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Pakistan leader offers condolences after Indian quake

injured girl
A young woman sits in a hospital in Anjar, India  

Call marks Musharraf's first contact with Vajpayee


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Threat of disease

Complaints lodged

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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Pakistan military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf telephoned Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Friday with his condolences about the massive loss of life and property caused by last week's earthquake, said an Indian government spokesman.

Vajpayee thanked Musharraf for Pakistan's assistance, which has included planeloads of blankets and relief supplies, and said it was greatly appreciated by the Indian people, the spokesman said.

The prime minister assured Musharraf of India's continuing desire to build a good relationship with its neighbor.

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The conversation marked a departure from years of animosity between the two countries. It was the first contact between the two leaders since Musharraf took power in Pakistan in 1999.

Tensions have run high with Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and peace talks have been hold on since 1999 when the neighbors stood on the brink of a fourth war.

"Pakistan and India should seize this opportunity to address the legacy problems, not only to address them but resolve them in the context of humanitarian relief," Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said earlier.

Pakistan has supplied one planeload of blankets for the survivors of the quake and is due to send more. The process may even open the way for direct dialogue, Naji says.

Meanwhile concern mounts in Gujarat state, which was devastated by the quake one week ago, over lack of food, water, shelter and medical attention for survivors.

A lack of coordination is hampering the flow of aid to the quake zone with thousands even lining up for help outside a Red Cross hospital that is not yet operational.

The crowd massed outside a Bhuj college, turned into a pile of twisted concrete by the January 26 earthquake, where volunteers were working frantically to set up a 400-bed hospital they hope to have up and running later on Friday or early Saturday.

No outbreaks have been reported yet, but malaria, cholera and severe diarrhea were among the threats facing the homeless crowded into camps with no running water or toilets and relying on communal kitchens for food.

India's main opposition Congress Party broke a week-long silence Friday to criticise the government for "tardy" relief work.

hands
Earthquake-effected residents of Bhuj, India, reach for free milk packets  

"There should have been better coordination between the government and NGOs (non-governmental organisations). The disbursement of relief by the government has been tardy," said Congress spokesman Anand Sharma.

Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born leader of Congress Party, visited the quake-affected areas last Saturday, a day after the quake ravaged the state.

Housing was destroyed throughout Bhuj, some 20 km (12 miles) from the epicentre of the earthquake which registered 7.9 on the Richter scale

"We will stay as long as we are needed. It could be several months, it could be longer," said Dr Richard Munz of the German Red Cross, which was setting up the hospital along with the Red Cross from Finland, Norway and Japan.

"We expect to see problems caused by a lack of shelter, especially in the outside villages," said Munz.

He was worried about respiratory problems in the young and old caused by being forced to sleep out overnight, when temperatures drop well below 10 degrees Celsius (50 F).

Threat of disease

The private aid group CARE, which is spending aid sent from the U.S., has concentrated on distributing blankets and tents for the last two days, and will set up six field clinics and bring in enough ready-to-eat meals to feed 4,000 families for 20 days, said Alina Labrada, a CARE press officer.

boy
Earthquake survivor Praveen Sumar, 2, hides behind his sister's blouse at a camp outside Bhuj  

Louis Jorge Perez, regional adviser for the World Health Organization's emergency preparedness program, arrived in the quake zone Thursday heading a team of experts who will advise local officials on controlling disease.

Gujarat was already suffering from a severe drought for the second consecutive year, which "will further aggravate the problem of preventing the spread of disease," said P.K. Lahiri, a top bureaucrat in the Gujarat government.

The amount of damaged buildings ranged from 40 percent in some towns to complete destruction in out-of-the-way villages, where aid workers said help was still slow in arriving.

"If this place had been hit by a nuclear bomb it couldn't have been worse. Lane after lane, street after street is razed to the ground," Naji said earlier in Anjar.

Despite astonishing stories of endurance still emerging some international rescue teams made the wrenching decision Thursday to abandon the search for possible earthquake survivors.

cremation
Hindus cremate the bodies of several earthquake victims in Bhuj on Friday  

As British, Russian, Turkish and Japanese crews who arrived in the wake of the quake were leaving, Spanish and French teams were just arriving. At least five people were pulled alive from the rubble in three towns on Wednesday; there was one report of a rescue Thursday.

Rescue workers concede there are likely still a few people trapped alive under ruined buildings, but say they have exhausted their resources.

"It's not an easy decision," said James Brown, who was leaving Thursday with the British team. "The guys have big hearts, they'd carry on forever, but the body can only take so much. If we'd stayed a couple more days we'd rescue one or two more people. Now we'll move into relief and save thousands of lives."

Complaints lodged

Survivors in Ahmedabad have begun lodging complaints against builders, architects and planners, alleging their apartments had collapsed because of shoddy work.

Police commissioner P.C. Panday said investigations had been started into builders of seven apartment blocks over allegations that shoddy materials, poor maintenance and bad planning were behind the collapse of the high-rise buildings.

couple
Newlyweds who survived the quake after being trapped for over 36 hours, share a moment together in Ahmedabad on Friday  

Many buildings collapsed in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat.

Although it has released no official damage estimate, the central government announced a 2 percent income tax hike Thursday to help pay for relief and rebuilding after the quake, India's worst in 50 years.

The U.S. Geological Survey downgraded the quake's initial 7.9 magnitude measurement to 7.7, saying it was a normal adjustment as it examined additional data.

The European Commission, which earlier pledged $2.8 million, announced it was freeing up a further $9.4 million to help the victims. China offered about $600,000, saying it was "very much concerned" about the scale of the disaster. Israel responded with its biggest military disaster-relief mission in two decades.

Meanwhile people in the city of Ahmedabad have been gripped by panic following reports of Hindu astrological predictions of an even more devastating quake.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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