eric was later deposed as King of Norway by the Norwegian nobility. He turned to piracy to support himself and died in 1459.


The 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines led to the overthrow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, largely through a series of huge peaceful demonstrations.

The army refused to fire on the demonstrators (although they did at first use tear gas) and Marcos was forced to flee the Philippines. Despite some military action against a TV station, there do not appear to have been any deaths. Filipinos were justly proud of what they achieved "without bloodshed".

Jose Parco, Aklan: The main achievement of people power was that we got rid of a despot in a very peaceful way. For the first time in ages, Filipinos were united to make a change for the better. We showed the world that we are a civilized people as there was no bloodshed. It also taught us the power of prayer!

Lydia Reyes, Bataan: The Edsa uprising was a peaceful revolt and yet it regained democracy in our country. That was the beauty of it.

Pedro Alagano, Vigan City: The beauty is that there was overwhelming euphoria in our country and Filipinos were hailed around the world for a bloodless revolution that toppled a dictator.

Cris Rivera, Rizal: It was supernaturally marvelous a fight for freedom won not by bullets but by flowers and beads of prayers. The beauty of democracy unfolded.

As the demonstrations were preceded by a failed military coup and as tear gas was used at first, this may be considered borderline.


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    The People Power revolution was the one that lept to my mind. One of the things it showed was the importance in such protests of courting the army. Sadly, despots have since learned to adapt by using paramilitary forces with more certain loyalties (and less moral scruples). – T.E.D. Sep 24 at 14:29
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    @T.E.D. Here's something else sad: Marcos' son denies and / or trivializes his father's crimes, but in the 2016 election he was almost elected Vice-President of the Philippines, losing by less than 1%. The current President, Duterte (the guy who thinks rape is a good topic for jokes), has repeatedly said he would resign in favour of Marcos Jn. if he was his Vice-President. Marcos Jn. has already faced numerous allegations of corruption, is big in fake news, and apparently 44% of his Twitter followers are fake. Yet there a big chance he will become president one day... – Lars Bosteen Sep 24 at 23:08
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    I have been keeping track of that, and it is sad. However, I'm kind of in a situation here in the US where I need to address the log in my own eye first before criticizing the splinter in others... – T.E.D. Sep 25 at 10:26
  • @T.E.D. I see your point! – Lars Bosteen Sep 25 at 10:59

In 1946, Italy held a referendum to change from being a kingdom to a republic.

The last king of Italy, Umberto II, left the country peacefully to live the rest of his life abroad. He also absolved all the soldiers and other civil servants from their oath of fealty to the king.

Queen Elizabeth II has been deposed many times and I guess holds the record for the most times someone has been deposed (peaceful or not).

This has happened many times when a former British colony became independent and, after a period of independence with the Queen as head of state, declared itself a republic with a president. Most of these did it peacefully with a referendum or election or just a declaration. This often happened several years after independence.

For example, from this list of Republics in the Commonwealth of Nations there are many who did it without any violence in relation to the change from the Queen as head of state to a presidential republic.

Examples: Zambia (Oct 1964), Seychelles (1976), Botswana (Sept 1966), Gambia (April 1970), Ghana (July 1960), Guyana (Feb 1970), Malta (Dec 1974), Sri Lanka (1971)

George VI was also deposed. India (Jan 1950).

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    @ubadub Wrong. You're confusing fights for independence with the queen being replaced as head of state. In many cases, the queen was deposed several years after independence when many countries changed to republics. Please check the examples. – JLK Sep 22 at 7:06
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    That seems like hair-splitting. – ubadub Sep 22 at 7:07
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    @ubadub 'Several years' and deposing through referendum or election is not hair-splitting. My answer clearly respects the spirit and the letter of the question. Please check the examples I've given. – JLK Sep 22 at 7:15
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    @ubadub I can't speak for all the examples cited but Ghana is a valid example. The transition to independence started shortly after WWII and was peaceful, with independence achieved in 1957 with Nkrumah as Prime Minister. In 1960, there was a referendum and Nkrumah replaced QEII as Head of State. – Lars Bosteen Sep 22 at 8:36
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    @Muz There are 15 Commonwealth Realms other than the United Kingdom. – Andrew Leach Sep 23 at 7:27

Augusto Pinochet, after 15 years as the dictator of Chile, stepped out of power because on the 5th October 1988 he lost a referendum with about 44% of votes and he accepted that result.

Benito Mussolini fell from power after the Grand Council of Fascism passed a vote of no confidence on him. After that, he was dismissed by King Victor Emmanuel III.

