World leaders and business figures are flocking to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in record numbers to discuss what to do about the global economic crisis.
The event, which opens on Wednesday in the eastern Swiss mountain resort, has attracted more than 2,500 participants from 96 countries, pushing the WEF to the limit of its logistical capacity.
"The Annual Meeting 2009 is one of the most crucial in the near 40-year history of the World Economic Forum," Klaus Schwab, its founder and executive director, told a Geneva news conference.
He said that the "extraordinary participation" of political and business leaders and other stakeholders, such as international bodies and non-governmental organisations, showed the importance of the WEF for addressing key issues.
In all, more than 40 heads of state and government will attend, as well as 36 finance ministers and central bankers. In total 60 per cent of those taking part come from the business world.
Among the big names this year are Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are both expected to speak at the opening of the WEF. Other political figures include Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who chairs the G20 group of leading industrial powers and emerging market countries.
Three Swiss ministers are expected: Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz, Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey and Economics Minister Doris Leuthard. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon will also be there.
It is too soon after his inauguration for United States President Barack Obama to attend. His National Economic Council director Larry Summers and National Security Adviser James Jones were scheduled to attend, but both have pulled out to concentrate on tasks in Washington.
Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett will be participating on behalf of the new administration.
Also coming is former president Bill Clinton and ex vice president turned environmental campaigner Al Gore.
In addition, fewer bankers will be attending than normal, say reports, due to the financial situation.
The 2009 meeting will above all consider how to deal with the current global economic downslide, which has been dubbed the most severe since the 1930s.
"This crisis has shown that the world is not capable of coping with the complexity of today," said Schwab.
The packed programme will leave little time for the lavish parties that have been a feature of past forums, with the emphasis on a "very hard-working, roll up your sleeves" meeting, the organisers said.
The WEF is this year holding an increased number of discussions and workshops to allow people to share ideas.
Talks, not miracles
It is keen to act as a catalyst for the G20 as well. Brown will be holding meetings on the group's goal of reforming financial architecture and relaunching the global economy, ahead of its April summit.
In addition, around 20 trade ministers will meet on Saturday on the sidelines of the forum to discuss the prospects for a deal in the long-running – and currently stalled - Doha round of free trade talks.
"We're not going to come up with miracle solutions and we are not a place for decision-making... Our annual meeting should allow key actors to address this unprecedented crisis and how we can overcome it," Schwab said.
"It should also allow us to address the sort of world we collectively want to see emerging once the crisis is over. What we are experiencing is the birth of a new era, a wake-up call to overhaul our institutions, our systems and, above all, our way of thinking."
Schwab defended the fact that the current crisis had not been anticipated. Financial risk had been flagged up at previous meetings. "But collectively, we didn't pay enough attention to these signals," he said.
Topics up for discussion also include ethics, water, food security and climate change – the latter the subject of 38 sessions.
This includes a ministerial meeting chaired by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to prepare the way for December's Copenhagen climate conference.
The future of the troubled Caucasus and Gaza regions is also expected to be on the agenda.
But Georgians and the Palestinians remain among the few absentees at the forum, which this year is being held under the slogan, "Shaping the Post-Crisis World".
swissinfo, based on an article in French by Pierre-François Besson
World Economic Forum
The World Economic Forum is a foundation created by 1971 by Klaus Schwab. It has its headquarters in Cologny, near Geneva, and has a staff of almost 300 people.
The annual budget is financed in part by its 1,000 company members.
The annual meeting has been held in Davos every year except 2002, when it moved to New York as a mark of solidarity following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Open Forum: The WEF and the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches have organised for the seventh time an Open Forum in Davos, which is open to everyone. Participants this year include Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and now President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, and Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
Public Eye Awards 2009: On the opening day of the WEF the non-governmental organisations Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland will present their Public Eye Awards 2009 in Davos. The tenth awards ceremony will be hosted by the current James Bond movie villain Anatole Taubman.
World Social Forum: Starting on January 27 and taking place in Belém, Brazil, the six-day WSF brings together anti-globalisation campaigners and is billed as the WEF alternative.