G8 conference divided over the political crisis in Zimbabwe

As world leaders convened in this resort town in northern Japan on Monday for three days of talks on issues including climate change and rising food and energy prices, the agenda quickly shifted to the political crisis in Zimbabwe, exposing a split between Western and African leaders.

The leaders of seven African countries and eight industrialized nations emerged divided after three hours of closed-door meetings dominated by Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe was sworn in last month for a sixth term as president after weeks of violence against his opposition, followed by a one-candidate runoff that leaders around the world called a sham.

The United States and Britain have proposed an international arms embargo and sanctions on the Zimbabwe government. But with Mugabe warning Western nations not to interfere, and the African Union already on record as rejecting sanctions, the union's head, the Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, suggested that a power-sharing agreement was the answer.

“We are saying no party can govern alone in Zimbabwe,” Kikwete said at a news conference with President Bush after the meetings, “and therefore the parties have to work together to come up to – to come out, work together, in a government, and then look at the future of their country together.”

Addressing Bush, he said: “We understand your concerns, but I want to assure you that the concerns you have expressed are indeed the concerns of many of us on the African continent. The only area that we may differ on is the way forward.”

Bush said he and other Western leaders had “listened carefully” to their African counterparts. But he did not mention any discussion of sanctions and ignored reporters' questions on the issue.

The leaders are gathered here on the mountainous northern Japanese island of Hokkaido for the so-called Group of Eight summit meeting. Technically, the group includes the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Russia and Japan. The annual event has broadened to include heads of states from around the world, including the so-called “Africa outreach” group of seven African leaders, from Tanzania, Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the meeting draws protesters and a shadow meeting as well. Two hours north of the official meeting site, in Hokkaido's largest city of Sapporo, globalization foes held a third day of protests focused on agriculture on Monday, including a march and an alternative gathering of nongovernmental organizations.

About 150 people, some made up as clowns or dressed in black-spotted cow suits, marched through downtown Sapporo. While Japan has not been as hard hit as many poor countries by rising food prices, organizers said the current food crisis was a chance to rethink agricultural trade, and rely more on locally grown products.

The marchers, who chanted “No More G8” in English and Japanese, included Japanese farmers and a handful of activists from Europe, the United States and Latin America. In the heavy-handed style of Japan's security during the summit so far, there were about the same number of police officers as protesters. The police formed a cordon around the march and followed in four blue and white buses.

“We face a food crisis, but the G8 has no answers,” said a march organizer, Yoshitaka Mashima, who is vice chairman of the Japan Family Farmers Movement.

The food crisis was also an issue in the meeting with African leaders, according to officials who attended. Bush has made aid to Africa, especially his program to fight global AIDS, a centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda, and has said repeatedly that he intends to use this year's meeting to press his fellow Group of Eight leaders to live up to their 2005 pledge to double development aid to Africa by 2010.