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05 December 2023

Davos switches focus to Mideast, Pakistan

By Agencies



The volatile situation in Pakistan and prospects for Middle East peace took centre stage in Davos on Thursday, after a first day dominated by talk of a US recession.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf took part in the annual gathering of the world's political and business elite in a discussion on peace and stability, together with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

Musharraf held talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here on Wednesday -- marking the highest-level US contact with the president since the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December.

During their meeting, Rice stressed that next month's elections in Pakistan had to be seen to be "free and fair" and carry the "confidence" of the Pakistani people.

Davos was the latest stop on Musharraf's European tour aimed at shoring up his battered image overseas after months of turmoil and Bhutto's murder.

This year's Davos forum has drawn 27 heads of state or government, 113 cabinet ministers and several hundred corporate titans to the snow-covered and sunny Swiss Alps.

Another highlight on Thursday will be a session on peace efforts in the Middle East, held against the backdrop of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Later Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan and Microsoft founder Bill Gates will also address delegates, as will French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Economics will not be forgotten, with European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet down to take part in a discussion on financial risk in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

On Wednesday talk of a US recession was the prime topic of debate, with sharp criticism of the US Federal Reserve after its 75 basis point rate cut on Tuesday and disagreement over the dangers to the global economy.

Faced with turmoil on global stock markets and plummeting confidence, Rice attempted to reassure delegates at the formal opening ceremony.

"The US economy is resilient, its structure is sound, and its long-term economic fundamentals are healthy," she said.

In recent years the annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort has been held against a backdrop of bumper corporate profits, strong economic growth and tame inflation.

But the mood this year has been distinctly gloomy, with a flurry of downbeat forecasts, and debate on the extent to which an unhealthy US economy would hit global growth.

Some 1,000 of the world's largest businesses pay $38,700 apiece for annual membership to the Davos club. (AFP)