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North American leaders to begin summit in New Orleans
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U.S. President George W. Bush will join the leaders of neighboring Canada and Mexico in New Orleans Monday for a high-profile summit focusing on promoting integrated trade and security.

The two-day event, dubbed the "Three Amigos summit," appears to lack a dominating issue, but Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon are expected to touch upon broad topics ranging from energy supply to anti-drug measures to border issues.

The annual summit is held under the framework of the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trilateral effort launched in March 2005 to smooth out trade and security arrangements in response to new developments in a post-9/11 era.

This would be Bush's fourth and final North American Leaders' Summit because the president, who took office in 2001, has only about nine months to go before his second and last presidential term ends early next year.

In his January State of the Union speech, Bush announced that the annual summit would be held in New Orleans, which is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

City leaders have welcomed Bush's announcement as a chance to turn the world's spotlight on the city, which saw 80 percent of its land flooded and nearly 1,400 people killed in the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

They said it would be an opportunity for the city on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to showcase its rebuilding efforts and foster new business opportunities.

An itinerary released to the media does not include a visit by Bush to the worst-hit neighborhoods, which are distant from the Central Business District where most summit-related activities are due to take place.

On Monday, Bush will start the day by attending the reopening ceremony of Mexico's consulate in New Orleans, which was closed in 2002 due to a stringent budget.

The U.S. president will then hold separate one-one-one sessions with Calderon and Harper in the afternoon before the three leaders converge in a dinner Monday night.

Progress in U.S.-Mexican cooperation on anti-drug efforts is likely to dominate the private meeting between Bush and Calderon, while Bush and Harper are expected to discuss Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

Bush will meet with top business executives from the United States, Canada and Mexico Tuesday morning before heading into a more formal joint session with Harper and Calderon.

The three leaders are due to wrap up the summit by holding a press conference later Tuesday.

Last year's summit in Quebec, Canada, drew hundreds of protestors and saw incidents of violence.

Local police are gearing up for any possible protests that may accompany the forth-coming gathering in New Orleans, where more than 30 local, national and international organizations have announced an intention to stage protests.

(Xinhua News Agency April 21, 2008)

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