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Zardari Back in Flood-Stricken Pakistan After Foreign Tour


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has returned home from an overseas trip to face harsh criticism for traveling abroad while millions of Pakistanis are struggling to cope with the country's worst-ever flooding.

Mr. Zardari arrived in the southern city of Karachi Tuesday from Syria, where on Monday he met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on the final leg of a trip that also took him to Britain and France.

Critics have questioned why the Pakistani President went on his trip while floodwaters engulfed large parts of the country, killing at least 1,600 people. Mr. Zardari has been a ceremonial president since parliament stripped him of most of his powers in April.

Also Tuesday, the United Nations says the international community must speed up its humanitarian response to devastating floods in Pakistan that have affected nearly 14 million people.

U.N. officials in Islamabad said financial assistance for Pakistan has not been adequate. U.N. spokeswoman Ishrat Rizvi said that international donors have transferred $27 million to the world body and pledged another $60 million for aid efforts. The U.N. estimates that Pakistan needs hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with immediate humanitarian problems, and that the country's long-term reconstruction will cost billions of dollars.

Relief agency Oxfam International said Tuesday the floods are a "mega" disaster that require a "mega" world response. It said only five international donors have committed or pledged more than $5 million in response to the floods - the United States, Australia, Britain, Italy and Kuwait.

Pakistan's northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has been the hardest hit by the floods that began two weeks ago and have killed more than 1,600 people. The provinces of Sindh and Punjab also have been affected. Many flood victims say they have not received any government assistance.

The U.S. defense department says U.S. forces have rescued 2,305 people and delivered 95,000 kilograms of aid so far. Weather conditions improved Tuesday, allowing helicopters, including U.S. aircraft, to resume relief flights in flood-stricken areas.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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