G8 leaders lunched and talked with African heads of state at a luxury hotel on Monday as activists accused the rich nations' club of backpedalling on pledges to double aid to the world's poorest continent.
The issue of African poverty that tops the agenda at the start of a three-day summit in Japan is closely linked with rising food and fuel prices and the contentious topic of how to fight global warming, which the G8 will tackle later in the week.
The G8 has invited seven African leaders to join the opening day of its annual summit, taking place on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Max Lawson, a policy adviser to Oxfam, a British advocacy group, said the summit was arguably the most important G8 gathering in a decade.
"The world is clearly facing multiple crises -- serious, serious economic problems, both rich and poor countries. But it is poor people who suffer the most, suffering hugely from food price increases," Lawson told reporters.
At its 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, the G8 agreed to double aid by 2010 to $50 billion, half of which would go to Africa.
But a report last month by the Africa Progress Panel, which was set up to monitor implementation of the Gleneagles commitments, said that under current spending plans the G8 will fall $40 billion short of its target.
"There are good plans being developed. We also know when efforts are made, great results can be achieved. But the problem is these plans are not being backed by serious financing," said Oliver Buston, a spokesman for activist group ONE.
"It is as if the G8 has built a car but they have not put any fuel in it. It is time for that to change."
Monday's talks bring the G8 -- the United States, Japan, France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Italy and Russia -- together with leaders of Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
This year marks the half-way point to reach eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000 to reduce world poverty by 2015.
Japanese Foreign Ministry press spokesman Kazuo Kodama acknowledged on Sunday that Africa was well behind target on health, but added: "G8 leaders will certainly deliver a strong and concrete message to help African countries to achieve MDGs."
With grain prices having doubled since January 2006, Africa needs more help, not less, activists say.
A preliminary World Bank study released last week estimated that up to 105 million more people could drop below the poverty line due to rising food prices, including 30 million in Africa.
In Liberia, the cost of food for a typical household jumped by 25 percent in January alone, increasing the poverty rate to over 70 percent from 64 percent, the study found.
Many critics and even member countries suggest the G8, formed in 1975 with just six members in the wake of the first oil crisis, should expand to take in large developing nations to better represent the world.
On Monday hundreds of Anti-G8 protests from Japan and other countries marched in heavy rain toward the summit venue, carrying signs slamming the rich nations' cosy club.
Heavy security meant that they were kept several kilometres (miles) away. One group tried to take an unauthorised route but was turned back by dozens of police carrying shields and shouting "Go back, go back".
On Tuesday, discussions will turn to economic and political problems including North Korea's nuclear programmes and Zimbabwe.
The G8 is considering a stand-alone statement on Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's 28-year-rule was extended last month after a disputed and violent election.
"I believe G8 should send a strong message so as to ensure that democracy in Zimbabwe will be protected," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Global warming will be the focus of an expanded meeting on Wednesday that will include China and India, two fast-growing economies that are pumping out more and more greenhouse gases.
But deep gaps within the G8 as well as between rich and poor nations have raised doubts about the chances for progress beyond last year's summit, where the G8 agreed to "seriously consider" a global goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The European Union and green groups are piling pressure on a reluctant United States to agree to a target to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century and back the need for 2020 targets for rich countries as well.
Last Mod: 07 Temmuz 2008, 12:51