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 Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 09:28 GMT
World Economic Forum gears up
Waldorf-Astoria, New York, New York
New York's famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel is playing host

The annual World Economic Forum used to be a village affair, set in Davos in the Swiss mountains.

But by inviting the world to New York for its annual meeting, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has sought to offer its support to the shaken city in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks.

The conference will be held in midtown
At this year's meeting, set to begin on Thursday, WEF organisers want to focus on the fate of the world's economies in the wake of the terrorist attacks, even as it itself prepares to do possible battle with protesters here.

New York City police, held in high esteem by residents here and elsewhere since the attacks, have asserted they will strictly enforce laws to maintain peace.

Among those laws is a 19th century statute that forbids the wearing of hoods or masks by demonstrators.

Making a statement

But protesters are expected to march with large masks and costumes in an effort to further their anti-globalisation message.

The 1845 state law applies to groups of three or more wearing masks, and law enforcement officials insist they will enforce it.

Protestors en route to press conference
Large masks are part of demonstrators' costume

About 4,000 police officers are expected to patrol the area surrounding the historic Waldorf-Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan, where the WEF is being held.

Demonstrators are reticent to do battle with New York law-enforcement officials - given the hero-status those have achieved in the wake of the terror attacks.

Mountains to mean streets

The WEF, which brings together 3,000 of the world's most powerful leaders in business and politics, has traditionally been held in Davos, Switzerland.

Organisers last year opted to decamp to New York in a show of solidarity, amid rising security costs for the Swiss alpine resort, and acknowledging the temporary reluctance of some business leaders to do long-distance air travel.

Despite its relatively remote location, Davos had for the past two years attracted protests, although none were as violent as the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999 and a gathering of the G8 in Genoa, Italy last summer.

More democratic process

Anti-WEF forces who have gathered in New York told reporters on Tuesday they objected to the closed nature of the meetings.

They also claimed the WEF was using New York as a front to cover for the organisations' failed policies, which did nothing to relieve poverty among the world's poorest nations.

49th Street and Park Avenue blockade
Some security measures already are in place

"The WEF claims they're coming to New York to demonstrate their concern," said Simon Greer, a spokesman for Jobs with Justice, a labour advocacy group.

"Some would argue [WEF] are coming to New York to disguise their agenda."

That agenda, anti-WEF forces contend, fails to address issues of poverty and healthcare, which have only increased over the last 20 years.

Protesters say deregulation, privatisation and job flexibility - issues the WEF has promoted - have only made matters worse for the world's poor.

Restoring growth

For its part, the WEF says this year's meeting will focus on restoring sustained economic growth, among other topics.

The nations of the world have been caught in a worldwide economic downdraft - led by a failing technology sector in the US and further exacerbated by September's terror attacks.

Over the course of the five-day Manhattan meeting, nearly 3,000 participants from 106 countries are expected, with about one-quarter of those participating from developing countries.

While organisers have vowed to return the meeting to Davos in 2003, its location in subsequent years is still undecided, awaiting evaluation of the special New York gathering.

  The BBC's Tanya Beckett
"The World Economic Forum touts itself as the global business summit"
  The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"Millions of dollars has been spent on extra security"
World leaders and business executives converge on New York for the World Economic Forum

Porto Alegre meeting

Background issues



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30 Jan 01 | Europe
06 Nov 01 | Business
27 Jul 01 | In Depth
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