Frosty response to Brown's debt relief proposals

Tensions emerged within the Group of Seven at the weekend over Gordon Brown's initiative, launched last week, to speed up debt relief for the poorest countries. Although the IMF said it would explore the Chancellor's proposals, the German government in particular gave a frosty response to his plan for faster cuts in interest repayments that threaten to overwhelm some developing nations.

A German spokesman said: "Mr Brown can certainly present his position. But we are not familiar with it. We shall have to wait and see." Campaigners, led by the Jubilee 2000 coalition, reacted with a warning that according to United Nations figures 21 million children would die in Africa alone, for lack of money for sanitation and basic health care, if the rich governments did not agree to provide debt relief by the year 2000.

Spokeswoman Ann Pettifor said: "Mr Waigel, Mr Rubin and Mr Mitsuzuka, the finance ministers of Germany, the US and Japan, should bear these appalling human costs in mind as they debate in Hong Kong, and should follow the lead given by Gordon Brown."

She pointed out that Germany had been granted massive debt relief by the international community after the Second World War, yet it was now dragging its heels on far more modest assistance for countries like Mozambique trying to recover after a war.

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