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Bid to heal rift before summit

Johannesburg, Aug 24 (Reuters): Shielded from sprawling African slums by battalions of police, officials from world governments got down to talks in Johannesburg today aimed at salvaging a deal for next week’s mammoth Earth Summit.

Delegates crammed into meeting halls in the plush Sandton conference centre to try to resolve a rift between poor nations demanding more aid and fairer trade and rich states led by the United States, who are reluctant to jack up their aid budgets.

Negotiators, trying to lift the poor from poverty without repeating the environmental damage caused by industrialisation in the West, face a string of problems ranging from how to increase use of renewable energy to bolstering health services. Washington denied suggestions that President George W. Bush did not care about key issues of poverty and development. He is under fire for deciding not to join 100-odd other world leaders for the finale of the 10-day summit, which starts on Monday. “President Bush has been fully engaged and committed now for months to the summit,” John Turner, the US assistant secretary for international environmental affairs, told Reuters. “But there is a need now for his leadership in the US on security, international and domestic, and on the economy,” Turner said. Washington also wants aid to be more conditional on more democracy and better government in the Third World.

As African dancers and drummers greeted delegates arriving at Sandton for the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), police were also outside protecting delegates. Streets in the plush suburb had also been cleared of beggars. About 10,000 extra police and troops are on duty for the summit, a few kilomtres from some of Johannesburg’s grimmest slums.

About 40,000 delegates are expected to attend the summit.Police were also threatening to arrest anyone heeding plans to stage an unauthorised march in central Johannesburg.

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