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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 21:03 GMT
Donors in aid boost for Lebanon
French President Jacques Chirac and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Paris donors' conference
Mr Chirac said he was "overjoyed" by the amount pledged
Foreign donors have pledged $7.6bn (3.5bn) in aid and loans for Lebanon at a conference in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac has said.

The biggest pledges came from Saudi Arabia, the US, France and the EU.

Lebanon has been struggling to recover following last summer's conflict between Hezbollah militants and Israel.

As the donors met, clashes erupted between students from rival political factions at a Beirut University, leaving four people dead.

MAIN DONORS' PLEDGES
US: $1bn (inc new $770m)
France: $650m
EU: $520m
Saudi Arabia: $1.1bn
World Bank: $1bn
EIB: $1.25bn

Lebanon has been rocked by violence and protests since late last year amid moves by Hezbollah and its Christian allies to bring down Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan in Paris says Lebanon's political instability has not deterred the international community from pledging money to rebuild the damaged country.

She says Lebanon is currently $41bn in debt and Mr Siniora's fragile government has had to promise financial reforms which are unpopular at home to get some of this money.

But the Paris pledges will help repair some of the damage done by last summer's conflict, our correspondent adds.

'Brink of recession'

In Paris, Mr Chirac told delegates he was "overjoyed" at the amount pledged, eliciting loud applause.

Mr Siniora said he was "really pleased" with the level of financial support.

He thanked the participants from some 40 countries.

"Your support to our medium-term programme in the form of contributions and loans at concessionary rates with considerable front-loading that extends over the programme's duration is what is needed," he said.

"Failure to achieve the programme's objectives could well jeopardise the broader goals of political and social stability and a strong democratic system."

He said Lebanon, which had been on the path to economic recovery before the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, was "now on the verge of a deep recession".

President Chirac said Lebanon was being reborn from the ashes and needed the international community's support.

"We know that financial stability is essential for political stability in Lebanon and so controlling the debt levels which after the hostilities of last year amounted to 180% of the entire national wealth is the first and most urgent task to be tackled," he said.

France has offered to lend Lebanon $650m at a concessionary rate, while the European Union is promising another $520m in new aid and loans.

Lebanese civilians walk among bomb damage in Beirut, August 2006
Lebanon needs billions of dollars to recover from years of war and debt
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed the promise of a new $770m aid package (to be approved by the US Congress), saying the pledge would bring the level of US aid to Lebanon since last summer to more than $1bn.

Saudi Arabia pledged an additional $1.1bn in aid ($1bn in development funding and an extra $100m gift to the government), while the World Bank and the European Investment Bank announced more than $2bn in aid.

The amount pledged on Thursday eclipses the $4.2bn offered at a previous donors' conference for Lebanon in Paris in 2002.

Large parts of Lebanon's infrastructure were destroyed during Israel's attempt to wipe out Hezbollah last year, after Hezbollah militants killed a number of Israeli troops and kidnapped two others.

The country is also heavily indebted from the effects of 15 years of civil war in the 1970s and 80s.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Lebanese prime minister thanks the donors



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