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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 16:37 GMT
US leaders 'among world's least trusted'
Barbed wire around Davos in 2001
Swiss authorities have promised tight security at Davos
US leaders are among the least trusted in the world, a survey identifying growing disquiet in global affairs has revealed.

Only a quarter of 15,000 citizens polled place faith in US chiefs, compared with 42% who trusted UN leaders.

Heads of charities and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were the most trusted.

And just one-in-five Argentines, and one-in-seven Germans and Italians, believes the world is becoming a better place.

The findings were revealed in a survey commissioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ahead of its annual summit, which starts next week.

Mounting concerns

The week-long meeting, one of the highlights of the global economic calendar, will attract more than 2,000 delegates, including former US president Bill Clinton, Microsoft boss Bill Gates, and Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The forum urged leaders to attend the event, in Davos, Switzerland, aware of their responsibility in "rebuilding trust".

"The magnitude of the public trust deficit is a worrying and urgent challenge," forum spokesman Michel Ogrizek said.

Only in China did more than half of citizens believe the world was heading for a better future, the 15-country WEF survey revealed.

In the US, the proportion of optimists fell by almost one third in a year, and Doug Miller, head of the firm which conducted the poll, warned of growing crisis if faith in world leaders was not improved.

"Without action, where will likely be mounting calls for fundamental system changes," Mr Miller said.

Protest threat

The call came as Swiss authorities revealed they were prepared to shoot down unauthorised aircraft, and offer army protection, to ensure security at the meeting.

Annual WEF summits have, over more than 30 years, become an increasing beacon for protests against globalisation.

A website rallying demonstrators to next week's meeting said: "We are going to confront the rulers with resistance that cannot be ignored."

While the forum claims to be "committed to improving the state of the world", campaigners say it in fact promotes the interests of multinationals such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Shell.

"The summit in is another attempt to minimise the social and political rights in favour of the benefit of the capital," the website said.

This year's event will permit protests, after demonstrators barred from the 2001 summit vented their frustrations in several Swiss cities.

'Fragility and vulnerability'

The meeting also comes amid expectations of a US-led war against Iraq, and concerns over the threat North Korea poses to efforts to control nuclear weapons.

"I cannot remember the annual meeting take place at such a special moment," said WEF president Klaus Schwab.

"Special in terms of complexity, in terms of fragility and also in terms of the vulnerability of the present global situation."

Some observers have expressed hopes that the event could help open dialogue between US and North Korean officials.

It is reported that delegates are likely to include US Secretary of State Colin Powell and North Korea's deputy leader, Kim Young-nam.

Mr Powell's office denied it had discussed the idea of talks with the North Korean delegation.

Conference colour

Eyewitness accounts


See also:

14 Jan 03 | Americas
07 Jan 03 | Politics
20 Dec 02 | Business
15 Jan 03 | Politics
05 Dec 02 | Americas
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