Leaders of the world's most industrialized countries have begun arriving in northern Japan for a Group of Eight (G8) summit aimed at tackling climate change, rising food and oil prices, and global economic challenges.
Japanese authorities sealed off the island of Hokkaido, with demonstrations relegated to the island's largest city of Sapporo, where at least four people have been arrested.
Japan has spent a record sum of money and deployed more than 20,000 police officers to seal off the three-day forum at the remote lakeside resort of Toyako, which begins on July 7.
A small protest has been held in Sapporo, the city closest to the venue, calling on G8 leaders -- representing Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States -- to work hard on issues affecting the world's poorest people.
"We are coming to the G8 not because we recognize it as a legitimate forum, but [because] we realize that many important decisions get made here and so we want to make sure that the voices of people in the world and the voices of citizens in the G8 countries gets heard and that they feel the pressure and that they keep their promises and take an action," said Dennis Howlett, representative of the Canadian "Make Poverty History" campaign.
Dozens of nongovernmental organizations and aid groups were due to launch a three-day Alternative Summit, including discussions on the environment, peace, human rights, development, and poverty.
On July 5, several thousand demonstrators marched through Sapporo, demanding that G8 leaders take action on global warming, poverty, and rising food prices. The protesters banged drums and carried colorful banners proclaiming "Shut Down the G8" and shouted: "We are against a summit of rich nations."
Four people were arrested in minor scuffles with police. One of those detained was a cameraman for the Reuters news agency.
Protesters criticized the arrests, saying their rights were being violated.
"And overall, this thing displayed at the summit gives me hope that in the future we can form more direct democracy than what we have right now with these eight powerful countries controlling lives of everything on the planet," said Brandon Jourdan, a freelance cameraman who filmed the scuffles.
Violent antiglobalization marches have marred past G8 summits, which have become a magnet for protesters angry about issues ranging from climate change to the consequences of globalization.
G8 leaders will be joined by those of some 15 other countries, including China, India, Brazil, Australia and several African states for expanded sessions on global warming and poverty alleviation.
Leaders are expected to pledge to lead efforts to halve emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
But the rising food and oil prices and their effect on the global economy and the world's poorest countries have moved up the agenda.
At his summer residence at Castelgandolfo near Rome, Pope Benedict XVI called on the G8 summit to focus on the needs of the world's poorest and most vulnerable.
"I appeal to the participants of the meeting at Hokkaido-Toyako, so that they put the needs of the weakest and poorest populations at the center of their deliberations," the pope said on July 6. "Their vulnerability has increased today because of financial speculation and turbulence, with a perverse effect on food and energy prices."
Following talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda less than 24 hours ahead of the summit, U.S. President George W. Bush said it was time for rich countries to tackle the problems that Africa is facing.
"We'll be very constructive in the dialogue when it comes to environment," Bush said. "And I care about the environment, but today there's too much suffering in the continent of Africa and now is the now for the time for the comfortable nations to step up and do something about it."
It will be the last G8 meeting to be attended by Bush and the first for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
compiled from agency reports