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First Day of G-8 Summit Focuses on Development, Trade Issues - 2003-06-01

Development and trade issues have taken center stage on the first day of the G-8 summit, which brings together the leaders of the world's seven major industrialized countries and Russia. The G-8 leaders are trying to come up with a united front to deal with problems such as poverty and disease in the Third World.

French President Jacques Chirac insisted, and his colleagues agreed, that the G-8 should invite the leaders of several major developing countries to join them at a working lunch to debate such issues as trade barriers, AIDS and Third World economic growth.

Partly, this was done to answer the criticism of anti-globalization protesters that the G-8 is a rich man's club that fails to do enough to deal with the needs of poorer nations.

But it was also motivated by the French president's desire to woo the news media's focus away from the deep disagreements among G-8 leaders over the war in Iraq that still linger, despite the smiles and handshakes that characterized the public appearances of the eight men on the first day of the summit.

Present at the luncheon were such leaders as the presidents of China, Mexico, and Brazil and the prime minister of India.

Also there was U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who urged the G-8, once again, to bring down barriers to imports from poor countries, and lower the farm subsidies that they give to their own farmers.

Mr. Chirac wants the G-8 to make Africa and its problems a top priority. A second session of the summit dealt exclusively with the world's poorest continent. The French president says rich countries must address such African problems as debt relief and access to drinking water.

President Bush challenged his G-8 colleagues to follow the U.S. lead and pledge dramatic increases in funding the battle against AIDS. Just before he left for Europe, Mr. Bush signed into law a program that will provide more than $15 billion during the next five years to combat the disease, which has hit Africa particularly hard.

Diplomats who attended the meeting on Africa said the attention given the continent was welcome news to the African leaders who attended it.

But South African President Thabo Mbeki told the G-8 that African countries felt the development aid pledges the group made at earlier summits have not been honored.