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Globalization debate to make major leap with U.N. gathering


The stormy battle over globalization that brought protests to the streets of Seattle and Washington moves this week to the heart of the world's only truly global organization, the United Nations.

An extraordinary three-day Millennium Summit meeting of more than 150 world leaders called to thrash out problems of poverty and peace is turning instead into a debate about the future of the organization, as well as the world, at a time when national boundaries have become nearly as irrelevant to economic and political tides as they are to infectious diseases or popular music.

The summit, which will begin Wednesday and end Friday, is the pivotal event in a two-week, traffic-stopping extravaganza for New York that began last week with a conference of world religious leaders, an assembly of scores of speakers from nearly all the world's elected parliaments and a meeting of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, from every continent.

A dozen or more other events are planned for the fringes this week, including a "dialogue of civilizations" featuring President Mohammad Khatami of Iran, a "state of the world forum" of government and private sector leaders, street protests and a 10-hour teach-in against a greater role for global business in world affairs.

The United Nations is a more diversified organization than those that have been the focus of recent protests - the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization.

So it is still seen as a hope for solving problems of globalization, rather than as a source of them, and it is not expected to be subjected to the same heated demonstrations that caused so much havoc in Washington and Seattle.

At the United Nations, globalization means many things to many people. It is not simply the greater movement of goods, jobs and capital across borders, but also includes cultural, environmental and political components.

For some countries, most of them in the industrial world, globalization is an opportunity to expand international standards in law, social development and human rights. For others, many of them developing countries, it holds out the worrying prospect of a United Nations aligning itself ever more closely with new power centers: the big corporations, high-technology gurus and cultural icons of the industrialized world.

But at this summit, the fears and frustrations of the world's smallest and weakest nations will be given equal time with the powerful, whose governments and - increasingly - corporations are feared for the influence they seem to be gaining inside the organization.

President Clinton, who will give the opening address and stay for three days, will be followed to the podium by the president of Equatorial Guinea. Russia's president will be followed by the leader of the Maldives, who likes to remind others that the big worry for his tiny nation of atolls is that globalization could mean it disappearing completely - if the warming of the world's climate is not halted.

"Globalization is seen by some as a force for social change, that it will help to close the gap between the rich and the poor, the industrialized north and the developing south," said Theo-Ben Gurirab, the foreign minister of Namibia and the General Assembly president this year.

"But it also is being seen as a destructive force because it is being driven by the very people, the colonial powers, who launched a global campaign of imperial control of peoples and resources in what we call now the Third World. Can we trust them?" Gurirab said.

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