World leaders meet to jump-start slumping economy

Amid the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression, international leaders gathered here Saturday to debate new rules for global markets and ways to jump-start the stagnant world economy.

"We're discussing a way forward to make sure that such a crisis is unlikely to occur again," Bush said. He spoke briefly as colleagues from 19 countries and the European Union began the emergency summit at the National Building Museum.

Dramatic action is not expected at the summit, among the most important financial meetings of world leaders since World War II.

Economic stimulus plans are part of the agenda. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other leaders are asking each country to develop new pump-priming spending plans or, perhaps, another coordinated interest rate cut by national banks. The Bush administration has not agreed to a U.S. stimulus plan proposed by Democratic congressional leaders.

Brown also has proposed a new "college of supervisors" to oversee the world's 30 largest banks. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and others are pushing new international regulations that would require banks and other financial institutions to be more transparent about the values of their assets and the risks of complex transactions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the leaders are seeking agreement on "almost 50 actions that have to be implemented by the end of March." She added that "all actors on the market — all products and all markets — shall be really regulated and surveyed."

She is among the world leaders advocating a new "early warning system" that can detect imminent problems in markets, such as the U.S. mortgage meltdown that helped trigger the current crisis. The symptoms include frozen credit markets, rising unemployment, falling stock markets and business failures across the world.

This is the largest gathering of world leaders in the U.S. capital since a 1999 summit on the 50th anniversary of NATO, though that was largely a ceremonial occasion.

The talks began informally Friday night at a White House dinner hosted by Bush. The president said he was pleased that leaders "reaffirmed the principles behind open markets and free trade."

He warned his colleagues that "one of the dangers during a crisis such as this is that people will start implementing protectionist policies."

The Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy, as it is officially known, is unique because it also features emerging nations such as Brazil, China and India, along with the U.S. and more developed European countries. Also participating are officials from the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Another summit of this kind will be held in the spring and will include Bush's successor, Barack Obama. The Democratic president-elect sent former secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Iowa congressman Jim Leach, a Republican, to meet with world leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

Obama applauded the summit in a radio address Saturday and for the "coordinated global response" to the world's financial woes. Obama also called on the U.S. Congress to pass a stimulus package, including a jobs program to build roads and bridges, when it meets next week. "If Congress does not pass an immediate plan that gives the economy the boost it needs, I will make it my first order of business as president," he said.

On a drizzly day here, Bush greeted delegates to the summit as they arrived Saturday morning for meetings that were closed to reporters. "Dmitry, good morning!" a chipper president said to Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. "Silvio!" he enthused to Italian President Silvio Berlusconi.

Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, said a global stimulus agreement would not surprise him because it involves "politicians giving money to people." But he cautioned against too-high expectations for this emergency summit.

"Part of the problem is no one is really sure what to do," Mead said. "A summit is one of the things that make world leaders look busy."

In the U.S. capital, hundreds of protesters rallied as world leaders met for an emergency economic summit.

Outside the summit, the largest protest came from the nearly 200 demonstrators supporting Tibetan independence. They were joined by a smaller group from the spiritual movement Falun Gong in protesting China, which is attending the financial meeting at the National Building Museum.

Protesters chanted "Shame on China" on the outskirts of the perimeter established by police.

About 10 protesters from the ANSWER coalition — a group that has drawn thousands of antiwar protesters to Washington in the past — marched and picketed outside the building.

Farther away, more than 100 protesters rallied at Murrow Park. About midday, they began marching in the streets, led by a band of horns and protesters on stilts. At a traffic circle, they placed banners on a statue with messages like "Bury Capitalism" and "People Over Profit."