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Star charity dims before it shines

Los Angeles, Jan. 12 (Reuters): A television benefit show for victims of the Asian tsunami featuring Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Elton John and a string of Hollywood celebrities has run into controversy in the US before a note has been played or a dollar pledged.

Fox TV conservative commentator Bill 'Reilly started the furore by suggesting that not all the money raised would aid tsunami victims.

Actor George Clooney, one of the organisers of the telethon scheduled for Saturday on NBC, hit back with a letter accusing 'Reilly of creating a fuss for his own personal gain.

'Because of it fewer people will donate money to help truly traumatised victims. they'll be afraid that their money will do no good,' Clooney wrote.

He urged 'Reilly to take part as a presenter and followed it up with a letter saying, 'We're not playing games here, we're trying to save lives. It's as simple as this; you're either with this joint effort or against it.'

'Reilly said before making a decision he wanted to know more about the format of the benefit and how donations would be distributed.

He said he would be 'watching to see if the money gets to the tsunami victims' and warned that the celebrities taking part 'had better be involved all the way down the line'.

The show is due be broadcast from studios in New York, Los Angeles and London, to raise money for the work of the American Red Cross in the tsunami- and earthquake-devastated Indian Ocean region.

The broadcast, originally scheduled for one hour, has been extended to two hours.

Performers will include Diana Ross, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Annie Lennox and Brian Wilson. There will also be appearances by actors Clint Eastwood, Halle Berry, Meg Ryan, Kevin Spacey and other stars.

'All the donations will go to support tsunami relief,' said American Red Cross spokesperson Darren Irby. He said the organisation had raised about $160 million so far but expected it will need to spend around $400 million on the disaster.

A similar telecast carried by all the four main US networks after the September 11, 2001 attacks raised more than $150 million.

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