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Germany

Schröder Rejects Sending Jobless to Tsunami Areas

Chancellor Schröder has dismissed plans to send unemployed Germans to Tsunami-stricken areas to help with reconstruction as unrealistic and criticized those questioning Berlin's ability to provide €500 million in aid.

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Is South Asia the answer to unemployed construction workers?

Responding to proposals by opposition politicians that German jobless could aid in rebuilding those regions hit by the South Asian tsunami disaster, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in a television interview that such ideas were unserious. He pointed out that helpers should not only be technical experts, but also need to have a decent command of English or the local languages.

"I think the emphasis should be on using the experts from the countries affected by the Tsunamis," Schröder told German public television on Sunday. "And we’re talking about skilled and highly motivated personnel, there’s no lack of expertise and manpower that would have to be compensated from outside on a massive scale."

Opposition Liberal Democrat deputy chief Rainer Brüderle had earlier proposed sending unemployed Germans to the disaster area to help rebuild there. He said many people currently on the dole would be willing to go there and face greater chances of employment upon their return back home.

Brüderle’s suggestion was backed by Christian Democrat Peter Harry Carstensen in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. He too believes that many of Germany’s over four million unemployed could be of use in the countries hit by the Tsunamis, calling on the government to promote special short-term working contracts with jobless volunteers.

Various aid organizations have dismissed the opposition’s proposal as being utterly unfeasible. However, Germany’s central labor agency in Nuremberg maintains that there are quite a number of experts among the country’s unemployed who would easily meet all the requirements for a reconstruction mission in South Asia.

Debate over aid financing

Pressekonferenz Joscha Fischer und Gerhard Schröder Seebeben

Foreign Minister Joscka Fischer, left, and Chancellor Schröder at a press conference on Jan. 5 pledge €500 million for relief aid.

Schröder also called on the opposition to end the debate over the volume of the reconstruction aid as promised by the government. He said conservatives had no reason to worry over how Berlin would raise the €500 million ($674 million) it has pledged.

"This year we’ve got a budget of €251 billion. If we were to provide the €500 million in reconstruction aid in 2005, then this would amount to 0.2 percent of the budget," said Schröder. "But I’ve made it clear from the start that we’re going to allocate the money in question over a period of up to five years. So, we’re talking about a meager 0.04 percent a year, just to put things in perspective."

Two conservative state premiers, Edmund Stoiber in Bavaria and Christian Wulff in Lower Saxony have both called into question how Germany will finance its aid pledge. That in turn has led some Social Democrats to label them as being hardhearted to those affected by the disaster.

"I've rarely seen -- and you know I pay close attention to money -- such bean counting as I have from Mr. Wulff and Mr. Stoiber regarding the flood catastrophe," German Finance Minister Hans Eichel said according to the Reuters news agency.

At a memorial service in commemoration of the Tsunami victims in Berlin on Sunday, state and church leaders said they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with all who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Sixty Germans are confirmed dead and some 700 are still unaccounted for. The overall death toll has topped 150,000 by most estimates.

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