Anti-G8 protests flare before Evian summit opens
Author: Tom Heneghan
French and Swiss riot police fired teargas to contain the anti-capitalist crowds kept in two towns kilometres (miles) away from the lakeside spa of Evian where U.S. President George W. Bush was due around noon (1000 GMT) to meet leaders who opposed the Iraq war.
Leaders of the Group of Eight - the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia - will join counterparts from 12 major developing countries shortly after midday to discuss debt relief, AIDS and access to clean water.
But disputes such as the bitter rift over the Iraq war, transatlantic trade tensions and U.S. efforts to curb nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea should overshadow the talks on the world economy, usually the core of the G8 summits.
Massive security precautions for the June 1-3 summit meant the protesters - far fewer than the crowds that besieged the 2001 Genoa meeting in Italy - were concentrated in the French town of Annemasse and Lausanne in neighbouring Switzerland.
About 500 demonstrators sacked two petrol stations near Lausanne and blocked a road early on the weekend, while hundreds more cut off another road close to Annemasse, near Geneva. There were no reports of injuries or arrests.
Twin marches from Geneva and Annemasse were due to join up at the French-Swiss frontier in the main anti-G8 event of the day.
None of this could delay the G8 leaders, set to fly into Evian by helicopter, or the guests from developing countries travelling by boat across Lake Geneva from their Lausanne hotels.
STRAINS PAST AND PRESENT
Bush's visit, his first to France since the two countries clashed over the Iraq war, comes after a reconciliation meeting in St Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin, another opponent of the U.S.-led war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Both he and French President Jacques Chirac have said they want to put the strains of recent months behind them - but Bush's next moves to fight the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons may stir further unease.
In a Saturday speech in Krakow, Poland, Bush sought support for an international agreement to seize and search planes and ships suspected of carrying illegal weapons and missile technology.
"When weapons of mass destruction or their components are in transit, we must have the means and authority to seize them," he said, unveiling a Proliferation Security Initiative that will pose tricky issues of international law.
Bush will also urge the major industrialised nations to increase pressure on Iran and North Korea, which Washington accuses of clandestinely developing atomic weapons.
Russia has vowed to continue building a nuclear power plant in Iran while seeking assurances on its nuclear programme, and the European Union will hold the latest round of talks on a trade agreement in Tehran just as the G8 meeting begins.
FOCUS ON AFRICA
Chirac has given Africa and development issues, such as debt relief, fighting AIDS and easier access to cheap medicines and clean water pride of place on the summit agenda, alongside efforts to revive the sluggish world economy.
Bush sought to reassure Europeans, alarmed at the nearly 15 percent fall of the dollar against the euro this year, saying the financial markets had devalued the currency contrary to U.S. policy and he believed good fiscal and monetary policy would strengthen the dollar again.
Chirac will have a private meeting with Bush yesterday, but U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has made clear that Washington was not about to forgive his campaign to deny a U.N. mandate for the use of force in Iraq.