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Nonaligned Movement Gathers For Summit In Egypt

Cuban President Raul Castro (left), Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (center), and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the inauguration ceremony of the Nonaligned Movement summit.

Cuban President Raul Castro (left), Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (center), and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the inauguration ceremony of the Nonaligned Movement summit.

(RFE/RL) -- The 15th summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) has opened in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, with an address from Cuban President Raul Castro.

The two-day summit brings together 118 developing countries, 55 of which are being represented by their heads of state.

In his speech, Castro called for the creation of a new international financial and economic structure that is based on actual participation of all states.

The fact that former Soviet ally Cuba gave the keynote address lays bare straight away one of the anomalies of the Nonaligned Movement, namely that its claim to be free of big-power rivalry was never really accurate.

Today, NAM is in search of new relevance. The bipolar tensions that gave it at least a place in the world have disappeared, and the series of "G" groups -- G8, G14, and G20 -- have become the favored forums for contacts between the developed and developing world.

Still, NAM represents more than half the population of the world, and the Sharm el-Sheikh summit is meant to imbue it with a new sense of purpose. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdul Gheit said the aim of the summit is to create a "new international order."

In a speech, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the founding principles of NAM are still relevant today, at a time when the economic recession is hitting developing states particularly hard.

"[The Nonaligned Movement's] long-standing commitment to development and social justice also resonates today as the world faces a severe economic and financial crisis," Ban said. "All countries are feeling the effects, but some developing countries are suffering most, including millions of people living in the NAM states, particularly those emerging from conflict."

Ban expressed concern at what he saw as a growing tendency toward protectionism in world trade.

"There are warning signs of rising economic nationalism. Industrial subsidies, tariff increases, and other protectionist measures which will only undermine global economic growth," he said. "We must counter this trend. Truly free and fair trade is crucial to stimulating recovery and spurring growth."

Politics On The Side

One leader not expected to be present is Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who reportedly did not receive the invitation usually sent to all NAM heads of state.

Egypt reportedly declined to invite him because of the alleged support of Iran for Egyptian dissidents, and its attempts to smuggle arms to Gaza past an Egyptian cordon. Tehran will be represented instead by Foreign Minister Manucheher Mottaki.

One event at the summit will draw much media attention. It's the meeting on the margins of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani.

They will be discussing how to improve relations after the deep chill stemming from last year's Mumbai terror attacks. India accuses Pakistan of being involved in those attacks, which claimed more than 170 lives. An Indian official described the meeting as "crucial."

Pakistan is eager to progress toward resuming the dialogue between the two regional rivals that was broken off by India after Mumbai.

compiled from news agency material