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    The deposing of Mussolini started a civil war so I'd say it does not count. On the other hand a couple of years later King Umberto II left the country peacefully after the popular vote to transform Italy into a Republic. – Rad80 Sep 21 at 12:11
  • I disagree. The deposing of Mussolini started a civil war because Hitler supported his former ally. As far as Italy alone is concerned, it can safely be described as a “peaceful overthrow of a dictator”. – José Carlos Santos Sep 21 at 12:14
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    Italians shot each other for several months. Both sides had foreign support but that cannot be counted as a peaceful transition. By that standard, the French revolution should count! There have been formal acts deposing the king and he was later executed for treason, not for being a king. Hardly within the scope of the OP. – Rad80 Sep 21 at 12:22
  • @Rad80 - Also, the lack of "confidence" in him almost certainly had something (everything) to do with the invading Allied army sitting in Italian territory (Sicily) gassing up their landing craft for the next go. So I wouldn't entirely call that non-violent. – T.E.D. Sep 26 at 13:00

The end of German Democratic Republic , a.k.a. East-Germany, was also quite peaceful. Prior to the German Reunification the GDR government applied some degree of oppression, yet the large-scale, peaceful protest made it quite hard to justify using force.

In the end, the GDR held its only free election which brought a government into power that more or less oversaw the reunification with the Feder Republic of Germany, a.k.a. West-Germany

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    I don't think Erich Honecker counts as a monarch... – jcaron Sep 21 at 23:10
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    @jcaron - originally the Q asked for "Monarch or Dictator". – seven-phases-max Sep 23 at 10:14
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    @seven-phases-max Wasn't much of a dictator either. The GDR government certainly wasn't democratic in any meaningful way, but it wasn't a dictatorship in any meaningful way either. – Cubic Sep 24 at 14:22
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    @Cubic So, what is a dictatorship, then? The GDR didn't have political competition but a single ruling party. Also human rights weren't worth the paper they were written on. - What more do you require to classify a regime as a dictatorship? – Alexander Kosubek Sep 25 at 14:53
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    @AlexanderKosubek The comments aren't the place to discuss this, but a dictatorship is classified by being ruled by one or multiple dictators. The GDR was an authoritarian and totalitarian state, but it was never ruled by dictators. – Cubic Sep 25 at 14:58

Alfonso XIII of Spain, in 1931

On April 12, 1931, there were municipal elections. One year earlier, on January 28, 1930, the dictator Primo de Rivera resigned1. That dictatorship was a weird one, with the king Alfonso XIII below it. Thus, the king kept in power for a while (in a so called dictablanda2). This kept going until the municipal elections on April 12, 1931, were held:

On 12 April, the republican parties won a landslide victory in municipal elections. The municipal elections were fought as a virtual referendum on the future of the monarchy. On 14 April, he fled the country as the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed, but did not formally abdicate. He settled eventually in Rome.

Downfall and Second Republic, on the Alfonso XIII of Spain article in Wkipedia


1 Wikipedia on Primo de Rivera's fall from power

2 In Spanish, dictatorship is dictadura (dicta dura). Also, dura means 'strong'. So a dictatorship with less strength was called dictablanda (dicta blanda), as blanda means 'weak'.

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    I would say that the primary meanings of duro and blando are hard and soft, not strong and weak. – Peter Taylor Sep 22 at 8:36

Bavaria stands out here. Ludwig II, Otto I, Ludwig III all lost power quite peacefully.

  • +1. Given description on wikipedia, Ludwig II seems like a quite awesome king, actually. – mathreadler Sep 23 at 8:32
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    @mathreadler Depends on what you mean by that. I'm sure he wasn't a bad guy to hang out with, but from all I ever heard about him he was pretty bad at being a King. – Cubic Sep 24 at 14:24
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    @Cubic Kings at time were expected to spend taxes on waging wars, not promote culture. He seems to have not followed that pattern. That is worthy of respect. – mathreadler Sep 24 at 14:33

Without going back that long in time, you have got the Carnation Revolution in Portugal

This is also interesting in the fact that the overthrow was led by the military.

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    There was some fighting, though, and a couple of ppl died. – Tomas By Sep 21 at 11:35

Norway, 1905

From 1814 to 1905 Norway and Sweden were two kingdoms ruled by the same king.

This king ruled from the Swedish capitol and many Norwegians were unhappy about the situation.

The two countries had separate Parliaments.

In June 1905 the Norwegian Parliament decided that enough was enough. Out with the king!

In August there was a referendum in Norway which agreed.

In October the Swedish King and government accepted the situation and recognized Norway as independent. The Swedish King renounced his claim to the Norwegian throne.

While the situation had been tense, no shots were fired.

(Norway then decided "OMG, we need a king!" and elected a Danish Prince for the job. But that is another story)

Longer version on Wikipedia.

Pedro II of Brazil, November 1889

There was only an injured person in the event.

The only one wounded in the episode of the proclamation of the republic was the Baron of Ladario, minister of navy, who resisted the arrest warrant given by the mutineers and was shot.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proclamation_of_the_Republic_(Brazil)

King Talal of Jordan was forced to abdicate due to mental illness. He was succeeded by his oldest son, King Hussein of Jordan.

