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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
Argentine crisis looms over summit
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo embraces President Lagos
Presidents listened to calls for action on poverty
By Peter Greste in Santiago

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos has opened the Rio Group summit of Latin American countries with a call for regional unity.

But most of the talks have focused on rescuing the Argentine economy.
President Lagos addresses the summit
President Lagos called for a united front on trade

If it collapses, as many analysts believe is now all but inevitable, the shock waves will be felt across the continent.

President Lagos, hosting the summit, told his audience of 18 presidents that they were not holding a meeting among themselves but on behalf of their people.

At the top of the official agenda are ways of tackling regional poverty, improving education and technology transfer. President Lagos also called for a united front in trade.

But, frustratingly, the most pressing problem facing the group is also one they can do virtually nothing about - the financial crisis facing Argentina.

Cash needed

In his opening address, President Lagos insisted that this meeting was not just about the Argentine economy, but the participants know that there is little point in discussing development issues until they can achieve regional economic stability.

Economists say virtually the only thing that will keep Argentina afloat now is a sharp injection of cash and that is something the Rio Group simply does not have.

Instead, they will spend the rest of Friday in talks with one eye on the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF is expected to announce a decision shortly on whether to grant a request from Buenos Aires for $6-9bn.

See also:

15 Aug 01 | Business
Argentines urged to return deposits
13 Aug 01 | Business
Bush keeps 'open mind' on Argentina
08 Aug 01 | Americas
Argentines protest against pay cuts
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