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Big-heart Britain tops compassion chart

London, Dec. 31: The British people have so far donated '45 million towards helping the victims of the tsunami disaster while the UK government has increased its contribution from '15 million to '50 million ' thus making Britain by far the biggest voluntary contributor to the international relief effort.

The government of Sweden has pledged '40 million and Japan '21 million. The US had offered '18 million but stepped up the amount tonight after it was branded 'stingy'.

Contributions from the British public are being raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella group which includes the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, Oxfam, ActionAid, World Vision and Save the Children. The 3,000 telephone lines set aside to ring what has become the best known number in Britain ' 0870 60 60 900 ' have been manned by volunteers and celebrities and bringing in donations at a rate that climbed at one point to '1 million an hour.

The money raised by the DEC increased from '25 million yesterday to '45 million today as an extra '20 million came in overnight. This does not include contributions made through banks or sent by post.

The DEC has said the response of the British public has been 'unprecedented and heart-warming'. Even pensioners, who have very little to begin with, have been sacrificing their '200 winter fuel allowances. 'It's OAPs (old age pensioners) saying they are sorry they can't give more who are actually giving much more from their income than the really rich,' commented a charity worker.

Malcolm Jones, 39, who was manning a line, said the donations seemed larger than normal and the pace was fast and furious. 'We've had donations of '100s and '500s and lots above '50s.'

Explaining the generous British response, Lord Swraj Paul, head of the Caparo steel group, said: 'This is a tragedy which has touched everyone in the world. For four days, we have seen nothing else on television. The British people are much more caring than anybody else.'

The British media has been puzzled by the Indian government's response to offers of help: 'Thanks but no thanks. If we need help, we will get back to you.'

The BBC coverage of the Indian aspect of the tragedy acknowledges that the country is now economically strong enough to handle the emergency but reports from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands suggest that aid is not getting through quickly enough to those who have suffered most. The word 'anger' has crept into reports even from Tamil Nadu.

However, Paul supported the Indian government, which he said was allowing help to go to countries that needed it most. 'It was a very, very good gesture from the Indian government,' he said.

There has been a suggestion that the British government was shamed into increasing its contribution after the overwhelming public response. Ben Miller, a DEC spokesman, said: 'If we can donate more money, maybe it can force the government to increase its aid efforts even more.'

Brendan Gormley, its chief executive, today said the charities were trying to obtain 'local supplies, local food, local help ' that's been the lesson from (the) Gujarat (quake)'.

'This is the biggest response ever to an emergency appeal,' he added. 'It is both remarkable and humbling.'

Gormley pledged that the DEC would spend less than a penny of each pound donated on administration, passing on the vast bulk to frontline efforts in the 11 affected countries.

Premiership football clubs added '1 million to the DEC's relief effort with the 20 clubs each pledging '50,000 and the England cricket team donated '15,000. A further contribution of '5,000 has been made by the Professional Cricketers' Association. Other donations came from the British mobile phone giant, Vodafone, which gave '1 million while the island government of Jersey allocated '500,000.

Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen will make a 'substantial' donation.

The British Red Cross has raised '250,000 from Barclays, '100,000 from the Freemasons' Grand Charity, Tesco, the supermarket chain, and the Corporation of London, and '50,000 from The John Lewis Partnership. Tesco has also invited the British Red Cross to hold a cash collection in all its stores on the weekend of January 8 and 9.

Outdoor equipment retailer Blacks Leisure Group is to donate '50,000 worth of camping supplies to provide shelter to the tsunami victims.

People are helping in whatever way they can. Cash from coffee sold at Dave Abbott's cafe, The Upper Crust in Wigan, on New Year's Eve and on January 4 will go to the relief effort, while Peter Davies, who runs Star Chamber, a memorabilia shop in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has raised more than '4,500 from local companies.

An appeal for donations will be read out in more than 400 mosques across Britain today and many churches are planning to hold collections at services this weekend.

Other organisations raising money include Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief and the Indian charity Sewa International.

A Christian Aid spokeswoman said the charity was sending out information on raising funds to 28,000 UK churches.

Meanwhile, an aircraft chartered by Oxfam has flown to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, carrying 27 tonnes of emergency equipment. A Red Cross plane containing 40 tonnes of logistics and telecommunications equipment has flown from Bristol for Sri Lanka.

Newspapers, too, are raising money. The Daily Mail thanked its 'magnificent readers, (who) have once again shown a heartwarming willingness to dig deep, when the need is there. Already, in your tens of thousands, you have contributed, with donations pouring in from pensioners and postmen, teachers and nurses, an army of unsung people anxious to do their bit'.

It disclosed that 'retail tycoon Philip Green is giving '100,000; Camelot's chief executive Dianne Thompson has also pledged '100,000 from her company; Mobile phone firm Vodafone is making a '50,000 donation; Lord Heseltine provides '20,000 from his publishing company Haymarket; HBOS is giving '10,000, as is Stelios Haji-Ioannou, boss of Easyjet. The list goes on. Royal Mail chief Allan Leighton has given '5,000, as has Asian businessman Sir Gulam Noon. Britannia Building Society has donated '2,500'.

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