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Spain to focus EU Presidency on helping Haiti

Sat 16th Jan 2010

The Spanish Prime Minister's first trip abroad since assuming the 6 month term in the European Union presidency began on Thursday with a focus on providing aid to earthquake-stricken Haiti.

During a joint press conference in Vienna with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Zapatero urged EU citizens and governments to step up relief efforts. He mentioned how the quake, which measured 7.0 on the richter scale brought "great consequences of devastation and death."

"The international community must respond," Zapatero said. "Europe will do so and is doing so. The Spanish (EU) presidency is mobilizing every resource and capability" to address the catastrophe in the Americas' poorest country.

The PM suggested that the EU might send military personnel to take part in reconstruction efforts in Haiti, noting that the Spanish army emergency-response unit based in Panama has already sent a team to the Caribbean nation to evaluate the situation.

Zapatero said a military plane left Madrid at midnight Wednesday carrying rescue personnel and equipment as well as Spain's secretary of state for Ibero-America, Juan Pablo de Laiglesia.

A Hercules transport aircraft is also en route from Spain to Haiti with medical supplies and a medical team is expected to take off from Barajas for Port-au-Prince later Thursday, the prime minister said.

He also intends to speak with the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, to organize the EU's response to the disaster.

Chancellor Faymann announced that Austria have also sent teams to assist efforts to rescue thousands of Haitians thought to remain trapped in collapsed buildings.

Haiti's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, said the death toll from the quake could be in excess of 100,000.

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