4.5 billion dollars pledged at Georgia donors' conference

Georgia was Wednesday promised a higher-than- expected 4.55 billion dollars in aid over the next three years to help it recover from its 5-day war with Russia, reported dpa.

Pledges were made by some 40 countries and 15 international organizations attending a donors' conference in Brussels.

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

"We are deeply moved and humbled by the demonstration of solidarity and support that we have received," said Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, noting that the pledges were being made as governments around the world were struggling to contain the effects of a global financial crisis.

The premier also moved to reassure foreign taxpayers that the aid would not be misspent.

"Every single, euro, dollar and pound will make Georgia stronger, more prosperous, freer, more democratic and more genuinely and thoroughly European and will alleviate, to a significant degree, the human suffering that has resulted in the aftermath of the August 7 conflict," Gurgenidze said.

"This is a day of joy," said EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who jointly hosted the conference with the World Bank.

Of the 4.5 billion dollars pledged on Wednesday, 2 billion dollars will be in grants and the remaining in low-interest loans covering the 2008-10 period, officials said.

The United States and the European Commission emerged as the biggest single contributors, respectively providing 1 billion dollars and "up to" 500 million euros (642 million dollars) each.

And while not all countries wished to divulge their individual contributions, diplomats in Brussels said Germany had pledged nearly 70 million euros, about as much as Sweden. Norway pledged 30 million euros while France, whose president brokered the peace deal that ended the August conflict, pledged 7 million euros.

World Bank Vice-President Shigeo Katsu said it was now important for countries to move on from pledges to actual disbursements and to getting projects on the ground started.

This year's growth projections for Georgia's economy have been cut from 9 per cent to 3.5 per cent as a result of the August conflict, which also produce 127,000 new internally displaced people fleeing in and around the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

At the start of the conference, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said European countries had "a moral imperative" to help their neighbours in need.

But experts say earthly considerations also played a key role.

Two pipelines carrying oil and gas from the Caspian region to Turkey currently cross Georgia. And in an effort to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, the EU is working on extending the Baku-Erzurum pipeline with a planned Nabucco pipeline that will eventually deliver gas to the heart of Europe, in Austria.

The EU is also trying to bring Georgia closer to Europe by providing visa facilities to its citizens and by trying to arrange a free-trade deal with the government.

Russia was not invited to Wednesday's conference.

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