World leaders gather in Italy for key G8
ROME: The world's most powerful leaders gathered in Italy on the eve of a G8 summit aimed at finding common ground on how to tackle the global economic crisis, climate change and turmoil in Iran.
"Everything is ready, I am totally serene," Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told the Italian press as he prepared to welcome leaders of the group of eight (G8) industrialised nations and a host of emerging powers to the city of L'Aquila, devastated in April by an earthquake which killed nearly 300.
The build-up to the three-day summit has been marred both by increasingly lurid reports about Berlusconi's private life and also by safety fears in L'Aquila, north east of Rome, where aftershocks are still being felt.
Officials have drawn up plans to evacuate the leaders in the event of a tremor measuring over four points on the Richter scale.
Only last Friday, a 4.1 magnitude quake struck just one kilometre (half a mile) from the military academy where the gathering is to take place.
The G8 summit traditionally brings together leaders of the eight most industrialised nations -- Italy, the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan, Britain, France and Germany.
But much of the discussion over the course of the week will be expanded to include emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil.
Chinese President Hu Jintao is among the leaders who have already arrived and others were expected to land throughout Tuesday. US President Barack Obama will arrive on Wednesday morning at the end of a trip to Moscow.
The bulk of the summit is likely to focus on efforts to shore up the global economy since London hosted a G20 summit in April.
At the G20 summit in London, Obama and his peers agreed to commit one trillion dollars to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other global bodies to help struggling economies.
"It's a time when the leaders can get together and assess where they are in the economic recovery effort, what further steps need to be taken to restore the balance of economic growth, expand and restore exports, and create jobs," senior White House official Michael Froman said in a pre-summit briefing.
In their own mini summit on Monday designed to coordinate their position in L'Aquila, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said they would soon put forward proposals for talks to address the volatility of the oil market.
Sarkozy said the world could no longer tolerate "yo-yo" fluctuations while Brown said that it was unacceptable that the world's "most important commodity" was also "among the most volatile and unstable."
On climate change, Sarkozy and Brown said they would press their G8 partners to redouble efforts toward a deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the Copenhagen conference in December.
The G8 has prepared a draft communique calling on global emissions to peak by 2020 and then be "substantially reduced" to cap the rise in temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who will also be in L'Aquila, plans to press the G8 to live up to previous pledges on climate change and aid for Africa, telling journalists "the time for good rhetoric and half measures is over."
According to a report in the Financial Times, the G8 will commit 12 billion dollars (8.6 billion euros) over three years for agricultural development in the developing world with the US and Japan stumping up most of the cash.
Western leaders have made clear that they plan to push the post-election crisis in Iran to the top of the agenda but China and Russia are cool towards internationalising it.
"The issue of Iran will be front and centre" of the G8, said Denis McDonough, one of Obama's top foreign policy aides.
"The Iranian authorities are trying to blame 'foreign powers' for their violent and abusive campaign against peaceful protesters," said Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch's executive director.
"The G8 needs to make it clear to Tehran that it cannot shift the blame and that human rights concerns will be at the forefront of future G8 engagement with Iran," he added.