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Japan pledges $500 million in tsunami aid
Updated: 2005-01-01 22:24

Japan pledged up to $500 million in grant aid for tsunami disaster relief on Saturday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced, making the country the largest single donor to victims of the catastrophe.

The Japanese announcement came a day after US President Bush increased the U.S. pledge tenfold to $350 million. Tokyo's promise put Asia's wealthiest economy at the top of the global donor effort to help countries recover from the disaster that has killed at least 123,000 people from Malaysia to Somalia and has left millions homeless.

Koizumi, in a statement, said Japan would extend the aid directly to affected countries and international organizations. He also said he would attend an aid conference next week in Jakarta to "express Japan's determination to extend the maximum possible assistance commensurate with its responsibilities as a fellow Asia partner."

While Japan's economy has suffered since the 1990s and Tokyo has watched China grow rapidly to rival its influence in Asia, Japan remains world's second largest economy after the United States.

It has also been eager in recent years to assume a more prominent diplomatic role in line with its wealth. It is currently campaigning for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and has dispatched troops to support coalitions fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tokyo has also hosted aid conferences for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in Tokyo and meetings on developing Africa.

The government has yet to work out how the funds will be dispensed, the Foreign Ministry said. The $500 million is an upward limit on Japan's donation "for the time being," Koizumi's statement said.

It includes the more than $30 million in emergency aid Tokyo promised to Asian nations shortly after the disaster.

Koizumi also vowed Japanese technical help in building a tsunami warning system for the countries lining the Indian Ocean.

As the Japanese origin of the word "tsunami" implies, Japan has a long history of coping with deadly quake-triggered waves.

One of the earliest recorded tsunami was a wall of water that leveled a building around a giant statue of a Buddha in 1498. Japan's most devastating tsunami in recent history struck in 1896, killing more than 21,000 people.

To limit casualties, Japan has set up a network of fiber-optic sensors that records any seismic activity around the archipelago and passes the information to a powerful computer at the Meteorological Agency.

The computer instantly estimates the height, speed and arrival time of any tsunamis and the coastal areas most at risk, enabling the agency to sound an alarm within two minutes of a quake.

Japan will propose discussing setting up a new tsunami warning system at a disaster reduction conference to be held in the Japanese city of Kobe, itself rocked by a deadly earthquake in 1995, later this month.

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