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    Bush Launches Fundraising Drive for Tsunami Victims

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    President Bush has launched a nationwide fundraising effort to encourage private contributions for relief groups helping those affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

    President Bush says the new fundraising effort will be led by two former presidents, his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, and the last president from the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton.

    Accompanied by the two men in the White House Roosevelt Room, Mr. Bush said he is grateful to the former presidents for taking on such an important responsibility.

    "In the coming days, President Clinton and Bush will ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims," the president said. "Many of these organizations have dispatched experts to the disaster area and they have an in-depth understanding of the resources required to meet the needs on the ground."

    President Bush says Americans are already showing their generosity through contributions to aid groups. He hopes this new effort targeting both individuals and corporations will further complement official U.S. assistance.

    "From our own experiences, we know that nothing can take away the grief of those affected by tragedy," he said. "We also know that Americans have a history of rising to meet great humanitarian challenges and of providing hope to suffering peoples. As men and women across the devastated region begin to rebuild, we offer our sustained compassion and our generosity and our assurance that America will be there to help."

    President Bush last week promised $350 million in U.S. government assistance for affected countries. That is ten times the $35 million that Washington initially pledged.

    That first amount drew some criticism, considering the size and wealth of the United States when compared to other countries' contributions. There was also some criticism of the president himself for not cutting short his Texas vacation and returning to Washington.

    Now back at the White House, President Bush is starting the first week of the year with a big push on tsunami relief efforts. He has dispatched a U.S. delegation to the region led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and the president's brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

    After launching the new fundraising effort, President Bush and former presidents Bush and Clinton visited the embassies of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand to sign condolence books for those killed.

    In an interview with NBC television, President Clinton says the Sri Lankan ambassador told them of an airstrip covered in crates where one of the challenges now is distributing aid that has already arrived. President Clinton says that is why cash contributions are often more useful.

    "If you give money, even if it is a small amount of money, it will aggregate up," the former president said. "They will send it to the aid agencies on the ground and then they will spend it right there for what is most needed. And you won't have to worry about the cost and the time delay of physically getting other things overseas."

    Both former presidents say they are in this fundraising effort for the long haul and hope Americans realize that any amount of assistance, no matter how small, will help someone somewhere.

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