SAPPORO // Thousands rallied in northern Japan calling for the Group of Eight industrialised nations to be disbanded yesterday. As they marched, France's leader called for the G8 to be expanded to include major emerging states such as China and India. In Sapporo, several thousand people protested against the annual G8 summit due to take place at a luxury hotel 70km away. The 90-minute march by Japanese and foreign activists took place under heavy security ahead of the meeting, starting tomorrow and running to Wednesday, at the hot spring and lake resort of Toyako.
The protesters banged drums and carried colourful banners proclaiming "Shut Down the G8" and chanted: "We are against a summit of rich nations." In Paris, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, called for the meeting to include China and India as well as representatives from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, describing the world today as "multipolar". "I think it is not reasonable to continue to meet as eight to solve the big questions of the world, forgetting China - 1.3 billion people - and not inviting India, [with] one billion people," he told a conference of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party. The G8 includes the US, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.
"The truth is that if we want peace and world development, everybody needs to be invited," Mr Sarkozy said. "I do not accept that a continent of one billion people, like Africa, does not have a country to represent it at the table of world leaders." Mr Sarkozy has said more than once that the group should be expanded. However he did not detail how the structure should be changed. This year's G8 host, Japan, argued that the size worked well, with other countries brought into the group for discussions on specific issues. "We cherish this format for G8," a senior Japanese government official said last week, adding that G8 countries "share common values".
In all, 22 leaders will attend this week's meetings in Hokkaido. The G8 nations will meet eight other countries, including China, India and Brazil, in an expanded Major Economies Meeting on Wednesday to look at long-term targets for climate change. Greenpeace and other environmentalists are urging the G8 to set bold targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and interim goals for how to get there, in order to boost momentum for UN-led talks on a new framework for after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Those talks are set to end in Copenhagen next year. Greenpeace wants the G8 to commit to cutting emissions by at least 30 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and by as much as 90 per cent by 2050, according to a statement on its website.
"Renewables and increased efficiency are key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not the false and misleading claims of 'clean' coal or expensive and dangerous nuclear power," Greenpeace said. The Japanese prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, would like to make climate change a centrepiece of the summit, but divisions within the G8 and between rich and poorer countries over how to share the burden of reducing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming have cast doubt on what leaders can achieve.
African leaders will join the group for one day to discuss pledges made in a summit in 2005 to double aid to the continent by 2010, although the issue may be overwhelmed by a focus on surging food and oil prices, and economic worries. Summits of the G8 have become a magnet for protesters angry about everything from climate change to the effects of globalisation. In yesterday's protests, four Japanese men were arrested for violating the public safety ordinances or interfering with police activities, said a police official on the island of Hokkaido, of which Sapporo is the capital. A Reuters cameraman was among those detained by police.
Police estimated the crowd at 2,000 to 3,000. Many of the participants tried to keep it light, dressing in festival clothes, clown and animal costumes. "Cats are against the G8 too," read one large cat-shaped placard. "The G8 are very lazy kings," said Eugene Benoît, who came from France with the group No Vox, which works with the unemployed. "They are working for the free market and not for the people."
The G8 was started in 1975 in the wake of the first oil crisis as an informal gathering of senior officials from the world's largest economies to discuss global problems. The forum initially included the US, Germany, France, Japan, Britain and Italy. Canada joined a year later in 1976, making it the G7. Russia was invited to join after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and formally became a member in 1997.