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Iran summit urges aid for Afghanistan, Gaza

ECO urges members to increase reconstruction speed

Members of the regional Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) meeting at a summit in Tehran on Wednesday urged the rapid rebuilding of violence-wracked Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip.

"The ECO urges its members to increase the speed of reconstruction in Afghanistan," said an official statement released at the end of the summit.

It said the ECO "sympathizes" with the people of Gaza following the three-week Israeli war on the impoverished Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory in December-January that left 1,300 Palestinians dead and 13 Israelis.

"(ECO) strongly urges the international community to prevent such a human tragedy from happening again, to bring the situation there to normal and to get access to Gaza in order to provide humanitarian aid."

The one-day summit of ECO -- a regional organization founded in 1985 by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey -- focused on the global financial crisis and its impact on the region.

It was attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari and Turkish President Abdullah Gul, along with leaders of other members such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara also attended as guests.

Financial crisis

In his opening speech, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the United States and other world powers of creating an "unfair" economic order which triggered the global financial crisis.

"Capitalism as a system has failed. The economic order is unfair and irresponsible. Unfortunately nations of the world have to pay the cost of inefficient policies of certain nations," he said.

Ahmadinejad, known for his anti-U.S. tirades, called on ECO members to overcome the "threats" posed by the financial crisis and transform them into "opportunities."

"The threat of unfair international order can be changed to create a safe economic situation for our countries" by developing trade between ECO states, Ahmadinejad said.

Ahmadinejad himself has come under fire in Iran over his expansionary economic policies that have fuelled inflation.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, initially said it was immune from the global financial crisis. But it is now facing falling revenue after oil prices plunged by $100 from $147 a barrel in July on weakening international fuel demand.

Karzai urged ECO members to help Kabul fight drug smuggling. "I have to accept the bitter truth that my country is the centre of opium production," he said.

"The people of Afghanistan are the true victims of terrorism and there is a direct link between drug smuggling and terrorism. We want the members to help us in combating them."

Capitalism as a system has failed. The economic order is unfair and irresponsible. Unfortunately nations of the world have to pay the cost of inefficient policies of certain nations

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Drug problem

Iran is suffering from the effects of opium production in Afghanistan, with easily available heroin fuelling a rise in drug use.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed to the drug problem last week when she said the Islamic republic would be invited to a March 31 global meeting aimed at helping to restore stability in Afghanistan.

Shiite Iran, which has close ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan, has also opposed the Sunni Muslim extremist Taliban militia, which is waging an insurgency in Afghanistan.

Karzai's visit comes as Iran, which supported the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks of 2001, is considering attending the March 31 conference.

Zardari also urged ECO members to help Afghanistan fight terrorism.

"The ECO has a special responsibility towards Afghanistan. Let us give our efforts a strong impetus" in this direction, he said, adding that Islamabad was itself "building a deep relation of trust and understanding" with Kabul.

Turkey's Gul, meanwhile, called for "lowering custom tariffs" between ECO members in a bid to liberalize cross-border trade.