G8 Summit: Sticks and carrots for the bad boys of Asia

THE world's major powers last night sought to contain separate theatres of turmoil in South Asia, trying to brake the nuclear arms race on the Indian sub-continent and pleading for dialogue and reform to avert the worst in riot-torn Indonesia.

But, as the leaders of the G8 nations go into private talks on the global economy today,50,000 people descend on Birmingham to force them to change their agenda. The human chain, up to five deep, will ring the centre of the city as campaigners in a coalition of aid agencies and charities demand a one-off cancellation of Third World debt.

Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, will accept petitions with 1.5 million signatures of support and deliver them to Weston Hall, Shropshire, where the leaders will be holding secret talks.

Last night India seemed likely to escape further punishment beyond the sanctions already imposed by the US and international condemnation of its series of five nuclear tests this week. Will there be a G8 package of sanctions? "No," Tony Blair's spokesman said.

Earlier, President Bill Clinton, who has suspended aid, loans and credit guarantees to India, demanded "a clear and unambiguous message". But only Japan and Canada were inclined to go as far as Washington. Russia, India's traditional ally from Cold War days, opposed sanctions. France, like Britain, believes they will only make more distant the day when India signs up to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At the same time, the G8 members - France, Germany, Italy, Canada, the US, Britain, Russia and Japan - leant heavily on Pakistan, where US officials were yesterday seeking to prevent retaliatory tests. But neither economic carrots nor the stick of sanctions seem likely to deflect Pakistan from tests of its own.

Hardly less worrying now, however, is the crisis in Indonesia. Catching the mood here, Mr Clinton appealed to the Indonesian government for restraint, and urged a speedy start on moves towards democracy. Giving the people a real voice, he said, "can make a real contribution to restoring political order and stability". The leaders also issued separate statements on Kosovo and the Middle East.

Though shorn of parallel meetings of finance and foreign ministers, the summit did offer the novelty of full participation for the first time by Russia. At yesterday's first European Union-Russia summit, attended by a comparatively well-looking President Boris Yeltsin, the EU formally endorsed Russia as a market economy, opening the way to closer economic ties.

Last night Cherie Blair, Hillary Clinton and four other wives of world leaders dined together at Birmingham's Left Bank cafe. Afterwards they saw the Royal Shakespeare Company perform "Behind the Throne", an entertainment about the lives of women who play the supporting role to powerful men.

Their husbands will spend today at Weston Park for a retreat which will focus on debt relief for the poorest countries, cross-border and computer crime, and securing employment in the new era of globalisation.

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