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Leaders Promote Democracy at Tech Summit

December 11, 2003

GENEVA (AP) _ World leaders attending a summit on how to spread the benefits of the Internet to the whole planet stressed on Thursday that it can contribute to development and democracy, but only if it is supported by money and strong government policies.

``As a global society we must ensure that all our citizens enjoy the benefits″ of information technology, said Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

But to achieve it, he said, ``We need better governance, sound economic management, more overseas development assistance, more debt relief, a fair world order and a focus on the fight against HIV/AIDS.″

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski stressed that governments must ``constantly remember that we must improve the way the government functions in all aspects. We must fine-tune our hearing toward the cries of our citizens.″

He said his government is trying to ensure that all primary schools are connected to the Internet and is pushing for increased use of wireless technologies. ``The ultimate aim is a better world.″

More than 50 heads of government and some 10,000 delegates are attending the three-day summit that started Wednesday and that aims to ``bridge the digital divide″ between rich and poor nations.

``Poverty springs from isolation, and isolation has its breeding ground in the lack of information and communication,″ said Eduardo Calix, vice foreign minister of El Salvador.

Many of the most contentious issues were settled or deferred before the meeting started, but in their speeches governments were clearly split over media freedom.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the meeting Wednesday stressing that freedom of opinion and expression was fundamental.

But Wang Xudong, Chinese information industry minister, said, ``While freedom of speech should be guaranteed and human dignity and rights safeguarded by law and system, social responsibilities and obligations should also be advocated.

``The international community should fully respect the differences in social systems and cultural diversity,″ Wang added.

President Omar Bongo of Gabon said that journalists have rights but also have duties. ``They have to act in a way that is ethically acceptable. With that kind of mutual respect, we can move forward, recognizing that the Internet must not be used to destabilize situations nor to destabilize the way people think.″

Some developing countries have been trying to use the summit to put control of the U.S.-dominated Internet system into the hands of the United Nations.

``It is important that the task of managing the Internet be assigned to a regulatory body subject to rules of international law in order to ensure that it is utilized and run in an equitable and transparent manner,″ said Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, said the Internet should be under the control of ``an intergovernmental, democratic body.″

``The Internet should not be in the hands of the principal owners of transnational capital,″ said Alarcon, who spoke in the place of President Fidel Castro, who canceled his trip to Geneva.

Key decisions on the way the Internet works, such as domain names and addresses, now reside with a private agency spun off from the U.S. government _ and the United States wants to keep it that way.

China, South Africa, India and Brazil _ the main proponents of wresting control of the Internet from the United States _ have offered only vague blueprints for an alternative.

Pending approval from world leaders is a declaration that challenges them to use technology in promoting development goals such as eliminating poverty, fighting AIDS and curbing child mortality.

It calls for connecting schools, public libraries and health centers in poor countries to the Internet by 2015.

``We are convinced that the decisions of this summit will be critical in determining the future of mankind,″ said Ugandan Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi.

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