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Switzerland hosts talks with developing countries

Swiss ministers are due to hold discussions with 12 heads of state over dinner

Switzerland is hosting a meeting with the leaders of developing countries on the evening of the official opening of the G-8 summit.

Six of Switzerland's seven cabinet ministers are due to discuss the problems faced by developing countries with the heads of 12 non-industrialised states.

With the G-8 summit taking place across the border in the French alpine resort of Evian, Switzerland is hosting a conference for developing countries, which kicks off with a formal dinner in Lausanne on Saturday night.

The Brazilian president, Lula Inacio da Silva and the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, have already arrived in Geneva.

The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and the Malysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad and the Mexican president, Vincente Fox, are also reported to have arrived.

Leaders from China, Egypt and India, as well as representatives from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Senegal are also due to attend.

The Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is also expected, despite earlier cancelling his foreign trips after a major earthquake which killed more than 2,000 people in the country.

But the Swiss foreign ministry indicated that the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, would not be joining the delegation.

The talks will take place on Sunday morning, with the delegates and the Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, afterwards leaving for the G8 summit in Evian.

Absence

The Swiss finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, is the only cabinet minister not to attend the meeting, which is due to his current workload.

"We did not want the whole cabinet to travel to Lausanne," Daniel Eckmann, spokesman for the finance ministry, told swissinfo.

However, the absence of the finance minister at such a meeting did not seem inappropriate for Eckmann. "Switzerland is not part of the G-8 and I don't think the delegations will discuss finances."

Debt relief

During a summit in 1996, the group, formerly known as the G-7, discussed the debt relief of the 38 poorest nations and agreed on reducing their debt by around $40bn (SFr52bn).

However, the Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations, the umbrella group for Swiss aid agencies, claims that little has been done since 1996.

The organisation also criticises the G-8 countries for not coughing up the SFr1bn they promised to invest into a health fund during the 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. However, according to the umbrella group only 20 per cent of this amount has been supplied so far.

Local produce

The six Swiss cabinet ministers and the 12 heads of state will be dining in Lausanne's distinguished Hotel Beau-Rivage Palace.

When asked about the menu, the spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry, Livio Zanolari, said the leaders would be served traditional Swiss food.

"We'll have local asparagus, fish, veal and a dessert dubbed "Glacier Express", Zanolari told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Elvira Wiegers (translation: Billi Bierling)


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