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U.N. Holds 'Social Summit'

 

 

                    By The Associated Press

 

          GENEVA (AP) -- Members of the United Nations have failed in their

          pledge to lift out of poverty the 3 billion people -- half the world's

          population -- who live on less than $2 a day, national leaders said

          Monday.

 

          ``Our commitments have not been fulfilled. That is a sad fact,'' Danish

          Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said in the keynote speech to the

          U.N. General Assembly. ``We could have done better, much better.''

 

          The world body began a weeklong special session to take stock of

          progress -- or the lack of it -- since a 1995 U.N. conference hosted by

          Denmark at which nearly 120 heads of state and government pledged to

          eradicate poverty.

 

          ``Millions of poor, disadvantaged men, women and children around the

          globe expected us to do better,'' said Nyrup Rasmussen.

 

          Delegations were presented with U.N. reports indicating that the number

          living in absolute poverty -- on less than a dollar a day -- has actually

          grown, to 1.2 billion from about 1 billion in 1995.

 

          The World Bank says that figure will not decrease over the next eight

          years unless something is done.

 

          U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged member nations to recommit

          themselves to battle against ``human misery,'' going beyond a proposed

          goal of halving the proportion of people in extreme poverty by the year

          2015.

 

          ``Fifteen years from now, will there still be tens of millions of primary-age

          school children who are not in school?'' Annan asked. ``Will small

          children and pregnant women still be dying every minute from malaria and

          other preventable diseases?''

 

          ``Will treatment for AIDS still be priced far beyond the means of those

          suffering from it in developing countries?'' he added.

 

          Annan said Sunday that ``globalization'' -- the lowering of barriers to

          trade, investment and business around the world -- offers hope of

          changing things.

 

          ``But clearly at the moment millions of people -- perhaps even a majority

          of the human race -- are being denied those benefits,'' Annan said.

 

          Swiss President Adolf Ogi, host of the current session, said that, while

          grinding poverty continues, ``not a day goes by without our hearing of

          another merger, the birth of a new giant of the economy and the

          disappearance of thousands of jobs.''

 

          The United Nations has dubbed the gathering the ``social summit.'' It will

          be attended by about 15 heads of state or government, mainly from

          Africa. Representatives of 168 governments, and nine observers, are

          expected to speak during the week.

 

          While the discussions continue in the United Nations' second

          headquarters -- the Palais des Nations -- organizations hoping to work

          toward the same goal will be meeting nearby in a ``parallel summit.''

 

          And across town an ``alternative summit'' of more critical organizations

          will be demanding more radical solutions.

 

          Thousands of protesters from the third group marched peacefully through

          the streets of Geneva on Sunday to urge the cancellation of the debt

          owed by poor countries.

 

          ``The 'social summit' organizes social misery,'' said some signs.