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World Offers Aid to Burma as Cyclone Death Toll Tops 22,000

The international community is offering aid to military-ruled Burma as the death toll from Saturday's cyclone has risen to nearly 22,500.

The International Red Cross says the revised death toll makes Cyclone Nargis the deadliest storm since 1991. The organization has issued an initial appeal for nearly six million dollars to provide emergency shelter, water, mosquito nets and other items.

A United Nations representative, Rashid Khalikov, director of the office for coordination of humanitarian affairs, says U.N. staffers who were already in Burma are distributing supplies they had stored within the country. He said some supplies are being moved into Burma from regional stockpiles, but no new workers have been granted visas to go in and help.

The spokesman said a number of aid workers from the U.N. and other organizations are waiting in Bangkok, Thailand, for permission to enter Burma.

The U.N. World Food Program said in a statement it has begun distributing 800 tons of supplies from its Burmese warehouses, but so far the aid is mainly going to people in and around Rangoon because coastal regions are still inaccessible.

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement Tuesday calling on Burma to grant visas to foreign journalists to report on the cyclone's aftermath.

Burma's information minister, Kyaw Hsan, says the government will not hide anything. Kway Hsan said the military government is doing all it can and welcomes foreign assistance.

Burma's relief and resettlement minister, Maung Maung Swe, says more people were killed by a three-meter tidal surge than by the cyclone itself.

Burmese officials say the death toll could rise as information comes in from those areas. About 41-thousand people are missing, and hundreds of thousands of people are in need of shelter, food and drinkable water.

The U.N. says an estimated 24 million people live in the areas designated as disaster zones.

The United States, China and the European Union have all pledged cash and emergency supplies. India has dispatched two naval ships with food, tents, blankets and medicine. Thailand delivered its first shipment of food, water, and medical supplies today.

Burma's military leaders have postponed a nationwide referendum on a new constitution in areas hardest hit by the cyclone. But they say the ballot will go ahead in the rest of the country as scheduled on May 10.

Burma's military rulers have said the referendum will clear the way for democratic elections in 2010, but the opposition says the new charter will reinforce military control.