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US billions to support West Asia democracy

world Updated: May 20, 2011 01:46 IST
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President Barack Obama is to announce that the United States and the west will pour billions of dollars into the West Asia in support of Egypt, Tunisia and other countries embracing democracy, a move the White House portrayed as being on the scale of aid to former communist countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Speaking in Washington, the president will attempt to reposition the US as a champion of the newly-emerging Arab democracies. His speech comes amid criticism that the US has been too slow to support the uprisings, and has adopted contradictory approaches in its dealings with different countries.

It is his most important speech on the West Asia since Cairo in 2009, when he called for a new beginning in relations between the US and the Muslim world. The support for Obama in the Arab world in 2009 has since dropped sharply.

The speech will deal mainly with the Arab spring, hailing the benefits of democracy and respect for human rights, in spite of America’s long-time support for authoritarian regimes in the region. Senior Obama administration officials, briefing on the speech, said he will take a fresh look at the West Asia after a decade of tension and division. With the winding down of the Iraq war and the death of Osama bin Laden, “we are turning a page”, one official said, adding that the democracy movements reinforced this.

The official suggested that the best way to support democracy was through economic reform, and drew comparisons with the massive injection of American aid to Europe after the war, and with the support given to central and eastern Europe in 1989. The US is to relieve Egypt of up to $1bn in debt and lend or guarantee up to $1bn.

The World Bank, the IMF and other multilateral institutions to provide a further $2bn-3bn. The official described Tunisia and Egypt as beacons, models to encourage others to pursue democracy.

“It is the beginning of a long-term effort,” an official said. He is to devote a big portion to castigating countries such as Iran and Syria.

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