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Europe

G8 Finance Ministers Under Pressure

Finance ministers of the G8 are holding a preparatory meeting in London on Friday and Saturday ahead of next month's summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. At the top of the agenda is debt relief for Africa.

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Will Britain's Brown (right) convince Germany's Eichel to offer cash?

Heading into a two day meeting in London, the finance ministers of the Group of Eight (G8), the world's top eight industrial countries, find themselves facing one huge, almost unmanageable problem, namely debt relief for Africa. Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown would like to be able to present some kind of concrete result on Saturday but there is a lot of ground that must be covered before the world's poorest continent will be offered any kind of major debt assistance.

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Tony Blair (left) and George W. Bush said debt relief for Africa is possible

The announcement by US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday that they were close to completing a proposal for an elimination of 100 percent of debt for the world's poorest countries had a condition attached to it for Africa's leaders, namely there must be improvement in governance and corruption must be reduced. As Blair put it, the debt plan was not "a something-for-nothing deal."

On the weekend, the finance ministers will unlikely sign any concrete deals, despite Gordon Brown's determination to produce something.

"We won't have any results after the meeting on the weekend," said one high-ranked German government official. The G8 countries do all agree on providing more financial assistance for the world's poorest countries but just how they should do it remains to be debated.

Criticism from around the world

The meeting of the G8 finance ministers is meant as preparation for the summit in Gleneagles, Scotland next month but the pressure from the international community to present a plan soon is increasing.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on BBC radio that the "West mustn't operate from a position of moral superiority." He pointed out the business scandals in the US and Europe such as Enron, WorldCom and Parmalat.

Live Aid Konzert in London 1985

Bob Geldof organized the Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia in 1985

Irish rock star Bob Geldof lashed out at Western governments, saying the calls to end corruption were a diversionary tactic.

"We don't die of corruption. They do because they are too poor to withstand the impact of a thief stealing their money -- so it has to stop," said the organizer of the Live8 pop concerts that will take place immediately before the G8 summit.

Another long-time aid friend of Africa, Irish rock star Bono, met with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday, and challenged EU leaders to forget national politics and open their wallets to boost development aid for Africa.

What won't happen

Just how any final debt relief deal will look like is uncertain. Germany is skeptical of floating bonds on financial markets to increase development aid. The US and Japan oppose the idea. Also no longer on the bargaining table is the sale of International Monetary Fund gold reserves.

Aids- Patientin in Südafrika

AIDS has also made development work in Africa more difficult

Finally, the prospect of adding a surcharge to airline tickets to reduce the debt has fallen on deaf ears in the US and Japan. Even in Europe, the idea is not without controversy.

What the ministers supposedly have agreed upon is a $2 billion (1.6 billion euros) package to finance immunizations. Just what else Gordon Brown will be able to show the world at the end of the two-day meeting with his colleagues remains to be seen.

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