Dignitaries Gather for European Summit

By VANESSA GERA
.c The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Shop owners boarded up windows and police sealed
off parts of the Polish capital for a summit of eastern European
leaders focusing on the challenges facing the European Union after
eight former Soviet bloc countries join this week.

The European Economic Summit starting Wednesday brings together
hundreds of dignitaries, including 20 presidents and prime ministers
and representatives from leading corporations, for talks on EU
expansion.

The three-day event - organized by the Geneva-based World Economic
Forum, which is best known for its annual summit in Davos, Switzerland
- concludes Friday, hours before midnight celebrations in several
cities usher in the historic expansion.

Mark Adams, a spokesman for the group, said the forum provides
political and business leaders the chance for informal talks on
challenges of common concern such as health care, environment and
labor issues.

Anti-globalization groups have mobilized against the meeting, viewing
the forum funded by many leading corporations as an exclusive club for
the rich. About 5,000 protesters are expected to march Thursday,
organizers say.

Downtown Warsaw shops - from elegant boutiques to fast-food chains -
boarded up their windows with slabs of wood, corrugated tin and
cardboard. Police helicopters whirred above the city center as
officers in riot gear guarded a barricaded perimeter of several blocks
around the conference venue, a hotel.

But the government leaders can also expect criticism from other
quarters.

Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies in
Brussels, said economic dialogue in Europe has been reduced to ``a
charade'' as countries pay lip service to limiting their budget
deficits and economic reform, but then do little to measure up.

``In economic terms they don't have to talk to each other a lot - they
just have to go home and do their homework,'' said Gros, who will also
be participating.

Alongside workshops on the benefits of adopting the euro currency and
the competitiveness of the EU countries, one-on-one talks between
political leaders also feature at the forum.

These include a planned meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan and
Armenia, which have been locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an
ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

Ethnic Armenian forces drove out Azerbaijan's army from the region in
the 1990s and ethnic Azeris fled. Though a cease-fire was established
in 1994, the two sides periodically exchange fire.

President Johannes Rau of Germany, President Ion Iliescu of Romania
and President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia are also expected to
address the meeting.

On the eve of the summit, Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski
stressed the importance of bringing together generally richer Western
countries with the new EU members as well as countries further east
that face difficult obstacles in their search for prosperity.

``I am convinced that the conference hosted by Poland will show that
no new curtain will appear in our continent - not even a velvet one,''
Kwasniewski said.



04/28/04 01:24 EDT