G8 opens with promises of aid to Arab Spring

G8 opens with promises of aid to Arab Spring

The European Union told the Group of Eight (G8) it would provide hundreds of millions of euros in extra aid to Arab countries ready to embrace democracy as world leaders met in Deauville, France, for a wide-ranging summit Thursday, DPA reported.

The summit in northern France's seaside resort opened with the news that Ratko Mladic, the Serb general wanted for genocide in Bosnia during the 1990s, had been arrested.

Speaking ahead of the G8, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso confirmed that the 27-member EU would provide 1.24 billion euros (1.75 billion dollars) in "fresh new money" to its neighbours in the east and across the Mediterranean.

Traditionally, about two-thirds of the EU's neighbourhood policy budget - until this week totalling 5.7 billion euros for 2011-2013 - goes to North Africa and the Middle East.

Barroso, however, stressed that EU assistance would be conditional on democratic and economic reforms in the Arab world.

"This is a down-payment for the future of the region, but also the future of Europe," Barroso said.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Premier David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi were greeted by the summit's host, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, upon their arrival in Deauville.

Despite a strong wind and a light rain, Obama, Merkel and Sarkozy took time to shake hands with a crowd of locals across the street before settling down for a working lunch.

Obama's wife Michelle did not accompany him to France, having flown back to the United States after their visit to Britain.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been the first to arrive, late on Wednesday, in the Normandy resort, a favourite among Parisians.

The G8 offers heads of state and government of some of the world's leading economies an annual opportunity to discuss the biggest issues shaping the world.

Its relevance, however, is increasingly being questioned given the exclusion of major economies such as China, India and Brazil, who only take part in expanded G20 meetings.

Topping the agenda in northern France was how best to assist the fledging democracies of Egypt and Tunisia and help promote the so-called "Arab Spring." Syria was expected to come under criticism for its treatment of protesters, while the progress of the NATO-led campaign in Libya was to be reviewed.

Nuclear safety has also come to the fore in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with several countries pushing for tougher standards.

"The security of using nuclear energy cannot be safeguarded with national decisions alone," Merkel told parliament ahead of her departure for Deauville. "We need a test of security standards on the international level too."

Leaders were also expected to discuss the global economy, particularly the crises facing eurozone members Greece, Portugal and Ireland, and the stalled Doha round of trade talks.

"We will not let the euro fail," European Union President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters amid growing concerns that Greece may require an additional bailout to avoid bankruptcy.

"We will also discuss international terrorism," Van Rompuy said.

"The death of Osama Bin Laden has weakened al-Qaeda core" and "the Arab Spring now also seals their political demise. The EU and the US, together with our friends in the Muslim world, will continue our joint effort to prevent and fight against terrorism," he said.

Sarkozy's controversial idea about the need to have more rules for the internet was also expected to feature during discussions.

However, much of the talk on the sidelines of the G8 was expected to be devoted to Christine Lagarde's bid to become the next head of the International Monetary Fund.

The French finance minister announced her candidacy in Paris on Wednesday. Mexican central bank governor Agustin Carstens is also in the running.

A total of 12,250 security force members have been deployed around Deauville, despite the conspicuous absence of traditional anti-G8 protests.

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