UN chief hails int'l donations for Lebanon

Calls $7.6 billion in pledges of aid "very useful."

bush ki-moon 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
bush ki-moon 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The new UN secretary-general welcomed on Friday the international community's $7.6 billion in pledges of aid to Lebanon's Western-backed government as it grapples with sectarian street violence and crushing debt. Ban Ki-Moon called Thursday's international donors' conference in Paris "very useful." "I'm very satisfied with the results," he said on France's Europe-1 radio. He said it was proof of the international community's commitment "to support progress, security and political and economic stability in Lebanon." Many had been concerned that the turmoil in Lebanon would scare donors away, but the final tally came in higher than expected. The largest national pledges came from Saudi Arabia, the United States, France and the European Union, and Arab and international financial institutions also promised substantial funds. The UN leader urged Lebanon's neighbors "to respect the integrity, sovereignty and freedom of the government and people of Lebanon so that they can exercise their rights to develop their country without fear." The conference was aimed at helping Lebanon recover from last summer's war between Israel and the Hizbullah militant group and address $40 billion in debt. It also brought the battle for Lebanon's future into the financial sphere: While donors sought to shore up Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government, the Hizbullah protesters trying to bring down his government are believed to get substantial funding from Iran. It was unclear what would happen to the money pledged if Saniora's government falls and Hizbullah gains the upper hand. Much of the money - which includes loans, grants and other help - is tied to promised financial reforms in Saniora's government. Saniora's critics said donors would worsen Lebanon's debt.