Overwhelmed Pakistan appeals for money and aid supplies

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The Independent Online

General Musharraf said his country needed medicine, tents, cargo helicopters and financial assistance to help hundreds of thousand of survivors of the 7.6-magnitude quake that devastated parts of Pakistan and India, killing thousands.

"We do seek international assistance ... we need financial support." He added that supplies were needed "to reach out to people in far-flung and cut-off areas".

He spoke in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, before leaving on a tour of quake-ravaged areas.

He also appealed to Nato forces in neighbouring Afghanistan to divert some of their military might to aid in massive relief and rescue efforts getting under way.

"If it's in your power, United Kingdom, United States, we are asking helicopters from you," he said.

Afghanistan's government responded to the plea by announcing it planned to send four of its military helicopters to Pakistan today with 51 doctors and five nurses aboard.

"The president has ordered the military to do what it can to help quake victims in Pakistan," the Defence Ministry spokesman, General Mohammed Zaher Azimi, said.

Use of military helicopters was crucial to rushing aid to victims of last December's tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude 9.0 quake and killed 200,000 people in 11 countries across Asia and Africa.

The European Union on Sunday committed £2.5m in primary emergency relief. This will cover emergency medical services and supplies, shelter, food and drinking water, sanitation, and basic household equipment to make sure the survivors of the quake will get help as soon as possible.

"We have a duty to get help as quickly as possible to the people whose lives have been turned upside down," the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Louis Michel, said.

The appalling loss of life has offered an opportunity to traditional foes India and Pakistan to cement their recently improved relations.

Within hours of Saturday's earthquake, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke with General Musharraf by telephone to offer relief and rescue assistance to his country.

In turn, General Musharraf offered to help India in any way that his country could even though most of the deaths, running into tens of thousands, occurred in Pakistani Kashmir.

"This is a tragedy that will provide both of them an opportunity to share their concerns and offer help to each other," said N M Prusty, the head of emergency relief at the international aid agency Care's India office.

"History shows that at the time of natural disasters we have come together in this region," he told The Associated Press.

Pakistan and India were also able to test some of the recent confidence-building measures reached during the numerous rounds of the peace talks. India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran used for the first time a newly installed telephone hot line to speak with his Pakistani counterpart, Riaz Mohammed Khan, to convey sympathy and offers of aid.

The United States, which has a major military operation in Afghanistan, said it would provide eight military helicopters to get emergency relief to affected communities and two C-130 transport planes with blankets, tents and other supplies.

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