Alliance of Civilizations Forum to Begin


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MADRID, Spain (AP) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined the prime ministers of Turkey and Spain on Tuesday to open a forum of some 80 nations seeking to encourage understanding between the West and Muslim countries.

Opening a two-day conference of the Alliance of Civilizations, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the U.N.-backed initiative aimed to prevent a ''clash of civilizations by promoting security, understanding, tolerance and mutual respect in a globalized world.''

''It aspires to build bridges that can help us to manage the differences existing in the world, particularly those linked to religious or cultural issues,'' Zapatero added.

The event was attended by dozens of government members, representatives of international organizations, civil society, the media and philanthropic foundations from dozens of countries.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, former Irish President Mary Robinson, Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and Nigerian author and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka were expected to attend.

''In the Alliance of Civilizations process we have to achieve success. I am convinced that if we achieve success, we'll find an antidote against terrorism,'' Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said before the opening.

Zapatero presented the alliance idea to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2004 as a way to overcome misunderstandings between the West and the Arab and Muslim world and thus combat terrorism. The initiative followed the March 11, 2004 bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.

Turkey later become a co-sponsor of the project, which was adopted by the United Nations and now has the backing of more than 80 nations.

''One of the main reasons why the initiative has been supported is the extreme necessity and anxiety for tranquility and security which societies feel today,'' Erdogan said.

The meeting will include workshops on issues ranging from building cross-cultural understanding of conflict prevention, religion and politics at the community level.

Organizers said they planned to announce details of a media fund aimed at supporting major film productions that promote cross-cultural understanding and combat stereotypes.

They said Sheikha Mozah, chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation, was also expected to announce a major financial commitment toward the establishment of a global youth employment initiative involving corporations, major multilateral organizations and governments.

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