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World: Genoa Focused On Poor, But Did Protesters Listen?

Leaders of the world's seven wealthiest nations and Russia were clearly trying to tailor their summit in Genoa over the weekend to the needs of the world's poor, but it's not clear that anti-globalization demonstrators -- who opposed the summit -- were listening. In a statement yesterday wrapping up the summit's achievements, leaders stressed efforts to reduce poverty and AIDS in poor countries and to increase trade and investment. But their words were likely drowned out by two days of violent skirmishes between protesters and police that left one protester dead, scores injured on both sides, and many wondering if summits such as these are really worth the effort.

Genoa, 23 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of seven major industrialized countries and Russia, meeting over the weekend in the Italian port of Genoa, have vowed a major effort to combat world poverty.

Much of a 36-point statement released at the end of three days of talks yesterday is devoted to what participants call a "strategic approach" to poverty reduction. It includes measures aimed at providing debt relief to the poorest countries, promoting trade and investment, and helping to fight infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. On 20 July, participants pledged more than $1.3 billion to fight AIDS.

The statement appears aimed at addressing some of the concerns of anti-globalization protesters, who say the richest countries do not do enough to the help poor countries solve their problems.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking at the end of the summit, hailed the poverty reduction plan as a new "Marshall Plan," comparing it to the massive amounts of aid the United States provided to Western Europe at the end of World War II.

"I think the lasting legacy of the summit will be in respect of Africa, where in effect the leading countries of the world and the African leaders have come together and agreed [on] a plan -- a kind of Marshall Plan if you will -- for the future of Africa, which we will now work on to tie down in its specifics and details so that we deal with every aspect of the problems that confront Africa, including the problems of conflict resolution."

The tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the city, however, are not likely to have taken much notice to what was decided at the summit.

Protesters and police skirmished for two days, laying waste to large areas of Genoa. On Friday, thousands of protesters attempted to breach a security fence that police had erected around the city center, where the summit was taking place.

At one point, demonstrators succeeded in crashing through the gate, but were quickly repelled by police wielding water cannons and tear gas.

One protester, a 23-year-old Italian named Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by police, becoming the first demonstrator to die since the anti-capitalists demonstrations began in earnest in Seattle in 1999.

The circumstances of the shooting are still not clear, but protest groups are calling on police to launch a full investigation. The Italian interior minister at first said the police officer had fired in self-defense, but authorities later said they were considering charging the officer with manslaughter.

News of the shooting spread quickly throughout Genoa, casting a pall over the summit and firing up protesters and police alike.

That anger came to the fore on 21 July, when a planned peaceful march of well over 100,000 demonstrators disintegrated into chaos. Small groups of more radical protesters detached themselves from the main march and began pelting police with rocks and bottles.

As they did the day before, police responded with tear gas and moved in quickly to disperse the protesters.

On the night of 21 July, police then raided the offices of the main umbrella group that coordinated the protests, the Genoa Social Forum. Witnesses say as many as 50 protestors were injured. Leaders of the forum say they promote only peaceful protest, but police say they recovered weapons in the raid and detained about 10 protesters.

The next day was relatively quiet, but the 20,000 police and military units detached to protect the summit area remained on high alert.

The host of the event, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said the material damage to the city from the protests ran to the millions of dollars. This -- coupled with the death of one protester, the high cost of securing the city center, and the extreme disruption to Genoa residents -- led many to question whether meetings such as the large-scale and high-profile G-7 summits are really necessary.

U.S. president George W. Bush defended the talks, which stress informal dialogue over formal presentations. He said they were useful for the leaders of Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States to get to know each other.

"[At events such as the G-7,] we're able to continue a dialogue in a very friendly and open way, and I think that's going to be very important for our ability to work further together on a lot of issues, particularly that of a new strategic framework."

Blair was more emphatic. He said it would set what he called a "dangerous" precedent if the leaders of democratically elected states decided not to meet in person because of fear of provoking demonstrations.

"Whatever the cynicism there is about such summits [like the G-7], I think it would be not just a mistake but a very dangerous thing if the leaders of the developed and democratic world felt unable to come together and discuss issues that are of vital importance to our citizens: trade, jobs, prosperity, security, international peace."

In any event, next year's G-7 host, Canada, has already announced plans to scale back the summit. Prime Minister Jean Chretien said yesterday the summit would not be held in a major city, but rather in the mountains of Canada's western province of Alberta. Chretien said each member state would be asked to reduce the number of staff attending.

In their final statement, G-7 and Russian leaders admitted that there was still disagreement among them on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases believed to be responsible for climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol is supported by the G-7's West European states and Russia, but the Bush administration this year withdrew from the process, saying the emissions limits would hurt the U.S. economy. Canada and Japan have expressed reservations about the document.

But summit participants stressed that all of them -- including the United States -- now agree on the dangers of climate change and the need to combat it.

Britain's Blair says this agreement marks a step forward:

"We agreed in specific terms that we share the aim and objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and we've agreed -- whatever our respective positions on the Kyoto process -- to try and overcome those difficulties."

Russia is due to host a global conference in 2003 on climate change, with the participation of governments, scientists, and non-governmental organizations.

Addressing economic issues, the leaders said they agreed on measures to stabilize the world financial system and to promote growth. They also pledged to hold another round of world trade talks designed to lower tariffs and trade barriers.

Blair said this would create some $450 billion of new wealth for the global economy, including $150 billion for the least-developed countries.

Leaders also discussed problems in Macedonia, the Middle East, and on the Korean peninsula. In a statement on Macedonia, they stressed support for the government and the country's territorial integrity, and urged a peaceful solution. On the Middle East, they said they supported deployment of neutral monitors to ensure that Israelis and Palestinians adhere to a cease-fire.

Yesterday (Sunday), in bilateral discussions, Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced agreement on a broad format for talks on a new strategic arms relationship.

Putin said after the meeting that future talks would link Washington's plan to build a missile defense system with the issue of reducing the size of the nuclear arsenals for both sides. There were no details of the proposals.

Bush said he appreciated what he said was Putin's willingness to think differently about disarmament:

"I appreciate so very much President Putin's willingness to think differently about how to make the world more peaceful. [And] along these lines, as the president said, we're going to have an open and honest dialogue about defensive systems as well as reduction of offensive systems. The two go hand-in-hand in order to set up a new strategic framework for peace."

Bush indicated Putin had taken a different tone from their meeting in Slovenia last month. After the earlier summit, Putin threatened to increase deployment of Russian nuclear warheads if Washington unilaterally abandons the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to build a missile defense system.

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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.