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Coronavirus crisis, global recession dominate G-20 'virtual' summit

Saudi Arabia launches meeting with an aerial acrobatics display over Riyadh

By AFP - Nov 21,2020 - Last updated at Nov 21,2020

Displayed on a screen at the International Media Centre in Riyadh on Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz gives an address opening the G-20 summit, held virtually due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, while below him are photos of (left to right) outgoing US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin (AFP photo)

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz opened the G-20 summit on Saturday in a first for an Arab nation, with the virtual forum dominated by efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis and the worst global recession in decades.

G-20 leaders popped up in multiple windows across a flickering screen, in a high-stakes webinar held amid the raging pandemic.

The leaders are huddling online for the two-day "gathering" as international efforts intensify for a large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines after a breakthrough in trials, and as calls grow for G-20 nations to plug a $4.5-billion funding shortfall.

"Although we are optimistic about the progress made in developing vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics tools for COVID-19, we must work to create the conditions for affordable and equitable access to these tools for all people," said King Salman, the summit's host.

"We have a duty to rise to the challenge together during this summit and give a strong message of hope and reassurance to our people by adopting policies to mitigate this crisis," he told world leaders in opening remarks.

As the trailblazing event got under way, there were some early quirks, with someone heard telling the king that "the whole world is watching" before the event started, Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently having to call for technical help, and French President Emmanuel Macron chatting to an aide off camera.

With Saudi hopes for a grand coming-out parade dashed due to the pandemic, the event is reduced to brief online sessions of what observers call "digital diplomacy".

Despite having to abandon much of the usual summit pageantry, Saudi Arabia launched the meeting with an aerial acrobatics display over Riyadh.

And denied the opportunity to take the traditional "family photo", a montage of G-20 leaders was projected onto the ruins of the historical town of Diriyah during a gala event on Friday.

Along with Xi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the leaders who are expected to speak at the summit, with climate change among the issues topping the agenda, sources close to the organisers said.

US outgoing President Donald Trump is also taking part but it is unclear whether he will make an address. 

 

'Bolder measures' 

 

G-20 nations have contributed more than $21 billion to combat the pandemic, which has infected 56 million people globally and left 1.3 million dead, and injected $11 trillion to "safeguard" the virus-battered world economy, organisers said.

But the group's leaders face mounting pressure to help stave off possible credit defaults across developing nations.

Last week, its finance ministers declared a "common framework" for an extended debt restructuring plan for virus-ravaged countries, but campaigners say the measure is insufficient.

The ministers had extended a debt suspension initiative for developing countries until June next year but UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pushed for a commitment to extend it until the end of 2021.

International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva has warned that the global economy faces a hard road back from the COVID-19 downturn even as vaccines are now in sight.

G-20 nations must help plug the $4.5-billion funding gap in the so-called ACT-Accelerator, Norway's prime minister, South Africa's president, the heads of the European Union and the World Health Organisation demanded in a joint letter to the group.

The programme promotes an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to rein in the pandemic.

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