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APEC Leaders in Closing Session of Annual Meeting

Leaders from the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum started in Bangkok Tuesday morning the concluding session of their annual meeting under the theme of "A World of Differences: Partnership for the Future."

The second-day session, called "retreat II," began at 10 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) and will last about 75 minutes. It is being held at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which used to be the parliament seat.

After a lunch break, the leaders will issue a joint declaration, in which they are expected to call for restarting the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks, and strengthening efforts on combating terrorism.

Prior to their round-table discussion in the morning, the leaders posed for a group photo by standing in two rows, wearing Thailand-made traditional silk attire.

It has become a tradition for APEC economic leaders to wear the traditional attire of their hosts when they wind up their annual meeting.

This year, the leaders wore silk shirts made by weavers from a remote small Thai village of 1,000 people called Tha Sawang, which is some 340 km northeast of Bangkok but produces some of the country's most exquisite silk.

Each shirt is valued at about 90,000 baht (some US$2,200). The shirt fabrics come in four colors -- burgundy, purple, green and blue, and two motifs: flowers for leaders from Muslim member economies and animals for the others. The animals include creatures from Thai mythology, such as elephant-lions and peacocks.

During their first-day talks at the Government House, the leaders committed themselves to continuing efforts to reinvigorate the Doha Round multilateral trade talks under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeaw said.

"It is important for APEC members to play key roles and send out a strong signal to achieve the successful conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda's goals," he said on Monday.

Besides their commitment on Doha Round, the APEC economic leaders will be expected to pledge, in their joint declaration, to "dismantle, fully and without delay, transnational terrorist groups that threaten APEC economies," the Thai newspaper The Nation said on Tuesday.

Tuesday's session will mainly discuss issues of anti-terrorism, knowledge-based economy, and APEC structural reform, Jiro Okuyama, spokesman for the Japanese delegation, told reporters following the conclusion of Monday's session.

Unlike the past two years when anti-terrorism overshadowed trade at the annual APEC gatherings, reviving the Doha Round is the most dominating issue for the regional event this year, although anti-terrorism is still one of the major topics on agenda.

The 2003 APEC annual meetings came on the heels of the Cancun (Mexico) WTO ministerial conference which failed to advance the Doha Round due to huge differences on the agricultural subsidies last month, one year after the devastating terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali.

So far, the APEC event in Bangkok has been running smoothly and safely.

The Thai government appears to have survived one of the toughest tests of security in the country's history, thanks to a set of effective measures, among them the deployment of 20,000 police and troops in Bangkok to guard against any potential threat to security for the APEC event.

Security had been a major concern for this year's APEC meetings, especially following the arrest in central Thailand in August of Hambali, the alleged operations chief of Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), who reportedly told interrogators that he had been planning attacks in Thailand during the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting.

(Xinhua News Agency October 21, 2003)

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