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USA: World Economic Forum Wraps Up

by Eileen Alt PowellAssociated Press
February 4th, 2002

NEW YORK -- Presidents, kings and moguls wrapped up five days of swanky parties, serious elbow-rubbing and weighty discussions on Monday on how to stop terrorism, resolve long-standing international conflicts and ease grinding poverty.

With luxury jets waiting to whisk the world's power players to their homes, the World Economic Forum closed its one-time New York experiment and 32nd annual meeting with a warning by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have exposed a huge gap between the world's rich and poor.

In remarks prepared for delivery to the forum's 2,700 participants, Annan encouraged business and governments to give hope to billions of people struggling to survive in developing countries.

Otherwise, Annan said the world risks the collapse or relapse of poor nations into conflict and anarchy where they would be ''a menace to their neighbors and potentially -- as the events of Sept. 11 so brutally reminded us -- a threat to global security,'' according to the text obtained by The Associated Press.

The U.N. chief urged business leaders to invest in small and poor countries, which taken together represent a large potential market. He also called on governments to double their foreign aid to $100 billion annually.

The closing speech by Annan, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, focused on key themes of the forum, which was moved from the Swiss ski resort of Davos to New York in solidarity with the city where nearly 3,000 died on Sept. 11.

Over the course of the five-day forum, corporate and political leaders, clergy and celebrities discussed the world's problems -- spending much of their time dissecting U.S. foreign policy, its possible role in breeding terrorism and the potential harms of globalization.

Speaker after speaker lambasted America as a smug superpower, too beholden to Israel at the expense of the Muslim world, and inattentive to the needs of poor countries or the advice of allies.

And there was plenty of talk by corporate bigwigs and top Western political leaders about how to help developing nations emerge from poverty.

But representatives of humanitarian groups had differing views Monday on how much their causes resonated with the rich and powerful.

''Today I think there is broad recognition that no business concerned with its brand name can afford to be indifferent to human rights and social issues,'' said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch Group.

Others agreed that the needs of the poor were heard at the conference, but that it's unclear whether the forum will prompt any changes.

''We are swimming against the tide within a meeting like this ... especially when you're talking about the rights of homeless children, but at least we are swimming in the same river,'' said Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza, a Costa Rica group that helps street children.

Fears that violence by protesters might mar the forum never materialized. The largest protests were peaceful and attracted as many as 7,000 people on Saturday; only about 150 demonstrated Monday. Some 200 people were arrested over the forum's five days.

At the forum, Israeli and Palestinian business leaders announced the creation of a new group that will meet regularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to continue a dialogue that parallels the political efforts to push for Mideast peace.

''We have a responsibility to our children to make the tough neighborhood we live in a better place,'' said Dan Gillerman, chairman of Israel's Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Walid Najjab, a member of the board of the Palestinian Electricity Company and vice chairman of the Palestinian Cellular Communications Network, said business groups must get involved ''because it's the only way they can recreate jobs, recreate the dynamics of the economy that could take the region into prosperity.''

Annan said the message he has delivered at the forum for the past three years -- that business leaders and governments must do much more to address poverty and redress social injustice -- now has greater urgency.

Too much power and wealth is concentrated in the hands of too few people and countries, Annan said, creating a perception that globalization is to blame.

''I believe that perception is wrong -- and that globalization, so far from being the cause of poverty and other social ills, offers the best hope of overcoming them,'' he said. ''But it is up to you to prove it wrong, with actions that translate into concrete results for the downtrodden, exploited and excluded.''





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