Punishing aid tour drives tired Clinton to take a break

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The Independent US

Was it bad weather or was it exhaustion? As Bill Clinton met aid officials in the Maldives yesterday, his aides were delivering mixed messages as to what caused the former US president to cut short his schedule to visit parts of the archipelago devastated by the tsunami.

Was it bad weather or was it exhaustion? As Bill Clinton met aid officials in the Maldives yesterday, his aides were delivering mixed messages as to what caused the former US president to cut short his schedule to visit parts of the archipelago devastated by the tsunami.

Mr Clinton, who had heart bypass surgery in September last year and had another operation in March to remove fluid and scar tissue, held a series of private meetings with UN officials about efforts to increase aid and to lure tourists back to the Maldives. He was later due to meet local business and political leaders.

On Saturday afternoon, having met with the Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mr Clinton's party announced that he would not be meeting tsunami survivors on the island of Funadhoo as had been scheduled. Funadhoo was one of the country's worst-hit areas.

Some of Mr Clinton's aides blamed the cancellation on poor weather, while others said the former president was exhausted and needed to rest. "He is disappointed. He wanted to go," said Erskine Bowles, Mr Clinton's former chief of staff and now his deputy in his role as special UN envoy for tsunami recovery. "But we'll be back."

Cherie Hart, a regional UN spokeswoman, said that Mr Clinton was not sick but was simply too tired to speak with the survivors and review recovery efforts. "[He is] just plain pooped and he wants to slow his schedule down," she said.

But in New York, the UN spokesman Brendan Varma said the trip to Funadhoo had been cancelled because of the weather. In the Maldives - a group of small, low-lying islands off southern India - the monsoon season is starting and the country's meteorology department had forecast intermittent rain showers and moderate seas on Sunday.

"He is not exhausted," said Mr Varma. "He is doing fine and he is going to continue with his busy schedule of meetings."

Mr Bowles said Mr Clinton, on a four-day visit to India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, was today scheduled to visit the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh - perhaps the city hardest hit by the 26 December earthquake and tsunami, which left more than 175,000 people confirmed dead and a further 50,000 missing.

The tsunami devastated the Maldives, which is now trying to resurrect its tourism industry. The country needs an estimated $406m (£222m) for reconstruction over the next three years, but has so far it has received only $79m in aid.

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