Beliefnet
WASHINGTON, April 17 (AP)--World finance officials closed out the most tumultuous meetings in the history of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on Monday with renewed pledges to hasten debt relief for poor countries and increase support for fighting the AIDS epidemic.

The Development Committee, which sets policy for the World Bank, also urged the world's rich nations to do more to open their markets to the world's poorest countries' exports. And the World Bank committee pledged to work with the IMF to overhaul internal operations to make both institutions more effective in fighting future global financial crises.

The talks were overshadowed by thousands of anti-globalizaton protesters who failed in efforts to shut down the meetings but succeeded in putting a spotlight on complaints that both institutions have failed in their job of alleviating global poverty.

IMF and World Bank officials, for their part, declared a victory because they were able to avoid the violent confrontations that occurred last fall in Seattle. In those confrontations, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to control the streets and a small number of demonstrators looted and vandalized downtown buildings.

"The thing that we wanted more than anything else was to avoid a confrontation particularly because it would send a wrong image as to what we were doing with civil society," said World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

Washington police and federal authorities spent millions of dollars to turn a large area surrounding the White House and the IMF and World Bank headquarters into an armed encampment with hundreds of police stationed behind metal barricades to prevent the demonstrators from disrupting the meetings as they successfully had done in Seattle at the World Trade Organization meetings.

The IMF and World Bank were forced to run shuttle buses from local hotels beginning at 5 a.m. local time to get their delegates into the meetings ahead of protesters massing on the streets.

Wolfensohn joked that the revised schedule put the meetings on European time. The two organizations will hold their fall meetings in September in Prague, a city which has already begun to make plans to deal with thousands of expected demonstrators.

Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin said the fact that so many demonstrators showed up was not surprising given the high level of anxiety generated by change, such as globalization.

"In fact, it would be strange if people were not concerned," Martin said.

Globalization refers to the growing connections between countries in terms of trade and investment that opponents in the United States believe have led to increased jobs competition with low-wage countries.

The World Bank communique pledged an intensified effort to provide money to treat AIDS, which has already infected 50 million people.

Wolfensohn told reporters at the closing news conference that he was determined to marshal World Bank and other resources to make sure that "no sensible program is stopped for lack of money."

U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers used his speech to the Development Committee on Monday to push the U.S. administration's reform package for both institutions.

The administration of President Bill Clinton, however, ran into objections from other nations to some of its more sweeping proposals to refocus the institutions on their core missions. Developing countries especially do not agree with a U.S. push to limit the IMF mainly to providing emergency loans to nations facing balance of payments crises.

And Britain's Clare Short, the country's minister for development, complained that the U.S. insistence on setting performance standards for nations seeking debt relief was slowing down the program.

But Summers argued, "One must strike the right balance between speed and quality."

The issue was not resolved during Monday's discussions and, like many of the other proposals for reforming the IMF and World Bank, was left for further debate at future meetings. But the finance ministers insisted that they understood the need for speed in addressing the complaints of critics.

"At a time when public opinion, even in this place, is questioning and concerned about the effects of globalization and the lag in development in the poor countries, we must demonstrate more strongly than ever clear policy to enhance development and fight poverty," said French Minister Laurent Fabius.

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