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First lady pledges funding for Buddhas

Thursday, May 16, 2002

PARIS -- First lady Laura Bush said Wednesday she would hit up wealthy friends in Texas for money to help restore Afghanistan's two towering Buddhas blasted to rubble by the Taliban last year.

On a tour of an Afghan exhibit at the Musee Guimet, she also called on her husband's administration to help salvage Afghanistan's art.

With the exhibit traveling next to Tokyo and to her own native Texas, Mrs. Bush said her friends back home would be hearing from her.

"I know a number of philanthropists in Houston who probably would be very generous in donating to a restoration of the Buddhas and I think that's very important."

Aides said they did not know just whom she had in mind.

There is some precedent for her arm-twisting: When it came to getting money for school uniforms for Afghan girls, Mrs. Bush said she called Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and lobbied for the project.

As for her message to President Bush, the first lady told reporters: "I think there is a role for our government as well, as we work to rebuild Afghanistan, to pay attention to the art and the culture and the history of Afghanistan."

Mrs. Bush also called on Afghan warlords to make sure the pieces that have been found and stashed are preserved.

"We're certainly playing an active role in trying to encourage the warlords to keep these relics if they're found, and make a museum in their own community to show people when they come there what the history of their country is and what their very, very long and diverse heritage is," Mrs. Bush said.

Leaving the Guimet, she went to the apartment of a former colleague of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

There, Mrs. Bush met for nearly an hour with Pearl's widow, Mariane.

They talked about terrorism in Pakistan, where Pearl was kidnapped and killed earlier this year.


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