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Europe

Warsaw Hosts Pan-European Summit

Sixty years after the end of World War II, heads of state from 46 countries are meeting in Warsaw for a pan-European summit to define future priorities in a new political mandate for the Council of Europe.

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The summit's venue: Warsaw's Royal Castle

The two-day summit in the Polish capital is being billed as the "Summit of European Unity," as it brings together all the countries of Europe, with the exception of Belarus.

The overall goal of the summit is to strengthen the Council of Europe's key mission of safeguarding human rights and democracy across the country. The 56-year-old organization will adopt three conventions on preventing and financing terrorism and human trafficking during the gathering.

Other issues on the agenda include the protection of minorities, free movement of Europeans across the continent and violence against children. The council's future goals will be defined in a new political mandate meant to ensure that its activities remain relevant to the 800 million people who live in its 46 member states.

"I'm hoping the summit agrees to put more emphasis on democracy as it is clear from many countries, Ukraine and Georgia are two, that people want more democracy," the council's secretary general, Terry Davis, told Reuters news agency.

"We're looking to expand to Central Asia and develop relations. It might well be that at some point in the future the heads of states would like the council's boundaries to be expanded," Davis said, adding that expansion was not on the Warsaw summit's agenda.

Talking shop?

Europa Rat Council of Europe

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is often regarded as the conscience of Europe. Formed at the end of World War II, since 1989 it has acted as a human rights watchdog for Europe's fledgling post-communist democracies, alerting the international community to suspected abuses.

Human rights groups, though, expressed concern that the Warsaw summit will just be a talking shop, producing little in the way of concrete results.

"We would welcome something really constructive coming from there, but we are sceptical," said Brigitte Dufour, deputy executive director of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. "They should feel they are the conscience of Europe, but they let political, economic, even military aspects get in the way," she told Reuters.

High security

Strict security measures were in place in Warsaw on Sunday as leaders began to arrive. Among those who have confirmed they will attend the summit are German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili and the presidents of the three Baltic states.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also due to attend, as was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and Prince Albert of Monaco, the latest country to join the council, in October last year.

Some 10,000 police officers will be deployed around the capital, and roads leading to the Royal Castle near Warsaw's Old Town will be closed to traffic, officials said.

"We have to be ready for all sorts of threats, be they terrorist or related to anti-globalization protesters," the deputy commander of the police force for the Warsaw region, Andrzej Palczewski told AFP.

Several hundred anti-globalization protesters plan to demonstrate on Monday near the Royal Castle, where the leaders will gather under a large marquee to hold their summit.

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