G8 leaders focus on Africa on summit’s first day

By RIA Novosti,

Toyako (Hokkaido) : Leaders of the G8 and seven African countries met on Monday to discuss the rich nations’ support for the continent, which has been hardest-hit by rising global food prices.

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Leaders of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, currently meeting in a luxury resort on northern Japan’s Hokkaido island, face pressure from international aid groups to fulfill pledges made at the 2005 summit to provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to Africa.

In the run-up to the summit, U.S. President George Bush called for an urgent increase in aid to Africa, while Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the G8 would take concrete steps to help the continent achieve its Millennium Development Goals, set by the United Nations eight years ago, aimed at alleviating poverty.

Although leaders of G8 countries – the United States, Japan, France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy and Russia – pledged to boost aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010 at their summit two years ago, aid groups have said rich nations have made very little progress toward meeting their pledges.

Monday’s working lunch was attended by the leaders of Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

As well as poverty in Africa, several G8 leaders called for action on Zimbabwe, whose leadership has entered the international spotlight over a campaign of violence leading up to the June 27 election.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, hosting the summit, discussed the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Merkel called for sanctions against Zimbabwe’s government to be toughened, while Brown said the G8 should send a “strong message” to the country that it intends to protect democratic freedoms. The Japanese premier said his country shares British and German concerns on the situation in Zimbabwe.

Summit talks are expected to shift to climate change during the next two days, and will involve major polluters outside the G8, including China, India, Australia and Brazil.

At last year’s summit in Germany, G8 leaders agreed to seriously consider a cut in carbon emissions of at least 50% by the middle of the century, but made no firm pledges.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called on the leaders on Monday to commit their countries to a 50% cut. However, green groups see little cause for optimism at the talks, with the U.S. leader consistently refusing to back firm emission targets.