Obama says other countries need to 'pick up the pace'

McClatchy NewspapersApril 1, 2009 

LONDON — President Barack Obama heads into a global economic summit on Thursday warning that the world can no longer depend on the U.S. to be the consumer-driven engine of economic growth and that other nations will have to step up and do more.

"The world has become accustomed to the United States being a voracious consumer market and the engine that drives a lot of economic growth worldwide," he said Wednesday. He cautioned that the U.S. eventually will have to scale back its appetite for the world's goods to pay the bills for all the stimulus spending it's doing.

"If there's going to be renewed growth, it can't just be the United States as the engine," he said. "Everybody is going to have to pick up the pace."

Outside, in the streets of London, violent protests erupted as thousands vented their anger over lost jobs and what they decried as the excesses of capitalism.

The global leaders gathered here, however, focused on how to go forward. One key debate heading into the summit's main working session Thursday was over how much more each government should spend to stimulate its own economy.

The U.S., the United Kingdom and China favor huge government stimulus programs, while France and Germany emphasize tough new regulations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in London Wednesday, vigorously pushing for more regulation.

"We do not want results that have no impact in practice," Merkel said at a London news conference with Sarkozy. "We want the kind of results that are really an outcome and change the world."

Sarkozy repeated his demand for the creation of a new international financial regulator. Both also called for increased registration and transparency of hedge funds, as well as a list of tax havens.

"I have confidence in Mr. Obama; I'm sure he will help us," Sarkozy said. He added, however, 'It's today and tomorrow — after tomorrow, it's too late.'

Obama said that the U.S., Britain, France and Germany were all in broad agreement on the need to stimulate their economies and better regulate financial systems. The differences between countries, he argued, is "just arguing at the margins."

He also blamed the news media for hyping dissent to make a better story.

"I know that when you've got a bunch of heads of state talking, it's not visually that interesting," he said. "The communiques are written in sort of dry language, and so there's a great desire to inject some conflict and some drama into the occasion."

Yet the assertive language used by Sarkozy and Merkel — German reporters traveling with the German chancellor said they were surprised by the aggressive tone of the joint news conference — suggested the leaders had serious concerns about the summit.

Mindful that many countries attending the summit blame the financial centers of New York and London for the mess, Obama conceded the U.S. share of responsibility.

"If you look at the sources of this crisis, the United States certainly has some accounting to do with respect to a regulatory system that was inadequate to the massive changes that had taken place in the global financial system," he said.

"What is also true is that here in Great Britain, in continental Europe, around the world; we were seeing the same mismatch between the regulatory regimes that were in place and the highly integrated global capital markets that had emerged."

He added that, "I'm less interested in identifying blame than fixing the problem."

Outside, in the streets, an estimated 4,000 demonstrators virtually emptied a swath of The City — London's financial district — on Wednesday, and by late afternoon a mob attacked a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, a British bank that was nationalized with taxpayer funds late last year.

Riot police were called in after demonstrators, many wearing black bandanas to cover their faces, broke windows of the branch, which was closed ahead of the march, and entered it.

Protesters also climbed onto the roof of the Bank of England, Britain's central bank. By mid-afternoon, police had arrested at least 23 people, the BBC reported. Separately, Scotland Yard reported arresting 11 people on suspicion of possessing police uniforms after they were found traveling in a renovated armored personnel carrier.

Further protests are expected Thursday.

Ellie Blake, a soft-spoken 20-year-old college student from Reading, England, said she came to the march to voice concern about the economic crisis and climate change.

"People haven't got jobs," she said. "They're getting the banks out of trouble but leaving their own people in trouble."

Blake admitted that Obama's presence had inspired her to get involved. "He's the big one that's got people excited," she said. "He's always talking about change."

The protests started peacefully. In the financial district, organizers coordinated separate marches from four subway stations that converged on the Bank of England at midday. Each march was led by people holding aloft a big model horse made of paper, cloth and bamboo, symbolizing one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Protesters held sign venting anger at bankers and capitalism in general, with slogans such as "Balls to the Banks," "Regulate Casino Capitalists," "Capitalism Stole My Virginity," and "Swindler's List: City of London, Wall Street, EU, Germans." There were chants of "revolution" and "no justice." Other signs urged peace and an end to global warming.

Before the attack on the RBS branch, a carnival atmosphere prevailed. Beach balls bounced overhead and bubbles were blown into the sunshine.

The crowd was largely made up of 20-somethings but there were also veteran anarchists present.

Even Londoners who weren't involved in the protests voiced sympathy with the feelings expressed by many demonstrators. "People over here are angry," said John Pennock, a 33-year-old salesman in suit and tie.

Asked about the mood in continental Europe, his boss — 37-year-old Maartin Kooyman, a Dutchman who lives in Spain — said people like himself could weather the crisis even if they lost their jobs, but he worries about the older generation.

"If you see your pension fade away like snow in the sun, it's pretty difficult," Kooyman said.

(Sell is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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