With a pledge to fight disease and to promote legal protection for women, President Bush says he wants to more than double aid to Africa (search).

"Across Africa, people who were preparing to die are now preparing to live, and America is playing a role in so many of those miracles," Bush said Thursday in a wide-ranging speech.

The president is preparing to attend a meeting next week in Scotland of major industrial democracies and Russia. The summit host, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has made Africa a top item for discussion.

The aid plans impressed some advocacy groups, even though they said most of the doubling would come from money already pledged. The increase includes initiatives to battle malaria (search), provide legal protection for women and education to girls.

Bush's initiatives go along with $674 million in emergency famine relief announced this month and an agreement on Africa debt relief (search). They help the president blunt criticism of his rejection of Blair's proposal for summit countries to increase aid to Africa to 0.7 percent of their gross national product.

Bush says agreeing to Blair's plan is not necessary because aid has tripled during his presidency, though the U.S. gives far less as a proportion of national income than most other industrialized nations.

National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Bush's new proposal would raise U.S. assistance to Africa to $8.6 billion in 2010, from $4.3 billion in 2004.

Those figures include aid that is channeled through organizations such as the World Bank.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said Bush's promise would be achieved mainly by offering debt relief and fulfilling past commitments.

But Beckmann, whose Washington-based organization lobbies to end hunger, said that level of aid would make "the U.S. a serious partner in the global effort to reduce poverty in Africa."

Chad Dobson, policy director for the charity Oxfam America, hoped the announcement would mark the beginning of a much larger U.S. commitment. He praised it as creating "the momentum that is needed" going into the Scotland meeting.

Critics also dispute Bush's claim that assistance has tripled on his watch. They say his administration undercounts what was spent in the Clinton years and overcounts that spent during his presidency.