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APEC leaders to start talks

Leaders of the Pacific Rim meet today, looking to boost future trade despite turmoil in the global economy.

Leaders of the Pacific Rim meet today, looking to boost future trade despite turmoil in the global economy, as aspiring powers China and Russia bid farewell to US president George W Bush. Leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific economies, accounting for half of the world's trade, are due to huddle in Peru's capital Lima as the global economy showed little sign of returning to health. A week after a 20-nation summit in Washington urged action to repair the crippled financial system itself, the Asia-Pacific summit is expected to focus on defending free trade as a way to kick-start slowing economies.

"There is a substantially advanced boutique industry called 'gloom and doom' that is all about people saying how bad it is," Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said. "You can either be part and parcel of that process or you can take up the mantle of leadership and do something about it," he said. Ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum set the stage for the summit with a joint call against protectionism, with some airing concerns that Mr Bush's successor Barack Obama would be less supportive of free markets.

The tightly guarded summit in the Pacific coast city was the last scheduled foreign trip for Mr Bush, who leaves office on January 20 with his approval ratings hovering at all-time lows. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was due to hold a potentially confrontational final summit with Mr Bush today. Medvedev will tour four countries in Latin America, traditionally Washington's sphere of influence, with arms deals on the cards.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Moscow was only selling defensive weapons to Latin America ? a swipe at the Bush administration which infuriated Russia with plans for a missile defence shield in former Soviet bloc countries. Chinese President Hu Jintao also sought a greater role in Latin America, but both sides described his final meeting with Mr Bush yesterday as friendly and even sentimental.

Mr Jintai told Mr Bush he appreciated the "advances in ties achieved in the past few years" and invited him to visit China after leaving office, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "He also expressed hope that the next US administration can recognise the importance of China-US ties," Mr Jianchao said in reference to Mr Obama. Mr Bush allowed that he was "a little nostalgic" at his last meeting with Mr Jintai as head of state and highlighted stable relations with a rising China as a key achievement of his term.

However, Mr Bush reiterated his call for China to continue dialogue with representatives of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, a pariah for Beijing. He also pressed for further action on ending North Korea's nuclear programme, a key area where Mr Bush has hoped to achieve progress before he hands the keys of the White House to Mr Obama. North Korea was expected to take center-stage when Mr Bush holds a three-way summit in Lima with Japanese prime minister Taro Aso and South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak.

Japan has tense relations with North Korea in part due to the communist state's past kidnappings of Japanese civilians. Mr Aso yesterday lobbied Vietnam's president, Nguyen Minh Triet, to join international efforts to isolate Pyongyang. But the 21-economy summit's main focus was trade, with leaders of emerging economies fearing that the financial turmoil would dramatically worsen poverty. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that oil-rich states and companies, which profited heftily until recently from sky-high energy prices, now had the duty to help solve the economic crisis.

"With this great wealth should also come a moral duty," Mr Yudhoyono said. * AFP

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