Ticket to Davos

I'll plan a Holiday trip next time...

Celebrities, leaders jostle at Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) -- What do you get if you mix Angelina Jolie with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates at the annual summit of the rich, famous and powerful in the snowy Alps? A discussion with the presidents of South Africa and Nigeria on reducing poverty and fighting AIDS.

Bono and Richard Gere are among the other celebrities drawn to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the chance to rub shoulders with government and business leaders at the five-day World Economic Forum beginning Wednesday.

Tight security -- including an air force ready to shoot down unauthorized aircraft that stray too close to the 2,500 participants -- has been set up to make sure the leaders can chat undisturbed in the resort's hotels and meeting centers -- or on the ski slopes above.

"Taking responsibility for tough choices" is the theme for this year's meetings, organized into a tightly packed choice of 220 sessions from breakfast time until midnight. Many more meetings involving national presidents, prime ministers and business leaders take place behind the scenes.

The toughest choices for participants include selecting from the bewildering lists of discussions -- many of which are simultaneous and over meals.

They range from heavy discussions on the world economy or individual country's problems and prospects to more self-centered themes like "knowing your own mind."

A "cultural leaders dinner" Friday gives participants a chance to meet with Gere, who has campaigned for Tibetan rights, and Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, who has witnessed the problems of people fleeing persecution.

The other scheduled guests include Sharon Stone and Carole Bouquet, as well as architects, musicians and other artists.

Bono, Clinton and Gates will meet with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to discuss "The G-8 and Africa -- Rhetoric or Action?"

"Poverty reduction is the keystone of the G-8 agenda for 2005. While most of the developing world is experiencing rapid growth, Africa is falling further behind," the program note says.

"One in two Africans lives on less than one dollar a day and the scourge of conflict continues unabated while HIV tightens its destructive stranglehold."

The privilege of joining in the discussions, or perhaps just being present with a chance of cutting backroom deals, is costly for business leaders.

The minimum membership fee for a company is about $25,000, and the ticket for each business executive to attend costs nearly $12,000, spokesman Mark Adams said.

The forum has been a favorite of top U.S. administration officials in recent years, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Clinton, but this year's event will be dominated by top European leaders as key U.S. officials stay away because of personnel changes in the Bush administration, organizers said.

French President Jacques Chirac starts things rolling with a preliminary "special message" Wednesday afternoon, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivers the keynote address at the formal opening Wednesday evening.

The U.S. Senate is assuring an American presence, however, with a delegation of 10 members headed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., organizers said.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will speak Friday, and Jose Manuel Barroso -- the new president of the European Commission -- will get his first chance to address the world's business leaders Saturday, organizers said.

A protester and riot police officer on friendly terms ahead of the Forum.

That's OK Pasty Boy...I'd think the COP might take matters into his own hands and 'Polish the Police Porpoise' himself. (She might lend a hand...)

But there was one glaring absence: From the US government only the outgoing top trade official (and soon to be deputy foreign minister) Robert Zoellick had made it to the Swiss mountain village.

(looks like a 'Romulan' don't he?)

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