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Darfur, Guinea Overshadow Summit
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How to tap and protect Africa's natural resources, the continent's role in the world and the information age's impact on African society were key themes at a summit of African leaders that opened yesterday in Cannes, France.


Crises in the Sudanese region of Darfur and in Guinea overshadowed the gathering of 40 heads of state and government. The leaders of Sudan, the Central African Republic and Chad were likely to meet on the sidelines to discuss Darfur, said the office of French President Jacques Chirac, the summit host.


Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has resisted United Nations efforts to deploy some 22,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, an area suffering from constant clashes between government troops and ethnic African tribes.


Guinea was discussed at a dinner of African leaders that Chirac hosted on Wednesday night. Rioting and clashes between protestors and security forces led President Lansana Conte to declare martial law Monday. A Guinea human rights group said Wednesday that at least 64 people have been killed since the weekend.


The African summit is expected to be Chirac's last, and a new era in France-Africa relations is on the horizon after the French presidential elections this spring. The two leading candidates to succeed Chirac have both made clear they want reform of relations with the continent where France has its traditional influence as a former colonial power.


Change seems inevitable, since neither Segolene Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy have the depth of contacts and personal friendships in Africa that Chirac built up over more than 40 years in politics, the last 12 as a president who worked to put African development on international agendas.


Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore said Chirac would be missed.


"For a long time, he has been our international advocate on debt, development, the environment. He is a character who will stay in our hearts for a long time," he said.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, was to attend the summit for the first time.


Before the summit, France also held a conference in Paris this week to advertise African success stories people such as media entrepreneur Daniel David from Mozambique, who set up a private TV station but said he struggles to find funding to expand.


"Africa can no longer be described as a lost continent," said John Kufuor, the African Union's chairman and president of Ghana. Reporters should concentrate on "positive developments" in the fields of human rights and "in the management of our economic affairs", he said.


"Reports of corruption, crime, civil wars and even weather in Africa should not be presented in the media as if they were inherently African and exclusive to our continent, since they occur everywhere," he said.


(China Daily February 16, 2007)


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