G-8 leaders eye Arab world with hope and worry

May 26, 2011 - 10:59 AM
France G8 Summit

A man walks in front of the Deauville Congress Center, in Deauville, western France on Monday, May 23, 2011 where world leaders of the G8 will meet for a summit May 26 and May 27. World leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations will put aside the squabbling over deficits and austerity that has marked their recent gatherings and seek to marshall their combined economic might behind the grass-roots democracy movements that have swept North Africa and the Middle East since their last meeting a year ago. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

DEAUVILLE, France (AP) — Leaders of the world's rich democracies will urge Libya and Syria to halt violence that is threatening to extinguish the so-called Arab Spring, but remain divided about how to respond if the nations don't heed the call, officials said Thursday.

A draft declaration circulating at the Group of Eight summit in France contains no specific sanctions against Libya and Syria, according to two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the document is still under discussion.

It illustrates fears among President Barack Obama and other G-8 leaders that uprisings around the Arab world could end up entrenching autocrats instead of defeating them. The summit has brought together host French President Nicolas Sarkozy with the leaders of the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Russia, Canada and Italy in this cordoned-off beach town.

The leaders are also tussling over the future of nuclear energy — which some members are rethinking after Japan's nuclear disaster — and how to regulate the Internet, as well as who should be named the next chief of the International Monetary Fund.

The arrest of Serbian war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic shook up the summit in Deauville, prompting European optimism that it may pave the way for EU membership for Serbia.

The summit's main focus is the Arab uprisings that overthrew authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia but have turned into protracted bloodshed in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. The G-8 leaders plan to marshal their combined economic might behind the grass-roots democracy movements.

The draft declaration will warn Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to declare a cease-fire and agree to a political solution, the officials said.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "must go," said EU President Herman Van Rompuy, who also is taking part in the summit.

Spain said it and other European governments received a message from Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi proposing an immediate cease-fire in his country's war. The prime minister did not say what Gadhafi would do next. Such offers have come and gone in the past two months since the NATO-led campaign of airstrikes began, and it's unclear whether this message could change the course of the conflict.

NATO appears to have no exit strategy fromn the international air campaign launched two months ago to shore up Libyan rebel forces, and efforts to oust Gadhafi remain elusive.

Russia's Foreign Ministry voiced concern Thursday about the prospect that France — and possibly other NATO countries — could try to send attack helicopters to Libya. Russia's ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said the NATO coalition has gone "too far" in its bombing campaign in Libya.

Concern about Yemen is also mounting. Scores of people have been killed in Yemen since intense clashes broke out Monday in the heart of Yemen's capital. The battles threaten to tip Yemen into a civil war-style showdown after months of street protests seeking to end President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for the G-8 to take effective measures to bolster emerging Arab democracy and a leading role in improving global nuclear safety. Merkel told the German parliament Thursday that leaders must help ensure that "the initial political progress is not endangered by economic instability."

This year the leaders of Egypt, Tunisia and the Arab League will join the summit discussions. Egypt and Tunisia, where popular revolts this year overthrew authoritarian regimes, want to show they are still sound investment destinations — even though the future shape and policies of their governments remain unclear.

U.S. officials say it's too soon to reach a deal on dollar amounts for assistance to the Arab world.

Google's Eric Schmidt, at the G-8 summit for a special session on the future of the Internet, noted the important role that online freedom of expression and activism played in the region's revolts.

"The Internet clearly helped people who were willing to risk their lives to move their countries to a move democratic process. I think in a small way, we all helped — and were happy to have helped — them achieve a much better outcome," he told reporters in Deauville.

Schmidt also highlighted divisions among the G-8 governments on how to regulate the Internet without slowing down its innovation.

"All of us believe that copyright is important, but we also believe that free expression, fair use and so forth is also very important. Finding a path through that is not something that can be summarized in one sentence," he said.

The G-8 has lost some of its relevance with the growing clout of the Group of 20, which includes emerging economic giants such as China and India.

"A lot of the key issues are going to be in the G-20, so we'll see how successful the G-8 leaders are in showing that the old Western group is still relevant," said David Shorr of the Stanley Foundation.

Paris police stopped one of several protests planned in Paris against the summit, detaining some 50 demonstrators on Thursday. The anti-G-8 group had gathered for a march.

Heavy security in France has so far deterred the kind of mass demonstrations that have disrupted G-8 summits in the past.

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Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.