G8 leaders throw weight behind Arab Spring

At their annual meeting in France, the world powers called for Libya's Moammar Qaddafi to step down, and offered a package of aid and loans amounting to $40 billion to support the region's fledgling democracies.

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DEAUVILLE, FRANCE // The G8 world powers threw the rich world's weight behind the Arab Spring on Friday, demanding Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi step down and pledging billions for fledgling democracies.

Whereas the statement agreed by G8 leaders did not put a figure on support for the Arab world, Tunisia's new finance minister said the total package of aid and loans would amount to $40 billion (28 billion euros).

"Democracy lays the best path to peace, stability, prosperity, shared growth and development," the leaders declared, after meeting with prime ministers from post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt seeking support for reform.

Presidents and prime ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States met in the French resort of Deauville on the second and final day of the annual Group of Eight summit.

Under the chairmanship of host President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, they took a tough line with the regimes resisting pro-democratic revolts, warning Libya and Syria to halt the violent repression of their own peoples.

"We demand the immediate cessation of the use of force against civilians by the Libyan regime forces as well as the cessation of all incitement to hostility and violence against the civilian population," they said.

"Qaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go," it warned.

Ahead of the summit, Russia -- which has criticised the NATO air war on Qaddafi's regime -- was seen as reluctant to take a hard line, but it too toughened its stance on Libya during the Deauville meeting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: "Yes, we are ready to admit... he needs to go. We believe that Colonel Qaddafi has forfeited legitimacy due to his actions... indeed we need to help him go."

But Moscow's delegation said they still hoped for a negotiated settlement, and senior foreign policy advisor Mikhail Margelov said Russia had been asked by the United States and France to act as a mediator.

Western officials played down this claim.

"No specific roles have been assigned. We do not create specific structures," Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.

Russia also insisted on watering down an ultimatum to Syria, obliging its partners to drop a threat of United Nations Security Council sanctions in favour of a more general warning of "further measures".

"We call on the Syrian leadership to immediately stop using force and intimidation against the Syrian people," the G8 said, even as troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad dispersed a new round of protests in Damascus.

US President Barack Obama said after talks with Sarkozy that "we have made progress on our Libya campaign" -- referring to NATO's air strikes in support of rebel forces -- and vowed: "We are joined in resolve to finish the job."

With popular revolts sweeping the region, the G8 was expected to pledge billions in aid to help Tunisia and Egypt along the path towards democracy after their successful anti-regime uprisings earlier this year.

Both economies were hit hard by the tumultuous events of January and February, and Egypt wants between 10 and 12 billion dollars in aid by the middle of next year, Tunisia 25 billion dollars over the next five years.

"What President Sarkozy announced is a global package of 40 billion dollars for the region. This package has not been broken down by country," Tunisia's Finance Minister Jalloul Ayed said after Arab and African leaders met the G8.

Ayed said foreign and finance ministers from the region would meet before July to break down the programme -- designed to kickstart economic development and anchor democratic reform -- in more detail.

G8 leaders agreed a statement backing a limited government role in policing the Internet, and to agree on boosting global nuclear safety standards in the wake of Japan's devastating tsunami-triggered nuclear tragedy.