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Golf cart politics divide G8 leaders

To ride in a golf cart or not to ride? That was the question driving a wedge between Group of Eight leaders even before they sat down for talks on Sunday.

The G8 leaders were trying to bridge differences on the Middle East, energy and Iran’s nuclear programme. But on how to travel around the summit site they looked far apart.

United States President George Bush was firmly in the golf cart camp. He was behind the wheel of his hi-tech electric buggy as he made the short journey across the G8 venue on the shores of the Gulf of Finland for the opening session of talks.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel chose to arrive in a conventional car and British Prime Minister Tony Blair took a third option: he walked.

French President Jacques Chirac rode in a golf buggy, though only in the passenger seat. That was a change from the 2004 G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia — the last time buggies were used at the forum. Then, Chirac had insisted on walking.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pulled up in the passenger seat of his buggy, as did Italy’s Romano Prodi. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also took the buggy option.

The summit was held in an 18th century palace near St Petersburg. Organisers laid on the buggies to ferry delegations from cottages in the grounds where they were accommodated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was greeting the leaders as they arrived for the morning talks.

But he got his chance to drive later. He took the wheel of one of the buggies to travel to the next summit session in another part of the grounds. Bush followed at the wheel of his own buggy. – Reuters

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