Britain to give £110 million for Arab democracy

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Britain pledged Thursday an extra £110 million ($175 million) to foster fledgling democracies in the Arab world, as other members of the G8 rich nations club wrangled over how much to pledge.

The aid vow came shortly after Prime Minister David Cameron said despite their own economic woes the world's wealthiest nations must help the Middle East and North Africa, or else risk the spread of "poisonous extremism".

Countries to benefit will include Tunisia and Egypt, where popular uprisings have overthrown autocratic regimes in what has become known as the "Arab Spring", as well as Morocco and Jordan, a spokesman for Cameron said.

"This support for the peoples of the Arab world lies at the heart of our national interest. A failure to act risks instability on Europe's doorstep, collapse back into authoritarian rule, conflict and terrorism," he said.

Speaking at the G8 summit in Deauville, France, he said around £40 million of the money pledged over the next four years would go towards promoting political reform while the other £70 million will go on economic development.

"Countries in the region are all facing quite similar economic challenges because they have huge problems with youth unemployment," the spokesman said.

Egypt and Tunisia will be coming to the G8 summit to seek financial aid after the uprisings that toppled presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January and February.

Britain was trying to "encourage" other members of the Group of Eight -- which gathers the world's richest nations -- to commit extra funds at the summit which ends on Friday, British goverment sources said.

One source said the final communique issued by the G8 on Friday may contain a figure on the amount of aid pledged "but it's not at all clear".

Speaking earlier Thursday after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Cameron said he wanted the G8 to send out a message to Arab countries that they would help them build their democracies and their economies.

"The alternative to a successful democracy is more of the poisonous extremism that has done so much damage in our world," Cameron said.

"What I would say to everybody about the issue of overseas aid is that there is a real case for saying that if you can secure greater democracy and freedom in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, that is good for us back at home.

"That will mean less extremism, it will mean more peace and prosperity, it will mean there will not be the pressure on immigration that many otherwise face our country."

At a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Cameron said the United States and Britain would push at the G8 meeting for a "major programme of economic and political support" for Arab countries.

© 2011 AFP

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