- Associated Press - Saturday, January 29, 2011

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Where anti-capitalist protesters failed at the World Economic Forum, the protests in Egypt have become the most-talked about subject at the annual Swiss Alpine retreat of global political and business leaders.

“Obviously what’s going on in Egypt has colored everything,” said Adrian Monck, the forum’s managing director.

He estimated that Egypt’s popular uprising against President Hosni Mubarak featured in two thirds of debates that normally focus on issues such as the global economy, cybercrime and food security.

Though the constantly changing events in Egypt were omnipresent, there was still business to get down to at the annual five-day gathering.

Key global trade officials spoke of their optimism that a new deal to liberalize international commerce can be finalized, but offered little in the way of concrete progress to indicate they can reach agreement before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, about 120 demonstrators marched down the street behind the Congress Center where the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting was winding down.

The event was peaceful until a brief skirmish near a train station about a kilometer away from the venue. Police fired rubber bullets at some of the protesters who tried to break through a security perimeter.

Some of the demonstrators carried a banner that read “Tunisia equals Cairo equals Davos.”

It was a nod to the claims by critics that the five-day meetings serves as nothing more than a fancy get-together for the world’s business and political elite without regard to common citizens.

But inside, concern over the protests in Egypt was palpable, with many calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure protesters were guaranteed freedom of expression and speech.

“I think that we have to see how things move today and, obviously, the key here is for President Mubarak to respond to the needs of his people in a way that is more directly connected to their frustrations, much more so than apparently yesterday’s speech succeeded in doing,” Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the forum’s annual meeting.

Kerry’s comments came just minutes after Egyptian state television reported that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif had resigned on Mubarak’s orders.

Salil Shetty, the head of Amnesty International, told AP that Mubarak’s decision to fire his Cabinet won’t quell the anti-government protests that have shaken the country for five days.

“The idea of changing your Cabinet is a bit of a joke. People are very clearly saying they want very fundamental change, constitutional change,” he said.

Still, there was plenty of discussion, debate and dissent at Davos. The head of the World Trade Organization said a meeting of ministers from some two dozen countries in the Swiss ski resort of Davos had been “very constructive.”

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