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G8 Summit Opens Amid Tensions Over U.S. Antimissile Plan

June 6, 2007 -- Leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized economies are beginning a summit in Germany today amid tensions over the U.S. plan to deploy an antimissile system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

German officials are playing down expectations of any major agreements on global warming or honoring aid commitments to Africa.

The main attraction, therefore, may be the scheduled meeting on June 7 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush.

Speaking on June 5 in Prague , where he was meeting with officials on U.S. plans to build a radar system in the Czech Republic, Bush reiterated Washington's desire to bring Moscow in on its controversial missile-defense plans.

Criticism Of Russia

But Bush also had harsh words for Russia's lack of progress on democratic reforms.

"In Russia, reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development," Bush said.

"Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements. So, the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries, and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values."

Putin, too, has sharpened his rhetoric in recent days.

He told journalists from G8 countries that the United States was single-handedly responsible for changing "the entire configuration of international security" by pursuing a missile-defense system in Europe.

Disagreement Over Shield

Moscow says the system is directed against Russia. Washington argues the shield is meant as protection against "rogue states."

G8 host German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged calm on all sides, saying she expected "constructive discussions from everybody rather than an obstructive attitude."

RFE/RL's correspondent in Heiligendamm reports that Putin will meet with Merkel this evening, shortly before the German chancellor hosts a formal dinner for the G8 leaders.

Bush and Merkel are meeting earlier in the day to discuss last-minute prospects for agreement on climate change.

Protesters have already launched a series of demonstrations around the grounds of the summit site.

Several hundred protesters managed to cross security lines and gather outside the 12-kilometer fence surrounding the resort. Police responded by using water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom were reportedly throwing stones at security checkpoints.

Thousands of other protesters attempted to block roads running from the nearby city of Rostock to the summit site.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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