WHO: The Group of Eight is made up of the leaders of the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Russia. The Kremlin won't be represented at the Camp David meetings Friday and Saturday by President Vladimir Putin, who is sending his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, the current prime minister. President Barack Obama has invited four African leaders — Presidents Yayi Boni of Benin, John Atta Mills of Ghana and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia — to join food security talks. France and Britain have suggested adding the developing economies of Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa.

WHAT: The meetings began in 1975 at a forum instigated by France, where leaders of the six largest economic powers (the G-6) agreed to annual meetings. Canada joined a year later, making it the G-7. Russian was brought into the organization in 1997, six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The European Union is represented but is not granted the power to act as host of the annual sessions or to serve as the rotating leader.

WHY: The leaders deal with global issues such as expanding democracy, fighting corruption, debating climate change issues and making commitments to aid developing nations. This year a major point of discussion is the economic and political crisis gripping Europe. The agenda also includes the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa region, where the United States wants to focus on open trade and investment as well as anti-corruption efforts, promoting democracy and the rule of law and expanding education.

WHERE and WHEN: Friday and Saturday at the presidential retreat at Camp David. Obama, who holds the chairmanship this year, moved the meetings to the Catoctin Mountains get-away in north-central Maryland. It was set for Chicago, right before a summit of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The administration said Obama made the change to provide a more intimate atmosphere and to accommodate Putin, whose country is not a NATO member. The administration denied speculation that the sessions were moved for security reasons. Past G-8 meetings have seen large and sometimes violent protests by activists opposed to the increasing globalization of world economies. Street violence overshadowed the 2001 summit in Genoa, Italy. Critics have accused the G-8 of representing the interests of an elite group of industrialized nations to the detriment of the needs of the wider world. Since Genoa, the meetings have been held in increasingly isolated locations to shield leaders from protests, playing into criticism of the G-8's closed-door image.

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