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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Glorious isolation at G8 summit
Rob Watson
By Rob Watson
BBC Washington correspondent

On the final day of the G8 summit, taking place at the resort of Sea Island in the southern United States, Rob Watson finds that security is so tight that even the army of correspondents has been kept 90 miles away.

Sea Island G8 summit
Local residents have been taken aback by the heavy G8 security
I knew this was going to be one of those strange experiences from the minute I got off the plane.

The first thing I heard at Savannah airport was Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower.

What could be more inappropriate for a gathering of politicians and staid diplomats than that anthem from the 60s era of sex, drugs and rock and roll?

On the other hand, maybe the "watchtower" part of the title was to tip us off to the near police-state that Georgia has been turned into as a result of the G8 summit.

It has become something of a cliché to talk about the intense security surrounding these kinds of summits, but the Americans really do appear to have quite literally pushed the boat out on this one.

First off, the G8 leaders are not even on the US mainland but on an exclusive little hideaway called Sea Island.

Normally a playground for the rich and famous, the resort where the G8 leaders are staying costs about $800 (£440) a night.

So I hope Jacques Chirac and the others have brought their credit cards, unless of course, as I suspect, it is a treat from the American taxpayers - including me.

Terrified locals

The choice of Sea Island has sparked considerable interest.

It was apparently where George Bush, the dad, and Barbara Bush went for their honeymoon in 1945, prompting one diplomat to ask whether maybe this is where George W Bush the President was manufactured.

Officials have been offering advice on how to avoid squashing the eggs of rare sea turtles
Back to the security business, the island and this general area of Georgia are being protected by some 10,000 law enforcement personnel at sea, in the air and on the ground.

Their heavy presence has caused so much concern to officials in the state who keep an eye on wildlife that they have been offering advice on how to avoid squashing the eggs of rare sea turtles.

Not surprisingly all this has scared the living daylights out of the locals, who seem to have simply vanished.

This area is normally about as sleepy and southern as it gets, so armoured humvees and helicopters make a pretty shocking change from the usual portly sheriff or two sitting in their squad cars.

One local man and his wife, drawled that "y'all from Washington maybe used to this stuff but we ain't."

Even the usual protesters against global capitalism, and all that other stuff they do not like, have been discouraged.

By my reckoning there is probably a ratio of 1,000 law enforcement officers to every foe of globalisation here.

So, if there are going to be any running battles they're sure to be decidedly one-sided.

Eerie communications

And if the locals and protesters are being kept as far as humanly possible from the G8 leaders, so are the journalists.

According to some piece of paper I saw there are some 3,000 of us here.

Now when I say here I mean the Savannah Georgia International Media centre.

Strangely enough, the media centre is also on an island - just not the same island as the G8 leaders.

G8 leaders at Sea Island
G8 leaders are meeting only for the second time since the Iraq war
It is a vast, modern, air-conditioned building teeming with reporters muttering the usual stuff about there being no story and no point in being here.

But we are not completely cut off from the G8.

Every few minutes there are eerie tannoy announcements informing us that we are about to get a video-link briefing from the other island.

And every so often the big names appear to push their governments' view.

A friend of mine, who is a Londoner but of Iraqi origin and who now works for an Arab television station, told me he had done an interview with Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's National Security Adviser.

Apparently oblivious to his almost cockney accent, Ms Rice told my friend that he was probably used to the hot and sticky weather in Savannah given where he was from.

He was too polite to say it never got quite that steamy in London's West End.

Hopeful agenda

Now the subject of their interview was what the Americans would like this G8 summit to be all about: the promotion of democracy and economic reform throughout the Arab Muslim world.

Chirac and Bush at the G8 summit
Not all leaders agree with President Bush's plans for Arab reform
The Americans believe reform in that part of the world is long overdue, and that without it there will be more terrorism, poverty and social strife.

But there are a couple of major problems with the scheme.

First off, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two of the most important and influential countries in the region, said thanks but no thanks to their invitations from President Bush to attend.

Second, the other G8 (led by the French) leaders are decidedly less enthusiastic about the whole project than the Americans for a variety of reasons.

So does this mean the G8 summit is all a hopeless waste of time and money? Well maybe not.

After all, everyone thought President Reagan was crazy when he predicted communism would one day end up on the scrap heap of history, and look what happened there.


From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 10 June, 2004 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


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