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Exclusive: No country immune from turmoil over inequality: World Bank's Kim

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim speaks during an interview with Agence France-Presse on June 27, 2013
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim speaks during an interview with Agence France-Presse in Washington, DC, on June 27, 2013. No country in the world is immune from unrest arising from poverty and inequality, like that in Brazil, World Bank President Jim Yo

No country in the world is immune from unrest arising from poverty and inequality, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim told AFP in an exclusive interview.

The protests in Brazil, Turkey, and elsewhere show that even governments who have made significant efforts already cannot let up in programs to help the poor, he said.

"There's no country in the world that is immune from having this kind of citizen's movement rise up to demand even more," he said.

"It shows that the power of civil society and the power of citizens to rise up is unlike anything we've seen in history.

"We saw the Arab Spring, we're seeing it in Turkey, even in governments that have done so well in terms of paying attention to the needs of the poorest," he said.

South Korea-born American Kim, who took the lead of the World Bank one year ago, has made fighting extreme poverty the development institution's primary goal.

He cited the recent turmoil in Brazil and Turkey as examples of why governments cannot let up in their efforts to overcome inequality and boost the living standards of the poorest.

In Brazil, protests started over a hike in bus fares but quickly spread across the country as a larger movement against corruption and for a better quality of life, with demonstrators criticizing the billions of dollars the government is spending to host the football World Cup next year.

"We have to recognize how much Brazil has done for the poorest," Kim told AFP on Thursday in the Bank's Washington headquarters.

"Brazil has done a lot but there's still a lot of inequality left.... Brazil really has to think hard about what it needs to do next for the next stage of economic growth."

Kim, 53 and a medical doctor, announced earlier this year an ambitious goal to reduce extreme poverty to 3 percent or less of the world's population by 2030.

He was adamant about setting such a challenge.

"There are still 1.2 billion people living in the world with less than $1.25 a day, and this is a stain on our collective conscience," he said.

"I think high expectations is exactly what we should have."

For the World Bank, this means changing the way it works with both poor and middle-income countries.

"We cannot leave anyone behind. We have to think about fragile and conflict-affected areas like Mali and the entire Sahel region," he said.

"That goal is going to give us the sense of urgency that we didn't have before."

Despite the turmoil, he said emerging economies have been very important for the global economy, propping up world growth while Europe contracts.

"It's important not to overreact to ups and downs in the growth numbers for countries like China and Turkey."

For instance, he said, "Turkey has done a great job in terms of distributing the benefits of economic growth over the years."

"Every country now has to sit back and think about what it needs to do to set the foundations for boosting the long-term growth."

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