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World leaders in France to grapple with global crises

DEAUVILLE, May 26 – Leaders of the world\’s richest nations begin a summit on France\’s Normandy coast Thursday dominated by the Arab Spring, the economy, and Japan\’s nuclear disaster.

President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes his fellow heavyweights at 12:45 pm (1045 GMT) ahead of what will effectively be a 24-hour meeting that ends shortly after midday on Friday.

It will start with an expression of solidarity with Japan by Group of Eight leaders following the March 11 disasters and what is likely to be a lively debate on ways of improving global nuclear safety after the Fukushima accident.

The summit provides the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States with their first real opportunity to debate the "Arab Spring" sweeping the autocracies of the Arab world.

US President Barack Obama, wrapping up a state visit to Britain on the eve of the summit, called on his fellow leaders to help ensure the success of post-revolt political transitions in north Africa and the Middle East.

"It will be years before these revolutions reach their conclusion, and there will be difficult days along the way. Power rarely gives up without a fight," he said.

Russia warned Wednesday that the summit should not be used as a platform for "instigating pressure and sanctions" against Arab regimes which are partners of Moscow.

But Tunis and Cairo want Obama and the others to put their money where their mouth is. Tunisia\’s Employment Minister Said Aydi said Monday his country is hoping G8 leaders unveil a "major support plan" — around $25 billion (18 billion euros) — to aid its transition to democracy.

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On the eve of the summit, Washington urged its G8 partners to help Egypt convert its debts into investments for jobs as part of efforts to boost the country\’s flagging economy and fledgling democracy.

After an "e-G8" of leading industry figures before the summit in Paris, France is expected to propose a statement on "respecting freedoms" on the web, a jab at censorship in rising powers like China.

Industry moguls including Google\’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will attend the summit on Thursday.

Africa will be represented at the summit as is tradition since 2003. Newly elected leaders from the Ivory Coast, Niger and Guinea will participate in sessions devoted to encouraging democracy.

Two other key issues will be tackled during the meeting as well as in bilateral discussions: the options for relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and achieving a consensus on choosing a successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn as head of the International Monetary Fund.

European G8 members seem to be lining up behind French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde to replace her compatriot.

France\’s First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy will host a packed agenda for the leaders\’ spouses on Thursday, in her first G8 summit since her pregnancy was revealed. Bruni is using the summit to promote the battle against adult illiteracy and protecting mothers and children from AIDS.

Thousands of police have been deployed as part of a massive security operation and checkpoints have been erected on all roads leading to Deauville to prevent an infiltration of anti-globalisation demonstrators.

Several thousand people marched in the nearest big city, Le Havre, on Saturday to protest against the G8, without major incident.

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