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Davos: Economy, Iraq top agenda

Davos is again the setting for the World Economic Forum after being held in New York last year
Davos is again the setting for the World Economic Forum after being held in New York last year

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DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- The world's most powerful political and business leaders are meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos amid heightened security and growing fears of war and economic retrenchment.

Among those attending the annual six-day World Economic Forum (WEF) are U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. They are joined by other government officials and the heads of huge companies as diverse Coca-Cola and Sony Corporation.

Their main task -- along with the other 2,000 delegates -- is to help restore investors' confidence following a year of accounting scandals, corporate fraud, plunging stock markets and the threat of recession.

"There are as many themes as there are participants ... but the unfinished business is that of rebuilding trust," says CNN correspondent Charles Hodson. "It's clearly: how far have we come with trust since Enron?"

He said many chief executives in Davos have told him: "There's a little bit more [corporate] visibility now and we can see some pick-up [in the economy] later this year."

Political leaders, in particular, are also looking for solutions to the military crises in Iraq, the Middle East and North Korean.

These talks are taking place under the gaze of hundreds of police and soldiers who have been deployed in and around the Alpine city for the duration of the forum, which runs from Thursday to Tuesday.

In addition to protecting international figures from extremists' attacks, they are attempting to control hundreds of anti-globalisation or anti-war protesters.

Unlike the last Davos meeting in 2001, demonstrations are being allowed to gather in Europe's highest city (the event was switched to New York in 2002 as a mark of respect after the September 2001 suicide plane hijackings).

As in past years, demonstrators are protesting at the disparity in quality of life between major industrialised economies and developing nations. But this time they are also calling on world leaders to back away from military action against Iraq and ease tensions in other hot spots, like the Middle East and North Korea.

The WEF meeting comes as United Nations weapons inspectors prepare to present their findings on Monday to the Security Council on their search for Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

That report could be crucial to the U.S. decision on whether to attack Iraq.

Powell, who will make a speech on Sunday to the conference, is expected to have bilateral meetings with politicians attending the meeting to gather support for military action of Saddam Hussein does not compile with U.N. demands for full disclosure of its weapons.

But little is expected in the way of firm decisions, either politically or economically at the Davos meeting.

CNN's Hodson says the event is really an opportunity to "encourage dialogue and an exchange of ideas" between world leaders and policy makers."It is just a forum, it is not a decision-making body."


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