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Bush to request $950 million to help tsunami-hit areas in Asia

WASHINGTON—President Bush on Wednesday said he'll ask Congress for $950 million to support areas devastated by December's tsunami in Asia, more than doubling his previous commitment.

The pledge places the United States as the top donor among nations, a move that could blunt international criticism that Washington's initial response to the Dec. 26 tragedy that killed at least 157,000 people was miserly.

Australia had been the lead donor with $810 million, followed by Germany's $660 million, the European Commission's $624 million and Japan's $500 million.

The new money boosts the previous U.S. pledge of $350 million and will be part of the $80 billion request that Bush is seeking to cover the costs of the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The administration will use the additional funds for reconstruction, the creation of a tsunami and natural disaster early warning system for the Indian Ocean and to repay the Department of Defense and U.S. Agency for International Development for the assistance they've already provided to the region.

"We will use these resources to provide assistance and to work with affected nations on rebuilding vital infrastructure that re-energizes economies and strengthens societies," Bush said in a statement.

U.S. officials hailed the request as a significant contribution and a sign of the Bush administration's commitment to rebuilding the affected Indian Ocean region, from bricks and mortars to the pocketbooks of its people.

About $339 million of the money will be used for reconstruction of infrastructure such as roads, schools and water distribution systems. Administration officials said the rebuilding of roads could be tricky because officials will likely have to find new, more solid locations for them.

Another $168 million would go toward helping victims move from temporary shelters to permanent housing in their communities. The funds will also be used to get fishing villages and other economic engines in the region back on their feet.

About $35 million would go toward the early warning system and disaster mitigation efforts.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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