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Critics Voice Concerns at UN Poverty Conference - 2002-03-21

Heads of state from around the world are gathering in the city of Monterrey, in northern Mexico, to discuss ways of helping poor nations. The occasion is the United Nations Conference on Financing Development. Critics in some non-governmental organizations are expressing dissatisfaction with what is being proposed inside the conference hall.

Even as leaders from more than 50 nations arrive here in Monterrey to attend the U.N. conference, leaders of some non-governmental organizations are complaining the outcome is unlikely to help the world's poor. These critics also say they have been excluded from the main meeting and that their views are not being heard. Various non-governmental organizations have participated in parallel meetings here in Monterrey this week and some have taken to the streets near the conference site to protest.

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda says non-governmental groups have been given a chance to present their views in spite of security restrictions at the conference. He says there is no effort on the part of the Mexican Government or the United Nations to prevent non-governmental groups from being heard. He says he met, personally, with some Mexican organizations and that the United Nations has also provided mechanisms whereby non-governmental groups can participate in conference roundtable discussions.

So far, demonstrations here in Monterrey have been small and peaceful. Police and security agents around the conference site have often outnumbered the demonstrators. But, as President Bush and other heads of state come together in the conference hall, protest crowds outside are expected to increase in size.

President Bush is proposing a 15-percent increase in U.S. aid to developing nations, over the next three years. He is targeting aid to nations that implement economic and political reforms. Some European nations favor a larger increase in aid to poor nations, noting half of the world's population still lives on less than $2.00 a day. U.N. officials admit this conference is unlikely to change that situation significantly in the next few years. However, they believe a commitment by rich nations to increase aid by any amount would be a step in the right direction.