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New Topics Pile Up On G8 Agenda

Leaders of the wealthiest countries gather in Scotland this week and Britain's Tony Blair has put debt relief high on the program. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is bringing along a few other topics as well.

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"Gerhard, forget about hedge funds, let's talk about Africa"

The G8 meeting at the Gleneagles luxury resort in the Scottish Highlands could well be Schröder's last as he likely faces a tough reelection battle in September. The three-day summit, which begins Wednesday, is expected to cost about 140 million euros ($167 million) and will largely focus on debt relief and development aid for the world's poorest nations if British Premier Tony Blair gets his way.

"On Africa I think there is a real and common desire to help that troubled continent come out of the poverty and deprivation which so many millions of its people suffer," Blair said during a recent meeting with US President George W. Bush to prepare the summit. "In a situation where literally thousands of children die from preventable diseases every day, it is our duty to act and we will."

G8 finance ministers recently agreed to scrap about $55 million in debt owed by 40 of the world's poorest nations. It's a step backed by Bush.

Südafrika Township Regenfälle Überschwemmung Hunger Armut Afrika

A child stands outside squatter shacks watching the rising waters of the Jukskei River in the Alexandra Township north of Johannesburg, South Africa

"We ... agree that highly indebted developing countries that are on the path to reform should not be burdened by mountains of debt," Bush said at a joint news conference with Blair. "Our countries are developing a proposal for the G8 that will eliminate 100 percent of that debt and that, by providing additional resources, will preserve the financial integrity of the World Bank and the African Development Bank."

No new Marshall Plan?

But Bush is less willing to back a second proposal by Blair to set up a "Marshall Plan for Africa," which would double aid to the continent to $50 billion a year. Saying that many countries are simply not able to handle additional aid, Germany's government also opposes the increase while hailing the debt relief as a visionary step.

SOS Kinderdorf in Gambia

Orphaned children write on a blackboard in a school at the SOS Childrens village in Bakoteh, Gambia

"I think that's a seminal development," said German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. "It's a sign of G8 leadership. Debt relief has already helped developing countries to increase their spending on education and fighting diseases such as AIDS...It shows what's possible."

Clashing over climate control

Protecting global climate is a second topic where Blair and Bush are likely to clash. The American still sees no relation between global warming and air pollution. It's unlikely that leaders will reach a consensus at the summit -- or present a document that will lack Bush's signature.

Umwelt Klimaschutz Emissionshandel

No connection between air pollution and global warming?

Nevertheless, a paper on climate control goals developed by multinational companies at Blair's request will be interesting. Deutsche Bank, British Petroleum, Canadian aluminum giant Alcan, Ford, Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems, Lukoil as well as firms from South Africa, Brazil and India participated.

Schröder's own agenda

Despite this, the global economy is likely to play a small role at the meeting. But in light of the recent record prices for oil, Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder plans to push for a G8 initiative for more transparency on the oil markets.

Börse Frankfurt Tendenz schwach

A stock trader at Frankfurt's stock market

This way, he hopes to limit price speculation -- one of the main reasons for the swift rise. Schröder also wants to bring about global standards for hedge funds.

"The short-term interest of some hedge funds in Germany has recently raised some questions," he said. "That's why we're currently looking at the criteria that allow these funds to operate in our country."

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