G8 discusses aid for new Arab democracies

Leaders of Group of Eight have gathered in France to discuss a range of issues from the ‘Arab Spring’ to Europe’s debts.

G8 summit, Deauville, France
G8 leaders are meeting for two days in the French seaside resort of Deauville. [Reuters]

Leaders of the Group of Eight are meeting in France to endorse aid to new Arab democracies, but a slew of issues – from agreeing on a new IMF chief to mediating war in Libya and Yemen – may dominate the agenda.

Officials from the G8 – the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia – held preparatory talks on Wednesday in the seaside resort of Deauville to hammer out common positions on issues ranging from the world economy to Libya’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear goals and unrest in Syria.

The two-day summit beginning on Thursday is expected to approve a multi-billion-dollar aid package for Tunisia and Egypt, after “Arab Spring” uprisings deposed their autocratic leaders, and to seal an agreement to back others in the region who want democracy.

“We share a compelling interest in seeing the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia succeed and become models for the region,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote in a letter to the G8 on Wednesday.

“Otherwise, we risk losing this moment of opportunity.”

Street demonstrations in Cairo and Tunis that thrilled and inspired the Arab world also drove away the tourists and investors on which these economies are heavily dependent.

“The first thing they will be looking for is direct financial aid,” said Said Hirsh, a Middle East economist with Capital Economics consultancy in London. “Both countries need quite a lot of money considering the hit to their economies and their revenues.”

While US officials say G8 countries will discuss their role in the process, they say it is too soon to reach a deal on dollar amounts for assistance.

The heads of the World Bank and the United Nations will also be present and add their signatures to the partnership declaration.

Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, under house arrest in New York following his indictment for sexual assault, will be replaced for the event by the institution’s acting managing director John Lipsky.

Finding a permanent replacement for Strauss-Kahn is likely to take up a good part of the summit’s talk. It has set a June 30 deadline to pick a successor to the post, which has been held by a European since 1945.

Atomic, internet issues

Nuclear safety will be another topic, with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan scheduled to provide leaders with an update on the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

The future of the internet will also figure in the G8 leaders’ talks. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Eric Schmidt of Google and other internet executives took part in two days of debates in Paris ahead of the G8 summit, focusing broadly on the internet’s impact on the global economy.

Several of the internet conference’s speakers will then take policy recommendations to Deauville in talks with the G8 leaders.

Police have established one security cordon around the conference centre where the leaders are meeting, and another perimeter encompassing all of Deauville. Local ports, train stations and the airport will be shut from Wednesday to Friday, and a no-fly zone enforced over the town.

The show of force may have discouraged radicals and other protesters from attempting to organise demonstrations close to the summit.

Anti-G8 protesters plan symbolic demonstrations in the neighbouring towns of Caen and Le Havre, but they do not plan to try to disrupt the event in Deauville itself, according to a statement circulated by radical groups online.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies