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World Economic Forum Confronts Shifting Geopolitical Power


About 2,400 political, business, cultural and religious leaders from 90 countries are expected to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland January 24-28. They will explore issues related to a world where political power is shifting to new regions and where the old ways of doing business are increasingly being called into question. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the Forum's headquarters in Geneva.

The founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, says people are living in a world that is increasingly schizophrenic. He says the world is doing very well economically; even Africa is growing considerably.

But underneath there are many risks, problems and challenges. On the geopolitical level, he says, the world is moving from a system based on one power to a less certain multi-power system.

"We are living in a world which still is very dangerous, in a world where we have imbalances," he says. "What we want to do in Davos is to create awareness for those global challenges."

Schwab says the world is becoming increasingly complex and harder to understand. He says participants in Davos will try to make sense of this by tackling the many problems and opportunities that exist.

Key issues to be addressed include climate change, terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, the economic outlook and financial markets, instability in the Middle East, and increasing concerns about energy prices.

The Forum's managing director of strategic insight, Ged Davis, says these issues are interrelated. He says a number of shifts are underway that are not fully comprehended.

"What are the examples of what these might be? One, the obvious one, is the emerging shift of economy away from Europe and North America," Davis says. "The obvious examples in recent years have been China and India. But there are others: strong performance in Latin America and increasingly good prospects and possibilities in Africa. The world is on the move here."

Forum organizers say the opening session of the annual meeting will see German Chancellor Angela Merkel lay out her agenda for the year ahead, as she prepares to chair the Group of Eight summit and take over the rotating head of the European Council. British Prime Minister Tony Blair will close the meeting.

There will be a strong mideast presence, with King Abdullah of Jordan, the Palestinian and Lebanese presidents, and the Israeli prime minister in attendance. Several sessions will be devoted to the Middle East. The focus on Iraq also will be strong. Top leaders from Iraq's Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions have been invited.

Other luminaries include the Brazilian, Mexican, and Philippines presidents, as well as several African leaders including the presidents of Tanzania and Liberia.

The Forum's managing director for public-private partnerships, Richard Samans, says the economic situation in Africa will be one of the important issues on the agenda.

He says that's true, ". . . in part because there is a lot of interest in seeing how countries, both donor countries as well as African countries have been following through on the commitments that have been made in recent years, notably in 2005 where the G-8 placed so much emphasis on Africa."

Samans says one of the few plenary sessions at this year's Forum will be devoted to Africa to see what kind of progress has been made in erasing Africa's debt burden and in boosting its development prospects. He says heads of government and other key figures from Africa and other parts of the world will explore these issues.