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Debt Relief at Core of Forum, Says IMF

Summit: The World Bank's chief is confident G-7 nations will help aid poorest countries. A slew of anti-globalization protests still are planned.


WASHINGTON — As police officers and globalization protesters prepared for showdowns in the streets, U.S. and world officials said Thursday that they were seeking better ways to respond to financial crises in debt-burdened countries.

The promises and precautions came on the eve of three days of official meetings and public protests focusing on the increasing integration of the global economy and the financial interactions of the world's rich and poor.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill said he would lobby fellow finance ministers to adopt a new system--already under discussion by the Group of Seven industrialized nations--for detecting future financial crises at an early stage, resolving them in a predictable way and preventing them from spreading.

"A predictable, smooth process for nations that are in unsustainable situations will ease the chaos the current system creates in the lives of too many people who have been failed by their government's inaction," he said.

O'Neill is hosting separate meetings today of Western Hemisphere and Group of Seven finance ministers, and will participate Saturday and Sunday in the fall meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn expressed confidence that wealthy nations would make good this weekend on an earlier pledge to provide more debt relief for some of the world's poorest countries.

The Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative, which has provided about $26 billion in debt relief so far, needs at least $800 million in additional funding, he said, and several countries are nearing final approval for their donations.

"The G-7 countries have indicated they are prepared to put up funds to the extent of $1 billion," Wolfensohn said. "We are hopeful that at these meetings, we'll get an indication from the G-7 of that support."

IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler said his institution was already working to improve its abilities to respond to financial crises and had amended its lending policies to give developing countries a bigger role in developing programs to reduce poverty.

"My message to our critics, and to the protesters this weekend, is straightforward," Koehler said. "We share many of your concerns .... But the objective should not be less globalization, but better globalization."

But it was a message that went largely unheard among the hundreds of anti-globalization activists who were already mobilizing for a variety of rallies, marches, vigils, performances and provocations.

The weekend meetings were expected to attract as many as 10,000 protesters, whose actions will be monitored by about 3,000 police officers from the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions.

Police were preparing for potential clashes today with militant globalization foes who advocate confrontational forms of street protest.

Members of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence said they would attempt to "shut down" Washington this morning by disrupting traffic at major intersections and bridges, blocking access to the subway system and interfering with downtown commerce.

Organizers insisted that their activities would be peaceful, but left open the possibility that small groups of protesters might stage more provocative "autonomous actions."

"We support whatever nonviolent, creative resistance tactics that people feel will get their message across," said Andrew Willis, a student at American University and a self-described anarchist.

The organizers said one group of activists would participate in a slow-moving bicycle caravan, while another would march on foot through the downtown area. Later, protesters planned to participate in an anti-globalization drum circle, and conduct a group "die-in" on behalf of potential casualties of a U.S. military offensive in Iraq.

"It's time to raise the stakes," said organizer Zein El-Amine. "Our direct action is a form of civil disobedience that follows in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party and the civil rights movement."

A coalition of less confrontational protest groups will stage its own series of events Saturday and Sunday, including an attempt to "quarantine" finance officials inside the IMF and World Bank headquarters.

"We expect D.C. police to do their job and protect the public," said Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of 50 Years Is Enough, one of the groups planning protests over the weekend. "We don't want Washington to be destroyed. We want the focus to be on the issues."

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