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EU Boosts Humanitarian Aid to Pakistan

The European Union has pledged millions of dollars in new humanitarian assistance for Pakistanis displaced by fighting between government troops and the Taliban insurgency in the Asian nation. The EU has also raised chances of closer trade ties during its first summit with Pakistan.

During the talks in Brussels, European Union officials offered both moral and financial support to Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU has decided to earmark nearly $90 million in new humanitarian aid for people displaced by the conflict in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley and other areas where the government is fighting a fierce Taliban insurgency.

"I welcome President Zadari's determination to confront militants who have been challenging the authority of the democratically elected government in the northwest frontier province," said Jose Manuel Barroso. "Of course we are aware of the civilian population, of a large number of people in the area in and around the Swat Valley."

Overall, Barroso said, the EU has decided to boost its humanitarian emergency funding to Pakistan more than tenfold, to about $100 million.

The summit is the first ever between the EU and Pakistan and it was marked by warm words on both sides. President Zardari was quick to thank the 27-member organization for its financial assistance.

"I think all steps have been positive," said Asif Ali Zardari. "The fact that democracy has been acknowledged and the engagement of all the countries of the world with Pakistan and a democratic Pakistan is a relief, a positive step and an assurance that no dictator will ever be welcomed in the halls of the EU."

But Mr. Zardari also pushed for greater access to European markets, saying that what he wanted was trade, not aid.

The EU is already among Pakistan's biggest trading partners. And Mr. Barroso held out hope that commercial exchanges could be boosted. He said the EU had outlined ways to increase trade between the two sides and suggested they might hold free trade talks at some point in the future.

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