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REUTERS - Leaders from the Group of Eight top industrial nations will meet in the French seaside town of Deauville on May 26 and 27 for an annual summit. Discussions will cover unrest in North Africa and nuclear safety, as well as the race to name a new IMF head.
Following are some key facts about the G8.
-- The G8 is an unofficial forum of the heads of the leading industrialised democracies: Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the United States, Canada (since 1976) and Russia (since 1998). The European Commission has also been represented in all the sessions since the Ottawa Summit in 1981.
-- The first summit in France in 1975 was called to settle a dispute over currencies, but meetings were soon expanded to discuss broad economic policy matters.
-- The G8 countries account for 15 percent of the world's population, but 65 percent of its gross domestic product.
-- The G8 focuses mainly on geopolitical and security issues, including its relations with Africa. The newer and broader G20 -- which includes China, India, Brazil, Turkey and Mexico -- focuses on global economic issues. The Deauville meeting will cover aid needs for Egypt and Tunisia, the conflict in Libya, repression in Syria and nuclear safety.
-- The G8 has no permanent secretariat and its decisions are non-binding. A rotating presidency lets each G8 country chair the forum for a calendar year and organize and host the annual summit. The order of rotation is France, the United States, Britain, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada. France's 2011 presidency marks its sixth turn as G8 chair, and coincides with its year-long G20 presidency.
-- G8 summits tend to draw anti-globalisation protests, which can turn violent. A protestor was shot dead by police at the Genoa, Italy summit in 2001, the first death in nearly two years of violent anti-globalisation protests. There were later protests in Evian in France in 2003 and at the 2005 Gleneagles summit. Since then the summits have been held in remote areas that can be sealed off while activists are allowed to demonstrate nearby.
-- Recent venues have included a lakeside resort in Canada, a hilltop hotel in Japan, a Baltic seaside resort in Germany and a remote resort island in the U.S. state of Georgia. In Deauville, protestors will be constrained to the port city of Le Havre, some 15 km (9 miles) away.
-- Thousands of governmental ministers, diplomats and other representatives attend the G8 gatherings. This year, some 18,000 people are expected to descend on Deauville, including representatives invited from African nations. Critics question the effectiveness of G8 summits, as leaders rarely hash out binding policy in the short time frame allotted them and promises, such as aid commitments, are not always kept.
Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Catherine Bremer and David Cutler