Africa has served notice it intends to push hard for substantial and legally-binding reparations from wealthy countries at the Copenhagen climate summit in December.  Africa's chief climate negotiators are signaling there will be no compromise on core issues.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says a united Africa will demand equal partner status at the global climate summit.

Mr. Meles was chosen this week to lead the unified African delegation at the Copenhagen summit, where negotiations will take place on a successor to the Kyoto climate treaty.

He was cheered at a special meeting of African and donor countries when he threatened to disrupt the Copenhagen talks unless the continent's views are taken seriously.

"I do not want to be misunderstood," said Zenawi. "Africa will not be there to express its participation by merely warming the chairs or making perfunctory statements.  We want to be and deserve to be in the thick of it.  While we will reason with everyone to achieve our objective, we will not rubber stamp an agreement by the powers that be as the best we could get for the moment. We will use our numbers to delegitimize  any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position.  If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent. "

The Ethiopian leader will head a 12-member delegation representing the 53-nation African Union in Copenhagen. He will be joined by AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who holds the rotating AU chairmanship, and the leaders of Algeria, Congo, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Other speakers at Thursday's special session were equally adamant that Africa should hold firm.  Several noted Africa has contributed least to global warming, and is potentially its worst victim.  

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said wealthy nations that emit harmful greenhouse gasses should be legally obligated to pay poorer countries for the cost of adapting to climate changes.  Moreover, he said rich countries should be barred from taking money from their development aid budgets to offset the cost of reparations payments.

"Africa must be compensated by developed countries for the impact of climate change," said Jean Ping. "It is my expectation that these financial resources must be from public funds and must be additional to the usual ODA, overseas development assistance.

British economist Nicholas Stern, the author of a 2006 study on the costs of global warming, spoke to the session by teleconference from London. He warned African negotiators not to allow wealthy countries at the Copenhagen summit to use the current economic crisis as an excuse for delaying or reducing climate change payments.

"We must not let anybody try to fob us off with an idea that the current economic crisis is an excuse to postpone action," said Nicholas Stern. "Delay in action in this area is extremely dangerous because the greenhouse gasses build up, the concentrations rise, the later you leave it the more difficult it gets."

The amount of reparations Africa will demand is still being discussed, but figures range from $68 billion up to hundreds of billions of dollars a year.  There was no mention of which countries would pay what share of the reparations, but experts say the bulk of the penalties would be assessed against the United States and other members of the G-8, comprising the seven major industrialized economies and Russia.

The G8 countries make up about 14 percent of world population, but represent more than 65 percent of the world's economic output, and the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions.  AU Commission Chairman Ping told the meeting Africa accounts for about 3.8 percent of global economic output, the United States accounts for about 26 percent.