Arab Spring, nuclear chills, vex G8 chiefs
The leaders of the G8 world powers meet in Normandy on Thursday for a summit to discuss ways to support democratic revolutions in the Arab world and help Japan recover from nuclear disaster.
In a draft declaration, the leaders were to urge Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime to end violent repression and carry out reform, call on Libya to end violence and seek a political deal, urge immediate Israel-Palestinian talks, and express full confidence in Japan's recovery from nuclear disaster.
The declaration was to be discussed at a working lunch hosted by President Nicolas Sarkozy at 12:45 pm (1045 GMT).
Sarkozy welcomed his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to the chic Deauville resort early Thursday, the first of a succession of arrivals involving the leaders of Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
At the start of what will effectively be a 24-hour meeting, G8 chiefs will express solidarity with Japan following the March 11 disasters ahead of a lively debate on ways of improving global nuclear safety after the Fukushima accident.
The summit provides the leaders with their first real opportunity to debate the "Arab Spring" sweeping the autocracies of the Arab world.
US President Barack Obama, wrapping up a state visit to Britain on the eve of the summit, called on his fellow leaders to help ensure the success of post-revolt political transitions in north Africa and the Middle East.
"It will be years before these revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be difficult days along the way. Power rarely gives up without a fight," he said.
Washington has urged its G8 partners to help Egypt convert its debts into investments for jobs as part of efforts to boost the country's flagging economy and fledgling democracy. And Tunisia said it would call for a "major development plan" -- around $25 billion (18 billion euros) -- to aid its transition to democracy.
After an "e-G8" of leading industry figures before the summit in Paris, the leaders are expected to endorse a "government role" in Internet regulation, according to the draft.
Africa will be represented at the summit as is tradition since 2003. Newly elected leaders from the Ivory Coast, Niger and Guinea will participate in sessions devoted to encouraging democracy.
A key issue up for informal discussion will be on achieving a consensus on choosing a successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund, as European G8 members seem to be lining up behind French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.
France's First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy will host a packed agenda for the leaders' spouses on Thursday, in her first G8 summit since her pregnancy was revealed. Bruni is using the summit to promote the battle against adult illiteracy and protecting mothers and children from AIDS.
A 12,500 strong cordon of police and gendarmes, backed by patrol boats and helicopters, has been locked around the Norman seaside resort.
The elegant seafront boardwalk was empty apart from scattered knots of police, and a chill wind blew in off the English Channel.
"The G8 has brought us nothing," complained Emmanuel Benamara, 48-year-old landlord of La Taverne, a beachfront watering hole and guesthouse. "They've block-booked 15 rooms, luckily, but restaurant takings are down 60 percent."
A travelling press corps, several hundred strong, has been given a filing centre on the lawns of the Hippodrome de Deauville-La Touques, the racetrack that opened in 1864 and was the original generator of the town's wealth.
Sarkozy had promised the Deauville summit would be more low-key and less expensive than the jamboree that descended last year on Toronto, where police battled anarchists for two days in the streets of the city.
But he is hosting the first such gathering since Al-Qaeda vowed revenge for the death of its figurehead Osama bin Laden and France is taking no chances.
Several thousand people marched in the nearest big city, Le Havre, on Saturday to protest against the G8, without major incident.
© 2011 AFP