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Anja Niedringhaus, Associated Press
Protesters from the Occupy anti-capitalist movement prepare balloons to release a banner reading ' Hey WEF! Where are the other 6.9999 billion leaders?' on the first day of the 42nd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.

DAVOS, Switzerland — Activists linked to the global 'Occupy' movement used giant red weather balloons to stage a flying protest over the venue of the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, as civil society groups called for global leaders to protect the poor and the environment from government budget cuts.

About a dozen protesters sent a banner into the air reading "Hey WEF, where are the other 6.9999 billion leaders?" to protest their exclusion from the high-security event where CEOs and politicians meet each year to discuss the state of the world.

"We believe that the leaders at World Economic Forum are just trying to implement new systems to maximize their profits, not to help the world," said Amadeus Thiemann, an engineer from Zurich who was among the protesters.

The event is one of a number of small, peaceful protests that have taken place in the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week.

Civil society groups including Amnesty International and Greenpeace staged a separate protest against corporate excess and public budget cuts, which they said are hurting the world's poor and the environment.

"With 50 million people going below the poverty line, and over 200 million becoming unemployed with the recent crisis, it's stopped being a question of hardship and starting to become an issue of human rights violations," said Salil Shetty, the secretary-general of Amnesty International.

"This is a man-made crisis and the people who have caused the crisis, many of whom are in Davos, should be held to account," he told The Associated Press. "The problems have been caused by one bunch of people and the consequences are being paid twice over by the people who are poor and marginalized."

Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, said he had come to Davos both to protest and to reach out to leaders.

"The people at the World Economic Forum, whether we like it or not, are those that represent global economic and political power," he said as a crowd of about 100 gathered in the town's main square. "We have to push them harder and harder than ever before, to get them to make the transition to a low-carbon green economy."

Davos mayor Hans-Peter Michel urged forum organizers to make a greater effort to listen to those outside the steel fence.

"I expect it to stay peaceful. But the first step has to be that they are open to their critics," he told the AP.

The balloon protesters, who call themselves "Occupy WEF," have also built a small igloo village outside the security perimeter, where they have so far been tolerated by police. The group are following in the footsteps of the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread to cities around the world.

Davos, tucked in the Swiss Alps, is an exceptionally hard-to-reach place to protest. Some 2,600 of the world's most influential people are gathered for the forum this week, amid increasing worries about the global economy and potential social unrest because of rising income inequalities.

Occupy WEF: http://occupywef.ch/


Frank Jordans can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter