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Poor Old Colin Powell

Posted to Poetry and Politics

THE Earth Summit ended amid chaos and acrimony last night after Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, was repeatedly jeered and slow-clapped, delegates staged a mass walk-out, and the European Union demanded an end to mega-summits.

As police manhandled angry environmental protesters outside the convention centre, Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, was left inside insisting that the $50m summit was not a failure.

American environmental groups joined forces for a chaotic impromptu press conference at which they denounced their own Government for "writing off the planet".

The summit produced an agreement, aimed at reducing world poverty and protecting the environment, that was finally formally adopted by all nations yesterday. It contained only two firm commitments - to help people in developing countries get access to sanitation and to set up marine reserves.

Little could have prepared General Powell for the rebuff he received as he addressed the largest summit of world leaders the UN has ever staged.

The US had repeatedly attempted to prevent the summit adopting a strong action plan, and as he ascended the podium during the closing session delegates from environment groups unfurled banners declaring: "Protect the planet, not corporates" and "Betrayed by Governments".

A sharp intake of breath greeted his insistence that "President Bush and the American people have an enduring commitment to sustainable development."

When he went on to stress America's "deep desire to help people to achieve better lives for themselves", he was answered by jeering that never quite died away during his five-minute speech.

It was after he accused Zimbabwe of policies that were helping to push "millions of people forward to the brink of starvation" that chaos really broke out.

The hall descended into turmoil as the United Nations security guards tried to pull down the banners. There was booing and jeering. Official delegates from other countries joined in, banging their tables.

For 90 seconds the summit chairman struggled to regain control as General Powell stood silently. When the chairman demanded people be quiet or leave, many left. "I've heard you, now will you hear me?" General Powell demanded, but the barrack redoubled.

"The US is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change," he insisted. "Bollocks" came the reply in the usually diplomatic auditorium. "This is unacceptable," the chairman shouted.

Outside the hall American charities registered their own protest, raising an American flag bearing the message: "Thanks President Bush for making the US so unpopular."

Jacob Scherr, director of the Natural Resources Defence Council, said: "Powell's speech makes clear that the Bush administration has written off the planet, and it has abdicated US leadership of the world."

Phil Clapp, President of the National Environment Trust, said: "No American Secretary of State has been booed like that before. The US has told the rest of the world that your priorities are no longer our priorities. It leaves this summit isolated."

Earlier, a coalition of aid and environment groups, which were officially included in the negotiations, staged a walk-out in protest at the summit's final agreement. Vandana Shiva of the poverty campaign group Navdanya India, said: "It has been a betrayal of the world's most vulnerable people. It has been a trade summit."

The Australian Green Party senator Bob Brown joined the walk-out, insisting: "The biggest disappointment is the general failure to secure this world for our children. This is about greed rather than green, and it's a do-nothing outcome."

The summit has only promised two firm targets, reducing the number of people without access to sanitation by half by 2015, and setting up marine reserves by 2012. Other targets such as banning toxic chemicals and protecting fish stocks have been heavily qualified. ( The Times, London)