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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Desert campaign to save humanity
The Great Temple at Petra, Jordan
The city of Petra was carved from the desert 2,000 years ago
The Dalai Lama and a host of Nobel prize winners have joined actor Richard Gere for a conference aimed at righting the wrongs of modern humanity.

King Abdullah of Jordan is hosting the two-day meeting at the ancient desert city of Petra.

Authors Elie Wiesel and VS Naipaul are among the artists and scientists in Petra to discuss the way things are - and the way they should be.

Former US President Bill Clinton is also due to join the conference.

In his opening address to the conference, entitled A World in Danger and held ahead of a World Economic Forum meeting on the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, King Abdullah said the modern world was at a "critical crossroads".

He called for renewed efforts for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a fresh emphasis on Islam as a religion of peace.

"A process begins here - a process that all of you will shape, and by your effort, help shape our world," the king told delegates.

Dangerous times

Mr Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1986, wondered whether the 21st century could escape the legacy of its violent predecessor.

The Dalai Lama (l) and actor Richard Gere
The Dalai Lama and Richard Gere are close friends
"At the dawn of the 21st century, the planet is already in peril. The world is thirsty for stability," he said.

"Will wars persist, will disarmament remain utopia? Terrorism, particularly suicide attacks, are preaching a culture of death. What can we do to stop that?"

Delegates will discuss four key themes: terror and peace, economic development and poverty, health and environment, and education and media.

Recommendations will then be presented to political and business leaders gathering for a three-day meeting of the World Economic Forum, beginning on Friday.

The people who are meeting are not political, they have no agenda
Richard Gere
Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, former Northern Irish political leader David Trimble and Nigerian author Wole Soyinka are among a total of 44 delegates, 25 of them Nobel laureates.

In his address, King Abdullah said the growth of extremism demonstrated that more effort was needed "to reinforce the basic values of humanity".

Young people in the Middle East have known no existence without conflict and see a world wracked by division, he added.

"They see diseases that wealthy nations have wiped out, that are still crippling people in the developing world.

"They see gender inequality, holding back talents of half the world. They see the harm as well as the hope brought by globalisation."

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