Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has used his annual New Year's speech to widen his appeal for debt reduction in the Indian Ocean countries devastated by Sunday's earthquake and tsunami.
The chancellor devoted most of his speech to the tsunami disaster
In an advance copy of his annual New Year's speech, Schröder called for rich countries to relieve debt and form partnerships with countries hit by the disaster.
"Germany, through the European Union, will push the United Nations and the World Bank to help these countries in an efficient and unbureaucratic way. For me, that includes reducing the debts of these countries," he said. "I want there to be lasting aid for the region. I want us to feel a responsibility over a long period."
Schröder has already proposed a moratorium on debt owed by Indonesia and Somalia, but his new appeal now includes other affected countries.
French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday told his government to push the Paris Club of creditor nations to put a moratorium on debt payments owed by some of the 11 Asian countries which were hit by the disaster.
Canada has already done so, with Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew saying the moratorium would help the battered Asian nations dealwith both the immediate crisis and their long-term rebuilding efforts.
A spokesman for the US Agency for International Development had said Wednesday that Washington was "open to all kinds of ideas" on debt reduction.
In his speech dedicated almost entirely to the flood catastrophe, Schröder also called for stronger bilateral partnerships between industrial nations and the nations hit by the tsunamis.
In these photos released Thursday, the shoreline of Banda Aceh in Indonesia, is shown on June 23, 2004, above, and Dec. 28, 2004, below, after the tsunami attack.
"I envisage that all the big industrial countries each take responsibility for one nation. Also Germany. Our states for corresponding areas there. Our cities for their cities and our villages for their villages," Schröder said in the speech.
"German schools and children, supported by their parents, could sponsor schools over there. This would show that we want to go much further than pledging money -- which is of course important --and that we understand our responsibility as long-term."
Schröder, calling the tsunami disaster the "worst natural catastrophe in human memory", said he would present the plan to other members of the European Union.
Reforms to continue
The chancellor touched only briefly on matters of domestic policy, painting an optimistic picture for 2005.
"Our reform course will continue decisively in the year ahead," Schröder said, adding that the reforms already passed in 2004 will "keep Germany on the road to success."
France's conservative UMP was the big winner in the second round of the country's local elections. The governing Socialists suffered huge losses, while the right-wing National Front also came off worse than expected.
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