French President Nicholas Sarkozy sought to defend the future of the eurozone and its currency Thursday, a day when the Greek financial crisis has been the main topic of discussions at G20 meetings in Cannes, France.

Speaking to reporters, Sarkozy called the euro "the beating heart of Europe."

"We cannot accept the explosion of the euro, which would mean the explosion of Europe," Sarkozy told a news conference before the G20 leaders went into a working dinner Thursday evening.

"If the euro exploded, Europe would explode. And in fact it's the guarantee of peace on the continent where there were terrible wars — fiercer than anywhere else in the world — not in the 15th century but in the 20th century."

He said mistakes were made in the infancy of the euro —  problems that should have been settled before the new currency was introduced. But he said it's too late to change the past, so the solution now is to have discussions that are clear, open and also firm.


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen wave as they arrive in Cannes for the G20 Summit late Wednesday. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Sarkozy said leaders don't want to meddle in Greece's internal politics, but he stressed his desire to defend the eurozone.

He met with U.S. President Barack Obama before the summit proper Thursday morning and came away claiming agreement on a way forward.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Canadian reporters that contingency plans for Greece's exit from the eurozone were discussed during talks Thursday afternoon, but that events in Athens appeared to be moving in the right direction.

"My expectation is that cooler heads will prevail and the [bailout] package will be accepted and we'll move forward on that basis."

A European official told The Associated Press that several leaders will meet Thursday evening on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the financial situations in Greece and Italy. The meeting will include the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain as well as representatives of the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

EU leaders are hoping to convince some other G20 countries to chip in and are requesting billions of Euros from China. But Canada opposes outside contributions to the fund, arguing that Europe has the resources to deal with the crisis.

Earlier in the day, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou backed away from his plan to hold a referendum on highly contentious austerity measures. Papandreou saying the government is ready to move forward on talks with the opposition as the country tries to find a way out of its economic crisis.

Stocks rose sharply Thursday as markets began betting the referendum will be abandoned.

With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, CBC News