NAGO, Okinawa (AP) -- The Group of Eight industrial powers pledged Saturday to set up a "dot force" to help poor nations join the information technology revolution and someday leave the Third World behind.
"Okinawa is shaping up to be the development summit," said Lael Brainard, deputy national economic adviser to President Clinton, who is attending his last G-8 summit with leaders of Japan, Italy, Britain, Germany, France, Canada and Russia. "Clearly, they are sending a message to the world that all people should have access to basic education, modern technology and the tools to fight infectious diseases."
At a banquet in a rebuilt castle, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien led his colleagues in a toast to Clinton. He hailed the president as "a great leader of the democratic world" and said, "He has shown a lot of wisdom, a lot of patience and a lot of friendship."
The leaders agreed to create a digital opportunity task force, or "dot force," to expand Internet access and make it more affordable in developing nations. They also said governments should avoid regulating information technology too tightly, and they pledged protections for intellectual property rights in cyberspace. A report on this effort is to be presented at next year's G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy.
The digital initiative was immediately criticized.
Jubilee 2000, a group calling for the richest nations to forgive their debts to the poorest countries, set a laptop on fire on a beach and called summit leaders' emphasis on bridging the digital divide a sham. "We can't eat computers," said Kewesi Owusu, the group's African coordinator. "People are dying."
Before the summit, at a meeting in Tokyo, officials from South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria criticized the wealthy nations, saying they had been too slow to provide debt relief, foreign investment and the transfer of information technology and biotechnololgy that are vital to economic growth in the Third World.
In other developments:
-- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Clinton agreed to extend for a fourth year trade talks on a broad range of business sectors, from telecommunications to financial services and pharmaceuticals.
-- Clinton said he would leave Okinawa a few hours early on Sunday to return to the Mideast peace talks being held at Camp David in Maryland. He is scheduled to fly into Washington Sunday afternoon.
-- Clinton questioned North Korea's reported offer during its summit this week with Russia to abandon its missile program in exchange for help in launching space satellites. "It is not clear to me what the offer is ... what is being requested in return," he said.
-- Japanese officials said Clinton expressed regret over a recent attack by a drunken U.S. Marine on an Okinawan girl.
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