Friday, June 25, 2010

Toronto turned into fortress for G8, G20 summits

Thousands of Canadian police threw a tight security net over eastern Ontario province Thursday as world leaders began arriving for key summits focused on economic recovery and development.

In one of the North American country's largest ever security operations, some 20,000 police have been deployed in the city of Toronto and the exclusive lakeside community of Huntsville, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) to the north.

Leaders from the Group of Eight leading economies will meet Friday in Huntsville, before joining up with other officials from the Group of 20 developed and emerging nations in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday.

In a huge operation, police combed Toronto's streets barricaded by wire fences and miles of concrete blocks, backed by overhead helicopters, with many schools and businesses closed, and the main Union Station partially shut down.

Local trains only were allowed to unload passengers, who arrived to find the platforms mostly deserted, and security personnel posted at every corner.

Protestors are planning days of demonstrations to focus attention on issues from the environment to the rights of indigenous peoples.

For the second day in a row, Toronto police said they halted a potential threat to the summit, when the driver of a car laden with home-made weapons was arrested near the downtown Novotel hotel, less than a mile from the convention center where the G20 summit will be held.

The silver Hyundai, topped with a riveted steel roof container was found to contain five fuel canisters, a chain-saw, a home-made crossbow, and arrows.

"The design of the vehicle gave us some concern," constable Hugh Smith told reporters, as a hazardous material crew and a bomb disposal squad secured the car.

Smith confirmed a man, in his mid-50s, had been arrested, but said no charges have yet been brought. "This is an ongoing investigation," he said, adding the car was "filled with weapons of opportunity."

Tensions are already running high after Canadian authorities Wednesday said they had uncovered a plot to bomb the summit, charging a 37-year-old Toronto man and his common-law wife with possession of explosives.

Among the first leaders to arrive was Chinese President Hu Jintao who Thursday kicked off a state visit to Canada. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was also due to arrive later in the day, hours after White House talks.

The G8 summit will focus on development, tackling issues such as peace and security, maternal health and international crimes. Seven African leaders have also been invited to participate.

The G20 talks will focus more on shoring up recovery as the world economy emerges from its worst crisis in decades.

A leaked draft of the final G20 communique, obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace, warns "the recovery is uneven and fragile, and unemployment remains at unacceptable levels."

The talks could also flare into a row between Europe and the United States, with Washington urging its European allies not to cut government spending before recovery is assured, fearing it could trigger a double-dip recession.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been criticized for aiming to slash spending in Europe's top economy by some 80 billion euros (98 billion dollars), said she expected "fruitful" but "contentious" discussions here.

"We, as Europeans, and in particular Germany, are of the opinion that reducing deficits is essential... for achieving sustainable growth that we all want," Merkel told reporters.

Merkel has insisted deficits must be cut in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis that forced Berlin to stump up the lion's share of a rescue mechanism despite fierce voters opposition.

The G20 leaders will also discuss contentious moves to slap new levies on banks to help fund future crisis, with observers saying an agreement remains elusive.

Japan's new center-left Prime Minister Naoto Kan will make his international debut at the summits in Canada, just three weeks into his job. The fifth Japanese premier in four years was to hold talks with Obama and Hu and also meet the leaders of Russia and South Korea, and likely Britain and Germany.

"Japan in recent years has had a different prime minister every year," Kan said in an interview with public broadcaster NHK.

"Japan's politics and diplomacy have become weak because of it," he said.


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