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    Ferdinand I & V was forced to abdicate in favor of Franz Josef in 1848 for much the same reason. Lots of violence was going on at the time, but his overthrow was peaceful, by his family, for his not being violent enough (nor bright enough). – C Monsour Sep 24 at 0:29

In 1953, after a lot of effort king Leopold III of Belgium abdicated. Normally an abdication is voluntary. In this case, the king's behavior during WW2 forced him to abdicate. It took 8 years for him to make up his mind, so it wasn't quite as voluntary as it was presented.

Francisco Franco didn't abdicate, but restored in 1947 the monarchy upon his demise. Which was back then far away in the future: he died in 1975.

Two more cases of peaceful removal of monarchs/dictators.

  • And Franco needed much of that interim to find a willing king. Juan Carlos was not his first choice. Otto (Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary) turned him down, for example. – C Monsour Sep 23 at 15:16
  • The Wikipedia article you link to says that Leopold III finally abdicated in 1951. – SJuan76 Sep 24 at 15:58
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    Also, Franco remained in power until his death, so he was definitely not "overthrown". – SJuan76 Sep 24 at 16:00

The resignation of (now) Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, allegedly because of ill health, has primarily been blamed on his self-perceived incapacity to deal with the strong resistance inside the Curia and the top clergy to reform and cleansing, including issues of sexual abuse that are now emerging under Pope Francis.

Although this is not an overthrown, there are however some minority conservative views (e.g. see here) stating that he was actually forced to resign by "liberal" forces inside and outside the Catholic Church, hoping to elect someone less conservative, like Pope Francis.

Notice that the Vatican is de facto an absolute monarchy, an elected theocracy.

Technically the end of the Franco-Regime in Spain was also a peaceful transition. Though it can be disputed, if this was a real overthrow, since Franco died of natural causes.

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    I'd say that it was more of a collapse than an overthrow. The regime was not strong enough to survive Franco's demise and some high ranking officials did not fight (or even promoted) the change of regime. – Zalomon Sep 21 at 9:13
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    Supposedly the high ranking officers wanted to stay in power, but the (newly crowned) king pushed for a transition to a constitutional monarchy. – Erik Sep 21 at 9:15
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    He did support the move to a constitutional monarchy, but you could say he was a high ranking officer of the regime. He was in fact the designated successor and was supported by other high ranking offices as Manuel Fraga and Adolfo Suárez. – Zalomon Sep 21 at 9:34

Depends on what you mean. A monarchy can be many things.

In many countries in Europe the monarch has gradually lost all formal power until in practice just a communicative symbol. Example is Sweden where at start of 1700 Karl XII was an absolute monarch, by the divine-right flavour monarchy. The crown came directly from God and not from any bishop of the church.

Gradually over the next couple of hundred years Sweden transitioned (back and forth) slowly into a modern democracy where the riksdag (parliament) made all decisions and the king had no vote there and no other decisive power at all. It was not a one-way easy road, but there was no revolution or any kind of bloodshed about it. There were some situations where revolution maybe could have happened, but it never did.

The transition from communism to free-market democracy in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was mainly peaceful, this is frequently referred to as the Velvet Divorce. It took place between 16th and 29th November 1989; the first free election was held on 10th December.

The Czechoslovakian Republic itself dissolved on 31 December 1993, this was also peaceful, and the two countries (Czech Republic and Slovakia) have very a good relationship. This is called the Velvet Divorce.

Zalomon earlier mentioned the Carnation Revolution that overthrew the Estado Novo in 1974. That was established by António de Oliveira Salazar, the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968, when he suffered a cerebral haemmorhage. As they expected him to die from his injuries, the President replaced him, but despite his injury he lived for another two years.

What I love about this is that he was replaced as ruler, BUT NOBODY EVER TOLD HIM. When he became unexpectedly conscious and lucid again, they kept him at home and in privacy "for his health" and just gave him lots of papers to sign and Prime Ministerial-type things to do. He went to his grave in July 1970, thinking that he was still ruling the country. :)

EDIT: I first heard of this during an episode of QI, which is known for the thoroughness of its fact-checking. The story is also under Salazar's entry in Wikipedia (yes, I know that's a less-than-reliable source); and was printed in the New York Times article announcing Salazar's death on 28 July, 1970, an abstract of which can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/1970/07/28/archives/salazar-ruler-of-portugal-for-40-years-dies-salazar-dies-in-lisbon.html

Encyclopaedia Britannica also refers briefly to his ignorance of his replacement: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Antonio-de-Oliveira-Salazar

However, the New World Encyclopaedia suggests that some of his aides claim that he was aware and simply played along: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ant%C3%B3nio_de_Oliveira_Salazar#Death

Although his official title was Prime Minister, it's widely held that Salazar was in fact the ruler of the country. He established the right-wing corporatist regime that would rule Portugal until its overthrow in a military coup d’état in 1974, four years after Salazar's death.

  • Sources would improve this answer, and I'm not sure whether a prime minister is a dictator or monarch - might be that I'm reading the narrative incorrectly, which is where sources would be very useful. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 24 at 10:37
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    Please edit that into the answer - comments get deleted. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 25 at 8:36

protected by Pieter Geerkens Sep 24 at 22:52

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