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G8 summit stands on shaky ground - literally!

world Updated: Jul 08, 2009 14:19 IST

IANS
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Leaders of the world's wealthiest and most industrialised countries are being briefed about emergency evacuation plans by Italian authorities as the earthquake-hit town of L'Aquila plays host to G8 and G5 leaders during the three-day (July 8-10) summit in Rome.

World leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, arriving here are being briefed on evacuation plans, with 12 helicopters on standby to move them to Rome, in case of an emergency, from the mountain town over 100 km away.

Though the earthquake is not even on the agenda of the world leaders, they will have it in the back of their minds as they sit down to discuss global issues like economic slowdown, climate change, food and energy security and other things.

About 90 percent of the world's economy will be represented at the venue. US President Barack Obama, for whom it will be the first G8 summit, will lead the list of top leaders from the world's most industrialised countries, including Britain, Russia, Germany, France, Canada, Japan and hosts Italy, for the 35th annual meeting of the forum founded in 1975.

Emerging economies like China, India, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa, which form the G5, will interact as a group and separately with the G8 leaders.

This 13th-century town of central Italy's Abruzzo region was hit by a devastating earthquake of 5.8 magnitude on the Richter scale April 6 this year, leaving nearly 300 dead, 1,500 injured and about 60,000 homeless.

Hosts Italy and the global participants cannot really brush the calamity off their minds given the fact that the last of tremors here, measuring 4.1 on the Richter scale, were felt as late as Friday (July 3).

After having decided to shift the G8 summit meeting from the idyllic island town of La Maddalena of the coast of Sardina to L'Aquila, the Italian government and local authorities have put an emergency evacuation plan in place for the world's top political leadership in case of another earthquake hitting the venue.

The Guardia di Finanza Non-Commissioned Officers' School is the venue for an austere G8. The building, which Italy says is earthquake-proof, was given the green signal to host top world leaders at the summit after addressing safety issues regarding earthquakes.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got the venue shifted here - an unlikely one for an international summit - as a demonstration of global solidarity with the earthquake victims and also to to enable the rebuilding of the town of just 70,000 people at top speed and channel in billions of euros in funding.

"There's no risk," Berlusconi told a newspaper: "Even if there was a quake, all the guests would be absolutely safe."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini assured participants for the summit that the organizers had "foreseen all the possibilities".

"From the seismic point of view one can't predict anything but we are ready," Frattini said.