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Calm and Optimism in New York

The first day of a gathering of the world's business, political, academic and religious elite in New York City passes with a few arrests and some optimism.

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Keeping the peace

Business leaders expressed faith in the state of the world economy, and police announced their first arrests after the first day of the World Economic Forum in the heavily-guarded Waldorf Astoria in mid-town Manhattan on Thursday.

"I believe we will see a significant recovery in the United States in the second half of the year and this will pull the rest of the world with it," Jacob Frenkel, president of Merrill Lynch & Co Inc. told reporters.

The forum, in its 31st year, allows leaders from the world business, religious, academic and labor the type of networking opportunity they can’t find anywhere else. A record 2,700 invitees are attending this year’s conference, attending seminars from understanding the roots of terrorism to the latest in artificial intelligence.

"A big university"

"In a sense, you could call it a big university," forum project manager Parag Khanna said in a DW-WORLD interview.

The intimacy of the Waldorf Astoria compared to the more spacious accomodations in Davos has created a sense of openess even as armed police walk the halls, said Khanna.

"We have more people and it's clearly less intimate," he said. "In Davos, you could slip off into a corner and talk. Here, you can't leave the Waldorf Astoria."

...with a lot of cops

Police have barricaded the streets surrounding the hotel, on the southern edge of New York's central park. Attendees must have their badge scanned and walk through a metal detector to get in. In keeping with the forum’s egalitarian approach, most prominents attend without their bodyguards leaving the burden to New York City’s police department, which has more than 4,000 officers deployed in and around the conference.

Anticipated clashes between anti-forum protestors and police have so far not materialized. Only 1,000 protestors showed up and many demonstrated peacefully. Police arrested seven members of the group AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power for hanging a banner on a footbridge of nearby FDR drive. A man was also arrested after damaging the front door of a Starbucks, a favorite target of protestors in past mass demonstrations in Seattle and Washington DC.

Lining up for Schröder

Inside the Astoria, conference invitees, many who paid about $6,000 to attend, formed long lines trying to get into seminars featuring Bill Gates or German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Schröder, in the United States to meet President George W. Bush, plans to give a speech at the forum on Friday. In the talk, the transcript of which was leaked to the Associated Press ahead time, Schröder will appeal for global cooperation and patience in the fight against terror – which has dominated this year’s gathering.

"The fight against terrorism will only be successful in the long run, if it is carried out under the mantle of global justice," Schröder said.

He appealed for a "free exchange" between nations, "without national egotism". He gave European Union enlargement and Germany’s reunification as examples of such an exchange.

The chancellor’s recommendations will most likely be part of the annual compendium Khanna and other forum staffers assemble. The report, released in March, will offer concrete solutions that the forum’s participants will be expected to carry out.

It is part of the shift the forum has undergone in the past few years, Khanna said. Once deemed a gathering for the jet-setting business elite, the annual meeting has turned into something more relevant.

"In Davos, you came because you could ski and at the same time also have your meeting," he said. "Here, there's no skiing going on. It's all substantive."

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