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Protesters jeer Powell at summit

Johannesburg, Sept. 4 (Reuters): Protesters jeered US secretary of state Colin Powell on the Earth Summit’s final day today, accusing Washington of blocking meaningful action in a summit blueprint to help the poor and save the planet.

Many governments gave a muted welcome to the summit plan meant to attack global problems from AIDS to depleted fish stocks, which was agreed in overnight talks by almost 200 states at the 10-day World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Many environmentalists branded it a waste of time and a sell-out to business interests favoured by US President George W. Bush, who did not attend.

Even UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said that people’s expectations had been too high.

Hecklers chanting “Shame on Bush” twice interrupted Powell as he defended US policies from criticisms that the world’s richest country and biggest polluter does not really care.

“Betrayed by governments,” read a banner held up by the protesters, most of whom appeared to be Americans.

Seven of them were hustled out by guards from the main summit hall in Johannesburg as they whistled and booed. Most of the 100 world leaders who had attended the summit had already left. “Thank you, I have now heard you. I ask that you hear me,” Powell replied, breaking off from his prepared speech as South African foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chairing the meeting, banged a gavel more than a dozen times in disapproval.

Powell was first jeered after talking about famine in southern Africa and singling out Zimbabwe for criticism.

He was booed again when he said Washington was taking firm action to combat global warming.

Bush, an ally of the oil, coal and logging industries, has been widely criticised for rejecting the Kyoto pact meant to fight global warming. Scientists say emissions of greenhouse gases from burning oil and coal are raising temperatures.

The US denies the charge and has used the summit to unveil dozens of projects with business that aim to clean up the planet.

“We have plans to end the despair and offer hope. Now is the time to put those plans into action to expand the circle of development to all God’s children,” Powell said. His spokesman said Powell was unruffled by the protests and was mobbed by well-wishers outside the hall.

Activists slammed the summit for setting few firm targets and for failing to raise aid. Some staged a walkout of the tightly guarded conference centre in protest today.

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