G8 seeks common position over Mideast violence

The leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations will seek on Sunday to close a widening rift over how best to calm violence in the Middle East.

Israel’s bombing of Lebanon has forced its way to the top of the agenda of the G8 summit in St Petersburg, driving a wedge between the United States, a strong backer of Israel, and those who say Israel is being too violent.

Israel launched its most destructive onslaught on Lebanon since its 1982 invasion after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two of its soldiers and killed eight. Its air strikes killed 25 civilians on Saturday.

Speaking at a midnight briefing after dining with the leaders of the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Israel of having ulterior motives in its military action.

“We need to make utmost efforts to solve this with peaceful means,” he said. “We condemn any terrorist act including hostage taking but we have the impression that besides the return of its abducted soldiers, Israel is pursuing other, wider goals.”

He did not specify what those goals were.

France and the European Union have called the Israeli response excessive to Hezbollah militant attacks, but US President George Bush firmly blamed the violence on Hezbollah.

Despite the split, the G8 countries were working on a declaration on the situation in the Middle East and were hopeful it could be passed on Monday, a G8 source told Reuters.

Putin had set energy security as the main theme for the annual summit, being held for the first time in Russia.

But other topics threaten to crowd that item to the summit’s margins.
A faltering global trade agreement, North Korea and Iran were certain to come up during talks in a restored 18th century palace on the shore of the Gulf of Finland.

On North Korea’s missile launches, the leaders would be able to start with a common position after a UN Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Saturday imposed weapons-related sanctions on the secretive state.

But discussions over Iran’s nuclear programme threatened to be more fractious, with Russia opposing for now any talk of UN sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Pledges made at last year’s summit in Gleneagles, Scotland will also be reviewed, including a session on aid to Africa. The leaders agreed last year to boost spending on Africa but aid agencies have argued little new money was on offer.

Police break up G8 sit-in, 37 detained

Russian police detained on Sunday 37 anti-globalisation protesters who briefly blocked a road in St Petersburg.

The demonstrators, who included European Union nationals, sat down in the middle of St Petersburg’s main thoroughfare and held up posters with the slogan “No G8!”, said Olga Miryasova of campaign group the Anti-G8 Network.

Police could not immediately be reached for comment. Demonstrations around the summit have been low-key, in sharp contrast to the mass rallies at past G8 gatherings.

Activists say Russian police have used intimidation and arbitrary detentions to keep protesters away from the city. Officials say people are free to protest but only if they abide by the law.

Miryasova said the protesters who took part in the sit-in on Nevsky Prospekt were from Belarus, Britain, Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.

“We wanted to voice our demands: to stop the commercialisation of education and not develop nuclear energy,” she said.

“Our people sat down on the ground and joined hands ... The riot police dragged them off. No one was wounded. The riot police used truncheons.”

G8 leaders are meeting at a former imperial palace just outside St Petersburg, about a 40-minute drive from Nevsky Prospekt. - Reuters

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