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Madrid Hosting UN Forum on Civilizations

Lisa Bryant

Madrid is hosting a groundbreaking, two-day conference aimed to forge a cross-cultural dialogue - particularly between the West and Islamic countries. Sponsored by the United Nations, the Alliance of Civilizations forum was first conceived after the 2004 terrorist attacks in Spain. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

Politicians, journalists, filmmakers, writers and representatives from a wide range of other social organizations from 80 nations are attending the two-day Alliance of Civilizations meeting - along with the prime ministers of Spain and Turkey and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The forum is the first of its kind. It is aimed at building bridges between different cultures and religions, particularly between the West and Islamic countries. Former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, who heads the new alliance, explains its mission.

"There is a new concept of security, not just the fight against terrorism, but the fight against the many blights that affect humanity," he said. "How can you deal with people who are totally excluded from society? How can you deal with people who have no more than one dollar a day? This concept of global security, as such, is something you have to deal with and the alliance has - on the cultural level, on the understanding level - has to do its work. It will not solve the problems of the world. It is not unique. It can be a help."

The alliance is the idea of host, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, after his nation weathered terrorist attacks in Madrid four years ago that killed 191 people and wounded thousands of others.

The meeting includes workshops on building cross-cultural understanding, on a community level, in areas like conflict prevention, religion and politics. A number of projects are expected to be announced during the forum, particularly targeting the media and youth.

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