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Panama summit seeks accord to combat child poverty

PANAMA CITY, Panama (Reuters) -- Leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal met at the 10th Ibero-American Summit in Panama on Saturday to set out concrete steps to combat the poverty blighting the lives of almost two thirds of the region's youngsters.

"We have to prioritize development policies for our young people," Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso told the opening meeting of the summit, centered on the theme "United for Children and Adolescents."

One by one leaders from 21 countries across the region painted a dramatic picture of the lives of the region's 200 million youngsters, and spoke of the need to take steps to improve their situation.

In an indirect allusion to Cuban leader Fidel Castro's one-party communist rule, Spain's Jose Maria Aznar hailed democratic pluralism and barrier-free markets as the only road to development and to overcoming child poverty.

"There is no alternative to representative democracy in the world today...deviation from the path to democracy leads to the path to poverty, tyranny and isolation," Aznar said in an opening address attended by Castro.

Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman and Peru's Alberto Fujimori were the only heads of state to skip this year's summit, kept home by family illness and a two-month old political crisis respectively.

Fujimori's grip on power has been seriously weakened by a nine-week corruption scandal involving his fugitive former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who was caught on video apparently bribing an opposition lawmaker.


Cuban leader Fidel Castro seized center stage at the opening of the summit on Friday, when he denounced a plot by "terrorists" armed by anti-communist Cuban Americans to "eliminate" him.

The 74-year-old communist leader warned of the plot by Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), naming an exile, Luis Posada Carriles, whom he blamed for previous attempts against his life.

Shortly after the events inaugural ceremony before 21 regional leaders late Friday, Panama police confirmed they had detained Posada Carriles and three of his Cuban-American colleagues at a Panama City hotel as "a precautionary measure."

Fears for regional stability caused by a controversial Colombian plan to stamp out drug trafficking and insurgency, and a spat between Spain and Cuba over Castro's refusal to condemn the Basque separatist group ETAs use of violence, dominated bilateral meetings.

Host Panama called for a meeting of defense ministers from the five countries bordering Colombia next January to discuss fall-out from its U.S. backed drug war, dubbed Plan Colombia. Bogota expressed unease at not being invited to the meeting.

A proposal by El Salvador for the summits final declaration to condemn the ETAs bombing campaign, which has killed 20 in Spain this year, stirred controversy after Cuba refused to sign it.

The Cuban government prefers to condemn generic acts of terrorism, arguing that the Caribbean nation is itself a victim of acts of violence by the United States, which has steadfastly maintained a blockade over four decades.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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