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Sunday, 22 July, 2001, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Q&A: G8 Summit explained

The G8 summit in Genoa from 20-22 July brought together world leaders and protesters to debate globalisation. But what is the G8 summit, and why has it become a target of protest?

What are the G7 and G8?

The G7, or group of seven, is made up of the world's seven richest industrial countries - the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, and Canada - whose leaders have been meeting regularly since 1975 in an annual summit to discuss problems in the world economy.

The summits began when the world was facing an oil crisis which had pushed the world into recession, and this year there will again be talk of how to coordinate a response to the global economic slowdown.

However, the annual summit has evolved over the years to include other topics such as the environment, money laundering, and global health issues.

In 1991, Russia was informally admitted to take part in the non-economic discussions, and in 1994 this was made permanent, turning the G7 summit into the G8 summit.

The leaders who met this year include President George W Bush of the United States, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Mr Bush is among three newly-elected leaders: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was host to the 1994 G8 gathering in Naples, were the others.

The meeting rotates between the G7 countries, and next year it will take place in Canada.

What did the summit hope to accomplish?

The summit had a broad agenda including the prospects for world economic growth, the importance of preventing future economic crises, and the need to help the world's poor.

However, on some key issues there was little agreement.

Europeans criticised the US attitude towards climate change after the collapse of negotiations over the Kyoto treaty - which is being discussed separately in Bonn.

The Russians were concerned about the US missile defence plan, but in a surprise breakthrough, President Vladimir Putin agreed to open talks on the matter in conjunction with arms reduction negotiations.

There were also areas of agreement, for example in setting up a global health care fund to fight Aids and a joint working group with African leaders to try to attack the continent's worst problems.

Who took part, and what was the schedule?

The meeting began on Friday lunchtime in the Italian port city of Genoa, where leaders discussed world trade, prospects for the world economy, and the reform of the world's financial institutions (the World Bank and IMF).

In the evening, leaders of African countries including South Africa and Mali were invited, along with the heads of the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, and the UN. The leaders announced a plan for a $1bn global health fund to fight Aids, TB and malaria.

On Saturday, the leaders discussed poverty reduction and environmental issues before being joined by President Putin of Russia for lunch.

World affairs, including the situation in the Middle East and the Balkans, were the focus of that discussion.

What do the protesters want?

The people who took to the streets of Genoa believe that the G8 summits are fundamentally undemocratic because the world's rich countries are taking decisions that affect the vast majority who have no say.

Many also argue that the trade decisions taken by the G8, for example in encouraging poor countries to open their markets to foreign multinationals, and encouraging free trade talks, are likely to lead to further impoverishment of those countries.

And many protesters object to the failure of the rich countries to reach agreement on environmental objectives, especially after the US decision to withdraw from the climate change treaty.

However, the protesters are a diverse group with different ideologies, ranging from green groups and anti-debt campaigners to anarchists and hard-line communists.

What have G8 summits accomplished?

The first summits were largely concerned with economic policy, especially the collapse of the system of fixed exchange rates in the 1970s and their replacement by the floating exchange rates that we have now.

In the 1980s, the G7 summits - and the associated meetings of the finance ministers from the G7 countries - led to the Plaza and Louvre Accords. They helped stabilise the value of the dollar, which had become too high for the good of the world economy.

More recently, G8 summits have addressed issues like international terrorism, aid to Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, and debt relief for poor countries - which was agreed in Cologne in 1999 after mass demonstrations by the advocacy group Jubilee 2000.

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