Oil and jittery markets were certain to take centre stage at a meeting on Saturday of finance officials from the world's seven richest industrial countries. Treasury Secretary John Snow and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan were hosts for the talks involving the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.

Discussions began early in the day among the Group of Seven leaders, to be followed by the weekend meetings of the 184-nation International Monetary Fund and its sister lending institution, the World Bank.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan planned to meet the finance officials in the evening. Aides said he would discuss how rich nations' increased financial support for poor countries fits into his plans for an overhaul of the United Nations.

The finance meetings took place a few blocks from the White House, under tight security. Police used trucks and other barricades to close off a two-block radius around the IMF and World Bank headquarters.

Planned march

Authorities issued a permit for as many as 5000 people to march from the World Bank to nearby DuPont Circle. But the streets were quiet early on Saturday, with a few protesters unloading giant puppets in advance of the rally urging help for impoverished nations struggling under the burden of large debts.

Kofi Annan is expected to meet
the finance officials

Economic rumblings from Wall Street hung over the finance meetings. On Friday, Wall Street suffered its worst single day loss in nearly two years when the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 191.24 points.

It was the third straight triple-digit decline, which last occurred in January 2003. The sell-off was blamed on increasing worries that the US economy - the locomotive for the global economy - could hit a "soft patch" worse than the slowdown of last spring and summer, which followed spikes in gasoline and energy prices.

President George Bush has prodded Congress to pass legislation that would allow exploration of an Alaskan wildlife refuge in hopes of providing greater energy supplies in the United States. Other G-7 nations are expected to discuss their efforts at conservation.