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G8 leaders set to row over global warming, aid and finance

Leaders from the world's top industrialized nations meet in the Baltic coastal resort of Heiligendamm next month to discuss the fight against climate change, increased aid to Africa and global financial stability.

But forget the gentle fireside chats favored by rich country leaders in the 1970s. The Group of Eight (G8) meeting on June 6-8 looks set to be marked by acrimonious exchanges between participants - and an equally fierce showdown between anti-globalization protesters and security forces deployed around the heavily-fortified summit venue. G8 members include Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, the United States, Canada and Russia. The European Commission is also represented at all meetings. Certainly, the agenda drawn up by summit chair German Chancellor Angela Merkel is impressive. In addition to global warming, she also wants to talk about innovation, good governance, AIDS and sustainable development. Repeating a relatively new G8 tradition, parts of the meeting will be attended by the leaders of emerging economic powerhouses China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. The presidents of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa will also attend.

Despite the distinguished line-up, however, Merkel may find it difficult to get leaders to focus on key global challenges - not least because summit spotlight is likely to be stolen by two of the exclusive G8 club's most mercurial members. Newly-elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy, attending his first international gathering, looks likely to steal the show with fiery denunciations of globalization and free trade and demands for political control over economic policy. Even more attention will focus on Russian President Vladimir Putin who continues to make global headlines with angry outbursts against US plans to station elements of an anti-missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin has also threatened to withdraw from the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) a key post Cold War security pact.

In addition, Russia's ties with the European Union are at an all- time low, with Moscow refusing to lift an import ban on Polish beef, raging against Estonia's decision to remove a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of Tallinn and opposing supervised-independence for the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo. Even if Putin decides to tone down his Cold War-style confrontational anti-Western rhetoric, differences between the EU and US over a range of issues will overshadow the meeting. US President George W Bush is expected to make only a vague vow to combat climate change, disappointing Germany which wants to set a definite target for slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% compared to 1990 levels by 2050.

Washington - backed by London - is also deeply skeptical of Berlin's campaign to rein in the trillion-dollar hedge fund industry. Merkel says she wants "transparency" in the way hedge funds operate to prevent a meltdown of the entire global financial system should one or more of the funds collapse. However, the US and Britain, where most of the funds are based, reject the idea of regulation in the sector. Faced with the tough US line, Merkel has cautioned that G8 leaders will not be able to thrash out a policy to combat climate change after the current Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012.

Leaders are likely to call for a revival of the stalled Doha talks on liberalizing world trade. But France's Sarkozy may break the consensus by demanding protection for French and European farmers. G8 leaders will pledge more aid and investment for Africa amid criticism that earlier vows to increase assistance are not being respected.
Leaders at the summit being held at the Baltic Sea hotel will be shielded from protesters by a 12 kilometer fence covered with razor-edged wire. About 16,000 police and 1,000 Bundeswehr soldiers will be on duty while naval vessels patrol off the coast. About 100,000 protesters are expected. While most demonstrations are expected to be peaceful, authorities are concerned over possible violence by left-wing anti-globalists, neo-Nazis and extremist Islamist groups. (