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Annan Tours Sri Lanka's Tsunami-Ravaged Coast


U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been visiting tsunami-ravaged areas of Sri Lanka, which is still struggling to recover from the catastrophic earthquake and ocean waves that hit south Asia two weeks ago.

Mr. Annan flew by helicopter over the southern town of Galle today Saturday, then landed at the battered eastern town of Hambantota, where Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and World Bank president James Wolfensohn joined him for a ground tour.

Tsunami waves crashed into Hambantota on December 26, inundating shoppers at the town's Sunday market. Nearly 5,000 people died in the town and the surrounding area, and the local economy was crushed by the loss of a fishing fleet of 275 boats and a large enterprise that produced salt by evaporating sea water.

Mr. Annan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials who have toured south Asia this week say the huge relief effort that the world has mounted must provide both urgently-needed food, shelter and medical supplies, as quickly as possible, and long-term help to rebuild the region's severely damaged economy.

Public and private donations to the tsunami relief effort have passed $5 billion, and the world's leading industrial nations have agreed to suspend the affected countries' debt repayments -- a move that will save south Asian government further billions of dollars. Casualties from the earthquake and tsunami are still increasing steadily, however. Indonesia confirmed 3,000 more deaths today, pushing the death toll throughout the region past 153,000 lives.

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