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Davos gathering muted by economic reality

DAVOS – The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression muted the enthusiasm of previous years as some 2,500 business and political leaders met in the Swiss Alps Wednesday for the World Economic Forum.

Economist Stephen Roach gave a grim forecast for the global economic outlook, saying growth worldwide in 2009 was only likely to be about 2.5 percent; what the Morgan Stanley Asia chairman and longtime Davos attendee termed a "near recession".

The head of the forum called for unity among companies and governments meeting here to steer a path out of the global financial crisis.

In an interview ahead of the annual five-day event, Klaus Schwab said even the bosses of banks that helped create the economic problems many nations are now facing should be included in efforts to find a solution.

"Those people, and there are many of those here, have the feeling they are standing at a cliff and they may fall over at any moment", he said in Davos’ Congress Center, where the forum formally opened Wednesday morning.

"But those people are not only part of the problem. They are part of the solution", said Schwab, whose guests this week include executives of debt-riddled banks such as Citigroup Inc, Bank of America and UBS AG. "We need a well-functioning financial community, we should not forget. Otherwise we don’t have a well-functioning economy".

Over 40 heads of state will also be in Davos to discuss the 2009 theme of "shaping the post-crisis world" in fields such as energy, climate change and free trade. They include Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was to give the keynote address Wednesday evening even as Russia’s bankers and energy tycoons struggle with debt and plunging oil prices. After, he will take part in a high-level debate that includes Nestle AG Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, US computer maker Michael Dell and Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.

But, underscoring the sober mood this year, some of the glitz was scaled back and previous celebrity guests such as Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone and Bono are not attending.

[AP / Bradley S. Klapper / Expatica]