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More aid pledged in poverty fight

WASHINGTON -- World finance ministers promised yesterday to do more to deal with the crushing burden of global poverty, pledging help in such areas as education, debt relief, and AIDS.

But activists said the weekend meetings of the 184-nation International Monetary Fund and World Bank did not back up the warm words with cold cash.

Separately, the United States said it had made progress pushing a new initiative to bolster peace prospects in the Middle East by promoting economic development and jobs.

Treasury Secretary John Snow told reporters yesterday that he had been encouraged by the support the United States received on the issue from potential donor countries as well as officials from the region.

Snow said President Bush wanted the effort to be a key topic at this year's Group of Eight economic summit to be held in June at Sea Island, Ga. Various wealthy countries as well as the World Bank and IMF were exploring ways to provide more assistance to the volatile Middle East.

''I was encouraged by the receptiveness that we saw," Snow said.

Finance ministers from the world's seven wealthiest countries endorsed a proposal to promote economic development in the Middle East, specifically mentioning the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, along with Iraq and Afghanistan.

The World Bank's president, James Wolfensohn, said at a news conference yesterday that there was a ''readiness" by the World Bank to support Palestinian economic development. He said more discussions would occur at a conference in May in Jordan.

Streets around the headquarters of the IMF and World Bank remained cordoned off yesterday, although for the most part, demonstrators against the two institutions had left the area. Many antiglobalization groups had announced in advance that they would join forces yesterday with the much larger abortion-rights march in Washington, D.C.

The three days of financial discussions concluded with a World Bank session focused on what needs to be done to meet the millennium development goals of the United Nations -- cutting poverty in half by 2015, boosting the fight against AIDS, and educating 100 million children not now in school.

Wolfensohn said he was encouraged that progress had been made and that there was a growing realization among wealthy nations that the $900 billion spent annually on military budgets could not ensure a safer world as long as only $50 billion is spent on foreign aid.

''This imbalance is just so obviously ludicrous," he said. ''We need to focus on the causes of conflict and the causes of instability."

A number of countries, led by the Netherlands, Norway, Britain, France, and Canada, announced new commitments for a World Bank fast-track program to get more support to 40 poor nations judged to have the best plans for achieving universal education.

But education advocates said the effort is being held back by the reluctance of other wealthy countries, including the United States, to commit enough money to the program.

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