WASHINGTON -- Echoing a major cause of demonstrators who failed to shut them down, finance ministers from around the world acted at their spring meeting to hasten debt relief for poor countries.
And while the thousands of protesters failed to stop the work of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, they drew public attention to their complaints that the two institutions have failed to alleviate global poverty and should be abolished.
For their part, IMF, the World Bank and Washington police officials took satisfaction in the avoidance of violent confrontations and destruction of property such as occurred in Seattle last fall at the World Trade Organization meeting.
The IMF and the World Bank hold their next sessions this autumn in the Czech capital Prague, where officials already are making plans to deal with thousands of European demonstrators. Hundreds protested on Prague's central Wenceslav Square at the weekend, many of whom were arrested by Czech police.
At a closing news conference Monday at the World Bank, the institution's president, James Wolfensohn, said he had difficulty reconciling the varied themes of the street protesters with the work of the IMF and the bank. He said many of the protesters had limited knowledge about what the two institutions do.
''We're a bit nonplused, to be honest with you,'' Wolfensohn said. ''But I think it's a reflection of uncertainty about globalization, about a lack of belief in institutions generally, about a feeling of exclusion. And you have to listen to that, and see if we can do better.''
He said criticism of the IMF and World Bank ''certainly isn't going to make us close the door,'' although he acknowledged the two institutions would have to do a better job explaining themselves.
The World Bank's policy-making Development Committee pledged Monday to increase the number of poor countries qualifying for debt relief from the current five to 20 by the end of the year.
The committee also said it would step up the fight against the global AIDS epidemic, which has already infected 50 million people. Wolfensohn said he is prepared, with the support of the bank's 181 member nations, to provide unlimited amounts of money to combat AIDS.
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