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Developing countries end boycott at UN climate talks after assurances from rich nations

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Poor countries ended a boycott of U.N. climate talks Monday after getting assurances that rich nations were not conspiring to soften their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases, European officials said.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Poor countries ended a boycott of U.N. climate talks Monday after getting assurances that rich nations were not conspiring to soften their commitments to cutting greenhouse gases, European officials said.

European Union environment spokesman Andreas Carlgren said informal talks resolved the impasse, which was started by African countries and backed by major developing countries, including China and India.

Rich and poor countries "found a reasonable solution," he said.

Developing countries agreed to return to all working groups that they abandoned earlier in the day at the 192-nation conference, said Anders Frandsen, a spokesman for conference president Connie Hedegaard.

The boycott had disrupted efforts to forge a pact on global warming and forced the cancellation of formal working groups, delaying the frantic work of negotiators trying to resolve technical issues before the arrival of more than 110 world leaders, including President Barack Obama, later this week.

The move was largely seen as a ploy to shift the agenda to the responsibilities of the industrial countries and make emissions reductions the first item for discussion Tuesday.

"We are really prepared to discuss all issues in the negotiations. It means also absolutely all issues under the Kyoto Protocol," Carlgren said.

The developing countries want to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed penalties on rich nations if they did not comply with its strict emissions limits but made no such binding demands on developing nations.

Poor countries, supported by China, said Hedegaard had raised suspicion that the conference was likely to kill the Kyoto Protocol. The United States withdrew from Kyoto over concerns that it would harm the U.S. economy and that China, India and other major greenhouse gas emitters were not required to take action. China is now the world's largest greenhouse gas polluter.

It was the second time the Africans have disrupted the climate talks. At the last round of negotiations in November, the African bloc forced a one-day suspension until wealthy countries agreed to spell out what steps they will take to reduce emissions.

"They are trying to put the pressure on" before Obama and other world leaders arrive, said Gustavo Silva-Chavez, a climate change specialist with the Environmental Defence Fund. "They want to make sure that developed countries are not left off the hook."

An African delegate said developing countries decided to block the negotiations at a meeting hours before the conference was to resume. He said applause broke out every time China, India or another country supported the proposal to stall the talks.

But not all developing countries supported the move. Carlgren said Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, whose island nation is threatened by rising sea levels, delivered an impersonate plea to the delegates to resume talks.

Later Monday, Nasheed told The Associated Press that there was a wide range of opinions in the bloc of developing countries, which includes both impoverished nations and fast-growing economies like China.

"There are countries who do not agree to what is happening here but I don't think we should put all the developing countries together and say there is one unified or one single voice coming out," Nasheed said after delivering a speech to climate activists in Copenhagen.

Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice said the dispute was a setback to negotiations.

"We have lost some time. There is no doubt about that," Prentice said. "It is not particularly helpful, but all in all it is our responsibility to get on with it and continue to negotiate."

A draft agreement distributed last week to the conference set no firm figures on cutting greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming nor financing.

Scientist have warned that the commitments so far fall short of what is needed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees C (3.6 F) above preindustrial levels and head off the worst of global warming.

Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore illustrated that point when he told the conference the Arctic polar ice cap may disappear in the summer just a few years from now.

Some computer models suggest "that there is a 75 per cent chance that the entire north polar ice cap during some of the summer months will be completely ice-free within the next five to seven years," Gore said.

Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change, joined the foreign ministers of Norway and Denmark in presenting two new reports on melting Arctic ice.

Countries have so far only offered short-term pledges to help developing countries deal with climate change, including the U.S. which on Monday announced a new program drawing funds from international partners to spend $350 million over five years to give developing nations clean energy technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming.

The program will distribute solar power alternatives for homes, including sun-powered lanterns, supply cleaner equipment and appliances and work to develop renewable energy systems in the world's poorer nations.

The U.S. share of the program will amount to $85 million, with the rest coming from Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, some leaders announced they were moving up their dates for arriving in Copenhagen in a bid to inject momentum into the talks.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said he would go to Copenhagen on Tuesday, two days earlier than planned. His spokesman denied that Brown - facing a national election by June - was seeking any personal credit if a deal is struck.

Throngs of newly arrived delegates, journalists and climate activists jammed the security and accreditation lines at the conference centre, forcing police to shut down the nearby subway stop.

In downtown Copenhagen, police said they detained about 20 people among 3,000 climate activists protesting outside Parliament.

More than 1,200 others were detained in weekend protests, although almost all were released after questioning. About a dozen were arraigned on preliminary charges of assaulting police officers or carrying sharp objects.

There were also sporadic reports of vandalism across the city overnight Monday. Police said 12 cars were set on fire, including three vehicles belonging to Danish power company Dong Energy. Vandals also smashed windows and threw red paint at the headquarters of the Danish Immigration Service. It was not immediately clear whether those attacks were related to the conference.

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Associated Press Writers Arthur Max and Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report.

 
 
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