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Swiss call on rich nations to keep promises

UN chief, Kofi Annan, greets members of the Swiss cabinet in Lausanne

(Keystone)

Leaders from 11 developing nations have been holding talks in Switzerland, ahead of Sunday's G-8 summit in neighbouring France.

At an official state dinner in Lausanne on Saturday, the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, called on industrialised countries to live up to their responsibilities towards emerging countries.

"If the international community, and most particularly the rich countries, do not keep their promises, then people in poor countries will all too quickly lose hope in democracy and democratic values," Couchepin told the heads of state.

Leaders from Algeria, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and South Africa were among those taking part in the Swiss conference.

Couchepin and the 11 officials were due continue their discussions on Sunday, before heading across Lake Geneva to the French alpine resort of Evian, where they are participating in the first day of the G-8 summit.

The annual meeting brings together the leaders of the world's seven most industrialised nations and Russia.

Broad agenda

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, and the directors of the World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund also attended the dinner in Lausanne.

In addition, six of Switzerland's seven cabinet members took part in the evening, which included informal bilateral talks between the politicians.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Livio Zanolari, said the main thrust of the discussions was on economic, financial, cultural and social issues.

"They discussed a wide range of topics... from development issues, such as access to water, to democratic issues, such as freedom of expression," Zanolari told swissinfo.

He added that the fight against Aids, debt relief for developing nations and access to information were also on the agenda.

Digital divide

During the welcome dinner in Lausanne, Couchepin said Switzerland was committed to widening access to new technologies and the battle against the digital divide.

Both Couchepin and the Swiss communications minister, Moritz Leuenberger, used the occasion to draw attention to the first Global Summit on the Information Society, which will take place in Geneva in December.

Leuenberger said that the free movement of information was a fundamental right and that the information talks would not be a "celebration of globalisation".

"The December summit is very ambitious... It aims to define and create legal, economic, technical and political conditions in order to give everybody access to information," said Leuenberger.

He told the assembled delegates that Switzerland was particularly interested in reducing the digital divide between the North and the South, as it was a barrier to development.

Debt relief

Several of the leaders who took part in the Swiss conference are influential members of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).

The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, the Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade, and the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, were in Lausanne for the talks.

One of the main concerns topping their agenda in Switzerland and France is the reduction of debt for developing nations.

At their annual summit in 1996, the leaders of the world's seven most-industrialised nations, known then as the G-7, discussed the debt relief of the world's 38 poorest nations and agreed on reducing their debt by around $40 billion (SFr52bn).

But, the Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations, the umbrella group for Swiss aid agencies, claims that little has been done since then.

The organisation also criticises the G-8 countries for not coughing up the SFr1 billion they promised to invest into a health fund during the G-8 summit in Genoa two years ago.

Last year the world's most powerful countries said they would invest SFr500 million into education programmes for developing countries.

According to the umbrella group, however, only 20 per cent of this amount has been supplied so far.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva and Isobel Johnson

Key facts

Attending the Swiss conference were:
The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan.
The Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The South African president, Thabo Mbeki.
The Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.
The Mexican president, Vincente Fox.
The Chinese president, Hu Jintao.
The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
The Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade.
The King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, was invited but did not attend.

end of infobox


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