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G8 addresses Y2K

As expected, the Group of Eight nails down plans to smash the Year 2000 bug, but some criticized the effort as spineless.

As expected, the Group of Eight over the weekend nailed down plans to smash the Year 2000 bug, but some criticized the effort as spineless.

Leaders of the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Canada, and Russia agreed on Sunday to work with businesses to stop computer failures disrupting defense, telecommunications, financial, and other systems as 2000 approaches.

The G8 summit's final communique agreed to take unspecified urgent action and share information.

Just over $16 million was committed to the World Bank Trust Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to help international institutions combat the bug. A conference of experts will be held in Moscow on an unspecified date.

But this falls short of what many observers say should be done to deal with the technology problem on a global scale.

The plan reveals a lack of understanding of the depth of the crisis, they said.

"It may sound like a cliché, but too little, too late is so true in this issue. It is getting desperately late," said Robin Guenier, executive director of Taskforce 2000, a privately funded organization that publicizes millennium bug problems.

If nothing is done to fix the problem, some observers believe that when clocks strike midnight on December 31, 1999, mayhem will break out as many computer systems crash around the world, unable to make sense of 2000 as a date.

They expect power stations, telecommunications systems, and public utilities to grind to a halt. Many factory production lines are expected to be crippled and banks closed. Air traffic control systems may fail.

Experts such as Edward Yardeni, chief economist at merchant bankers Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, have called for the formation of a Year 2000 Alliance with funding of $100 billion.

He said having the issue in the communique is "better than nothing. The more they do on a global scale, the better. It also gives legitimacy to the problem. It says this is a global issue." He also looks forward to the conference in Moscow.

The G8 leaders only generated warm words but no effective action, experts said.

"This really is the last chance to get on with it. This whole thing is much bigger and much nearer and much more dangerous than our political leaders seem to understand," Guenier said. "Exhortation, and agreements to share information, call another meeting of so-called experts--where is the wake-up call we've been waiting for?"

The concern over the Year 2000 bug is also shared by many politicians in Washington. Just last week, a senate committee formally requested the issue be brought up at the G8 summit. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem warned that the failure of industrialized nations to prepare for the computer bug poses a significant threat to the U.S. economy.

"We are greatly troubled about the seeming lack of urgency of the major industrialized nations in preparing to deal with the Year 2000 computer problem and hope that you will make this issue a top priority for discussions," the committee urged in a letter signed by a majority of its members.

The committee also asked that it be provided with a report of any discussions on the Year 2000 problem when administration officials return from Birmingham, England, where the summit is being held.

Reuters contributed to this report.