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Activists showing impatience at Durban climate talks

Climate activists in Durban are expressing their displeasure at negotiators from wealthy countries, whom they see as dragging their feet on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. 

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The EU's failure to commit to another five-year reduction period would leave the landmark agreement in place, but gutted of its most important element, and would surely lead to Durban being branded as the protocol's burial ground.

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Both China and the U.S. said they would be amenable to the EU proposal, but each attached riders that appeared to hobble its prospects for unanimous acceptance.

The United States, with its eye on Congress that is generally seen as hostile on the climate issue, is concerned about conceding any competitive business advantage to China. Beijing, too, is resisting the notion that it has become a developed country on a par with the U.S. or Europe, saying it still has hundreds of millions of impoverished people.

Activists in Durban have expressed their anger at the U.S. and other countries in many ways.

An American college student was ejected from the conference Thursday after disrupting a speech by U.S. delegate Todd Stern. Police escorted the student, Abigail Borah, 21, from the cavernous plenary of the conference as delegates applauded her removal.

Before she was seized, Borah began reading a speech accusing the U.S. of stonewalling an agreement, but Stern denied that.

"I've heard this from everywhere from ministers to press reports to the very sincere and passionate young woman who was in the hall when I was giving my remarks. I just wanted to be on the record as saying that, that's just a mistake. It is not true," he told reporters later.

A day earlier, six Canadians were thrown out for a similar protest against Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent.

At a separate meeting Thursday attended by South African President Jacob Zuma, scuffles broke out between his supporters and environmentalists holding up posters reading, "Zuma stand with Africa, not with USA," and "Zuma don't let Africa fry."

Negotiations to provide climate aid for poor countries are less sensitive than talks over mandatory emissions reductions, but even they have proved difficult thanks to the global financial crisis. Some nations are concerned that the envisioned aid, scaling up from $10 billion a year now to $100 billion annually in 2020, will have trouble raising donations from wealthier governments.

"In a time of constraints, in a time of crisis, in a time of tough budgets, people are saying that charity starts at home, that we cannot deal with something noble but medium and long-term like the environment," said Angel Gurria, head of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an organization of 34 Western countries.

Critical progress has been made on the structure and governance of the Green Climate Fund, which will handle most of the money.

"It's an area actually which is among the most advanced in the negotiations," said Stern, the chief U.S. negotiator. "I don't have any reason to think that that's not going to conclude."

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