Italy to house G8 leaders in cop barracks

May 21st, 2009 | by Ainsley |

Leaders of the world’s 20 richest nations may have thought they had it tough when they had to turn up for April’s G20 summit at London’s ExCeL centre, swamped by a bleak grey sea of concrete in a desolate, windswept corner of the capital’s Docklands district.

Yet that will be nothing compared to the privations waiting for them at July’s G8 meeting in Italy. First, Italian Prime Mister Silvio Berlusconi last month announced he was moving the showpiece gathering from the picturesque isle of La Maddalena off Sardinia to quake-hit L’Aquila.

Now it has emerged he plans to billet world leaders – including Barack Obama, the UK’s Gordon Brown, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev and Germany’s Angela Merkel – and their retinue of officials and aides in spartan barracks on the outskirts of the Abruzzo town.

The two bleak buildings are currently used as accommodation for officers and their spouses. A source confirmed to the Guardian newspaper: "Everything is ongoing. But that is the idea."

It will certainly be a far cry from the five-star hotels the world’s leaders have come to expect at such high-level gatherings. Or from the luxury cruise liners off the coast in which they would have stayed had the event taken place in La Maddalena.

Mr Berlusconi has argued that switching to L’Aquila will save the €220million that the La Maddalena summit would have cost, money that is now being earmarked towards reconstruction in Abruzzo following the April 6 catastrophe that killed 295.

The choice of frugal accommodation is said to have been made to show that world leaders were attuned to the more constrained times in which their economies find themselves in 2009.

A senior Italian Government official said: "There will be everything the leaders need." But he added: "Whereas the accommodation at La Maddalena would have been beautiful, at L’Aquila it will be totally sober and  spartan." However, it may be that not everyone stays in town to find out. Some delegations are tipped to base themselves in Rome and make the daily 120-mile round trip to L’Aquila by helicopter.

Last month, as he outlined his reasons for the switch, Mr Berlusconi suggested it would deter the rent-a-mob demonstrators who invariably mar such events. He said: "I don’t think they would have the desire, gall or heart to demonstrate here." The Premier, who has held a number of cabinet meetings in the quake-hit city, also said having the G8 gathering there would place it "in the centre of world attention".

However, some media reports have suggested the real reason is that his administration is struggling to get La Maddalena ready in time for the summit or find enough cruise vessels to accommodate delegates and the world’s press.

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