- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

ROME | Italy’s government wants to move this summer’s Group of Eight summit from Sardinia to earthquake-stricken L’Aquila - both to save money and to give the devastated central region an economic boost.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a news conference Thursday after a Cabinet meeting in L’Aquila that the cost of holding the July 8-10 summit on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena would be $285 million.

Mr. Berlusconi said that money would be better spent on reconstruction efforts in Italy’s Abruzzo region. He gave no figure for how much it would cost to host the summit in L’Aquila, but maintained that the move would save money.

The death toll from the April 6 earthquake rose to 296 on Thursday, with the death reported by the news agency ANSA of an elderly man who was injured when his house collapsed.

The temblor drove about 50,000 people from their homes and toppled or heavily damaged thousands of buildings around the mountain city of L’Aquila. Many of those people have taken refuge in tent cities, which were made miserably muddy Thursday by a heavy rainstorm.

But with L’Aquila just a one-hour drive from Rome, Mr. Berlusconi insisted there were enough hotels and conference venues for delegates and journalists. And he said demonstrators might think twice before marching on the earthquake-devastated region, as opposed to a deluxe seaside resort in Sardinia.

Italian media have previously reported that the government was having trouble organizing the summit on La Maddalena and finding ships to host the delegations and journalists. But Italian organizers denied there were any such problems.

The island, selected by Mr. Berlusconi’s predecessor Romano Prodi, had a U.S. Navy support base that was closed last year and was undergoing extensive construction to prepare for the summit.

Mr. Berlusconi said the summit could be hosted in the same venue as Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, a military school that has been turned into the headquarters for the rescue and recovery operation. The sprawling complex, complete with barracks and a heliport, recently held a mass funeral for about 200 victims of the earthquake on its broad parade grounds.

The change of venue depends on the approval of other participating countries.

“The G-8 doesn’t only concern Italy,” Infrastructure Minister Altero Matteoli said. “The premier will have to consult all the heads of state.”

The office of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, expressing “deep sympathy” for the Italians after the earthquake, issued a statement saying the decision on the venue “rests with the Italian government. We look forward to engaging in a range of issues at the summit.”

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