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'Stingy' storm buffets America

Washington, Dec. 28: US secretary of state Colin Powell spent much of this morning appearing on one TV channel after another fending off intense criticism that the US effort in tsunami relief in Asia was grossly inadequate.

The US had announced a relief of Rs 44.5 lakh to India yesterday. The preliminary contribution, offered in a letter from ambassador David Mulford to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will go to a national relief fund, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Indian Red Cross.

Yesterday, Jan Egeland, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, accused America of being 'stingy' in its response to the natural disaster.

'We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries,' Egeland, a Norwegian, said. 'And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really'. Even Christmas time should remind many western countries at least how rich we have become.'

Rev. Al Sharpton, an American black leader and a Democratic presidential aspirant during the 2004 primary season, also criticised the Bush administration's response to Asia's tsunami.

Appearing on CNN, Sharpton said: 'I just wish we had been more quick in the response. It took like 36 hours. And I think, the more we do, the better it is. But I think this is one that the Right, the Left, the Democrats, Republicans, everyone can come together to support people in a disaster like this.'

Powell also faced some criticism from TV anchors who questioned him on the issue.

When he appeared on CBS' Early Show, the anchor, Harry Smith, was dismissive of the US aid figures.

'Well, we heard that number, $15 million, yesterday,' Smith said. 'I honestly thought that doesn't seem like very much money from the United States of America.'

Powell responded: 'Well, it's a start, Harry. In addition to the $15 million, we have nine P-3 reconnaissance planes on the way, another dozen C-130s are on the way with relief supplies, and so we will be making an assessment as the days go by to see what the need really is and we will adjust our plans accordingly. But this was an initial infusion of money to join the international relief effort.'

Appearing on NBC's Today show, Powell said: 'What we have to do is make a careful assessment of what is needed. We have given $4 million right away to the International Federation of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, another $10 million, which with other funds, brings it up to 15...

'We will also have to see what each country can do for itself and make sure that we apply the aid in those places where it is most desperately needed. Some countries, larger countries, are able to handle it better than smaller countries or countries that are less developed. Sri Lanka, which is the one that is hardest hit, is uppermost in my mind.'

Both on CNN and ABC, Powell was directly asked about criticism by the UN's head of humanitarian relief.

Powell said: 'We will do more. I wish that comment hadn't been made. I mean, the world is now responding to this catastrophe. The US has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world.

'We had a significant increase in our development assistance and other kinds of assistance and we will do more, but we're still getting an assessment of what is needed and it will take time for that assessment to be made... and then we'll respond to those needs'.

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