G8 pledges billions to support Arab Spring – but will it deliver?

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Indy Politics

The world's richest nations promised yesterday to build a multibillion-pound "partnership" with the new democracies of the Arab Spring – but failed to write the cheque.

The final communiqué of the G8 summit in Deauville, Normandy, spoke of the "historic potential" of the democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and promised international aid to help to meet popular "aspirations" for stability and growth.

The summit made a "Deauville Declaration", calling on international-development banks and wealthy nations – including Gulf countries – to channel billions of pounds of new investment into Egypt and Tunisia as long as they maintained a course towards democracy. But the communiqué was notably light – and deliberately confusing – on specific figures and new commitments.

Barack Obama, with support from David Cameron, blocked a suggestion by the summit chairman, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that the G8 countries should promise a package of $40bn (£24bn) so that international-development banks "could provide over $20bn" for Egypt and Tunisia over three years "in support of suitable reform efforts". Summit sources said that this figure included large sums already promised by the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

The only large amount of "new money" on the table was a promise of €2.5bn (£2.2bn) a year by the London-based, EU investment bank, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

One summit source told The Independent: "New money is very scarce on the ground. The EBRD is the most popular person at this party because they brought the only bottle of wine and all the crisps."

Speaking after the summit, Mr Sarkozy stood by the $40bn figure. He said that pledges by other international banks and national contributions – including £110m in aid from the UK and €1bn of soft loans from France – should be added to the $20bn figure. He also threw into the pot, rather confusingly, "$10bn from the Gulf states".

Summit officials said later that there had "certainly been no firm offer from the Gulf". Non-governmental organisations pointed out that G8 summits had a reputation as a "promise machine". The $50bn which was "pledged" over five years to Africa in 2005 had fallen $19bn short. If G8 countries broke specific pledges, what should be made of vague ones?

The Oxfam spokesperson, Emma Seery, said: "Unless they deliver on their existing commitments to fight poverty (in Africa) what's to say this is not just another batch of empty promises?" The interim Tunisian Finance Minister, Jalloul Ayad, said that his country alone needed up to $25bn of investment over five years to meet the "expectations" of young people and stop the kind of emigration which has caused "exaggerated" panic in Europe in recent weeks. On the vagueness of the summit statement, he said: "We are never satisfied... but we have received offers which... we believe will get better and better."

The Deauville summit also made a strong declaration calling on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to depart.

In the light of intelligence reports that the Libyan leader's behaviour was becoming even more erratic than usual, Mr Cameron said that Colonel Gaddafi was clearly "feeling the pressure". This was the right time to "ratchet up" the Nato air campaign by sending Apache attack helicopters, he said.

Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy played down reports that Russian President Dimitri Medvedev had offered to mediate Colonel Gaddafi's departure. Mr Sarkozy suggested that there was nothing to mediate. "Gaddafi either leaves now or he faces the consequences," Mr Sarkozy said.

Mr Sarkozy also faced a couple of light-hearted questions on the increasingly apparent – but not yet admitted – pregnancy of his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. An Italian journalist offered "congratulations, whether it is a boy or a girl". Mr Sarkozy replied to that by saying: "I would also like to congratulate you – on being Italian."

Middle East Round-Up

Syria

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least eight people as thousands took to the streets despite the near-certainty they would face gunfire, tear gas and stun guns, human rights activists and witnesses said. The casualties included three people in Qatana, a suburb of Damascus, and four in the southern village of Da'el, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees in Syria, which help to organise the protests. One person also was reported killed near the border with Lebanon. AP

Yemen

Fierce fighting to control three military posts killed 19 and wounded dozens in a region south of Sana'a, as clashes threatening to spark civil war spread outside the capital. "There had been some skirmishes between the tribesmen supporting the youth revolution from time to time, but today it became a big armed confrontation," Sheikh Hamid Asim, a tribal leader from the Nahm region, said. He had earlier said tribesmen had seized one military post and were battling for two others. Reuters

Lebanon

A bomb blew up a UN jeep near the southern port city of Sidon, wounding six Italian UN peacekeepers, in the first attack of its kind in three years. The UN in Lebanon (Unifil) said the bomb had been aimed at a logistics convoy. The force of the explosion tore through part of a highway concrete barrier, smashed the white jeep's windows and left the vehicle riddled with shrapnel. The driver's face, hands and stomach were drenched in blood. Reuters

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