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 NEW DELHI: Leaders of the emerging world met in India Thursday to discuss creating a new development bank, at a summit in which the bloc will seek to convert its economic might into collective diplomatic clout.

The leaders of the BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- are attending the fourth meeting of the bloc, a key non-Western alliance that is looking to extend its influence.

Top of the agenda was the creation of the grouping's first institution, a so-called "BRICS Bank" that would fund development projects and infrastructure in developing nations.

Though it remains in the planning stages, the leaders are expected to signal their commitment to setting it up as potential counterweight to other multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

"It would be a very powerful financial tool to improve trade opportunities," Brazil's Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel told a session on Wednesday ahead of the summit.

The lead-up to the gathering at a luxury hotel in the centre of the Indian capital saw demonstrations by hundreds of Tibetan exiles protesting against the presence of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

On Monday, a 27-year-old activist set himself alight during an anti-Beijing demonstration before running screaming down a street in gruesome scenes captured by media.

He died on Wednesday, becoming the first person outside China to self-immolate and adding his name to a list of 29 others who have killed themselves since March to protest alleged repression by China in Tibet.

The presence of the 80,000-strong exiled Tibetan community in India, headed by spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, is a constant source of friction between India and China and their relations remain prickly despite growing trade.

The rivalry between the world's two most populous nations is seen by critics as one of the main problems for the BRICS bloc, as well as the vast distances between members and their different political and economic systems.

While trade between them is booming, it still represents a small fraction of world commerce and they struggle to come together on global economic issues such as ongoing world trade talks or the leadership of the IMF and World Bank.

"Aside from impressive economic growth over the past decade and an individual desire for a greater say in the institutions of global economic governance, these disparate countries have little in common," Walter Ladwig

from the British think-tank the Royal United Services Institute wrote recently.

The BRIC name was first coined in 2001 by US investment bank Goldman Sachs to group together fast-growing economies and the group held its first summit in 2009. South Africa joined last year at the third summit in China.

"The major emerging economies gathering in New Delhi will certainly shape global governance in the future," Ladwig wrote in an editorial in the New York Times.

"But it will be as individual nations, not as an artificial bloc founded on a Goldman Sachs' catchphrase."

India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma presented a contrasting view on Wednesday, saying that the relationship "aspires to create a new global architecture."

With members often holding divergent views on global political developments, the Delhi summit is expected to focus on increasing intra-BRICS trade, which expanded by 28 percent last year to $230 billion.

Two agreements to simplify processes and provide credit facilities for exporters are expected to be signed, the Indian foreign ministry has said.

The leaders -- presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, as well as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- will also hold private talks.

These will conclude with a "Delhi Declaration" that could include a statement on the bloodshed in Syria, the Iranian nuclear crisis or Europe's debt problems.

Rousseff is expected to push for a collective criticism of US and EU monetary policy, which she says has unleashed a global "tsunami" of cheap money, driving up the currencies of countries like Brazil and making their exports less competitive.

"We must have our say in confronting the serious economic and financial crisis, which is still worrying because of its impact on the outlook for global growth," Rousseff said in a speech Wednesday at New Delhi University.


Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012


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