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Search On for Ways to Stop Economic Slide


World leaders are groping for ways to spark their slumping economies, as new information shows conditions are likely to get worse.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Wednesday warned EU leaders they must move quickly to approve a more than $260 billion region-wide stimulus package. And Japan's Finance Ministry said the Asian Development Bank needs to nearly triple the amount of money it has available for loans to about $165 billion to help emerging economies survive the global downturn.

The calls come as new reports show just how hard countries are being hit by the recession.

German officials say Europe's largest economy may have contracted by as much as 2 percent in the final three months of 2008, while the European Union says industrial production for its members plunged in November, falling almost 8 percent compared to the same time last year.

And South Korea says it lost 12,000 jobs from December 2007 to December 2008, the first yearly loss in more than five years.

Unemployment also is a huge concern in Thailand, where the country's central bank Wednesday slashed its key lending rate to two percent, the second cut is as many months.

The Thai Auto Industry Association expects production to fall by as much as 30 percent, and labor activists say some displaced workers are leaving manufacturing centers for the countryside in the hope of finding work.

China also taking measures to spark its economy. It announced Wednesday that it will cut fuel prices for a second time in four weeks. Chinese officials, and labor rights organizations like the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin fear rising unemployment could lead to social unrest.

In Britain, the government is trying to help small and medium-sized companies, introducing a $29 billion program designed to provide them with credit. British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson says it is vital the government act now, before these companies collapse.

Concerns also are running high in Greece, where the stock market Wednesday fell about 5 percent after Standard and Poor's ratings agency downgraded the country's sovereign debt rating.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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