Geldof: 'We have come for victory'

Leaders of the world’s eight richest and most powerful nations converge on a heavily-guarded luxury Scottish golf resort on Wednesday, facing the daunting twin challenges of pulling Africa out of dire poverty and slamming the brakes on global warming.

Waiting for them will be 5 000 angry protesters who intend to march within shouting distance of Gleneagles to demand action, not words, from the club of industrialised nations’ 30th annual summit.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will host the Group of Eight (G8) conclave, wants his fellow leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation and the United States to make bold moves on Africa and climate change.

To that end, he’s invited not only United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, but also the leaders of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, among other key developing nations.

With the stakes so high, Blair’s powerful finance minister Gordon Brown—who regards the fight against poverty in Africa as no less than “a moral crusade”—sought on Tuesday to ensure that expectations don’t get too high.

“What Britain says is one thing,” the chancellor of the exchequer told BBC radio.

“What we can persuade the rest of the world to do together is what we will get as the outcome of Gleneagles.”

Bob Geldof, the rock star turned activist behind the multi-city Live 8 concerts for Africa last Saturday, and another of Blair’s summit guests, said: “I don’t think the chancellor should try lowering the bar at this stage.”

“We have come for victory,” added Geldof on a train for a special Live 8 follow-up concert in Scotland’s capital Edinburgh on Wednesday featuring stars like Annie Lennox, The Corrs and Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour.

In an unprecedented show of unity, African Union leaders agreed on Tuesday a common list of demands to take to Gleneagles, including more debt relief, on top of a call for a full-time place for Africa in the UN Security Council.

Security was dramatically beefed up on Tuesday in and around Gleneagles, which is ringed with a double-layered, eight-kilometre fence studded with watchtowers, and 10 000 police on duty at Gleneagles and elsewhere in Scotland.

Military helicopters roamed the skies, while roadblocks and vehicle searches slowed traffic on the ground as police tried to collar would-be spontaneous protesters.

“We will deal robustly with any people who want to break the law,” Tayside Police chief constable John Vine, whose jurisdiction takes in Gleneagles, told reporters.

“Let’s make that very clear.”

More than 200 000 marched peacefully in Edinburgh on Saturday to demand G8 action on Africa, before things turned ugly on Monday when anarchists fought police in the capital with bottles and rocks. Scores were arrested or hurt.

Wednesday’s march has a green light from local authorities, so long as it sticks to a route that will take it to 500m from Gleneagles’ main gates and no more than 5 000 protesters turn up.

It is being organised by G8 Alternatives, a coalition of leftist groups which links G8 summitry and related international agencies like the World Trade Organisation to unbridled globalisation and abuse of workers’ rights.

John Kirton of the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto said Gleneagles could be “the most successful summit” since the G8—then called the G6, with Canada and Russia yet to join—first met in Rambouillet, France in 1975.

He said he expected “some move” from the G8 on drawing down export subsidies that make it virtually impossible for Africa’s farmers to sell their produce abroad—a key demand of the fight-against-poverty lobby.

Last month G8 finance ministers set the tone for progress by agreeing to forgiving $55-billion of crippling debt owed by poor African and Latin American states to international lending agencies such as the World Bank.

On climate change, Kirton said that despite US President George Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the summit could see rising economic powers China and India inducted into a fresh initiative to curb greenhouse gases.

“Gleneagles is destined to say: ‘We’re all in this together, but we all have to act’,” he said in a telephone interview.

Whatever happens, either Blair or French President Jacques Chirac is sure to be in a good mood, as the International Olympic Committee is to announce in Singapore—just hours before the summit begins—whether London or Paris will host the 2012 games.

They are seen as top contenders ahead of Moscow, New York and Madrid.

Chirac caused a pre-summit flap on Tuesday when he was reported to have said that Britain has “the worst food” bar Finland ‒ giving Gleneagles’ Michelin-starred chef a chance to prove a head of state wrong when the G8 leaders dine on Wednesday evening with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Here are some of the main issues that will be discussed:

  • Blair admits it will be “very difficult” to strike a deal on the problem of global warming as the United States, unlike the Europeans, insists there is no rush to take action and that technological developments expected by 2040 would solve the problem.

    The debate is over how much scientific proof there is for the causes of global warming as well as whether to follow Kyoto Protocol targets for cutting carbon emissions blamed for climate change.

    All G8 member countries except the United States have signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

  • On aid to Africa, the G8 agreed last month to write off multilateral debt for the 18 poorest countries, most of them in Africa, amounting to $40-billion, but the measure is judged insufficient by the countries themselves and aid organisations.

    Britain also wants to raise aid from the current $50-billion to $100-billion a year over the next ten years, a goal which could be met with the promised doubling of European Union aid from $40-billion to $80-billion by 2010, and extra efforts by the United States.

    The third tier of the anti-poverty plan, the removal of protectionist measures by wealthy countries, will not be part of any deal before the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in December in Hong Kong.

  • On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Blair announced on Saturday in Riyadh that he wanted to bring to the G8 an “initiative” to help the Palestinians following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.

  • On efforts to block the proliferation of weapons, Britain said it was determined to work during its chairmanship of the G8 on a concerted approach to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons technology. It also stressed its determination to find ways to bolster the convention on biological weapons and to be better prepared to react in case of a biological attack.

  • A treaty on the international sale of weapons was also a key proposal of the Commission for Africa set up by Blair to ease poverty.
    But the final summit statement will not mention a legally binding treaty and instead settle for “principles,” The Times newspaper said.

  • The soaring price of oil appears likely to thrust itself onto the agenda amid concerns about its impact on the global economy.

    For the first time, the price of a barrel of oil crossed the symbolic threshold of $60 and has risen two fold in two years. Oil prices hurt the poorest countries in Africa and South America as well as the wealthy countries.

  • Britain has steadfastly backed the US-led war on terrorism since the September 11, 2001 attacks and it looms high on the agenda of the summit. - Sapa-AFP

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