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G-8 Summit Opens in Gleneagles,Scotland

The G8 summit got underway Wednesday in Scotland. Leaders of the world’s rich industrialized nations are meeting at the Gleneagles Hotel outside of Edinburgh.

Voice of America’s Joe De Capua is there covering the conference. He says protesters continued to make their presence known Wednesday, and their roadblocks around the Gleneagles site affected the news media, blocking many of the direct routes and forcing reporters to take back roads to reach the site. At one point, a protester blocked a road by chaining his arm underneath a car, so the vehicle could not simply be rolled out of the way.

Voice of America reporters are staying at a hotel in Glasgow, normally about an hour’s drive by bus to the summit. But Joe says when they arrived to catch the bus around 7:20 a.m. local time, they were told protesters had blocked many of the direct routes and they would have to find an alternative.

It took them three hours to get there, taking many back roads. At one point, protesters blocked a road with one of their members chaining his arm underneath a car, so the vehicle could not simply be rolled out of the way. Officials on the bus asked the reporters to get off and put away their press credentials while the bus driver steered the vehicle over some soft dirt on the side of the road. They said they didn’t want the extra weight of passengers causing it to get stuck in the dirt. And the press credentials needed to be out of sight out of concern the protesters might try to keep the reporters there a while longer if their identity as protesters were known.

Authorities had approved a demonstration near the summit site, but apparently the protesters strayed from the route agreed to with local police. Police quickly brought in reinforcements by helicopter. The police have been fairly restrained, using tactics to contain and redirect the protesters, who breached a fence.

Reporter Joe De Capua says earlier today, in Stirling, located further from the conference site, there were some violent clashes between protesters and police.

At the summit, NGOs used the early hours to press their case for poverty alleviation and climate change.

Greenpeace, Tearfund, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Friends of the Earth held a joint news conference. They announced they’re calling on British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other G8 leaders to ”stand up to President Bush and agree to a clear way forward for climate protection.”

The Bush administration has made it clear it has no intention of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gases. Despite Mr. Blair’s push for US support, President Bush this week said, “Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was the best for the people of Great Britain. I made decisions on what I thought was best for Americans. I really don't view our relationship as one of quid pro quo."

Mr. Bush is stressing technology to solve the problem of greenhouse emissions, such as cleaner use of coal, hydrogen power and possibly nuclear power. The administration has said the Kyoto Protocol would increase energy prices and cost many American jobs.

Sarah la Trobe of Tearfund, a relief and development agency opposed to the US position, told the press, “Climate change will have a devastating impact on African countries and communities. The scientific predictions cannot be clearer. Climate change will worsen Africa’s critical water situation. It will put millions of more people at risk of hunger. It will increase the spread of malaria and other diseases and it will increase extreme events like floods and droughts.”

Ms. La Trobe describes the situation as “very worrying when 70 percent of Africans depend on agriculture, much of which is rain fed.” She says floods and droughts will increase with climate change: “In the developing world in the 1990’s, disasters caused 35 billion dollars a year in direct losses. And that was eight times more than losses of the 1960’s. You can see the costs are rising. So, we cannot talk about increasing aid and reducing debt without also taking urgent action to reduce the effects of climate change and disasters on poor people.”

The NGOs are calling for a G8 communiqué that “contains a clear statement that the G8 leaders accept scientific evidence for global warming…and the fact that the majority of the warming is human-induced.” They also want a stronger commitment on emissions cuts, help for Africa to prepare for and mitigate climate disaster through the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

VOA reporter Joe De Capua said also getting their message out today were members of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty. They are part of the Make Poverty History Campaign.

One of the speakers was Yassine Fall of Senegal, president of the African Millennium Initiative on Poverty and Human Rights. She says if poverty is to be eradicated, G8 leaders must address three important issues.

“Trade, aid and debt need to be al issues that are a priority to the G8. Because we know and we understand that the multi-lateral corporations that are intervening in Africa in poor countries are from G8 countries. So these cannot be outside the discussion of the G8.”

Ms. Fall says one of the biggest areas of concern is the sale of weapons by G8 corporations to poor nations.

Addressing the issue of debt was Monica Magaga of Uganda, who represents OXFAM. She says the proposed cancellation of debt for 18 countries does not go far enough.

“Imagine if you are in a country that is so poor, with communities having hardly anything to eat, having limited access to health and education and you are forced to pay back this debt to rich countries. That’s where most countries find themselves.”

The Global Call to Action Against Poverty is calling for an end to what it calls the forced liberalization of trade…an immediate cancellation of debt for all countries needing it to achieve the Millennium Development Goals…more and better aid…and a commitment to pledge new funding for HIV treatment for everyone who needs it by 2010.

A few days before leaving for the summit, VOA’s Joe De Capua was among a small group of reporters who questioned President Bush about the G8. Joe asked him whether the figure of 18 countries for debt cancellation was carved in stone. He said it was not: it was a starting point…that other countries could be added later.

Joe reports that not everything surrounding the G8 is serious. For example, he says French President Jacques Chirac has triggered a war of words…over food…by saying that after Finland, the UK has the worst food in the world. Many in Scotland felt the French leader was belittling haggis…a unique Scottish meal that includes sheep’s stomach, oatmeal, mutton suet, and deer’s liver. That prompted award-winning butchers in Scotland to say they would send some haggis to Mr. Chirac that would put to shame any dish of snails and frog’s legs.