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News Briefs

Activists Plan Boycott of World Bank Bonds


Hoping to starve the World Bank of the money it lends, activist groups pledged Monday to organize a global boycott of its most important fund-raising tools, World Bank bonds.

The groups will press labor unions, churches and “socially responsible” investment funds to drop the highly rated bonds. If that works, the plan is to move on to investors at large, who hold close to $190 billion of the bonds.

With letters and face-to-face meetings, proponents will say, “what’s the point of holding on to these things? Why don’t you just get rid of them and join us?” said Neil Watkins, the campaign’s organizer.

The Washington-based bank, a cooperative of 181 countries, specializes in development loans -- $29 billion worth last year. Critics contend that projects such as petroleum pipelines harm the environment, while its market-opening policies cost jobs in poor countries and encourage creation of sweatshops. Critics also argue that the loans burden poor countries with debt service obligations that drain resources that could otherwise go to health, education and food programs.

Wall Street paid little attention Monday. Rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s both give the bank’s bonds the highest possible rating, AAA. As a result, the bank pays low interest rates to bondholders and can offer discount-rate loans to borrowers.

Russian Parliament Expected to Ratify START II Friday


More than seven years after it was signed, the Russian parliament is expected Friday to ratify the START II treaty -- which sharply reduces long-range nuclear weapons -- paving the way for renewed negotiations on still-deeper cuts and setting the stage for a thaw in relations with the West.

Faction leaders in the lower house, the State Duma, decided to put the treaty up for a vote in the 450-member chamber Friday. Party leaders said prospects were good for swift passage, although the Communist Party and its allies in the Agrarian Party declared they would vote against it.

A ratification vote would provide a boost for acting President Vladimir Putin ahead of his May 7 inauguration and set the tone for a visit to the United States by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov starting April 24. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1996.

The vote would be the first concrete sign of a working non-Communist majority in the lower house. In the previous session, the Communists could block such moves, but after the December elections it appears there are enough votes to pass some legislation over their objections. Commentators have said Putin hopes to use this new majority to push through other long-delayed bills, such as tax and land codes.

The START II treaty would cut nuclear warheads on each side to between 3,000 and 3,500, about half of the ceilings under the START I agreement, which was sealed in 1991.