Ban Ki-moon calls for bridges between cultures

( dpa ) - United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called on cultures to build mutual trust, describing the UN Alliance of Civilizations project as an "important" challenge to the extremism threatening the world.

Ban spoke at the inauguration of the first annual forum of the Alliance of Civilizations in the Spanish capital Madrid.

The alliance, which was launched by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in 2004, seeks to boost dialogue in an attempt to reduce prejudice and misunderstandings especially between the West and the Muslim world.

Former Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio, the UN high representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, described it as the "correct" way to fill a "vacuum" existing on the international level.

Zapatero said the alliance wanted to "mobilize the majorities that believe in peace."

The alliance would, however, succeed only if given a concrete content, he explained, calling on all countries to adopt it "as a policy of state."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has joined Zapatero in sponsoring the initiative, said that Turkey's entry into the European Union would "prove that the Alliance of Civilizations is possible."

The two-day forum brought together more than 350 people from over 60 countries, including representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society.

The guest list included the presidents of Senegal, Finland and Slovenia and the prime ministers of Algeria and Malaysia.

The forum was to provide a platform for participants to develop initiatives and partnerships.

Zapatero's and Erdogan's initiative for the Alliance of Civilizations was adopted by the UN in 2005.

The United States has backed the initiative, though it has shown a limited interest, and only sent its ambassador to Spain to the Madrid forum, according to Spanish sources.

In 2006, a group of 20 notables ranging from former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to South African archbishop Desmond Tutu presented an action plan, issuing recommendations.

The idea is for every country to now make its own plans, according to the Spanish government.

Spain has approved a national plan of 60 initiatives in the areas of youth, education, media and immigration, Zapatero announced, pledging to appoint a national coordinator to implement the plan.

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