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Group of 8 Pledges Billions for Africa

Summit: World leaders tout continent-backed aid initiative and call meeting a success. Critics say the program is severely inadequate.


KANANASKIS, Canada — Promising billions of dollars for a new African aid initiative and a Russian nuclear security drive, eight world leaders concluded a two-day summit in this remote mountain valley Thursday and pronounced the meeting a resounding success.

"I offered leaders a summit done differently, in a setting that encourages a positive result, and we delivered," said Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the host of the gathering.

Four African presidents who joined the Group of 8 leaders echoed Chretien's enthusiastic assessment. "We are very pleased with the decisions that have been taken," said South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was considered the prime mover in the push for increased aid to Africa.

The Group of 8, which includes Russia and seven major industrial nations, pledged to provide about $6 billion in additional assistance for Africa within four years while reducing tariffs on selected African exports.

Yet critics assailed the aid program as severely inadequate, noting that most of the money had been pledged months ago and would be available only to African countries deemed to have met strict reform requirements.

And while leaders expressed concern in their meetings about the roiling of stock exchanges by the WorldCom and Enron scandals, there was no action taken to either calm the markets or encourage stronger corporate governance rules.

Analysts also noted the absence of specific European and Japanese funding commitments for what a U.S. official termed the "costly and dangerous enterprise" of dismantling Soviet-era nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. While the U.S. committed $10 billion to the project over the next 10 years, the Europeans and Japanese agreed only to the goal of the eight nations collectively raising as much as $20 billion.

Held amid extraordinary security, at an estimated cost to Canada of more than $200 million, this year's conclave has prompted critics and insiders alike to question the expense and utility of the annual meetings. The Group of 8 comprises the United States, Russia, Canada, Britain, Japan, France, Germany and Italy.

French President Jacques Chirac, the host of next year's summit, suggested here that the leaders could probably accomplish as much with long-distance television hookups.

"The time savings you can count on with more systematic use of videoconferencing, which I've already experimented with, seems promising," Chirac said, speaking in a live broadcast to the hundreds of reporters confined to a media center in Calgary about 50 miles east of the ski resort here where the leaders gathered.

The eight leaders are already committed to yearly face-to-face meetings through 2006, when Russia--the club's newest member--is providing the site.

Top aides to President Bush joined Chretien in defending this year's meeting, calling it more focused and flexible than previous summits.

They pointed to other achievements of this year's conclave, including a plan to safeguard container shipping from terrorist threats. The leaders also called jointly on Pakistan to block the use of its territory for terrorist attacks in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, and backed plans for expanded peacekeeping forces in Central and West Africa.

But the official business of the meeting was overshadowed by continuing debate over the Middle East.

"I'm very pleased with the response to my proposal," Bush said Thursday, referring to his speech earlier this week calling for a change in Palestinian leadership.

However, his implicit call during that address for the ouster of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat drew no strong backing from fellow summit leaders. The conference's final communique avoided any direct reference to the Palestinian leadership issue, though it noted agreement on "the urgency of reform of Palestinian institutions and its economy, and of free and fair elections."

The official centerpiece of the summit agenda was the African aid initiative, grounded in the group's endorsement of the New Partnership for African Development, or NEPAD, a trade-and-aid initiative designed by Mbeki and other African leaders.

"If Africans really stick to the commitments they have made in NEPAD to themselves, and to each other, and if the G-8 [members] really carry out the action plan they are announcing today, this summit might come to be seen as a turning point in the history of Africa, and indeed of the world," said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who joined the African leaders here.

At a U.N. conference in Mexico in March, the major industrialized nations promised to boost annual economic aid to poor countries by $12 billion over four years--including an unexpected $5 billion pledge from the United States. Bush said then that he would seek to raise overall U.S. development assistance from $10 billion now to $15 billion by 2006, though he did not specify how or where the new money would be spent.

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