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    Donor's Pledge Billions for Rebuilding Lebanon

    Lisa Bryant

    Lebanon's embattled government received a generous boost Thursday when donors meeting in Paris pledged more than $7.5 billion in assistance, including loans. Lisa Bryant has more on the meeting for VOA from the French capital.

    Saudi Arabia pledged the biggest chunk of money - $1 billion in development funding, along with another $100 million grant to the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. But pledges kept rolling in Thursday, as representatives from more than 30 nations met at a donors' conference in Paris.

    France, which is hosting the conference, pledged $650 million in loans to Lebanon, which is staggering under a massive, $40 billion public debt. The European Union separately pledged $649 million in loans and aid. And the United States has announced plans to triple its economic aid to Lebanon, to $770 million in new assistance.

    At a news conference in Paris with Prime Minister Siniora and American business leaders, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rebuffed suggestions the aid was specifically designed to shore up Siniora's government, which is facing serious challenges from the Lebanese opposition. But, she said, it comes with some conditions.

    "Clearly, this is a package that is for Lebanon and that is extremely important to understand. Lebanon is a democracy. That said, Lebanon is also undertaking some important economic reforms that are critical to making any of this work. And it's not unusual that donors would expect that those reforms are going to continue as the donor community responds to the needs," said Rice.

    The donors are competing against the dollars being handed out to ordinary Lebanese by the Lebanon-based militia group Hezbollah. They are also contending with alleged interference in Lebanon by Iran and Syria and the larger backdrop of violence in the Middle Eastern nation. Hezbollah representatives were not invited to the Paris conference.

    As he opened Thursday's meeting, French President Jacques Chirac recalled the ongoing unrest - which included fresh clashes Thursday between pro- and anti-government factions.

    President Chirac said the dramatic events in Lebanon underscore the absolute necessity for the Lebanese state to affirm its authority across all its territory, as a sovereign and independent state. Today, he said, the aim of the international community is to give Lebanon every chance to modernize in the long term.

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