Caracas: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez welcomed activists at the World Social Forum, saying ideas being discussed at the event have raised awareness and helped to "pulverize" US-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 said.

In a televised speech, Chavez later referred to US 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 on 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," said Chavez, one of Latin America's most outspoken critics of the Bush administration.

Participants at the six-day conference, which has drawn more than 60,000 people from around the world, have heaped praise on the socialist-oriented economic policies established by Chavez in this oil-rich yet poverty-stricken 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.

Women's rights groups said moves toward free trade are undermining the position of women in a region where machismo is entrenched, domestic violence is a common and many governments take hardline stances against abortion.

"Poor women are not the same as poor men," said activist Francini Mestrun at an event organised by the Brazil-based Latin American Network of Women Transforming the Economy.

Some argued that open-market policies have hurt Latin American economic sectors.

Activists called for UN peacekeepers to leave Haiti, demanded poor countries' debt be forgiven and backed Cuban leader Fidel Castro's proposal for a permanent "anti-terrorism" tribunal to battle alleged US abuses against poor countries.

Chavez referred to the US President as Mr Danger, called his government "immoral" and applauded opposition to Washington's free market proposals.