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Powell heckled at Earth Summit

Protesters unfurl a banner as Powell speaks
Protesters unfurl a banner as Powell speaks  


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has faced a stormy reception at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg as he sought to defend America's record on the environment.

Powell was repeatedly forced to halt his speech to delegates as he was booed and heckled on Wednesday -- the last day of the conference.

"The U.S. is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change," Powell said, but the conference chairwoman was forced to intervene several times and plead for order as some delegates from non-governmental groups repeatedly interrupted him, chanting and shouting "Shame on Bush."

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was chairing the session, called on the hecklers to stop and called the outbursts "totally unacceptable."

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Many environmentalists and other delegates at the conference have been angered by the U.S.' refusal to sign up to the Kyoto treaty on global warming, which sets targets for nations to cut greenhouse gases.

President George W. Bush's absence from the summit has also drawn much criticism and many delegates have voiced anger at what they claim is a campaign by the U.S. and big business to hamper attempts to try and counter environmental damage and bridge the wealth gap between rich and poor nations.

The heckling began when Powell criticised the Zimbabwe regime of President Robert Mugabe for exacerbating the famine his country faces by his alleged lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Zimbabwe is currently carrying out a controversial land reform programme that forces the transfer of thousands of white-run farms to black Zimbabweans.

He was also booed when he accused some African countries of resisting the use of U.S. genetically-modified corn crops that Powell said would help ease hunger being experienced across southern Africa.

The U.S. has been a target of activists' criticism during the 10-day conference for perceived attempts by America to block parts of the Earth Summit's goals -- targets which included seeking to put a brake on global corporations and getting nations to agree to a deal to develop renewable energy sources.

But Powell told the conference that the U.S. saw progress being made through improved trade and economic initiatives.

He called on "getting government and practical partnerships to work together," and to "expand the circle of development to all God's children."

The U.S. secretary of state emphasised the world's interdependence by saying "when one of us is hungry, all of us are hungry."

He said the U.S. and its president were "dedicated" to improving sanitation, fisheries and agriculture to better the living conditions of those "people left out".

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said "success" had been achieved and he was "satisfied" with the deal despite being aware that there are those "who are disappointed" and that "we did not get everything we expected."

He said the summit had "mobilised people around the world" but that the momentum would have to be kept up.

Annan defended the presence of big business at the summit and welcomed them as "stakeholders" in the fight.

"We have to be practical...Governments and NGOs cannot do it on their own," he added.

He called on consumers to bring pressure on retailers and governments through the choices they make at supermarket checkouts.

Powell said the U.S. is 'taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change'
Powell said the U.S. is 'taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change'  

Environmentalists have already reacted with dismay to the 71-page action plan worked out by the summit.

"It's worse than we could have imagined," Steve Sawyer, Climate Director for Greenpeace told Reuters.

"The Americans, Saudis and Japanese have got what they want."

The conference has aimed to shape an agreement to turn promises made at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, into reality.

But compromises were reached in three key areas: climate change, trade and sanitation.

U.S. officials said the final wording of the non-binding agreement "properly reflects" how a "diversity of clean energy resources" would contribute to sustainable development.



 
 
 
 


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