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Maria Mendonza, of the Global Exchange
"Most people didn't know about the WTO before the Seattle protests"
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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 15:47 GMT
Tight security for Davos summit
Barbed wire, with mountains in the background
Davos, where the rich and influential meet the police and protestors
By BBC News Online's Orla Ryan in Davos

Police and army units have sealed off the Swiss ski resort of Davos, as political and business leaders from around the world gather to discuss the global economy.

The Swiss authorities fear a repeat of the riots that dogged last year's meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The police expect a demonstration on Saturday, and already there is a roadblock in place at Landquart, about 40 kilometres from Davos, the main access route to the town.

Swiss policeman with a sub-machine gun
Swiss security forces have set up checkpoints on the approach roads to Davos
But some demonstrators are thought to have got through to Davos before the roadblocks were put up.

Meanwhile, leading economists have warned that the US economy could be facing a hard landing, hurting the prospects for world economic growth.

The former vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Blinder, told delegates that the slowdown would be "real and hurtful."

Protestors told to stay away

Security is also tight at local installations such as the electricity station. Two years ago, demonstrators succeeded in cutting off the power supply temporarily.

Police are now calling on even peaceful demonstrators to stay away from Davos.

In January 2000, the police did not expect any protests - and found themselves battling rioters in the streets. This year they do not want to see a repeat.

Customs officers at Swiss airports ask all arriving passengers whether they plan to protest in Davos. The army has also been drafted in, although that is normal for large security operations in Switzerland.

Top leaders talk

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will run six days, until Tuesday next week.

Among the 2,000 participants will be more than 30 heads of state and government.

Business leaders such as Microsoft's Bill Gates and Nissan's Carlos Ghosn are also expected, while U2's Bono will speak on the ongoing efforts to cancel developing country debt.

However, in a big disappointment for the organisers, not a single member of the new Bush administration has made the journey from Washington.

Davos is an unusual gathering, with no formal standing in the world of diplomacy or finance, but renowned as a meeting point where behind-the-scenes deals are struck.

While the Davos summit may enjoy a reputation as a high-profile talking shop, on the margins of the week-long meeting, contacts are often forged that influence political and economic developments worldwide.

High-minded

Deal making may be dirty but nothing can quite sully the high-minded themes that the organisers have come up with.

These themes include "Staying ahead of the Digital and Biotech Revolutions", with attention concentrated on the divide between those who have access to the world wide web and those who don't.


Davos has a reputation of inclusiveness

World Economic Forum's Claude Smadja
When not discussing the "World Economic Outlook" or the future role of multinationals, delegates can consider the "Potential Within Us" as well as the "Ethics and Values that shape Society"

Europhiles and europhobes will have the chance to listen to the European Central Bank's Otmar Issing and the Bundesbank's Ernst Welteke discuss the weakness of the euro.

Vying for room on the ski slopes will also be UN secretary general Kofi Annan, EU competition commissioner Mario Monti and German finance minister Hans Eichel.

Inclusive

Perhaps in deference to the protesters expected to be gathered outside, the Davos organisers have ensured the agenda reflects some of the concerns of the anti-globalisation protesters.

The Davos organisers have admitted that there will be more participants from grass root and labour groups than ever before.

"Davos has a reputation of inclusiveness. We are doing this not because we want to respond to a fad or any pressure but quite simply because the forum is at its best and fulfils better its mission when it is inclusive," World Economic Forum Claude Smadja said.

The forum has launched an initiative to improve dialogue between multinationals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The WEF estimate 36 representatives of NGOs will turn up, with 200 writers, artists and academics lending their voice to the debate.

Developing plans

Some developing countries may seek to use the forum as an opportunity to win international backers for their development plans.

South African president Thabo Mbeki is expected to unveil a pan-African Millennium development plan at the summit, which will enjoy one of its largest-ever African delegations.

Some reports suggest that President Vojislav Kostunica and other Balkan presidents may use the forum as a chance to discuss the creation of a Balkan customs union.

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