Warning that the world economy is 'facing its biggest financial challenge in half a century', President Bill Clinton called for urgent stimulation of growth to stem the financial turmoil. Announcing a series of priorities for containing the spread of the crisis, plus longer-term measures to reform the world's economic system, the President said the United States had to be prepared to take the lead. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Mr Clinton warned that if the crisis were not solved in Asia and Russia it would lead to social unrest and a retreat from moves towards democracy. He said the US was convening a meeting in Washington within the next month. Financial chiefs and central bankers from the top economies would start preparing a report on how to reform the structure of the global economy. Mr Clinton also spoke of six immediate measures necessary to resolve the crisis. He said: Japan and Europe should take greater steps, with the US, to stimulate economic growth; Washington would work towards helping Asia's corporations lift their massive debt burden; The US had asked the World Bank to double its spending on social programmes to help Asia's 'innocent victims' of the downturn; The International Monetary Fund should dig into its US$15 billion emergency funds to stop the spread of the crisis to Latin America; The US Export-Import Bank would increase its spending on US investment projects in troubled Asian economies; and The US Congress should, before its recess in October, agree to release all overdue funds for the IMF. 'It's clear to me that there is a stark challenge to economic freedom which, left unaddressed, could stem the rising tide of political liberty as well,' the President said. For the first time, Mr Clinton said he was deeply concerned about the human cost of the crisis in Asia, saying he had been touched by 'heartbreaking' stories of middle-class people having to sell their possessions to survive. He once again pointed the finger squarely at Japan, saying Asia could not emerge from the crisis unless Tokyo got its own house in order. 'This is a strong, sophisticated nation,' he said of Japan. 'It's clearly capable of playing its world leadership role.' Mr Clinton also warned that if currency fluctuations were not addressed, the vulnerability of US markets to cheap foreign goods would spark calls for protectionist measures.