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G-8's pledge to Africa criticized

Activists say $60 billion to fight AIDS and other diseases isn't enough and breaks a promise from a previous summit.

June 09, 2007|Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman | Times Staff Writers

HEILIGENDAMM, GERMANY — The world's leading industrialized nations Friday pledged $60 billion to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis mainly in Africa, a gesture that drew criticism from human rights groups who termed it an insufficient commitment and part of a pattern of unfulfilled promises.

The agreement on African aid, half of which would be provided by the U.S., came as the Group of 8's three-day summit concluded at this Baltic Sea resort. The money is part of a series of measures to reduce disease and spur economic growth on a continent racked by poverty and corruption where more than 2 million people die each year of AIDS.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the G-8 would rise to its responsibilities to the developing world. Speaking on a day when representatives of six African nations were here, Merkel added: "On the other hand, we want to stress that we also have expectations about what should happen in Africa."

The chancellor said the $60-billion package "is not yet enough.... Africa is not only a continent with many diseases, it is also a continent with many chances for the future."

Merkel characterized the pledge to Africa as the latest milestone in a summit that also calmed tensions between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin over Washington's proposed missile defense system in Eastern Europe and led to a compromise among G-8 members on reversing global warming.

The decision on Africa drew the most pointed criticism among activists and tens of thousands of anti-globalization protesters.

"By falling scandalously short of what the United Nations says is needed to fight AIDS and HIV, and by setting the treatment targets well below actual need, [G-8 members] have capped ambition at a level which will be fatal for many," said Steve Cockburn, coordinator for the Stop AIDS Campaign.

Human rights groups have accused the G-8 of breaking earlier promises. At the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, leaders pledged $25 billion a year in development aid to Africa by 2010. Activists said the pace of funding had fallen well behind that goal.

They also said the $60 billion was not enough to pay for drugs on a continent where 65% of the world's HIV-infected people live.

"The announcement of $60 billion to tackle disease is not the increase promised in Gleneagles," said Kumi Naidoo, a member of Global Call to Action Against Poverty. "There is no time frame for delivery and a deliberate absence of detail. We are appalled by the lack of urgency they are showing."

The Group of 8 said other assistance to Africa would include granting $60 billion in debt relief, working with 30 African countries to halve the number of malaria deaths, improving education funding and pressuring countries to fight corruption. The leaders said the continent's 6% annual growth was helping reduce poverty in several nations.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world's richest nations reaffirmed "the commitments we made a couple of years ago at Gleneagles. But the important thing is we have to set out how we are going to do them....

"This is a partnership, it is a deal between Africa and the developed world, and just as we have recommitted ourselves to substantial increases in support and help, so Africa has recommitted itself to its responsibilities as part of that partnership."

Bono, the lead singer for U2 who has been lobbying for African aid for years, criticized the G-8 for offering only "labyrinthine language" that jeopardizes its commitment to Africa and other global issues.

"It's worth remembering that these aren't statistics: These are hospitals without the electricity or clean water they've been promised. Schools without roofs. Mothers without vaccinations for their children," he said. "The bureau-babble reveals a struggle within the G-8. Some leaders have been stepping up, but collectively they have been slipping up."

By late afternoon, G-8 leaders from the U.S., Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, France, Britain and Canada were packing up and heading to airports with their entourages. The ranks of protesters, who throughout the week had blocked roads and marched through fields in unsuccessful attempts to disrupt the summit, also thinned along with a onetime force of 16,000 police officers.

The day's biggest excitement outside the 8-mile-long razor wire fence ringing the Heiligendamm resort was a Greenpeace hot-air balloon that was forced down by police helicopters for violating the no-fly zone.

Inside the fence, leaders criticized Iran over its nuclear enrichment program and failed to agree on the future of Kosovo, which the U.S. says should be independent but Russia contends is part of a sovereign Serbia.

"Naturally, after two days all of the problems of the world have not yet been solved, but we have moved a step forward," Merkel said.

Retzlaff reported from Heiligendamm and Fleishman from Berlin. Times staff writer James Gerstenzang in Heiligendamm contributed to this report.

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