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UN Puts Democracy Fund into Action

The United Nations has launched a democracy promotion fund to help developing countries strengthen democratic institutions.

President Bush introduced the idea of a Democracy Fund in 2004. Secretary-General Kofi Annan took up the cause last year, and world leaders endorsed the concept at the U.N. anniversary summit.

The fund began work Monday with a closed meeting of the 17-member advisory board that will provide policy guidance and recommend funding proposals.

The Democracy Fund operates differently from development aid programs in that it will not impose projects on a country, but will accept proposals from the countries themselves.

The operation is beginning with an initial $32-million budget, almost all of it donated by three countries, the United States, India and Australia. Another $8 million has been pledged by the government of Qatar.

Washington's U.N. ambassador John Bolton came out of Monday's meeting calling the fund a rare opportunity to start afresh with projects that produce tangible results in advancing democracy.

"We have lot of meetings at the U.N., we write documents the U.N. , we do a lot of studies at the U.N," said John Bolton. "We'd like to see practical, tangible ,concrete outcomes that go beyond meetings and papers and analyses. So that's what we're going to be suggesting as we continue our deliberations and look at the opening suggestions for projects. This is something that we think could have an impact in real world, and it's a high priority for the United States to make this fund a success."

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Gunther Pleuger said his government hopes to see the fund produce measurable results more quickly than traditional aid programs.

"We expect the fund to act quickly to come out with concrete projects that make a difference on the ground," said Gunther Pleuger. "We would like to see projects that make a difference and can be put to use quickly."

Another advisory board member, Benin's U.N. ambassador Simon B. Idohou, said he was encouraged that the Democracy Fund could help in strengthening efforts to decentralize power, which he called a "great national project" for his west African country. He pointed proudly to Benin's presidential elections held Sunday.

Ambassador Idohou called the fund a great thing for what he called "young democracies" - countries that have recently adopted new ways of organizing their societies and which need help in establishing democratic structures.