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UN Urban Forum Examines Terrorism, City Governance

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says terrorism is among the biggest challenges facing the world's cities. Policy makers, activists and scientists are meeting in Canada for the United Nations sponsored World Urban Forum.

Over 8,000 people from over 150 countries have gathered in Vancouver for the five-day forum and trade show. The focus for the discussions and symposiums is to turn ideas into solutions for the world's growing population centers.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened the conference with reference to the recent arrests of 17 people, suspected of plotting terrorists attacks in eastern Canada. He says terrorism is the most serious threat to cites and casts an ominous shadow over urban centers throughout the world.

Mr. Harper says in open, diverse and democratic societies, like Canada, the ethnic communities that suspected terrorists call their own are the ones who will expose them.

"It is true that, somewhere in some community, we will find the apostles of terror people who use the symbols of culture or faith to justify crimes of violence," he said. "They hate open, diverse and democratic societies like ours because they want the exact opposite, a society that is closed, homogeneous and dogmatic. But they and their vision will be rejected. Rejected by men and women of generosity and goodwill in all communities. [Applause] It will be rejected most strongly by those men and women in the very community they claim to represent."

Security for this event is high, with all delegates searched and forced to go through metal detectors.

Charles Kelly, the Canadian who is organizing the forum, says he hopes it will be more than just policy experts producing papers. He says more than 90,000 people a day migrate from rural areas into cities every day.

Kelly says the UN conference offers a chance for everybody from politicians to slum dwellers to discuss what works in different cities, and what does not. The problems of cities in Africa, he says, are vastly different from those of cities in Latin America or Europe.

One group that is getting attention at this event is Slumdwellers International. The group's president, Jockin Arputham, says one major problem for the world's homeless and poor is that much of the money collected in their name does not actually reach them.

"I have come here to explain myself. What our community thinks works. People are ready, normal, sitting and expecting somebody to deliver," he said. " We want to be practically partners in our development. I have come here to express that to the whole world. They should know people are normal - lying down, listening to what you are doing. What you are talking and how you are collecting money in the name of poor. And it doesn't go to the poor."

Arputham is critical of those who are attending only to further their academic knowledge of urban issues.

"Today, half the people coming here to the conference to think about how they can prepare for themselves for the next conference in China (in 2008)," he said. "What kind of paper they should write. What kind of a document they should do, what kind of homework they should do. How much information they have to collect. Not for improving the poor. But, improving themselves, their qualities, their educational qualification and their curriculum."

He says he hopes those attending the UN meeting will help turn the growing, often chaotic urban centers into prosperous communities.

The third UN World Urban Forum ends Friday. It is expected to produce a report that, after further discussions, would be submitted to the U.N. General Assembly.