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Annual World Bank, IMF Meetings Open Under Economic Cloud

Member nations of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank will open their annual meeting in Washington Saturday in the shadow of a worldwide economic slowdown.

The global economy has been rocked by the slumping U.S. housing market, a decline in the U.S. dollar, and rising oil prices. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says the U.S. housing decline is "the most significant current risk" to the economy.

Paulson also asserted that the United States is still committed to a strong dollar.

Hundreds of protesters marched in Washington late Friday night to oppose IMF and World Bank policies, which they say exploits poor and developing nations.

The protest turned violent, with store windows smashed and one woman hit in the face with a brick.

Ministers of the world's seven biggest economies - the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada - met Friday on the eve of the institution's meeting. The G7 officials issued a joint call for China to allow its currency, the yuan, to rise in value more quickly.

Beijing controls the foreign exchange rate for the yuan, which many monetary experts believe should have a higher value. In response to previous requests from the international community, China has promised to revalue the yuan gradually.

Earlier Friday, a group of 24 developing nations called on the IMF to closely monitor wealthier nations' economies. The G24, which represents African, Asian and Latin American nations, are also demanding a greater voice in the IMF and greater voting rights in the organization.

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