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Britain Expects to Spend Hundreds of Millions on Tsunami Relief

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says his country is likely to spend several hundred million dollars for relief and reconstruction in the Asian countries hit by last week's tsunami.

Mr. Blair has used his first extensive interview since the December 26 tsunami to deflect criticism that Britain has not spent enough on disaster relief and that he has not been more visibly involved in dealing with the crisis.

The prime minister told British radio his government expects to send hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Asian region, following some upcoming international conferences on coordinating the world's response to the disaster.

"My estimate is that we will end up needing to spend from government probably several hundred million pounds. So we will far and away more than match the generosity of the British people, though that has been remarkable," Mr. Blair said.

He remarks follow a barrage of media commentary pointing out that, while Mr. Blair was on a year-end vacation in Egypt, the British public donated $143 million to tsunami relief efforts, while the government provided $94 million.

In his interview, Mr. Blair said he hopes the tsunami disaster will not siphon off money that he wants to spend on fighting poverty and disease in Africa, a priority of Britain's current term as leader of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The prime minister notes that Africa suffers 6,000 AIDS-related deaths every day, while 3,000 African children die daily from malaria.

"If you add up all the deaths that happen in a week for children in Africa, it will come to tens and tens of thousands," he said. "Now, these things aren't so visible to us as the impact of the tsunami has been but I think that if we can raise the profile and visibility, hopefully, what will happen is rather than people saying, 'Well, we have to spend all this money looking after the effects of the tsunami,' people will say, "Yes we have to do that but actually, we should take the same spirit of generosity and use it for Africa too.'"

Mr. Blair's interview comes a day after his treasury chief said there is increasing international support for a moratorium on debt repayments by the countries stricken by the tsunami -- an initiative that could free up some $3 billion a year for reconstruction.