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World Bank Meeting to Focus on African Development

The World Bank will hold annual meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this weekend in Washington D.C. to discuss debt relief and other initiatives for fighting global poverty.

The meetings could be a chance for new World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to win over some of his critics.

When former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz became the World Bank's new president in June, skeptics feared that he would bring a strong ideological agenda to the bank.

Mr. Wolfowitz was widely regarded as a key proponent of the Bush administration's Middle East strategy, which included removing Saddam Hussein by force.

Protesters, such as Rick Rowden from the anti-poverty group, Action Aid International, objected to Mr. Wolfowitz’s appointment.

"There's a lot of concerns about Wolfowitz the individual."

Yet in his short tenure as World Bank chief, Mr. Wolfowitz has already won over some of his sharpest critics.

David Beckmann, head of the non-governmental organization, Bread for the World, also in Washington D.C., says he has now changed his mind about Mr. Wolfowitz.

"I'm really delighted that Wolfowitz is clear that the mission of the World Bank is to reduce poverty. He's clear that it's a multilateral institution, that it's not simply a tool of U.S. foreign policy," said Mr. Beckmann.

This weekend, Mr. Wolfowitz will preside over his first annual meetings as World Bank head.

Already, Mr. Wolfowitz has said that development in Africa will be his highest priority. He says that rich countries need to end agricultural subsidies that hurt farmers in developing countries.

"There is no question in my mind that the trade agenda is at least as important as the aid agenda if we're going to help the developing world achieve its potential and help the poorest people of the world have the opportunities they deserve," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

With the world's poorest countries tens of billions of dollars in debt, Mr. Wolfowitz says that finance ministers this week are making progress on a debt relief agreement.

Still, many anti-globalization groups accuse the World Bank of forcing poor countries to open their markets to products from the developed world. As they have in the past, these groups and others are expected to stage large protests.