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SWITZERLAND: Davos Scales Back Glitz

by Associated PressNew York Times
January 25th, 2009

No Bono, no Angelina.

With capitalism in crisis, the 2,500 business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week will find less starpower than usual.

Organizers say the five-day event that starts Wednesday will focus on work and on shaping the world after the crisis ends.

But with dozens of world leaders and finance ministers, and heads of the some of the world's biggest companies in attendance, this year's gathering may have trouble looking beyond the world's current economic problems. But the forum's head says they need to try.

''We are still in the midst of the crisis, let's face it,'' said Klaus Schwab, founder of the 39-year-old forum. ''But we will look also at the world after the crisis, because this is a transformational crisis and the world certainly will be different afterward.''

There will still be receptions with canapes and champagne, but no A-list Hollywood stars such as previous guests Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone.

Even Bono, the U2 frontman who has prodded the wealthy for years at Davos to give more to the poor, is not coming.

''Bono has a day job, too,'' said forum spokesman Mark Adams. ''He's finishing an album.''

Adams said there will still be actors, writers, designers, and architects. This year, they include singer Peter Gabriel, Chinese martial artist Jet Li and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.

''If there's a change, it's a shift eastwards as we are bringing in artists from different cultures around the world,'' Adams said. ''I'm sure there will be a different tone this year and a sense that we need to get down to work. There are 230 working sessions and that's what people are coming for.''

The economic crisis that emerged out the collapse of securities based on shaky U.S. mortgages poses challenges for an event that has championed market-driven approaches combined with sound global governance to the world's problems, ranging from climate change to terrorism.

Some forum participants are themselves mired in the problem, even as they try to propose solutions.

Struggling Citigroup Incorporated" href="">Citigroup Inc. lost billions on risky securities. Nevertheless, it helped the forum produce a risk assessment report for the annual meeting and says it is sending at least four executives to Davos.

Marcel Rohner, chief of Swiss bank UBS AG, and Societe Generale Chairman Daniel Bouton are among the other leaders of banks receiving public funds whom the forum says will attend. Its latest lineup from Jan. 22 also lists four representatives of Bank of America Corp" href="">Bank of America Corp.

It costs over $50,000 (euro38,500) to send an executive to Davos. At the top level, the forum's strategic partners give $435,000 (euro335,000) and can send five people. Despite the obvious pain some of its members are suffering, the forum says it is coping well and expects 21 more participants this year than in 2008.

Appropriately, perhaps, one session has been titled ''Update 2009: The Return to State Power'' and will assess governments now taking a stronger role to address the crisis and what will be their ''true impact during a global slowdown.''

Other debates will focus on energy, climate change, free trade and development assistance.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is the first of over 40 heads of state or government present to get on the stage; Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin then gives the keynote address. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are also slated to attend.

It's not clear what presence the new U.S. administration will have, because the meeting comes shortly after the inauguration of President Barack Obama amid Senate confirmation hearings of key appointees.

Heads of the world's biggest central banks will be present with one notable apparent exception: U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Obama's choice for Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, still faces Senate confirmation and is not currently slated to attend.

The forum says National Security Adviser James Jones and Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, will be in Davos, as will former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

Protecting the leaders will take hundreds of police, as well as up to 5,000 soldiers for a security tab as high as $7 million.

The anti-capitalist and anti-globalization groups who oppose the forum have yet to gain approval for a demonstration in Davos and have been banned from protesting in Geneva. Some may take to the streets anyway.

''As the subprime crisis shakes the whole world, plunging the United State and Europe into recession, as the people are currently paying the bills of capitalism, the economic and political elite are meeting once again in Davos,'' reads one call for protest by an anti-forum coalition. ''To the streets against the forum, for a different world!''

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