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Europe

International Donors Pledge 3.5 Billion Euros to Georgia

International donors meeting in Brussels on Wednesday pledged 3.5 billion euros ($4.5 billion) to help Georgia recover from its war with Russia, the EU Commission announced Wednesday.

A Georgian woman cries in front of her destroyed apartment building in the city of Gori

The funds will help rebuild ordinary people's homes in Georgia

The higher-than-expected sum, which included 2.8 billion euros of public funding, was described by EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner as impressive "especially in difficult times."

The total far exceeded the $3.2 billion that the World Bank had estimated Georgia would need to rebuild its infrastructure, settle its refugees and get its economy back on track.

Georgian Premier Lado Gurgenidze

Georgian Premier Lado Gurgenidze was satisfied with the conference's result

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, who attended the one-day donor conference in Brussels, told reporters afterwards that his country was "deeply moved and humbled by the demonstration of solidarity that we have received."

"$4.5 billion far exceeds the expectations that we had ...At a time like this to show such support is something that no Georgian will ever forget," Gurgenidze said.

US the biggest donor

The United States, which pledged a billion dollars over three years, was the biggest donor at the meeting of 67 nations and major financial institutions, followed by substantial donations from the European Commission and Japan.

EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said the global community had a "moral imperative" to help conflict-hit Georiga as he spoke of the Commission's pledge of 500 million euros over three years for reconstruction.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner with French Foreign Minister Bernhard Kouchner

Ferrero-Waldner, right, with France's Foreign Minister Kouchner at the donor conference

Japan pledged $200 million in aid over three years, while the International Monetary Fund has promised a 750-million-euro financial package. Germany's Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler announced 33.7 million euros while Sweden, according to a Japanese aide, pledged 40 million euros. France offered seven million euros.

The funds are to be used exclusively for civilian purposes such as rebuilding transport and energy infrastructure. The hope is to restore economic growth in Georgia to pre-conflict levels of more than 10 percent by 2010.

Continuing tensions

Russia launched military attacks against Georgia in early August, after Tbilisi used military force against ethnic Russian separatists in South Ossetia.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later told an American television network that he suspected Washington of encouraging the Georgian offensive, which coincided with the Democratic primary, in an attempt to influence the course of US national elections.

Washington denied the charge. Russia has since recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The West, as well as Tbilisi, has staunchly insisted that they remain part of Georgia.

Little hope for the displaced

Although funds donated could, theoretically, also be directed toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there is little chance of that happening while the two breakaway regions are under de facto Russia control.

Fighting between the various sides in the conflict left some 65,000 people displaced, among them around 30,000 ethnic Georgians forced to leave the breakaway regions.

Refugees in a camp in Georgia

Refugees have little chance at present of going home

But the European Commission has said the prospects of such people ever returning to their homes are extremely bleak.

Meanwhile, the Georgian government has welcomed financial assistance to compensate for war damage suffered by its citizenry and to revive the country's economy.

Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili earlier told the AFP news agency that aid money would be spent "so that Georgia is back on track as the economic success story that we used to be prior to the war."

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