Venezuelan President welcomes activists at World Social Forum

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez welcomed activists at the World Social Forum on Thursday, saying ideas being discussed at the event have raised awareness and helped to "pulverize" U.S.-backed free trade proposals. "There is a group of citizens that have come to this extraordinary event from other parts of the planet, called together by the social movements from the entire world. Once more, in the name of our people, I welcome you, wherever you come from and whatever you represent," Chavez.

In the televised speech, Chavez later referred to U.S. President George W. Bush as "Mr. Danger," called his government "immoral" and applauded growing opposition to Washington's free market proposals. "These ideas have been pulverized by the history represented, in the first place, by the people and the consciousness of the people. That's why the World Social Forum that is happening right now in Caracas is so important," he said.

The leftist gathering, timed to coincide with the market-friendly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, features discussions of subjects such as "Imperialism: The greatest threat to humanity" and "Socialism of the 21st century."

"This world is in transformation, moving into larger spaces and with more strength," added Chavez, one of Latin America's most outspoken critics of the Bush administration and U.S. "imperialism."

Participants at the six-day conference, which has drawn more than 60,000 people from around the world, have heaped praised on the socialist-oriented economic policies established by Chavez in this oil-rich yet poverty-stricken South American nation of 26 million. Chavez warned that increased energy consumption in wealthy countries such as the United States was reaching unsustainable levels.

"It's an irresponsible and also contaminating waste, that's dangerous for ecological balance, a rhythm of life," said Chavez. "We have to be conscious of this reality and threat bearing down on all of us." Many activists at the forum turned their criticism on Thursday to obstacles faced by poor women in Latin America, reports the AP. I.L.

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