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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politicians, Bono Urge Debt Relief at WEF

NEW YORK -- Global leaders on Saturday urged rich nations to end their "selfish" ways and offer poor countries a better path to prosperity as anti-globalization protesters staged the first major demonstrations at the World Economic Forum.

Caged in a swank Manhattan hotel behind a steel barricade and platoons of police, delegates at the star-studded gathering of top business and political leaders put debt relief and tackling poverty at the top of the agenda.

The world's richest man, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, teamed up with rock icon Bono in an appeal to world leaders to substantially increase funding for global healthcare.

Horst Koehler, managing director of the International Monetary Fund -- a favorite target of protesters -- chided the industrialized world for failing to open their markets to poor nations and for protecting powerful agricultural lobbies.

"Societies in the advanced countries are too selfish to give up privileges which are needed in order to give the poor a better chance," Koehler told a panel on the global economic outlook.

"If we are truly serious about making globalization work for the benefit of all, the advanced countries have to realize they can't do business as usual," he added.

But there was no such mea culpa from U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who defended Washington's reluctance to substantially increase foreign development aid, saying it was more productive to help poor countries better manage the aid they already receive.

"Having a conversation about the speed with which we're going to make huge jumps in living standards in the world, and then organizing our forces to accomplish that, seems a far better thing to do than to do what I suppose has been the conventional process for a very long time, which is to hang a number [for more aid]," O'Neill said.

Such sentiment is unlikely to appease the protesters gathering on New York's streets who believe the global capitalist order enriches the world's ruling elite while breeding poverty and inequality and damaging the environment.

With midtown Manhattan a maze of steel barriers, hundreds of protesters rolled in for a rally that organizers from a group called ANSWER, or Act Now to Stop War & End Racism, predicted would grow to the thousands.

Other protest marches including one with a live samba band were scheduled to begin later in the day in the general vicinity of the hotel where the conference is taking place.

Witnesses said one young man who refused to remove a gray bandana covering his mouth was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct.

An onlooker who asked police why the man had been arrested, was also taken into custody as protesters chanted "Let them go!"

Inside the Waldorf Astoria hotel, world leaders appeared to be sensitive to the concerns of the growing, if disorganized, forces of anti-globalization.

French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said the world could not expect to wage a war on terrorism without fighting a parallel battle to snuff out the poverty that breeds militancy and resentment at the world's powers.

"If we want to get rid of terrorism, there is not only a war in terms of military action, but there is a necessity of war in terms of helping poor countries to develop," Fabius said.

"My question is: Are rich countries fully aware of that? Are they prepared to take precise decisions in that direction?" he said.

"If we want a more stable world, we have to tackle very seriously this problem."

The IMF's Koehler chided the United States and Europe for lacking the will to halt subsidies that protect domestic farmers and to give poor countries access to their markets for agricultural exports.

"The U.S. is also a sinner," Koehler said. "And certainly we also need to see a breaking up in agricultural policy in Europe."