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G8: Demonstrators’ Rights and Africa at Heart of Summit

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, May 24 2007 (IPS) - With two weeks to go to this year’s summit of heads of state and government of the world’s eight most industrialised countries (G8), respect for demonstrators’ rights and the fulfilment of the group’s economic aid promises for Africa are at the heart of the preparations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her assurances on May 22 that the G8 will live up to the numerous pledges it has made towards Africa. “We must demonstrate our reliability and trustworthiness,” she said at the eighth Meeting of the Africa Partnership Forum, in Berlin.

The forum, launched by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, and the African countries that founded the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), discussed political, economic and societal aspects of development.

But Merkel fell short of guaranteeing that the G8 will double aid to Africa by the year 2010, as promised at the group’s 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Instead, she emphasised the private investment opportunities that are arising in Africa. “Whoever accepts Africa as an investment location today will reap the rewards tomorrow,” Merkel told a group of high-level managers attending the conference.

“Africa is a continent with an unbelievable development potential,” Merkel said.

The G8 (made up of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States) is meeting Jun. 6-8 in the German Baltic seaside resort of Heiligendamm. Other than aid for Africa, the group has included on its agenda discussions on the stability of international financial markets, the international trade system, and a global environmental policy to combat global warming.

Prior to the Africa Partnership Forum meeting, the G8 ministers of finance and the economy, who came together on May 19 in Potsdam, some 20 kilometres south of Berlin, said in a joint declaration that “We reaffirm our commitment to meeting our responsibilities as donors, in particular the importance of delivering on our aid commitments” to Africa.

But according to a draft common declaration prepared by the German government for the Heiligendamm summit, the G8 will pledge to raise official development aid to Africa to 25 billion dollars a year by 2010 – far short of the 67 billion dollars a year promised in Gleneagles in 2005.

Nor does the draft declaration provide precise details on how this aid should be implemented. One paragraph of the paper, which invites the OECD to propose ways of complying with such promises, has been controversially discussed among G8 representatives, and is likely to disappear from the final version, one German source told IPS.

Such vague formulations have led analysts and observers to criticise the G8 for once again forgetting their own pledges towards Africa.

“The G8 finance ministers have shown collective amnesia, choosing to forget their promises to Africa,” said Max Lawson of Oxfam International, who was present at Potsdam on May 19.

“Chancellor Merkel has got just à days to show true leadership, berate her fellow leaders into action and avoid embarrassment in the eyes of the world and the denial of hope for millions. The German G8 must not be remembered as the summit of shame,” Lawson added.

In the meantime, another heated debate is taking place around the G8 summit – that of the right of peaceful anti-globalisation organisations to demonstrate against the official policies of the richest countries on earth

The German government is applying a wide variety of methods to prevent protesters from all over the world from disturbing the meeting in Heiligendamm, some of which even border on the ridiculous, observers say.

After formally accusing tiny German leftist groups of forming a “terror network” to disrupt the G8 summit, and searching activists’ private homes and offices, seizing computers, cell-phones and cutting off Internet connections, while re-establishing passport controls along the otherwise open European borders, the German government has announced that it might use another method to deter protesters: Dogs trained to identify the body odours of specific activists and pick them out of crowds of demonstrators, in order for them to be arrested.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called the use of personal items of “suspected criminals” to identify them with the use of trained dogs “a resource that merits application in special cases.”

But the announcement triggered a wave of protests from human rights groups, and even members of government.

Barbara Lochbihler, head of the German bureau of Amnesty International, pointed out that “the right to demonstrate is a very important human right. For a democratic state that respects the rule of law, it is undeserving that its government is considering using its citizens’ intimate information (such as personal odours) for political reasons.”

Lochbihler compared this method to those used by the former communist German Democratic Republic’s (East Germany) secret police, known worldwide as the Stasi.

A similar comparison was made by the former president of the German parliament, Social Democratic Deputy Wolfgang Thierse. “I urge authorities to avoid falling into the police hysteria typical of the Stasi,” Thierse, who was a church minister and human rights activist in East Germany, said in an interview.

Lochbihler also complained that the government was planning to build a temporary open-air prison for demonstrators, and to hinder foreign activists from entering Germany. “Such measures recall those used by the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi before the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa,” she said.

The Genoa summit has become a reference point in G8 history because of the violent clashes that broke out between demonstrators and Italian police, which led to the killing of 23-year old activist Carlo Giuliani by a police officer.

German anti-globalisation groups have announced that they expect some 100,000 demonstrators from all over Europe to attend the protests against the G8 summit.

But if the demonstrators are indeed able to enter Germany, they will be far away from Heiligendamm, for the German government has constructed a 12-kilometre concrete and barbed-wire fence at a cost of 17 million dollars around the summit site.

In all, 16,000 police officers and more than 1,100 soldiers will guard the fence, and keep protesters several kilometres away from the site. In addition, nine naval ships will patrol the waters off the resort.

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