Given an unusual opportunity to vote on the top six issues that global leaders - and the forum - should tackle most urgently, 64% of a core group of 750 participants opted for poverty.

  

Next on the list of issues highlighted by a four-hour "town hall" assembly of the elite meeting in the Swiss alpine report of Davos was "equitable globalisation"
(55%), followed by climate change (51%).

  

Education, conflict in the Middle East and global governance - the efficient, democratic and corruption-free functioning of governments and international institutions - were lower down the top six.

 

Although the global economy and trade were included by the Forum's organisers in the original shortlist of 12 issues, the clusters of executives politicians, academics and cultural figures sidelined them altogether.

  

"If you look at the
wealth of the three richest people in the world, they earn more than the GDPs (gross domestic product) of the 48 poorest countries"

Daniel Vasella,
Co-Chairman,
WEF 2005 Summit

Shocking disparity

 

"Earlier this year I entered for the first time a favela (slum) in Brazil, and I have to say I was really moved," pharmaceutical chief Daniel Vasella, a co-chairman of the Forum's 2005 annual meeting, said.

  

Vasella - who heads Novartis, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant that has enjoyed eight consecutive years of record multi-billion dollar earnings - opted to argue the case for "the three billion people who still live on less than $2 a day".

  

"If you look at the wealth of the three richest people in the world, they earn more than the GDPs (gross domestic product) of the 48 poorest countries," he added.

  

The six issues are meant to be the focus of the forum's work over the next year.

 

Chirac call

 

Chirac wants a tax on financial
transations or fuel to fight AIDS

Addressing the forum on Wednesday, French President Jacques Chirac called for a tax to fund the global fight against AIDS, as new figures showed a modest rise in the number of patients receiving life-saving drugs in poor nations.

   

The experimental levy, which could be raised on international financial transactions, could generate $10 billion a year, Chirac said.   

   

Chirac said the levy could be imposed on a fraction of all financial transactions without hampering markets, but it could also be raised by taxing fuel for air and sea transport, or by levying $1 on every airline ticket sold in the world.

 

Protest summit

 

Meanwhile in the Brazilian city of Porte Alegre, tens of thousands of anti-globalisation activists have converged to counter the Davos summit.

  

A street protest staged under the motto "cultural diversity in the face of ultraliberal globalisation" was to kick off the six-day World Social Forum, an eclectic gathering of pacifists, environmentalists, libertarians, trade unionists and anti-establishment activists.

  

Anti-globalisation activists denounce the 26-30 January Davos meeting as a celebration of the capitalism they oppose.