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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 21:52 GMT

World: Africa

Clinton backs Nigeria debt relief

President Obasanjo wants help in retrieving embezzled funds

President Clinton has praised Nigeria for its democratic reforms and said he would encourage international creditors to ease the country's $31bn dollar debt burden.

President Clinton: "It is in America's interests for Nigeria to succeed"
He said Nigeria was pivotal to the future of Africa, and he praised President Olusegun Obasanjo's efforts to fight corruption and implement economic reform.

"It is neither morally right or economically sound to ask Nigeria to ... choose between making interest payments on their debt and investing in the health and education of their children," he said.

He was speaking after talks with Mr Obasanjo, who is making his first official visit to Washington, since coming to power in May.

The Nigerian authorities believe that more than $5bn of Nigerian Government money was illegally taken out of the country by its former leaders, and President Clinton also pledged to help Nigeria recover assets stolen by its former leaders.

Work to do

President Clinton also said he would ask Congress to increase aid to the country almost four-fold.

President Obasanjo thanks the US president for his commitments
But the Republican Congressional leadership wants to slash American spending overseas and is also delaying a major initiative to loosen trade barriers with Africa.

State Department correspondent Richard Lister says that President Clinton still has much work to do in Washington before the benefits of his pledges will be felt in Nigeria.

Last week, President Obasanjo appealed for the help of Western leaders in rebuilding democracy in Nigeria, which this year ended 15 years of military rule.

"If you do not help us and for one reason or the other, God forbid, democracy should fail here again, it will be not because we haven't tried. It will be because you haven't helped us enough," President Obasanjo said at economic summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Some creditors argue that Nigeria's oil wealth means it is better placed than most poor countries to pay its way.

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