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France, Switzerland Prepare for G8 Summit - 2003-05-17


Swiss officials say they are prepared for visiting heads of state, anti-globalization protesters, and even the possibility of terrorist attacks drawn to next month's G8 summit in nearby Evian, France. The leaders of the world's seven most industrialized countries and Russia have invited their counterparts from nearly 30 non-G8 countries to take part in the summit, which is to focus on development.

Although France is hosting the G8 summit in the Alpine resort of Evian, it has asked Switzerland to help provide security and lodging for more than a dozen leaders from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

That is because the closest international airport to the summit site is Geneva, about 50 kilometers away. Also, Evian does not have enough hotels to accommodate all the conference participants. Some Swiss are not happy. They say that France may reap the benefits of the meeting, while the Swiss will have to foot the bill.

But Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Livio Zanolari dismisses such charges.

He says the G8 summit is giving Switzerland a golden opportunity to play host to heads of state, and to develop its role on the international scene. He says expenses could run about $45 million, but France will subsidize some of the costs.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and China's new president, Hu Jintao, are among those who will be lodged in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the other side of Lake Geneva from Evian.

Pierre Aepli, who is coordinating security arrangements, says Switzerland is more than up to the task. He says up to 8,000 police and soldiers, backed by air cover from the Swiss and French military, will be stationed between Geneva airport and Lausanne. Mr. Aepli says the air patrols will impose a 10-kilometer no-fly zone, except for helicopters transporting top leaders. "There are many concerns for the security of the people," he said. "Terrorism is always a threat. It has always today to be taken into account. But I would also say that demonstrations are also a concern."

Security officials say it is uncertain just how many anti-globalization demonstrators will descend on the Lake Geneva area. Mr. Aepli says top projections of 300,000 have been scaled down to 100,000 or 50,000.

Alberto Velasco of the anti-globalization group, ATTAC, says, while most protesters want peaceful demonstrations, their success will be measured on whether they manage to disrupt the summit.

That way, he says, G8 leaders like President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will get the message that globalization must be stopped.

Mr. Velasco says that the protesters hope that the governments meeting in Evian will understand that more and more people do not want to live the way we are living today. He says they do not want war; they do not want layoffs; they do not want underemployment.

International Monetary Fund chief Horst Koehler will also attend the G8 summit. Speaking to reporters in Geneva recently, he said, although he welcomes dialogue with the protesters, he still argues that globalization is the only way to reduce poverty and debt in a developing country. "We need more globalization, not less," he said. "But we need better globalization which means, in particular, that poor countries, the low income countries can participate in growth, job creation, and better living standards. Without better globalization, I do think that poverty would be protracted; it would be worse. But we are prepared to discuss it."

Olivier de Marcellus of the Social Forum group disagrees. He says only a change in current global economic policies will do. "We are absolutely against dialoguing with people who we know what their intentions are," said Mr. de Marcellus. "They have been saying the same things for the last 30 years. What we want is a change. And we do not think any kind of dialogue is going to be anything more than a façade-like inviting the 20 other countries to talk about poverty. That is not what the G8 is all about. The G8 is about continuing this pillage of the world and the destruction of the environment. And we have to stop this, and the only thing that is going to stop it is popular pressure."

Security official Pierre Aepli says the Swiss authorities have been holding talks with the protesters for several months. He says, while they expect good cooperation and peaceful protests, they fear that a small minority may resort to violence. "There are many small groups, very flexible, very quick, and [they] are able to make a lot of damage in a few minutes to different parts of town, and this is one of the dangers we expect," said Mr. Aepli.

He says to minimize the possible damage, Swiss police have instructed shopkeepers on how to protect their businesses. Luxury jewelry stores and banks plan to board up their shop fronts. And he says parts of Geneva and Lausanne will be turned into no-go areas for protesters in a further attempt to ward off violence.

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