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France's Chirac Hails Airline Tax to Fight Poverty


French President Jacques Chirac is urging the international community to adopt an airline tax to bankroll programs to fight poverty and disease.

Speaking at the start of the two-day Paris meeting, President Chirac said France planned to begin imposing the airline tax as of July.

Addressing representatives of 95 countries gathered at the conference, Chirac called the French tax on air flights a simple and neutral experiment. He said the tax revenues, estimated to be about $240 million this year, would be spent on programs to fight malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

Chirac has been lobbying the international community to adopt the airline tax initiative for the past few years. In France, passengers taking flights, as of July 1, will pay an extra $1.20 to about $47 a ticket, depending on the class and distance they fly. France and Brazil, another supporter of the tax, hope to establish an international facility to purchase drugs for HIV/AIDS patients in developing nations.

A number of other countries also support the tax. So does U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who praised Mr. Chirac in Paris for showing leadership in finding innovative financing sources to fight a host of development challenges in poorer countries. Only one other country, Chile, has followed France in taking concrete steps in imposing an airline tariff.

The concept remains controversial. Airline companies oppose the tax, arguing it places another burden on the financially troubled industry. The United States is also against the idea of a mandatory tax. But Chirac hopes up to 20 nations attending the Paris conference will sign up to the initiative.

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