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Clinton to sign bill reducing Third World debt

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) -- President Clinton will sign into law Monday a foreign aid bill that includes $435 million to forgive or alleviate the crippling debt burdens of some of the world's poorest nations, the White House said.

Clinton has called the legislation "historic," saying it would boost U.S. leadership in the world and was "manifestly in our interests."

Spokesman Jake Siewert told reporters traveling with Clinton in San Francisco Friday that the signing ceremony would take place at the White House. Key U.S. lawmakers and other leaders in the fight to reduce Third World debt were expected to attend.

On Oct 25, the Senate gave final approval to the $14.9 billion foreign assistance bill in a comfortable bipartisan vote of 65 to 27 after it easily passed in the House of Representatives by a 307-101 vote.

The debt-relief measure, championed by the White House, charity groups and religious and cultural figures from Pope John Paul II to singer Bono of the rock band U2, allows the United States to pay its share under the global Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative to forgive the debts of some 30 Third World countries.

"It will go a long way toward ensuring our leadership for progress and prosperity in the 21st century world," Clinton said after lawmakers agreed to free up the funding.

Leading an international drive to unburden hopelessly indebted Third World countries from onerous interest payments that lock them into a vicious cycle of poverty, Clinton pledged the loan relief two years ago. Until now the Republican-led Congress had balked at fully funding his request.

A provision in the foreign operations bill authorizes the International Monetary Fund to revalue some of its gold reserves to free up about $800 million for additional debt forgiveness.

The foreign operations bill also lifts restrictions on $425 million in U.S. aid for family planning groups that lobby for abortions overseas. However, it blocks disbursement of the funds until Feb. 15, 2001 -- after Clinton leaves office.

The overseas assistance package earmarks $300 million to help fight AIDS in Africa and $100 million for Serbia, provided the government meets certain conditions, including cooperating with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

It also includes $8 million for Yemen, half of which is to help in the hunt for the suicide bombers who attacked an American warship, the USS Cole.

Israel and Egypt are the biggest recipients of U.S. aid in the package, which provides funds for multinational organizations like the World Bank and a raft of overseas policy initiatives from nuclear nonproliferation to family planning.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Saturday, November 4, 2000


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