The Deauville G8: Leaders land on Normandy beach
The leaders of the G8 world powers will gather from Thursday this week at their summit in the French seaside resort of Deauville. Here are brief portraits of each.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA OF THE UNITED STATES
Obama joins the G8 summit buoyed by the killing of Osama bin Laden, but facing domestic difficulties including a standoff with Republican lawmakers demanding draconian budget cuts.
Despite more than two years of efforts to cut high unemployment and reverse one of America's deepest recessions in decades, the faltering economy will play a major role in the 2012 presidential elections.
Obama, who took office in January 2009 as America's first black president, has embarked on a series of public works and government aid programmes in a bid to mitigate the downturn in the world's top economy.
But spending programmes, as well as efforts to provide health care for all Americans, have faced stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress, concerned about the ballooning US debt.
Abroad, Obama has overseen the withdrawal of most US troops from Iraq, plans to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and has focused on mending fences especially with the Muslim world.
Obama, 49, was born in Hawaii and spent part of his childhood in Indonesia.
A top Harvard Law School student, Obama's meteoric political rise took him to the Illinois state senate, to the US senate in 2005, and then saw him elected president in 2008.
PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV OF RUSSIA
Medvedev's visit to France on May 26-27 to attend an annual Group of Eight summit may be his last chance to rub shoulders with heads of the world's most powerful countries.
Russia is going into parliamentary elections in December followed by a presidential vote three months later which could see his old mentor Vladimir Putin seek a return to the Kremlin.
The G8 will give Russia's 45-year-old president a chance to polish his credentials as a reformer as he plans to urge the West to adopt a new convention on nuclear safety after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.
He will also complain that the West continues to sideline Moscow in discussions on the joint missile plans for Europe, despite signs of progress reached at a Lisbon summit last year.
Moscow will likely be the only discordant voice during discussions of the Arab Spring uprisings, as it urges against interference in what it considers the domestic affairs of sovereign nations.
All the other G8 members backed multinational strikes in Libya, while Moscow says the military campaign should end immediately.
PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY OF FRANCE
Sarkozy hopes his presidency of the G8 and the G20, with his role in NATO's military campaign against Moamer Kadhafi's Libya, will restore his image as a strong international leader before presidential elections next year.
By leading the international response to the Libya uprising, he hopes to bury France's embarrassment over its close ties to shamed and ousted regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
And by using the G8 and G20 to press for reforms to international finance law, the 56-year-old hopes to be the dynamic champion of the post-crisis world recovery.
At home, however, his record has been patchy and his poll numbers languish at record lows. France has returned to growth since the 2008 slowdown, but unemployment remains high and his austerity measures are unpopular.
From an electoral standpoint, the only good news is that the arrest of his rival Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York on attempted rape charges has put the former IMF chief out of the running as a potential centre-left challenger.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
Cameron has tried to boost his credentials as an international statesman with his efforts to resolve the Libya crisis, perhaps a welcome distraction from issues at home.
The 44-year-old entered office a year ago at the head of Britain's first coalition government since World War II with a vow to introduce radical reforms that would cut the country's record deficit.
The resulting austerity measures were viewed as a possible blueprint for other industrialised nations to tackle their debts, but in Britain they sparked violent protests against the government.
Cameron's centre-right Conservatives have, however, largely managed to deflect the anger onto the junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and his party did relatively well in local elections earlier this month.
On the global stage, Cameron has tried to compensate for a lack of experience with his energetic involvement in pursuing military action against the forces of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
He is also pushing for Britain's voice to be heard on Afghanistan, where the country still has some 9,500 troops fighting Taliban insurgents.
Cameron was educated at the elite Eton College and at Oxford University. He is married with three children. A son, Ivan, was born severely disabled and died aged six in 2009.
CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL OF GERMANY
Merkel, 56, is a year and a half into a second term at the helm of Europe's biggest economy. Abroad she has been accused of dithering throughout the eurozone debt crisis and domestically she has come under fire for bailing out eurozone casualties Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
The chancellor also ruffled feathers by refusing to take part in military action in Libya and abstaining in a vote in the UN Security Council, where Germany currently holds a non-permanent seat.
It has some 5,000 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command.
Its economy has been booming, having suffered its worst recession in the post-war era in 2009, but its export strength has been criticised for creating imbalances in the global economy.
PRIME MINISTER SILVIO BERLUSCONI OF ITALY
Berlusconi is currently facing a sensitive political situation after the failure of his centre-right candidate to win outright a local election in his stronghold of Milan.
Berlusconi, 74, had turned the vote into a test of his own popularity, which has been badly damaged by a slew of legal and sex trials, and seeing his party's candidate forced into a runoff in his home town was an embarrassment.
A loss for incumbent mayor Letizia Moratti at the second-round of local elections set for May 29 and 30 could weaken the government by alienating its coalition partner, the anti-immigration Northern League party.
The League has recently openly criticised the government's decision to take part in the bombardment of Libya as well as condemning Berlusconi's hostile attitude towards Italy's judges.
Berlusconi's trip to Deauville comes not only in the run-up to the run-off in Milan, but also just before a hearing in his sex scandal trial in which he is accused of paying for underage sex and covering up the crime.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER OF CANADA
Harper comes to Deauville as the most freshly elected G8 leader, having swept back into power with a solid parliamentary majority after leading two successive minority regimes since 2006.
The 52-year-old Conservative ought now to have a clear path to push through his right-wing economic agenda.
In terms of foreign policy, Deauville will be an opportunity for Harper to play up the major roles Canadian forces are playing in the Libyan conflict, and to reinforce its influence in the allies' decision-making.
He will also be keen to emphasise the 1,000 military trainers Ottawa has sent to Afghanistan to replace its former combat brigade and prepare the transition to reduced NATO involvement in the intractable war there.
PRIME MINISTER NAOTO KAN OF JAPAN
Japan's fifth new prime minister in as many years, Kan faces pressure at home over the government's handling of a disaster that has plunged the nation into its worst crisis since World War II.
Kan, 64, took over Japan's top government job in June last year after the left-wing Democratic Party of Japan's first prime minister Yukio Hatoyama stepped down with rock-bottom approval ratings.
He pledged to remedy a faltering economy and work on easing Japan's mountainous public debt, which at 200 percent of GDP is the biggest in the industrialised world.
But he squandered his political honeymoon as the ruling DPJ lost its majority in July 2010 elections, and has been undermined by a divided parliament and internal party squabbles ever since.
Before the March 11 earthquake hit, Kan was seen as being on the brink of resignation over a funding controversy.
His government's response to a disaster that has left around 25,000 dead or missing has further eroded his popularity.
Unlike many of his peers, Kan was not born into a privileged political dynasty but gained his first parliamentary seat through tough campaigning, winning only on his fourth try in 1980.
His former reputation as social activist has been reignited by the crisis, ordering a sweeping review of Japan's nuclear industry oversight and the temporary shutdown of another plant situated in a vulnerable quake zone.
© 2011 AFP