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G8 meets in Japan, pledges billions for Afghanistan

Latest update : 2008-06-26

The rich nations' group G8 met in Kyoto, Japan, where the diplomats pledged 4 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan. Other issues discussed included the break over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and Zimbabwe's crisis.

KYOTO, Japan, June 26 (Reuters) - Afghanistan was top of the
agenda as rich nations' foreign ministers met in Japan on
Thursday, but news of a breakthrough in efforts to end North
Korea's nuclear ambitions overshadowed their talks.

Diplomats said the Group of Eight (G8) ministers would urge
Afghanistan's neighbours to play a more active role in building
stability in a country bedevilled by militancy, drug-trafficking
and corruption.

Around 100 people staged a peaceful demonstration as the
ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
Russia and the United States arrived for their two-day meeting in
the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, a city better known for
its temples and cuisine than street protests.

The crowd of mostly older Japanese and a handful of
foreigners, many of them escaping the June sun under parasols and
sunhats, carried banners proclaiming "No G8 summit", "No to free
trade and militarism", "No more poverty", "Stop the Iraq
invasion" and "Begone U.S. Secretary Rice".

"America is eating the world," said Osamu Matsumoto, a
55-year-old protester wearing a mask showing U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice munching on a cake shaped like the earth.

"I hear they are talking about the Middle East and North
Korea, but I think that just means that they are organising the
next war," said Carlos Abril, a 31-year-old anti-globalisation
activist from Madrid.

Although the ministers' agenda was packed with issues, from
the political crisis in Zimbabwe to Iran's nuclear ambitions and
Middle East peace, the focus of attention was on Beijing, where
the government said North Korea would shortly hand over a
declaration of its nuclear activities.

The long-overdue step may see the reclusive state removed
from Washington's list of terrorist states and could win it
diplomatic recognition and aid to shore up its crumbling economy.

Rice told reporters in Kyoto that there was still work to do
in verifying that North Korea, which tested a nuclear device two
years ago, had given up the pursuit of atomic weapons.

"Considering North Korea's track record, verification is
essential," she said in a column in the Wall Street Journal.

"But still it must be asked: What if North Korea cheats?,"
Rice said. "The answer is simple: We will hold North Korea
accountable. We will reimpose any applicable sanctions that we
have waived -- plus add new ones."


A pressing issue for the G8 foreign ministers is Afghanistan,
which two weeks ago won aid pledges from international donors
worth some $20 billion.

Officials said the minister would now ask Kabul to play its
own part by fighting harder against opium trade and corruption,
and would also press for more efforts to develop impoverished
areas on the border with Pakistan where Taliban militants thrive.

It is six-and-a-half years since U.S.-led forces toppled the
Islamist government of Afghanistan, but Britain's top military
officer this week described the country as "medieval" and said it
could take decades before it shows steady development.

One of the biggest problems is the running sore of violence
despite the deployment of about 64,000 foreign troops in the
country. About 6,000 people were killed there in 2007, the
deadliest year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The Kyoto meeting is aimed at beating a path to the G8 summit
to be held on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in July.

Rice said a number of G8 countries wanted to discuss the
election crisis in Zimbabwe at the foreign ministers' meeting.

She said Friday's presidential election in Zimbabwe could not
be considered credible because there was no opposition candidate
participating and the authorities should take up an opposition
demand for talks about forming a "legitimate" government.

"That offer obviously ought to be taken up," she said. "But
it can't be taken up from a position in which the Zimbabwean
authorities declare themselves the victors and then believe they
can divide the spoils. That's not going to work."

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai issued a
24-hour deadline to President Robert Mugabe on Thursday to
negotiate or face being shunned as an illegitimate leader
responsible for the killing of civilians.

Date created : 2008-06-26