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World stunned by American tragedy

Nations offer aid, or criticize Bush

LONDON -- People around the world cannot believe what they're seeing.

From Argentina to Zimbabwe, front-page photos of the dead and desperate in New Orleans, almost all of them poor and black, have sickened them and shaken assumptions about American might. How can this be happening, they ask, in a nation whose wealth and power seem almost supernatural in so many struggling corners of the world?

Pick the comparison: New Orleans looks like Haiti, or Baghdad, or Sudan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka. The images of all the rubble and corpses and empty-eyed survivors remind people of those places, not the United States.

''Third World America," declared the headline in the Daily Mail in London yesterday. ''Law and order is gone, gunmen roam at will, raping and looting, and as people die of heat and thirst, bodies lie rotting in the street. Until now, such a hellish vista could only be imagined in a Third World disaster zone. But this was America yesterday."

International reaction has shifted in many cases from shock, sympathy, and generosity to a growing criticism of the Bush administration's response to the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. In nations often divided by dueling sentiments of admiration and distaste for the United States, many people see incompetence at best and, at worst, racism in the chaos gripping much of the Gulf Coast. Many analysts outside the United States said President Bush's focus on Iraq has left the United States without resources to handle natural disasters, and many said Hurricane Katrina's fury mocks Bush's opposition to international efforts to confront global warming, which some scientists say contributes to the severity of such storms.

More than 50 countries and a number of international organizations have offered aid and technical assistance. In Washington, the State Department has not accepted the help, but said it was analyzing needs. Some nations have made contributions directly to the American Red Cross.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said the people affected ''remain in the hearts and prayers of the people of South Africa." President Jacques Chirac of France, one of Europe's most outspoken critics of President Bush, dispatched a handwritten note to the White House expressing his ''deep distress." French, Italian, German, Russian, and Chinese officials have offered millions of dollars in aid.

The leaders of Cuba and Venezuela, both at odds with the United States, pledged support. President Fidel Castro of Cuba offered to send 1,100 doctors, each carrying emergency medical supplies amounting to tons of relief aid. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela offered to send fuel, humanitarian aid, and relief workers to the disaster area. Venezuela is one of the largest suppliers of oil to the United States.

In a remarkable reversal of roles, some of the world's poorest developing nations are offering help. El Salvador has offered to send soldiers to help restore order, and offers of aid have come from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Belarus. The former Soviet republic of Georgia has donated $50,000 to the Red Cross, and beleaguered Sri Lanka, which has received $133 million in tsunami relief from the United States, has donated $25,000 to the Red Cross. In Beijing, Representatives Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, and Jim Leach, Republican of Iowa, just back from North Korea, said officials in Pyongyang went out of their way to express their sympathy.

Beyond the good will, much of the reaction has been harshly critical of the US response and of Bush, who remains unpopular in many places outside the United States, largely because of the war in Iraq. The Independent newspaper in London carried front-page headlines yesterday that read, ''Where was the President in his country's hour of need? And why has it taken him five days to go to New Orleans?" The paper asked, ''How can the US take Iraq, a country of 25 million people, in three weeks but fail to rescue 25,000 . . . citizens from a sports arena in a big American city?"

One Iraqi newspaper reported about the hurricane without editorial comment. The Arab news network al-Jazeera showed footage of relief aid and reported on Bush sending troops to the area. Iraqis are aware of pressure in the United States for soldiers to return home.

For the French, who feel greater historical, cultural, linguistic, and emotional ties to New Orleans than perhaps any other American city, the daily front page images have been gut-wrenching. ''The rage of the forgotten," declared the headline yesterday in Liberation newspaper beside a photograph of a young woman on her knees, screaming in despair. The lead editorial in Le Figaro yesterday questioned how the US military could have been so quick to arrive in South Asia for the tsunami, yet ''wasn't able to do the same within its own borders."

Israel's most watched television news program, Channel 2 news, broadcast extensive footage Friday from New Orleans. The newscaster's narration suggested the Bush administration had placed a higher priority on ensuring a steady flow of gasoline than on saving lives.

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