G8 leaders pressure African leaders on Zimbabwe

G8 leaders pressured African heads of state on Monday over Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's continued rule, saying it is undermining confidence that aid money would be well spent in Africa, Canadian officials said.

Canada among bottom ranks of groups in African aid: Oxfam

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Group of Eight leaders put pressure on the heads of African states on Monday over Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's continued rule, saying the crisis is undermining confidence that aid money would be well spent in Africa, according to Canadian officials.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper chats with Ghana President John Kufuor at the G8 summit in Toyako, Japan, on Monday. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))
The issue of poverty and governance on the world's poorest continent dominated the first day of talks in Japan between G8 and African leaders during the group's three-day summit, which is also expected to focus on global warming and soaring oil prices.

The 84-year-old Mugabe claimed victory as the only candidate in the widely condemned presidential run-off last month after his opponent, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out amid reports of state-sponsored violence against his supporters.

Several G8 leaders, including Harper, told the group of African leaders that Mugabe's government is "illegitimate" and cannot be tolerated any longer, Canadian officials told reporters following Monday's series of closed-door sessions.

So far, the African Union has refused to condemn the June 27 vote, instead saying it prefers reconciliation talks as Zimbabwe toils under intense political violence, a collapsed economy and spiralling inflation.

Bev Oda, Canada's minister for international co-operation and development, acknowledged that issues of governance in Africa are linked to issues of aid.

"We're going to have to pay attention — and we do pay attention, country by country — as to how the dollars are going to be used," she said at the summit.

Canadian officials also said there was a discussion among all leaders on what might be done to end the Mugabe regime, but would not provide further details.

Harper is among world leaders at the summit of top industrialized countries — the United States, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — in Toyako Hot Spring Village near Sapporo. 

Aid groups say G8 lagging on Africa aid pledges

The G8 nations promised to give more than $20 billion in aid to Africa at a similar summit three years ago in Gleneagles, Scotland. But aid groups have accused the world's wealthiest countries of lagging on their promise.

"There's a widespread expectation that they will have to re-commit to those goals because they seem to be, in the eyes of some, falling behind meeting those targets," the CBC's Keith Boag reported Monday from the summit.

At a press conference near the summit on Monday, aid groups said the G8 countries are unlikely to attain even half of the goals set in the 2005 meeting.

"It's as if the G8 has built a car that they haven't put any fuel in," said Oliver Buston, spokesman for One Campaign, a global anti-poverty group.

Mark Fried of Oxfam Canada said the Canadian government sits at the bottom half of donors within the Group of Eight — along with Japan, Italy and France — in the aid money it gives to Africa.

But the Prime Minister's Office insisted Monday that Canada is on pace to double its assistance to Africa from the 2003-04 level, bringing aid to $2.1 billion by the end of this fiscal year.

Bush to PM: 'Yo, Harper'

Meanwhile, the relationship between U.S. President George W. Bush and Harper appeared as cordial as ever on Monday as leaders gathered ahead of the talks.

The U.S. president casually called out "Yo, Harper" in trying to get the prime minister's attention to introduce him to the president of Nigeria.

Bush previously referred to Harper casually as "Steve" in a previous meeting, adding to criticism from opposition parties who said the exchange demonstrated the Conservative government's ideological kinship with the current U.S. administration.

Bush has also greeted his close friend and staunch supporter of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, former British prime minister Tony Blair, with a "yo" in previous public functions.

Little hope for climate change deal

The host country Japan has put talks on climate change high on the agenda, but few believe the G8 leaders will reach a pact of great significance during the three days of talks, Boag said.

"I don't think that expectations are tremendously high that there's going to be a serious breakthrough on the climate change file here in Japan this week," he said.

On Monday, the Canadian Press reported it has obtained a draft copy of a statement to be released by member nations later this week that fails to say anything about specific targets on cutting back greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Minister John Baird has downplayed expectations ahead of the summit, saying Sunday that he doubts the G8 leaders will leave Japan with firm reduction goals in hand.

Canada, the U.S. and Russia have all said there's no point in large developed economies pledging to meet tough targets unless developing countries such as China and India agree to the same goals.

With files from the Canadian Press