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G20 get down to work amid protests

LONDON, Apr 2 – World leaders battled to hammer out their differences over how to fix the global economy ahead of the G20 summit, as anti-capitalist protests descended into violence on the streets of London.

Protesters laid siege to the Bank of England and smashed the windows of a nearby bank that has become a symbol of the financial crisis in Britain, which has been hit hard by the credit crunch and its economic fallout.

Security was tight ahead of Thursday\’s Group of 20 summit, where leaders including US President Barack Obama are struggling to overcome US-Europe tensions over how to ease the global slowdown.

Several thousand demonstrators invaded London\’s main financial district and tensions spilled over when protesters smashed their way into an office of Royal Bank of Scotland, which was taken into state ownership last year.

Police said they made 63 arrests, and later announced a man had died after collapsing while being held inside a police cordon near the Bank of England. Emergency services tried to revive him, but he was declared dead in hospital.

The protests provided a stormy backdrop to world leaders holding pre-summit talks to try to iron out differences over whether tighter regulation or further fiscal stimulus would do more to ease the crisis.

They had a chance to thrash out their arguments at a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace late on Wednesday, followed by a dinner at British Prime Minister Gordon Brown\’s Downing Street residence.

Earlier, France and Germany demanded tough action by the G20 leaders and Obama warned the United States could no longer be counted on to be the "voracious consumer" which would lead worldwide growth.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were not happy with the draft proposals for the summit, and vowed to stand together to press for "non-negotiable" new global finance rules.

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"Without new regulations there will be no confidence. And without confidence there will be no recovery. It\’s a major aim, non-negotiable," Sarkozy told reporters here, although he did not repeat a threat to walk out of the summit.

Summit host Brown held telephone talks with Sarkozy Wednesday ahead of Thursday\’s meeting and agreed on the need for tougher world finance rules, the French presidency said.

Obama and Brown – who is struggling to bridge the summit gap between the US and Europe – played down the differences but not the scope of the crisis that the summit will have to confront.

"Make no mistake, we are facing the most severe economic crisis since World War II, and the global economy is now so fundamentally interlinked that we can only meet this challenge together," said Obama.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned in an article in the Guardian on Thursday that more than economics was at stake.

He said that unless action was taken, the crisis could lead to a "growing social unrest, weakened governments and angry publics who have lost all faith in their leaders and their own future."

Obama also held his first face-to-face meetings with Russia\’s President Dmitry Medvedev and China\’s President Hu Jintao in London Wednesday.

After meeting Hu at the US ambassador\’s residence here, Obama pledged to support global trade and investment flows and work to resist protectionism.

"China and the United States are committed to resist protectionism and ensure sound and stable US-China trade relations," a White House statement said.

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China has previously singled out the United States for criticism over protectionist measures.

Obama insisted that while the summit had a duty to produce "the most substantive outcome possible," the "separation between the various parties has been vastly overstated".

The US leader has said stimulus and regulation are needed. He added that the United States could not shoulder all responsibility for generating new growth.

"Everybody is going to have to pick up the pace and I think that there is a recognition based on the conversations that I\’ve had with leaders around the world that that is important," he said.

Germany\’s Merkel voiced her concern before leaving Berlin.

"I am going to London with a mixture of confidence and concern. Concern on one hand on whether we can really react to the serious situation… Confident, however, that… we cannot stick our heads in the sand," she said.

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