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World: Genoa Shuts Down Ahead Of G-7 Plus Russia Summit

The annual summit of the seven leading industrialized countries and Russia begins Friday amid heavy security precautions in the Italian seaport of Genoa. Leaders will be considering a wide-ranging agenda of economic and foreign policy issues -- ranging from fixing the world's economy to tackling the problems of global warming and AIDS. Tens of thousands of protesters are descending on the city to demonstrate against policies that they say harm the world's poor. RFE/RL correspondent Mark Baker reports from Genoa that fears of widespread violence have transformed the normally crowded port into a "ghost town."

Genoa, 19 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The northern Italian seaport of Genoa is a ghost town ahead of the 20 July start of talks among leaders of the seven leading industrialized countries -- known as the G-7 -- and Russia.

An estimated 20,000 police have sealed off Genoa's harbor and a three-square-kilometer section of the city center, dubbed the "red zone." It is within that area that U.S. President George W. Bush and his seven counterparts will hold three days of talks on topics ranging from the Middle East and missile defense to poverty reduction and AIDS.

Tens of thousands of anti-globalization demonstrators are arriving to protest the trade and economic policies of the most industrialized countries. They say these policies lead to a lowering of labor and environmental standards and exert a disproportionate burden on the poor.

Similar protests turned violent at last month's European Union summit in Goteborg, Sweden. In response, police at that meeting fired into the crowd, injuring some demonstrators. Protesters have vowed to counter violence with violence.

The result is that the streets and shops of Genoa, a normally bustling city of 650,000, are empty. Most of the pedestrians are either police or journalists. The only vehicles are light-blue buses ferrying security detachments from one checkpoint to another.

Speaking earlier this week in Washington, Bush criticized the demonstrators, especially their opposition to liberalizing trade:

"I respect the right of peaceful expression. But make no mistake: those who protest free trade are no friends of the poor. Those who protest free trade seek to deny them their best hope for escaping poverty."

He continued: "Legitimate concerns about labor standards, the environment, economic dislocation, should be and will be addressed. But we must reject a protectionism that blocks the path of prosperity for developing countries."

Bush and the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia will consider a wide-ranging agenda when the talks begin tomorrow. As is traditional at G-7 plus Russia summits, the first day is devoted to economic topics, and the second day to broader foreign policy and social issues.

Economic issues to be discussed include proposals by the United States and the European Union to open another round of global trade talks, plans to reform the lending practices of the World Bank, and efforts to reverse a global economic slowdown.

Bush this week jump-started talks on the role of the World Bank by calling on international lending institutions to give more money to poor nations in the form of grants instead of loans. Speaking on 17 July at the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, he said:

"I propose that the World Bank and other development banks dramatically increase their share of their funding provided as grants rather than loans to the poorest countries. Specifically, I propose that up to 50 percent of the funds provided by the development banks to the poorest countries be provided as grants for education, health, nutrition, water supply, sanitation, and other human needs."

The proposal may be opposed by European leaders who say that without proceeds from loans, the World Bank and other lenders would lose a key source of funding.

Foreign-policy talks are expected to be dominated by the Middle East and Macedonia. Leaders are expected also to discuss U.S. plans for a limited missile defense system and U.S. objections to the Kyoto Protocol, which would place restrictions on greenhouse gases emitted by industrialized countries.

Russia, for one, has objected to the proposed U.S. missile defense system because it would require the U.S. to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which Russia considers a cornerstone of arms-control efforts.

European countries oppose the U.S. stance on Kyoto because the United States is the world's biggest producer of the gases that are believed to contribute to climate change. Bush rejected it earlier this year on the grounds it would harm the U.S. economy.

Foreign ministers from the G-7 and Russia are meeting this week ahead of the Genoa summit at a villa near the Italian capital, Rome.

After meeting yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov did not comment today on the ABM treaty but said that an "understanding" had been reached on preserving newer disarmament agreements:

"I think that, in principle, it is important that as a result of the current changes of opinions, we came to an understanding in relation to the necessity of the preservation of all the founding agreements [from the 1970s and 80s] in the area of nuclear missile disarmament and guaranteeing their universal character." Powell today said the U.S. still considers itself to be bound by the ABM Treaty. But he defended the U.S. right to withdraw from treaties, including the ABM, that it no longer feels corresponds to circumstances:

"And obviously, within every treaty in the arms-control family, there is a provision within those treaties for modification and change as circumstances change."

Powell also defended the U.S. stance on the Kyoto Protocol. He said the U.S. wants to solve the problem of global warming but does not feel the Kyoto process is the right way:

"President Bush and his administration [are] committed to tackling the problem of greenhouse gases and global warming, but we find the Kyoto Protocol is not the way to get to that objective as far as we are concerned."

Bilateral talks, including a face-to-face meeting between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, are also planned. The summit ends on 22 July.

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    Mark Baker

    Mark Baker is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Prague. He has written guidebooks and articles for Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodor’s, and his articles have also appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.