G20 offers Egypt, Tunisia help, not blessing

Reuters, Saturday 19 Feb 2011

The world's major economies pledged to help Egypt and Tunisia with economic reforms on Saturday

The world's major economies pledged to help Egypt and Tunisia with economic reforms on Saturday but Saudi Arabia and China prevented the Group of 20 from welcoming democratic uprisings in the two countries.

"We stand ready to support Egypt and Tunisia, with responses at the appropriate time well coordinated with the international institutions and the regional development banks, to accompany reforms designed to the benefit of the whole population and the stabilisation of their economies," G20 finance chiefs said in a statement after a two-day meeting in Paris.

G20 president France had urged the main developed and emerging economies to welcome change in the north African Arab states and offer resources to help their interim governments in an orderly transition to democracy.

But delegates said the wording of the draft communique was considerably watered down to remove any reference to the popular uprisings or to democracy, but leave the offer of help.

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said the global lender stood ready to help Egypt and Tunisia if asked, but had received no request so far.

The diplomatic wrangle came as authorities in Libya, Bahrain and Yemen used lethal force to try to quash anti-government protests inspired by the popular uprisings that ousted authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt. 

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with no elected parliament, strongly opposed any endorsement of the uprisings that toppled Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, delegates said.

"This sort of talk makes people like the Saudis rather nervous," one Western delegate said. "Understandably, the Chinese are weighing in as well."

"This is the nature of the G20, where we have democracies but also less democratic governments," the delegate said.

Most Western leaders have welcomed the popular wave sweeping North Africa and the Middle East, but analysts are nervous of how further civil unrest, economic disruption and a surge in migration will affect the rest of the world.

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