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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 January, 2005, 17:00 GMT
Brown pushes tsunami debt relief
Aid arrives in Asia
Britain has pledged 50m to help affected countries
The foreign debts owed by countries hit by the Asian tsunami disaster could be frozen, under a proposal being pushed by UK Chancellor Gordon Brown.

He has been in "intensive talks" with other finance ministers from the wealthy G8 countries on a moratorium on debt repayments by affected countries.

Germany proposed a freeze last week and Canada has begun its own moratorium.

As UK deaths reached 41, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he would visit Thailand and Indonesia this week.

A spokeswoman could not say whether the latest British confirmed fatality had been among the other 159 Britons already feared dead.

The Boxing Day disaster is now known to have killed at least 140,000 people.

Downing Street confirmed there would be a three-minute silence in memory of the victims at 1200 GMT on Wednesday.

It also emerged that the British public has now pledged 76m in aid.

The UK Government has promised 50m to the relief effort and says it is likely to exceed public donations.

Aid delivery

Prime Minister Tony Blair, back from his Christmas holiday, chaired the government's south-east Asia emergency committee for the first time on Tuesday morning.

Mr Blair's official spokeswoman said: "The task is to turn money into help. It is to ensure aid gets to the people who need it."

Ministerial visits
Jack Straw: Jakarta, Indonesia, then Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand
Hilary Benn: Banda Aceh, Indonesia, then Sri Lanka

During his trip, Mr Straw will represent the G8 at the international conference called in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday.

"We will be looking at longer-term issues of reconstruction and support for the populations and governments, as well as the immediate issues of aid to those people stricken by this disaster," said Mr Straw.

On Friday, he will visit the Thai beach resort of Phuket, where British families are still searching for relatives.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn will also visit Aceh in Indonesia, as well as Sri Lanka.

Emergency assistance

Mr Brown hopes a debt freeze, which would save affected nations billions a year, could be agreed internationally within days.

He told BBC News: "What we are suggesting is an immediate moratorium on debt repayments from the afflicted countries.

"That would then lead to an analysis of the debt needs of these countries, with the possibility of some write-off of debt."

Women in India examine clothes aid packages
About five million families have been left homeless

The chancellor said the plan would initially save the most affected countries about $3bn (1.58bn) in repayments.

The proposal was being backed by the US, and discussions were under way with various other countries including France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Mr Brown said the changes to debt relief, combined with aid loans and grants, would make planning the reconstruction efforts possible.

Africa worries

The chancellor sees little point in Western governments seeking to provide emergency financial aid, only to claw the money back through debt repayments.

He said Africa should not lose out because of resources being diverted to the tsunami victims.

Oxfam's Phil Bloomer welcomed the moratorium plan, saying it would be "unforgivable" to continue to demand debt repayments.

He said it was vital the money saved was ring-fenced so it reached those most in need.

Tory leader Michael Howard also backed the proposals but said ministers had been "playing catch-up" with public donations.

'More to do'

Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson said he was pleased Mr Brown was backing the German debt moratorium idea "after a week's delay".

"The next move has to be debt cancellation and the UK Government needs to do a lot more in terms of financial aid having been significantly eclipsed by the generosity of people at home and governments abroad," he added.

Emergency supplies from the British government have started arriving in the region on three RAF flights in a joint operation with Scandinavian countries.

Two ships - the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Diligence and frigate HMS Chatham - are arrived in the disaster area. A second Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, the Bayleaf, is also being sent.

UK charities have also begun chartering planes to deliver aid.

  • A BBC News Special: Asia Remembered, including the three-minutes silence, will be shown on BBC One and BBC News 24 from 1130 to 1215 GMT on Wednesday.




  • BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
    How the debt freeze would benefit affected countries



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