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Italy proposes moving G8 summit to quake-hit city

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to propose moving July's G8 summit of the world's richest nations to the quake-devastated town of L'Aquila, following cabinet approval on Thursday.

world Updated: Apr 23, 2009 18:39 IST

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to propose moving July's G8 summit of the world's richest nations to the quake-devastated town of L'Aquila, following cabinet approval on Thursday.

The shock announcement came as the government adopted a decree to release eight billion euros (10.5 billion dollars) for the reconstruction of the region at a special cabinet meeting held in the city, the epicentre of an April 6 earthquake.

"The ministers have approved my proposal to organise the G8, which has been scheduled for La Maddalena, in L'Aquila," Berlusconi told a news conference after the meeting.

World leaders who had already offered to finance the restoration of churches and other damaged historic buildings "would be able to see close up for themselves the wounds inflicted on this region by the earthquake," he added.

Italy, current president of the group of eight industrialised nations, is scheduled to hold the summit on the island of La Maddalena, on the millionaires' playground coast of northwestern Sardinia, on July 8-10.

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Altero Matteoli said after the meeting that the cabinet had backed the move and that Berlusconi now needed to consult other G8 leaders, including US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, to get their agreement.

Berlusconi told reporters that relocating one of the world's major political gatherings -- with all of its security implications -- to the rubble-strewn city would help save money and would be a more fitting environment in the context of a global recession.

Underlining that holding the summit in Sardinia would have cost more than 220 million euros, he said: "why not use that for the reconstruction of the Abruzzi (region)?"

Some ministers at Thursday's meeting had openly opposed the move, the ANSA news agency reported, citing participants. Matteoli himself seemed embarrassed by the proposal, telling Italy's Sky TG24 channel that it seemed "absolutely implausible".

The organisation of the meeting is already well advanced to welcome the heads of state of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States and around 25,000 officials, support staff and media.

"With all that we have spent, it seems to me difficult to move it at this stage. Frankly, I believe it will be difficult, unless someone convinces me to the contrary," said Matteoli.

Berlusconi told the news conference however that L'Aquila's military academy, venue for Thursday's cabinet meeting, "has all the space necessary to welcome all the heads of state and government, as well as the delegations and journalists."
The prime minister also pointed out that L'Aquila presented security advantages.

"I don't believe that anti-globalisation protesters would have the heart to organise heavy demonstrations in a zone hit by an earthquake," he said.

L'Aquila's mayor Massimo Cialente said he was ready to welcome the G8.

"Obviously to organise it here would be very complicated but the city and the Abruzzi region are ready to receive the G8 however they can," he said.

The earthquake killed nearly 300 people, damaged thousands of homes and left some 58,000 people homeless across the mountainous central Abruzzi region.

The decree calls for 1.5 billion euros to be spent on emergency aid and another 6.5 billion euros on reconstruction.
Around 34,000 of the 58,000 homeless are living in tents.

Berlusconi has vowed that everyone made homeless by the disaster would be relocated by the end of summer. He also said last week that three-quarters of homes in the L'Aquila area would be habitable within a month.

First Published: Apr 23, 2009 18:32 IST