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Political, Business Leaders, Gather for Clinton Initiative Summit in New York

This week in New York, former U.S. President Bill Clinton hosts the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting, bringing together world leaders, celebrities, CEOs and scholars to discuss pressing global issues. From VOA's New York bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports on the summit, including a discussion with Mr. Clinton and Microsoft giant Bill Gates.

With the financial crisis unsettling U.S. and world markets, Mr. Clinton says the importance of taking a global perspective on issues like health, education, climate change and poverty alleviation has become even more necessary.

Speaking at the start of the summit Wednesday, surrounded by notables such as former Vice President Al Gore, former President George H.W. Bush, and Bono from the rock band U2, Mr. Clinton said the financial crisis should not be an excuse to walk away from the world's challenges.

"This purpose is going to be more important than ever in the next few years if there are economic conditions which prevent governments from giving as much as they otherwise would have, and I'm betting on you and people like you throughout the world," said Bill Clinton.

At the summit, Mr. Clinton discussed giving and how to encourage continued involvement, particularly in light of market turmoil, with Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates.

As the world's biggest charitable group, his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has huge funds, but Gates said other donations should not slow down or be stopped because of the financial upheaval.

"There are a lot of rich people," he said. "The percentage that is being given to these great causes in equity, relative to that wealth, is very small and so, a fairly modest increase in the amount going can certainly offset the gyrations in terms of stock market valuation."

The summit's participants are asked to address specific problems and conduct working groups during the four-day conference to come up with ways to tackle various global issues.

Seven-time Tour de France cycling champion Lance Armstrong said his foundation would commit $8 million for a global awareness campaign to address cancer. A cancer survivor himself, Armstrong said the disease, which kills millions, must be a global health priority.

"This disease takes eight million people around the world every year - 22,000 people a day," Armstrong said. "Just looking at the stats [statistics], that is more than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined."

Close to 60 current and former world leaders are scheduled to attend the conference, now in its fourth year, and both U.S. presidential candidates are expected to take part.