Finance Ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations and central bankers have finished a one-day meeting in Palermo, Sicily. The ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States focused on the slowdown of the US economy.

In a statement afterwards, they said that world growth was likely to be slower than when they met last September but the main factors supporting growth in many industrial nations remained in place. They added that US fundamentals remained strong but monetary and fiscal policies should support growth while preserving budget restraint.

The meeting came amid fears of a global slowdown caused by the stuttering US economy. US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, facing a difficult debut on the international stage, caused a drop in the value of the US dollar yesterday when he appeared to back away from a long-held strong-US dollar policy. A US treasury spokesman later had to make a clarification, and Mr O'Neill today announced his committment to a strong-dollar policy.

The new manager of the US economy has set himself a formidable task of persuading Japan and Europe to shoulder a bigger burden in supporting world growth. He held separate talks today with most of his colleagues ahead of the G7 meeting at the Palazzo dei Normanni, the ancient palace of the former Norman kings of Sicily.

The meeting attracted a group of about 100 Sicilian anti-globalisation demonstrators who banged pans and blew whistles in a noisy but non-violent protest. About a dozen police, equipped with sidearms and with helmets hanging at their sides, stood guard of the palace a few paces away from the demonstrators. There were no clashes.