Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a blunt apology to his Liberal opponent on Friday after falsely accusing him of making comments that hurt Canada's standing on the international stage.

"During my press conference I attacked Mr. Ignatieff for some things he had allegedly said about Canada in the G8," Harper said in a statement to television cameras in L'Aquila, Italy where he is attending the G8 summit.

"I learned shortly after the press conference this was not a quotation of Mr. Ignatieff. I regret the error and I apologize to Mr. Ignatieff for this error."

Harper had slammed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for saying that Canada is at risk of losing its place in the G8 because powerful nations could form a new group and leave Canada out -- a claim Ignatieff never made.

Shortly after Harper made the controversial comments, his press secretary Dimitri Soudas admitted the mistake was his, saying he passed on the false information to his boss without substantiating it.

The comments about Canada's irrelevance in the G8 had actually been made by an academic, but Soudas incorrectly attributed them to Ignatieff.

Harper ran with them, launching the attack after a reporter asked about his expectation for next year's G8 summit, which Canada will host in Muskoka, Ont.

He went off of his message about aid in Africa and economic recovery, to attack Ignatieff over what he called "irresponsible" comments from someone who is "supposed to be a Canadian."

CTV parliamentary correspondent Roger Smith said he was surprised by the attack.

"It's a rather extraordinary mess up by the prime minister's staff here," Smith told CTV News Channel.

"We know there have been many before but I think this one is probably going to steal the kind of message the prime minister wanted to come out of this summit."

Economic recovery

During the news conference Harper also discuss the global economy, saying it would be premature for governments to begin withdrawing their stimulus funds before there are clear signs that the global economy is in recovery mode.

Earlier this week, Harper suggested that countries should focus on delivering the stimulus funds they have already committed, before pledging more stimulus spending.

"We are not suggesting...that any country begin to unwind its economic stimulus measures. That would clearly be way too premature," Harper told reporters Friday.

"I have suggested that those who are seeing the emergence of deep structural deficits...that those countries have to at least be thinking about how they are going to emerge out of a structural deficit position as the recovery takes hold."

Harper said the global economy has stabilized, but has not yet recovered from the downturn. He said he hopes those exit-strategy discussions can begin in earnest by the time Canada hosts next year's G8 meetings.

Harper also said the G8 remains a relevant body, but said it is not a global government and shouldn't be seen as such.

He said leaders attending the meeting have reached consensus on issues such as climate change and ongoing violence in Iran, saying such agreements are proof of the relevance of the group.

However, he suggested there is room for reform to make the G8 more relevant, and said adding new countries to the meetings is a step towards that goal.

He was responding to widespread criticism that the G8 is outdated and no longer accurately represents the global economy.

The focus of the meetings has been largely on the fragile global economy and climate change.

Aid to Africa

On Friday leaders were urged to keep the needs of African nations in their sights as they return home.

The third and final day of meetings saw African nations meet with the leaders in hopes of nailing down the finer points of a US$15 billion initiative to help farmers in poor countries produce more food.

According to a draft statement of the initiative, the money will be spread out over three years and will aim to increase the productivity of farmers. Not all of the money, however, is new, and anti-poverty groups said the funding was not good enough.

"There is an urgent need for decisive action to free humankind from hunger and poverty," the draft statement said. "We will aim at substantially increasing aid to agriculture and food security."

The initiative aims to provide support around harvest time and to help small farmers, families and women, as well as to increase private sector growth. It also intends to balance any agriculture improvements with measures to help farmers in these countries deal with any climate change issues caused by global warning.

Delegates said the U.S. is expected to provide roughly $3 billion of the funding, while France will chip in about $2 billion.