World leaders convened in Jakarta Thursday to determine the best way to speed aid to millions of tsunami victims amid warnings that disease could double the estimated death toll of 150,000. While nearly $4 billion has been pledged worldwide, the UN has warned that some promises might not be honored, as in previous disasters. The Iranian city of Bam, hit with an earthquake that killed some 30,000 a year ago, has seen only $17 million of the $1 billion promised in foreign aid, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said.
China's population crossed the 1.3 billion mark with the birth of a baby boy in a Beijing maternity ward Thursday. The world's most populous country used the occasion to tout its controversial one-child policy, which was imposed about 30 years ago after a post-World War II baby boom. China says the policy has made possible its stable economic growth, but commentators worry that the sharp drop in China's birthrate will lead to problems as a smaller pool of young workers is left to support a large population of retirees. Human rights organizations have raised concerns over the policy, which imposes heavy fines, job losses, and forced sterilization on couples with unsanctioned children.
A modern Marshall Plan would provide urgently needed aid and debt relief for the world's poorest nations, Britain's Treasury chief Gordon Brown said Thursday. The plan, modeled after the US-led distribution of grants to devastated European countries in the wake of World War II, would allow Africa's poorest nations and Asian countries affected by the tsunami to focus funds on the development of health and education systems and reconstruction efforts.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called Ariel Sharon a partner for peace, pledging Thursday to pursue talks with Israel following the Jan. 9 presidential election he is widely expected to win. Two days after Abbas characterized Israel as the "Zionist enemy" following an Israeli retaliatory attack that killed seven Palestinian youths, Abbas said Palestinians were ready and willing to enter negotiations, which he believed would succeed. Some dismissed Abbas's militant rhetoric as a preelection effort to gain the support of hard-liner Palestinian groups that have rejected his call for an end to violence.