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European Union countries will discuss a request for debt relief from five Sahel countries as part of efforts to help them cope with coronavirus, European Council chief Charles Michel said Tuesday.

After video talks with the leaders of the “G5 Sahel” countries – Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad – Michel said the international community needed to do more to help Africa tackle the pandemic.

Michel said the G5, whose region is on the front line of a nearly eight-year-old onslaught by armed Islamists, had asked for foreign debt to be cancelled.

“We have agreed to have this debate with the (EU) member states, with our international partners — the IMF in particular,” Michel told reporters after the talks.

Africa is seen as particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, with experts fearing the continent’s weak health systems may not be able to stem the spread of the virus.

On the economic front, the slump in demand for minerals and tourism combined with the effect of lockdowns to slow the contagion looks set to hammer African economies.

Michel noted that debt relief for Africa was not a new debate, but said the potentially devastating economic impact of coronavirus put it back on the agenda.

“I think there is a legitimate question, how is it possible to support the African countries by opening this political debate about debt relief,” he said.

The IMF expects Africa’s GDP to shrink by 1.6 percent in 2020 — its worst result ever recorded — while the World Bank has warned the region could slip into its first recession in 25 years.

The G20 grouping of the world’s largest economies agreed earlier this month to a standstill in debt payments for the world’s poorest nations, many of which are in Africa.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that the bloc had announced “194 million additional euros” for G5 security forces as well as delivering basic services in fragile areas.

He gave no further details of the funding, the timescale or whether it was new money or funds redirected from elsewhere.



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