G8 summit could be moved to earthquake zone

Italy's government wants to move this summer's Group of Eight summit from Sardinia to earthquake-stricken L'Aquila - both to save money and to give the devastated central region an economic boost.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi told a news conference today after a Cabinet meeting in L'Aquila that the cost of holding the July 8-10 summit on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena would be $285m (€216m).

Mr Berlusconi said that money would be better spent on reconstruction efforts in Italy's Abruzzo region.

He gave no figure for how much it would cost to host the summit in L'Aquila, but maintained the move would save money.

The death toll from the April 6 quake rose to 296 yesterday, with the death of an elderly man who was injured when his house collapsed.

The quake drove some 50,000 from their homes and toppled or heavily damaged thousands of buildings around the mountain city of L'Aquila. Many of those people have taken refuge in tent cities, which were made miserably muddy yesterday by a pounding rainstorm.

But with L'Aquila just a one-hour drive from Rome, Mr Berlusconi insisted there were enough hotels and conference venues for delegates and journalists. And he said demonstrators might think twice before marching on the quake-devastated region, as opposed to a deluxe seaside resort in Sardinia.

Italian media had previously reported that the government was having trouble organising the summit on La Maddalena and finding ships that were to host the delegations and journalists. But Italian organisers denied there were any such problems.

The island, selected by Mr Berlusconi's predecessor Romano Prodi, had a US Navy support base that was closed last year and was undergoing extensive construction to prepare for the summit.

Mr Berlusconi said the summit could be hosted in the same venue as yesterday's Cabinet meeting, a military school that has been turned into the headquarters for the rescue and recovery operation.

The sprawling complex, complete with barracks and a heliport, recently held a mass funeral for some 200 victims of the quake on its broad parade grounds.

The change of venue depends on the approval of other participating countries.

"The G8 doesn't only concern Italy," said Infrastructure Minister Altero Matteoli. "The premier will have to consult all the heads of state."

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