Arab revolts, nuclear aftermath to dominate G8 summit

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World leaders are to meet on the beaches of Normandy on Thursday for a G8 summit dominated by the popular revolts sweeping the Arab world and the aftermath of nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

After the last G8 in Canada, France predicted the Internet revolution would dominate the May 26 to 27 Deauville summit, but real revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa and Japan's Fukushima disaster have forced their way onto the agenda.

With uprisings sweeping away autocracy in Tunisia and Egypt, NATO-backed rebels battling Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi and a brutal crackdown in Syria, President Nicolas Sarkozy has put the revolts at the centre of his summit.

"We want a lasting partnership between the G8 and Arab countries that choose democracy," said an aide to the French leader, although senior officials admit they are not expecting cash promises for the new governments.

"It is our duty to ease the transition towards democracy and a more open economy. We want Deauville to be the foundation of such a partnership."

France hopes to use the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development -- created immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain -- to help fledgling democracies on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean.

The United States has already announced support for new democracies in the Arab world. On Thursday last week, President Barack Obama pledged billions of dollars in aid as an encouragement to democracy.

Paris will urge the G8 find a common response to the fast-changing Arab world, despite Russia's begrudging approval of military intervention in Libya and continued support for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow is expected to oppose UN sanctions against Assad.

Though details remain sketchy, a partnership agreement with Tunisia and Egypt is to be introduced Friday.

"It is up to the democratically-elected governments to tell us what they want," said the Elysee official, who sees an opportunity to revive the stillborn Mediterranean Union launched with great pomp by Sarkozy in 2008.

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.

And -- two months after a devastating tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster northeast of Tokyo -- the future of nuclear energy will have an important place in the summit.

Sarkozy, a great booster of nuclear power, hopes to persuade fellow leaders to absorb the "lessons of Fukushima" and develop an international safety norm.

But resistance can be expected, most notably from Germany, which is seriously considering abandoning nuclear energy altogether.

The Internet theme has not been entirely dropped.

After an "e-G8" of leading industry figures before the summit in Paris, France is expected to propose a statement in Deauville on "respecting freedoms" on the web, a jab at censorship in rising powers like China.

But Sarkozy's plan to include talk of a "Civilised Internet" may rankle with liberal economies like the United States, sensitive to talk of regulation.

And, as always, leaders will have a chance to touch upon general business with their colleagues. The succession of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, newly resigned from the IMF, will likely be addressed on the sidelines.

Previous G8 summits have been notable for the massive security operations that surround them, and for the often equally imposing protests by anti-globalist and anarchist crowds drawn to them.

But French officials said they were not expecting much trouble in Deauville itself, with large-scale marches limited to the nearby town of Le Havre on the weekend beforehand and in Paris during the talks themselves.

© 2011 AFP

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