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Davos Forum Is Braced for Round of Protests
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Source: NY Times

Davos Forum Is Braced for Round of Protests

January 25, 2001


GENEVA, Jan. 24 The World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of heads of state, senior political figures and business leaders, is opening on Thursday in Davos, the secluded ski resort in eastern Switzerland. And the threat of disruptions hangs in the Alpine air, as antiglobalization protesters promise to take their competing world vision to the streets.

In contrast to last year, when President Clinton spoke, no senior figures in the Bush administration are to attend the forum, though the advance roster includes the secretary of state of Florida, Katherine Harris, fresh from appearing before a federal commission reviewing her stewardship of the state's election process, as well as Gov. George E. Pataki of New York and other governors.

In all, about 3,200 guests are expected for the 315 speeches, round tables and seminars exploring this year's themes of sustaining world economic growth and bridging divisions between haves and have-nots.

Five minutes away at a clinic for asthma patients, a counterconference, Public Eye on Davos, is also set. It has been convened by a coalition of nongovernment organizations, including Friends of the Earth, and is to involve some of the participants attending the forum.

And a large number of antiglobalization protesters are expected to converge on Davos, too, despite its remote location. Local courts have rebuffed efforts to forbid protests entirely, so the police are bracing for an onslaught and planning to deploy 600 officers from all parts of Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Anti-WTO Coordination, a group based in Bern that is planning a demonstration on Saturday, has rejected the idea of dialogue or cooperation with the forum, even after last year's clashes on the streets of Davos in which shops and vehicles were damaged. "The violence comes from the W.E.F. and its guests and their dangerous policies, such as sweatshops in Mexico and building dams," said Simone Brunner, a spokesman for the group. "We don't want to improve them; we want to stop them."

Organizers of the forum dismissed the threats. "It's like bees to honey," said the forum's managing director, Claude Smadja. "Every high-profile international event attracts activists and professional troublemakers of all kinds."

Nonetheless, the organizers are treading cautiously.

The forum underwent a shake-up last year, reorganizing to try to translate talk into action through initiatives like a council on corporate governance in Russia, start-up aid for a Balkan customs union and youth job programs in the Middle East, all of which will be discussed this year.

To its critics, these claims for an expanded role made, they say, by nonelected, unaccountable people operating behind closed doors are troublesome, particularly because the forum has been controlled almost completely for three decades by one man, Klaus Schwab, a Swiss business professor. "The forum is trying to privatize decision-making processes to allow business interests to affect public priorities," said Jolanda Piniel, a spokeswoman for Public Eye on Davos.

Responding to such criticism, the forum has this year invited delegates from unions and an array of nongovernment organizations. But Davos enthusiasts say the criticisms miss the point of the forum. Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of the United Nations program on AIDS, said the forum had helped his program "identify and begin working with potential partners from the corporate sector" at a time when corporations were slow to grapple with H.I.V.

The forum will also seek to expand its audience this year by offering live Internet broadcasts of selected sessions and news conferences, along with edited session transcripts and other materials on its Web site,

Visit: The Public Eye on Davos

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