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Blair launches plan to help Africa

Report calls for doubling of aid, fighting AIDS

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Africa Commission challenged the world to help end the poverty, conflict, and disease plaguing the continent in a report released yesterday, hopeful that this blueprint for reviving Africa will succeed where earlier attempts failed.

But commission members tempered their optimism with recognition that they face a big challenge to get its recommendations implemented.

''There can be no excuse, no defense, no justification for the plight of millions of our fellow beings in Africa today. There should be nothing that stands in our way of changing it. That is the simple message from the report published today," said Blair, announcing the findings of the commission at the British Museum.

The 400-page report calls on the international community to immediately double foreign aid to Africa to $50 billion and make fighting AIDS a priority. It sets 100 percent debt cancellation as a goal and urges rich nations to drop trade barriers that hurt poor countries. It also says African leaders must move faster toward democracy, stamp out corruption, and take other steps to improve how their countries are run. The report says that money siphoned from public accounts and deposited in Western banks by corrupt African officials amounts to more than half of the continent's total national debt. It urged banks to return the stolen funds.

Blair hopes the report will be embraced around the world as a blueprint for an African renaissance. He has made helping Africa a key priority for Britain's presidencies of both the Group of Eight nations and the European Union.

''In a world where prosperity is increasing and more people sharing each year in this growing wealth, it is an obscenity that should haunt our daily thoughts that 4 million children in Africa will die this year before their fifth birthday," Blair said, calling for a new partnership between the developed world and Africa ''that goes beyond the old donor and recipient relationship."

Africans and others working to solve the continent's deep troubles say the challenge now is to implement the report's recommendations. ''It must translate not into a lot of paper, but into a firm, serious program of action," President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said.

At a parallel launch of the document in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said an increasingly interconnected world demanded that countries work together to solve problems of poverty. In New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed the report, saying ''Africa is the foremost development challenge facing the international community today."

Immediate reaction from Africa, where some view the plan as a way for Blair to recoup public relations damage caused by his Iraq policy, was skeptical. While Mbeki said he hoped the report ''will indeed serve the purpose for which it was intended," Madagascar economics lecturer Airy Ramiarison suggested that rich countries ''just stick to the promises they have already made."

Material from Reuters was included in this report.

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