Optimism but no deal at trade talks


Police fire rubber bullets at protesters outside the meeting hall of the World Economic Forum in Davos (AP)

Global trade chiefs meeting in Switzerland have spoken of their optimism that a new deal to liberalise international commerce can be finalised, but offered little in the way of concrete progress to indicate they can reach agreement before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, about 60 protesters marched down the street behind the Congress Centre in Davos where the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting was winding down and the event was peaceful until a brief skirmish near a railway station close to the venue.

Police fired rubber bullets and a fire hose at the protesters, some of whom were carrying a banner that read “Tunisia equals Cairo equals Davos.”

It was a nod to the claims by critics that the five-day meeting 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,” US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Associated Press on the sidelines of the forum’s annual meeting.

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

Salil Shetty, the head of Amnesty International, told AP that Mr Mubarak’s decision to fire his Cabinet would not 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.

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