An alpine summit of the world's business and political elite opens in the Swiss resort of Davos on Thursday amid tight security, reported AFP.
About 30 heads of state and government, dozens of ministers and 1,200 corporate chiefs are due to attend the five-day annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
High on the agenda will be the global economic slowdown and the gap between the rich and poor.
More than 300 panels, seminars and meetings at the six-day gathering are scheduled, ranging from trade and oil to biotechnology and mobile commerce, said the agency.
The forum will announce Thursday the release of a new Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI).
"Two years in the making, the ESI was created by an Environment Task Force of the Forum's Global Leaders collaboration with the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for Earth Science Information at Columbia University.
The ESI measures and ranks the capacity of societies to facilitate economic growth without causing unacceptable resource depletion or environmental degradation, said the statement, published in the forum's website.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat are among the top leaders expected to attend, a press release said.
On the corporate side, luminaries such as Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates, Sony Corp. chairman Nobuyuki Idei and Bertelsmann chairman Thomas Middelhoff are on the program.
Science and social issues also feature heavily on the agenda. Session topics include gene therapy, AIDS, labor and poverty.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will play a significant role in this year's forum, now in its 31st year, the statement added.
Despite the Swiss authorities' ban on public demonstrations during the forum, protesters say they plan to descend on the small mountain ski resort on Saturday, AFP said -- Albawaba.com
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