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French Version

Third World summit talks tough about economic development

Gathering aims to forge trade and investment links across continents

Leaders of three-quarters of the world's population had to ask hard questions about how Asia and Africa can economically develop together and not just reminisce at a commemorative Third World summit, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Friday.

"Asia Africa is the missing link in the worldwide structure of interregional relations," Yudhoyono said in an opening address to a summit of Asian and African leaders.

Prime ministers, presidents, kings and ministers from 100 Asian and African countries, including Arab states and Iran, arrived to a red carpet welcome at Jakarta's main convention center in sleek black sedans amid tight security by tens of thousands of armed police and soldiers.

"It took 50 long years for this conference to happen, but Asia and Africa has finally assembled here again. Today, the sons and daughters of Asia and Africa stand together in this hall as equals. We stand tall, proud and free," Yudhoyono said.

The meeting marks the 50th anniversary of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference, where the Third World sought to assert itself for the first time.

It will be crowned by a declaration of a strategic partnership, a document devoid of controversy that pledges to boost trade and investment and stress the importance of multilateral approaches to solving conflicts.

Many of the Asian leaders at the summit also participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the Asia Europe Meeting, both of which seek to forge trade and investment links across continents.

This summit is aiming for a more modest scale to create such links between the Asian and African continents.

But it is Asia's diplomatic rows that are taking center stage at the meeting, including the dispute between economic giants China and Japan over Tokyo's World War II aggression, which has sent jitters through Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in an opening speech offered an apology for his nation's wartime past. He also pledged to double aid to Africa.

But it was not clear if that would be enough to ensure an ice-breaking meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, also attending the summit.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo warned the summit that unless high oil prices were cut, they could trigger a global economic recession and create a window for terrorists.

"There's no question that the rising price of oil has the potential to put the brakes on economic expansion," Arroyo said, urging delegates to work together to "prevent such a crisis." Oil prices rose further in Asian trade on Friday as refinery problems in the United States sparked concerns over a possible gasoline supply shortage, dealers said.

The rising trend of oil prices could worsen to levels that could halt economic growth or even prompt global economic recession, Arroyo said.

"It is stripping oil-importing Asia and Africa of our ability to manage for global competitiveness. It is preventing us from pursuing our economic development programs with vigor. It is requiring us to face the specter of economic decline," she said.

Arroyo described increasing poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor countries as a result of high oil prices as "a toxic formula that could increase global terrorism."

"I call on the Asia-Africa summit to do its share in pushing for greater stability in oil prices," the Philippine leader said.

She also called on members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to offer solutions that would temper the volatility of crude prices.

Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi did not attend the summit after Indonesia denied him permission to deliver a religious sermon at a mosque, a report said Friday.

The Indonesian president had initially approved Gadhafi to deliver the sermon in Southeast Asia's largest mosque, but changed his mind after Religious Affairs Minister Maftuh Basyuni objected, Antara cited Indonesian official Muhyiddin Junaidi as saying, without elaborating.

Officials at the Libyan Embassy confirmed that Ghadafi would not be coming but refused to give any reasons.

The Daily Star

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