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Security tight for world forum

DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- Around 200 of the world's power elite are gathering amid tight security in Davos to try to put the accent on bridging the divide between rich countries and global companies, and the underdeveloped world.

The organisers of the initial World Economic Forum are hoping that their meeting will not be overshadowed by street protests.

After the riots at the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle in December 1999, demonstrations followed at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Prague last July and the European Union summit in Nice last month.

The Davos authorities have banned street demonstrations and 40 non-governmental organisations have been invited to join in the Forum discussions.

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Patricia Kelly reports on the Swiss police's fears of violence

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Some debates are to be made available on the Internet.

Professor Klaus Schwab, the forum founder, says: "Essentially those who are interested in making a statement can head for the streets.

"But those who are interested in making a difference will be in the congress centre.

"We don't intend to become actors in someone else's street theatre. We won't be standing in the snow arguing with demonstrators. And we won't engage in dialogue with those who think violence is an appropriate way to make a point."

Those expected to attend the Davos gathering include Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Vicente Fox of Mexico, along with business leader like Bill Gates of Microsoft and Douglas Daft of Coca Cola.

Leading Europeans include German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius, along with the presidents of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Organisers recognise backlash

The Davos organisers emphasize that they provide a bridge-building forum for discussion and they are not activists, but they recognise there is a backlash against globalisation.

They are hoping to put the accent more on the practical than in the past, creating task forces to take ideas forward, and to bridge the "digital divide" between highly-developed countries, and those with limited access to new technology.

The first day's discussion groups will tackle subjects including fresh approaches to fighting cancer, how fast the U.S. economy can slow down before falling into a recession and how the discovery of life on Mars or Jupiter would impact on this planet.

They will look at all forms of addiction in modern society and ask if the extinction of some species is an inevitable consequence of progress.



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