President Musharraf expresses gratitude for international aid

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf acknowledged initial delays in his government's response to the devastating earthquake, but said the relief operation is now in full swing and thanked the international community for swiftly sending aid.

Musharraf said the situation had improved since the early hours of the crisis, with roads to affected areas now open, helicopters flying supplies to the quake zone and experts studying satellite photographs to assess the damage.

The president said 23,000 people had died, though estimates by other government officials put the toll much higher, at between 35,000 and 40,000. Some 450 soldiers were killed and 700 were injured, Musharraf said.

He expressed gratitude for supplies and financial assistance that are pouring into Pakistan as it struggles to assist millions of people left homeless and hungry by Saturday's 7.6-magnitude quake.

About 30 countries have pledged assistance, and Musharraf mentioned many of them, including Turkey, Britain, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, France, Japan and the United States. He also thanked India, which sent aid despite a longtime rivalry.

He said authorities initially had no idea of the breadth of the disaster, at first focusing on an apartment building in Islamabad that collapsed, burying dozens of people.

Now aircraft, including U.S. helicopters, are flying missions and the Pakistani military has mobilized troops for relief work, he said. The main opposition Pakistan People's Party said the delays in relief efforts were evidence of "sheer incompetence and abysmal failure of crisis management" on the part of Musharraf's government, AP reports.

А. А.

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