Jihad Azour, the Lebanese finance minister, told French radio on Thursday: "The larger the sum, the better it will be for us because it will give Lebanon a strong signal [of support] from the international community."

 

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"Even with the entire world on his side, Siniora will lose if he hasn't got the Lebanese on his side"

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High-ranking representatives from more than 40 countries and organisations are attending the one-day meeting, including Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and Ban Ki-moon, the new United Nations secretary-general.

   

The conference comes two days after a general strike called by the Hezbollah-led opposition turned to one of the worst street violence in Lebanon for years.

   

The opposition group accuses Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, of being in the hands of the West and the pro-opposition al-Akhbar daily in Lebanon said on Thursday the conference was designed to shore up the government, not help Lebanon.

   

French officials said they expected the meeting to raise at least as much as a previous donors' conference in Paris in 2002, which netted $4.2bn in aid and loans.

 

Western countries are anxious to show the Lebanese people they have not abandoned them after a devastating war with Israel last summer left many areas of the country in ruins.

 

Some donors are likely to link their aid offers to Siniora's ability to push through an economic package, which was announced this month and includes plans for privatisations, cutting state spending, and increasing taxes.