G8 summit opens with focus on Africa

10:30, 07 July 2008
World
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The Group of Eight leaders...

Africa was in the spotlight Monday, as leaders from the world`s major economic powers gathered for an annual summit that will also grapple with climate change and the global food crisis, according to CNN.

The Group of Eight leaders -- representing the U.S., Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Russia -- were to meet with seven African leaders to address key problems such as food supplies, infectious diseases and economic development.

Activists have accused some G8 nations -- particularly France, Canada and Italy -- of skimping on aid to Africa and urged them to ramp up their contributions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also has urged G8 leaders to take a tough stance on Zimbabwe in the wake of President Robert Mugabe`s widely denounced presidential election runoff victory.

U.S. President George W. Bush, arriving Sunday for his eighth and final Group of Eight summit, emphasized the urgency of providing aid for Africa. He called on wealthy nations to provide mosquito nets and other aid to prevent children from "needlessly dying from mosquito bites."

"I`m concerned about people going hungry. We`ll be very constructive in the dialogue about the environment -- I care about the environment -- but today there`s too much suffering in the continent of Africa," Bush said during a press conference after a one-on-one meeting Sunday with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, host of the gathering.

"Now is the time for the comfortable nations to step up and do something about it," Bush said.

Aid to Africa was the centerpiece of the G8 summit three years ago in Gleneagles, Scotland, where leaders called for increasing aid to $50 billion a year through 2010 -- with half of that going to Africa itself -- and to cancel the debt of the most heavily indebted poor nations.

Advocacy groups for Africa and hunger gave the G8 a mixed report card on progress in reaching its commitments to Africa.

Collectively, the G8 has delivered just $3 billion of the $25 billion pledged to Africa in 2005, according DATA, a group founded by U2 singer Bono and music producer Bob Geldof.

Germany, the U.S. and Britain were following through on commitments, while progress from Japan, France, Italy and Canada was either unclear or weak, DATA said.

"We desperately need to see more money from the G8, and for it to be new money," said Max Lawson from Oxfam International, another advocacy group.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in April that foreign aid by major donor countries slumped in 2007, as debt-relief plans tapered off and amid a global economic downturn in Japan and other rich nations.

The related topic of soaring food prices was another key topic on the agenda at the summit, with some experts predicting that the leaders would announce a food aid package and possibly funds to invest in agricultural development in poorer nations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he has received international support for his idea of creating an experts group to tackle the global food crisis, similar to the U.N.`s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"In the 21st century, we must be able to feed the planet," Sarkozy said in an interview published in Japan`s Yomiuri newspaper Monday.

"This idea seems to have been received favorably by our G8 partners, and I am delighted," Sarkozy told the newspaper. A transcript of his remarks was also provided by his office.

Germany`s Merkel said the leaders will confer on how to toughen sanctions against Zimbabwe, and hoped that they would get support from African colleagues on the matter.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, whom Zimbabwe`s opposition has accused of favoring Mugabe, and Nigerian President Umaru Yar`Adua are scheduled to meet with the G8 leaders. Also invited are the leaders of Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania and the chairperson of the African Union Commission.

Talks were expected to shift Tuesday and Wednesday to climate change as leaders will try to move forward U.N.-led talks aimed at forging a new global warming accord by the end of 2009. The negotiations have stalled because of deep disagreements over what targets to set for greenhouse gas reductions, and how much developing countries such as China and India should be required to participate.

It was unclear whether nations would be able to agree to a goal of cutting their emissions by 50 percent by 2050. A more ambitious goal of setting nearer-term targets for 2020 was considered well beyond reach.

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