Obama Urges Joint Action On Economy

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President Barack Obama said Wednesday the world's economic problems can only be solved through coordinated action. The comments were made in London, a day ahead of a meeting of the Group of 20 nations. On Wednesday, Obama met with Russia's president, the British prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. It was a full day for President Obama, in London for tomorrow's G20 economic summit. There were meetings with the presidents of Russia and China, a sit-down with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street, a news conference where the president called for a strong response to the global economic crisis. And at day's end, Buckingham Palace to meet the queen. NPR's Don Gonyea had to keep up with all of this and he has this report from London.

DON GONYEA: President Obama is in the spotlight at every turn as he attends his first big summit since taking office. And his arrival in London was an event to take note of, as did Britain's prime minister this morning.

Prime Minister GORDON BROWN (Great Britain): The whole of the United Kingdom welcomes President Obama and the first lady on your first official visit to our country. President Obama, you've given renewed hope not only to the citizens of the United States of America but to all citizens in all parts of the world.

GONYEA: But that doesn't mean President Obama's task at the G20 summit will be any easier. Crafting a united but still aggressive approach to economic recovery by these very different nations is a complicated undertaking. When the president joined Brown for a news conference, the first question was a pointed one.

Unidentified Man: The prime minister has repeatedly blamed the United States of America for causing this crisis. France and Germany blame both Britain and America for causing this crisis. Who is right, and isn't the debate about that at the heart of the debate about what to do now?

GONYEA: President Obama responded that the U.S. is accountable because of an inadequate regulatory system, but he added that America isn't the only one to blame.

President BARACK OBAMA: I think 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.

GONYEA: Mr. Obama was asked about some of the sharp disagreements between the U.S. and Europe, specifically Germany and France, which have been very cool to the idea of huge government stimulus programs to boost economies. The president argued that the differences are relatively small, mainly over the size and shape of such a stimulus. He stressed that he is here to listen but also that the G20 must choose to lead. Later in the morning came the president's first meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. In recent years, U.S.-Russian relations have taken on a new chill. President Obama addressed that.

Pres. OBAMA: As I said in the past, I think that for the last several years the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift. And what I believe we've begun today is a very constructive dialogue that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest, like the reduction of nuclear weapons.

GONYEA: President Medvedev spoke through an interpreter.

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Through translator) After this meeting I'm more optimistic about the successful development of our relations and would like to thank President Obama for this opportunity.

GONYEA: The two leaders agreed to begin a new round of negotiations to reduce the number of nuclear warheads with the goal of drafting a treaty by year's end. By early evening, President Obama and the first lady were at Buckingham Palace.

(Soundbite of camera clicking)

GONYEA: This was not a state visit, so it had none of the big ceremonial pomp of some presidential visits. Instead it was a reception hosted by the queen for all of the heads of state in town for the summit. There was one gift -President Obama presented the queen with an iPod loaded with songs by American songwriter Richard Rodgers. It was all stark contrast to what was happening outside in parts of London today. Thousands staged protests, some turned violent as demonstrators marched on British banks.

(Soundbite of protests)

GONYEA: Windows were smashed at the Royal Bank of Scotland. There were clashes with police elsewhere in the city as well. It should be noted, though, that the anger was not directed at President Obama, who polls show to be overwhelmingly popular across Europe. But it is anger nonetheless, rooted in the economic crisis that has put people on edge, damaging confidence in institutions like the G20 and its ability to deal with the crisis.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, London.

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Police, Protesters Clash Ahead Of G-20 Summit

Protesters and police clashed Wednesday in London in advance of the G-20 economic summit, as demonstrators smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti on buildings in the city's financial district.

Police said protesters vandalized the Royal Bank of Scotland and pelted police with beer cans near the Bank of England. Scotland Yard estimated about 4,000 people were in the crowd after several demonstrations converged on the downtown area.

The Independent, a London newspaper, reported in late editions that 24 arrests were made. Late in the day, police said a man had been reported to have collapsed near one of the protest camps and responding officers were unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. It was unclear if the man was a protester, and the cause of death was under investigation.

As protests died down Wednesday evening, President Obama and other G-20 leaders gathered for a reception with Queen Elizabeth II and then headed to a working dinner at the home of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, were among the first dignitaries to meet the queen. During a private audience, the Obamas gave the queen a personalized iPod with video footage of her visit to Washington, D.C., and Virginia in 2007. They also gave her a songbook signed by composer Richard Rodgers.

"It was a wonderful visit," Obama shouted to reporters as he and his wife left Buckingham Palace. Obama, who has enjoyed a warm reception from Brown, was cheered by several hundred people as he left the royal residence.

Earlier Wednesday, Brown and Obama played down reported differences between leaders, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference they are concerned about the form new financial regulation will take.

Merkel and Sarkozy want strong oversight for financial institutions, and Sarkozy has threatened to walk out if the summit doesn't yield progress on that front. Merkel said only tighter regulation can prevent another crisis.

While Obama said he, too, wants better regulation, he said he would not accept suggestions for a global regulator. But despite the different expectations, Brown predicted a deal is just hours away.

At the top of the agenda for the G-20 summit is reforming and re-regulating the global financial system to prevent future crisis. Sarkozy and Merkel want a rollback of the light-touch regulating that characterized American and British capitalism.

Obama said he is more interested in fixing the problem than pointing fingers, but he acknowledged that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the global economic downturn.

"If you look at the source of this crisis, the United States certainly has some accounting to do with respect to a regulatory system that was inadequate," he said.

Although Obama has received a warm reception, tensions surrounding the G-20 meeting increased throughout the day.

Chanting "Shame on you," protesters targeted the Royal Bank of Scotland and other businesses in the financial district. The protesters — angry about the bank's heavy losses that led to a government bailout — spray-painted the word "Thieves" on the side of the building.

Elsewhere, protesters pelted police with beer cans, fruit and flour as they tried to storm the Bank of England, Scotland Yard said in a statement.

In preparation for Wednesday's demonstrations — dubbed "Financial Fools Day" by protesters — banks and other businesses in the financial district were warned to board up windows, and employees were told to dress casually to avoid being targeted.

The recession has hit Britain hard. Property values have plummeted and more than 2 million people are unemployed. Like Americans, the British have been outraged by management and compensation issues in the financial sector.

Much of their anger has been directed at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which received a $28.75 billion bailout from the British government. Despite losses of $34.64 billion, former bank CEO Fred Goodwin is receiving a $1 million annual pension for life.

Away from the demonstrations, Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to work together to address the economic crisis. The White House said Obama accepted an invitation to visit China later in the year.

Obama also met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, with the two agreeing to pursue a deal to cut nuclear warheads and rebuild relations. In a joint statement, the presidents said negotiators will submit their first progress report by July, when Obama will visit Moscow for a summit.

Leaders of 19 key countries and the European Union are gathering in London for the G-20 meeting. Most of the work to come up with a strategy for stabilizing the financial markets is scheduled to take place Thursday.

From NPR and wire service reports

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