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G8 leaders’ profiles

Italy

Silvio Berlusconi
Prime Minister

Host of this year’s G8 summit, Berlusconi, 72, is expected to lead the gathering of world leaders to focus on issues concerning Iran, North Korea, the economic crisis, food security and global warming.

On the domestic front, the three-time prime minister faces a sluggish economy and drew criticism over his government’s slow response to an earthquake in central Italy in April that displaced some 60,000 people. He changed the venue of the summit to the quake-damaged city of L’Aquila in late April.

Berlusconi, who is also an entrepreneur and business tycoon, and the owner of soccer team AC Milan, comes to the annual meeting with his reputation under attack due to scandals involving his personal life, chief among them his alleged relationship with a teenage model. He was Italy’s prime minister when the country last hosted the G8 summit in 2001.

Japan

Taro Aso
Prime Minister

This G8 summit is the first for the 68-year-old Aso, whose ruling Liberal Democratic Party is struggling with low support ratings and faces an uphill battle to stay in power in an upcoming general election this year.

With a strong political pedigree, being the grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, Aso became prime minister last September, replacing Yasuo Fukuda who hosted last year’s G8 summit on home soil in Hokkaido.

Since then, however, he has gained a reputation for verbal gaffes and flip-flopping on policies, and the former foreign minister is going to Italy in the hope of making a mark in diplomacy – considered to be his strength. Hoping to lead efforts to fight global warming, Aso announced in mid-June that Japan will try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

The United States

Barack Obama
President

Obama, 47, will attend his first G8 summit since taking office in January. He continues to enjoy favorable approval ratings, but polls show public support for his handling of the U.S. deficit and budget is declining.

Obama, who was born in Hawaii but spent a large part of his childhood in Indonesia, was elected on a message that emphasized “hope” and “change.” His diverse background — a mother from Kansas and a Kenyan father — has helped with his image as an empathetic leader.

He has argued for an all-hands-on-deck approach to dealing with many domestic and international issues but says the economy is his main concern. He has faced criticism at home for sometimes appearing too apologetic in his appearances with other global leaders but has continued to stress the need for each country to take responsibility in the global economic crisis.

Britain

Gordon Brown
Prime Minister

The gathering is the second G8 summit for the 58-year-old Brown, who became prime minister in June 2007, replacing Tony Blair.

But his attendance at this year’s event is overshadowed by the situation at home, where his administration continues to be plagued by a scandal over parliamentary expenses and where his governing Labour Party recently suffered humiliating losses in local elections.

Brown, who is known to have long coveted the prime ministership, was chancellor of the Exchequer for 10 years prior to being selected to succeed Blair after the latter agreed to step down.

The beleaguered Brown reshuffled his Cabinet in June in an attempt to restore his waning authority, vowing to clean up politics and tackle the recession. But the opposition Conservatives continue to hold a big lead in opinion polls.

Germany

Angela Merkel
Chancellor

Merkel, 54, is the first female German chancellor and first former East German citizen to assume the post since reunification in 1990.

Merkel’s family moved to East Germany shortly after her birth in Hamburg. A Ph.D. in physics, she was elected to the German Parliament in 1990, and served as minister for women and youth, and environment minister before becoming chancellor in November 2005.

In hosting the 2007 G8 summit in Heiligendamm, she successfully persuaded the United States to join international talks on global warming. Merkel has enjoyed a stable administration under a grand coalition between her Christian Democratic Union and its rival, the Social Democratic Party.

Merkel topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most powerful women in 2008 for the third straight year.

France

Nicolas Sarkozy
President

Sarkozy, 54, announced himself as a modernizer when he entered office in 2007, taking over from Jacques Chirac who had held the post for 12 years.

The lawyer-turned-conservative politician is heading to his third G8 summit just two weeks after a major reshuffle of his right-wing Cabinet, although key ministers in such posts as the economy and foreign affairs were retained. The reshuffle was intended to jump-start his presidency half way through his mandate.

Sarkozy’s private life has been part of France’s political landscape, famously attracting huge media and public attention with his divorce and marriage to former model Carla Bruni in his early months in office.

In June, Sarkozy granted exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship, drawing predictable protests from China.

Russia

Dmitry Medvedev
President

Medvedev, 43, is the youngest of the G8 leaders and has become increasingly prominent in the international political arena since taking over as president of the world’s largest country in May last year.

The trained lawyer, who was once chairman of energy giant Gazprom, is former Russian President Vladimir Putin’s protege, having served him as first deputy prime minister, and is sometimes perceived as still dancing to Putin’s tune.

On relations with Japan, Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso agreed in February to step up efforts to settle the decades-old territorial row between the two countries over a set of Russian-held islands north of Hokkaido — Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and Habomai — and are expected to hold talks on the sidelines of the G8 summit with a view to making a breakthrough in the dispute.

Canada

Stephen Harper
Prime Minister

This year’s summit will be the fourth for the 50-year-old Harper, who as leader of the Conservative Party took the helm of a minority government in the world’s second-largest country in February 2006.

Harper emerged from a general election last October with increased representation for his party and a slight increase in the percentage of the popular vote, although the party failed to secure an overall majority in winning 143 of the 308 seats in the Canadian House of Commons.

An evangelical Christian and a keen ice hockey fan, Harper visited Tokyo in July last year and met then Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, helping to pave the way for Emperor Akihito’s and Empress Michiko’s forthcoming visit to Canada in July. The royal visit is intended to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.