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African Union Heads of State Meet to Plan G8 Strategy

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, talks to an African delegate during opening session of Fifth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union
The fifth African Union heads-of-state summit has opened in Libya with a call for solidarity in dealing with the rest of the world. several African leaders will attend the G8 summit later this week in Scotland.

High on the A.U. summit agenda is a message the 53-member body intends to send to the Group of Eight meeting later this week.

Speakers, leaders, and foreign affairs ministers called for the world's seven largest industrial countries and Russia to cancel the African countries' enormous debt, give more aid to combat poverty, HIV/AIDS, and other problems, and change trade policies to benefit the continent.

The head of the peace missions program at the South African-based Institute for Security Studies, Festus Aboagye, says he thinks the African Union will take, what he calls, the moral high ground in its dealings with the G8. He says that is the position that Africa has the right to demand fair-trade policies and other changes to improve the continent's situation.

Mr. Aboagye gives the example of his native Ghana, which he says produces the best cocoa anywhere in the world.

"And yet Ghana cannot sell its processed chocolate outside of the continent, particularly in Europe, because of the high tariffs that the European Union has imposed on chocolate importation. You also have to look at the other side of the equation, which is the subsidies that the European Union has extended to its agricultural sector," he said.

But during an opening speech that received muted applause from the African leaders, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called for African nations to stop "begging" and to work to overcome past failures. He said pleading to the G8 to lift debts will not make a future for Africa and he called for cooperation between the big and the small countries in the world.

The G8 is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday in Scotland. British Prime Minister Tony Blair will chair the meeting.

During the past year, Mr. Blair's Commission for Africa held consultations in Kenya and other places. It produced recommendations to the G8 similar to those of the African Union.

Analysts say it is likely that rich countries would agree to a certain degree of debt cancellation and increased aid to Africa, but it is highly unlikely that they would drop their subsidies or reform trade policies with the continent.

Agricultural subsidies make it virtually impossible for African farmers, who do not enjoy subsidies from their governments, to compete on world markets.

At the two-day summit, ministers also called for the United Nations to drop its arms embargo against Somalia so that the African Union would be free to send peacekeepers to protect the new transitional government in the volatile country.

The African heads of state are also expected to ratify a declaration calling for two permanent and five non-permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council.