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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim is the world's richest person, knocking Microsoft founder Bill Gates into second spot, as the wealth of the world's billionaires grew by 50 percent over the last year, Forbes magazine said on Wednesday.
It is only the second time since 1995 that Gates has lost the crown, the magazine said, estimating Slim's net worth at $53.5 billion, compared to Gates's $53 billion fortune, while investor Warren Buffett came in at No. 3 with $47 billion.
The trio regained $41.5 billion of the $68 billion they had lost the previous year, Forbes said.
The number of billionaires around the world has nearly recovered in 2010 after dropping by a third last year during the global financial crisis. There are now 1,011 billionaires, compared with 793 last year and 1,125 in 2008.
The net wealth of those billionaires grew to $3.6 trillion from $2.4 trillion last year, but is still down from 2008's $4.4 trillion, according to the 24th annual Forbes list, which took a snapshot of wealth on February 12 to compile its ranking.
The average billionaire is now worth $3.5 billion, up $500 million from last year. And the number of women on the list rose to 89 from 72 last year.
"The global economy is recovering and it's reflected in what you see in the list this year," Steve Forbes, chief executive of Forbes, told a news conference. "Financial markets have also made an even more impressive comeback from the lows of just about a year ago, particularly in emerging markets."
"Asia is leading the comeback," Forbes said.
The number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region grew by 80 percent to 234 and their net worth almost doubled to $729 billion, which the Forbes ranking attributed to the area's "swelling stock markets and several large public offerings during the past year."
Two Indians round out the top five richest people in the world -- Mukesh Ambani, with a petrochemicals, oil and gas fortune of $29 billion, and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who is valued at $28.7 billion.
The biggest gainer on the list was Brazilian mining magnate Eike Batista, 53, with $27 billion, up from $7.5 billion. He made his riches through the initial public offerings of several companies. He is planning to take his shipbuilding and oil services firm OSX public next week in an expected $5.6 billion offering, which would be Brazil's second biggest ever IPO.
Of the 97 billionaires making their debut on the Forbes list, 62 are from Asia, while for the first time China is now home to the most billionaires outside of the United States.
"The United States still dominates, but the United States is lagging," Forbes said. "It is not doing as well as the rest of the world in coming back."
"The global boom that we experienced from the early 80s ... which was temporarily derailed in 2007, now looks like it is beginning to get back on track. But Asia and a handful of others are surging, relatively the United States and Western Europe are lagging."
The top homes to billionaires are New York with 60 and Moscow with 50, followed by London with 32.
There are 55 countries represented on the Forbes list with billionaires from Pakistan -- clothing exporter Mian Muhammad Mansha -- and Finland -- manufacturing mogul Antti Herlin -- making an appearance for the first time, while Turkey, Russia and India regained billionaire numbers lost last year.
There were 164 billionaires returning to the list in 2010, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is also the world's youngest with a $4 billion fortune at the age of 25.
The second-youngest self-made billionaire is Japan's Yoshikazu Tanaka, 33, who made $1.4 billion from social networking firm Gree. The oldest is 99-year-old Walter Haefner from Switzerland who has $3.3 billion.
The sixth-richest man is Oracle Corp Chief Executive Larry Ellison with $28 billion. At No. 7 is the richest man in Europe, Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury goods group LVMH, who has a fortune of $27.5 billion.
"The bling is back," said Forbes Senior Editor Luisa Kroll of Arnault's wealth.
Rounding out the top 10 is Spanish clothing retailer Inditex founder Amancio Ortega with $25 billion and German supermarket king Karl Albrecht, who is valued at $23.5 billion.
While Gates's and Buffett's fortunes far exceed most others in the top 10, Forbes Senior Editor Matthew Miller said their fortunes would be far greater if they hadn't given away a lot of their money.
"They would be far richer today if it wasn't for their tremendous philanthropy," he said. "Buffett would be worth at least $55 billion ... and Gates' net worth would exceed $80 billion had it not been for his philanthropy."
The Forbes ranking of the world's billionaires can be seen at www.forbes.com/billionaires.
Additional reporting by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Mark Egan and Eric Walsh