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Italy is offering an unspecified number of passenger ships to accommodate world leaders during a forthcoming summit in the port city of Genoa — as shelter from antiglobalization demonstrators.

According to Japanese government sources, Italy has asked the other Group of Eight major countries to put up their huge armies of government officials aboard one or more cruise liners anchored at piers along Genoa’s port.

The request was made during a meeting of senior officials from the G-8 countries held recently to prepare for the three-day Genoa summit, which will start July 20, the sources said.

G-8 countries are: the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia.

Since the World Trade Organization’s rancorous ministerial meeting in Seattle in late 1999, antiglobalization demonstrators have amassed at every key international economic conference, including the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January and this past weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Quebec.

Summit organizers are now finding their top priority is ensuring their conferences are not disrupted by sometimes violent antiglobalization demonstrations.

Toward that end, the Italian government fears that roads leading to a former palace where the G-8 summit will be held might be blockaded during the three-day conference, the sources said.

If that happens, Italy believes its police will be able to more easily secure access to the palace if participants stay together on ships instead of at hotels scattered throughout the city.

The former palace is about a 10-minutes walk from the piers.

Some 2,000 government officials from G-8 countries, including more than 700 from the U.S. and between 200 and 300 from Japan, are expected to gather in Genoa during the G-8 summit.

While being sympathetic to Italy’s efforts to ensure a smooth summit, Japan and the other G-8 countries remain reluctant to accept the Italian request, citing the potential for severe inconveniences, the sources said.

“We wonder whether passenger ships alone can actually accommodate a huge number of G-8 officials?” one Japanese government source asked. “Unlike at hotels, we are also worried that we might not have access to spacious meeting halls and various other facilities, including telecommunications, which we badly need for our work.”

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