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The G-7 Summit Opens On Somber Note

Lyon, France, June 27 (RFE/RL) -- The flags will be flying, the bands will be playing and all the pomp and circumstance normally associated with the arrival of seven heads of state will be displayed today as the annual G-7 summit opens in Lyon, France.

But this annual gathering of the leaders of the largest industrial democracies -- to be joined by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Friday -- has been given a sudden and somber twist by the terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia.

U.S. President Bill Clinton was the most affected by the attack because it was apparently aimed at the U.S. and many American's lost their lives. But the other leaders are equally concerned.

French President Jacques Chirac had already placed discussion of international terrorism on the agenda of this summit. Now spokesmen for the French government in Paris and the U.S. government in Washington say terrorism, and it's link to the general situation in the Middle East will be moved to the top of the agenda.

Joining Chirac and Clinton for the opening of the summit today at a formal working dinner in Lyon's city hall will be British Prime Minister John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien.

Chernomyrdin, substituting for President Boris Yeltsin, will join the talks late Friday afternoon for a special session dealing with Russia's economic situation, it's efforts to connect with the global economy, and the broader array of world problems in which the other G-7 leaders wanted Russia's participation.

Officials could not say exactly how the formal agenda of the summit will be affected by plans to take up terrorism early on. Since the discussions tonight over dinner and tomorrow morning are to focus on economic questions, the indications are that terrorism discussions will be in the bilateral meetings each of the leaders schedules in and around the summit, and as a part of the economic talks.

While the Saudi bombing incident caused a definite change in the emphasis of this summit, the basic issues raised before have not gone away. The U.S. has been experiencing a rather robust economy, with inflation low and unemployment held to acceptable levels, but that is not the case in Japan or Europe. Japan's economy is showing some signs of a turn-around, but Europe -- and especially host France -- are watching as unemployment rises to near record levels, over 12 percent, and economic growth continues to sputter.

As much, Chirac is also determined that the summit will make progress on providing multilateral debt relief to the poorest, most debt-ridden nations while strengthening the ability of the global financial institutions -- the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank -- to deal with all kinds of crises in the future.

IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, World Bank President James Wolfensohn and United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Renato Ruggiery, and Chernomyrdin will join the group on Saturday for an intense, wide-ranging session on how all of the international organizations can strengthen their own operations and improve cooperation to deal with a whole array of global issues.

The heads of state will also be holding one-on-one meetings with each other, and Chernomyrdin will have private chats with each of the other seven. He meets with Clinton Saturday afternoon.

As the leaders hold their intensive session, the finance and foreign ministers are to hold concurrent meetings.