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Many world leaders cast spotlight on gap between rich and poor { September 20 2004 }

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World leaders cast spotlight on gap between rich and poor
- KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer
Monday, September 20, 2004

(09-20) 15:35 PDT UNITED NATIONS (AP) --

Poverty leads to violence, the leaders of France and Brazil warned Monday in urging other nations to find ways to narrow the gap between rich and poor and help the more than 1 billion people who live on less than $1 per day.

President Bush skipped Monday's two high-level meetings, which focused on the impact of globalization and ways to finance the war against poverty. One of the forums drew more than 50 world leaders on the eve of the annual U.N. General Assembly ministerial meeting.

Bush's speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday also will emphasize international humanitarian concerns as the world body begins two weeks of ministerial meetings amid an upsurge of violence in Iraq and a massive humanitarian crisis in western Sudan.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said overwhelming hunger and unemployment in developing nations was contributing to international violence.

"How many more times will it be necessary to repeat that the most destructive weapon of mass destruction in the world is poverty?" he asked during a session on the growing economic disparity.

A February U.N. report said the income gap between the richest and poorest countries has widened the past four decades and the vast majority of the world's population could fail to see the benefits of globalization.

"Fair globalization must begin with the right of everyone to a job," Silva said, adding that "dignified work, like the fight against hunger, cannot wait."

French President Jacques Chirac said he and Silva would propose new approaches to fund the alleviation of poverty.

"The price of selfishness is rebellion," he warned. "We should ensure that the world's unprecedented wealth becomes a vehicle for the integration, rather than exclusion, of the most underprivileged.

"It is up to us to give globalization a conscience," he said.

Bush, who has focused on Iraq in his last two speeches to the General Assembly, is making a dramatic shift this year. He said in his radio broadcast Saturday he would "talk about the great possibilities of our time to improve health, expand prosperity and extend freedom in the world."

Monday's meetings were aimed at setting the stage for a General Assembly summit next year to assess progress toward meeting the goals of the 2000 Millennium Summit. Those goals include halving the number of people living in dire poverty from 2000 levels, ensuring that all children have an elementary school education, that all families have clean water and that the AIDS epidemic is halted -- all by 2015.

"Progress in eradicating extreme poverty has been uneven," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. "With creativity and political will, we could do much better."

The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, which was established in 2002 by the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, urged policy-makers in the February report to set fairer rules for trade and immigration so that millions of people can benefit from globalization. More than 1 billion people were living on less than $1 per day in 2000, the report said.

"Globalization today is morally wrong and politically unsustainable," said Finland's President Tarja Halonen, who co-chairs the commission. "We need fair rules."

Finland's U.N. Ambassador Marjatta Rasi said a resolution was being drafted to put the issue on the General Assembly's agenda.

A final declaration to be issued after Monday's afternoon meeting didn't focus on a specific proposal but committed governments to take "resolute and urgent actions" to ensure that the 2015 goals are met, especially in sub-Sahara Africa, where the need is greatest.

"The greatest scandal is not that hunger exists, but that it persists even when we have the means to eliminate it," the final declaration says, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. "It is time to take action. Hunger cannot wait."

Silva has proposed a host of ideas to help raise money for the poor: eliminating agricultural subsidies, taxing the trade of certain weapons, imposing a small tax in current tax havens, earmarking a percentage of corporate turnover, creating special bonds and raising outlays from the International Monetary Fund.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Monday's meetings were an effort "to call the attention of the world not only to the problem of terrorism ... but also to some of the root problems that make our world less safe."

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