Final preparations for Davos talks

Final preparations are underway in the Swiss Alps for an annual meeting this week of the world's elite to ponder tough topics, ranging from the future of Iraq to the fall of the dollar.

    Anti-globalisation protesters are on their way to Davos too

    Security will be tight at the 33rd World Economic Forum (WEF), which is set to run from Wednesday to Sunday, attracting more than 2000 high-status guests from 94 countries to the small ski resort of Davos.

    Fresh from talks in New York, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, US overseer in Iraq Paul Bremer and a delegation of Iraqi ministers are due to make an appearance at the event, along with US Deputy President Dick Cheney.
    Also headlining is Iranian President Muhammad Khatami, taking a break from upcoming parliamentary elections, and Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanim.

    It will be Libya's first appearance at the forum in more than two decades in recognition of recent diplomatic steps taken by Tripoli, which vowed in December to abandon all programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.
    Under a theme of security and prosperity equals peace, participants will be kept busy at working breakfasts, lunches and dinners slotted around seminars, brainstorming sessions and workshops from 7:30am to 10:30pm.

    On the economic front, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, US Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Japan's Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Heizo Takenaka are among those due in town.

    Swooning dollar

    Annan will arrive at Davos, fresh
    from talks on Iraq in New York

    They will likely use the occasion to put their heads together over the swooning dollar, setting the stage for a Group of Seven finance ministers meeting in early February.

    In addition, attempts to relaunch global free trade talks will feature on the agenda, as the Swiss government plans to host a sideline World Trade Organisation meeting on Friday, which is due to gather more than 20 trade and economics ministers.
    The latest round of WTO negotiations, due to conclude by 1 January 2005, has been on hold since a meeting in Mexico last September, which failed after disagreements over cross-border investment and competition added to a more fundamental dispute over farm subsidies.

    Middle-East concerns

    Back at the main forum, the Middle-East peace process will also be explored, with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Jordan's King Abdullah II and two promoters of the so-called Geneva Initiative due to make an appearance.

    The Palestinian, Israeli peace
    process will feature at the talks

    And the impact on businesses of the European Union's expansion to 25 countries from 15 later this year will be addressed.

    Despite the big names expected at the event - including 85 government representatives from Europe, 43 from North America and more than 40 from the Middle East - Latin America's presence will be smaller than planned after Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner decided to pull out.
    Although the organisers do not expect large demonstrations, security at the forum will be tight and an unofficial protest is expected on Saturday.

    Huge security

    About 2000 army personnel are on the ground in Davos along with several hundred police, local officials said, adding that a maximum of 6500 armed forces were on hand for deployment.

    The Swiss authorities plan to close the airspace around the resort to reduce the threat of terrorism, while surrounding roads will be effectively sealed off to block any anti-globalisation protesters, the WEF said.
    For the time being, however, all was peaceful in Davos.

    "The whole village is in a very calm state and I don't see any major problems coming up," said Andre Schneider, WEF managing director and chief operating officer.



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