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Monday 18 December 2017

Former Portuguese PM Guterres named as the next UN chief

Former Portuguese PM Antonio Guterres will become the next UN Secretary-General. REUTERS
Former Portuguese PM Antonio Guterres will become the next UN Secretary-General. REUTERS

Harriet Alexander

The Socialist former prime minister of Portugal has been chosen as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations - taking over at a time when the world is rocked by terrorism, reeling from the refugee crisis, and struggling to resolve the war in Syria.

Antonio Guterres, the 67-year-old former secretary of Socialist International, will succeed Ban Ki-moon on January 1.

The 15 members of the Security Council held their sixth "straw poll" to decide the future leader. Thirteen countries encouraged his candidacy and none discouraged it - making him the clear winner of a process which began publicly in April.

His appointment was confirmed by a vote in the General Assembly - which by custom approves the Security Council's recommendation - yesterday

In a tweet last night he wrote: "Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!" adding he was "honoured and happy."

Matthew Rycroft, Britain's ambassador to the UN, said he was "delighted" at the result, and described Mr Guterres as "exactly the strong Secretary-General the UN needs."

And yet the Portuguese politician was at the helm of the UN's refugee organisation precisely when the refugee crisis began to spiral out of control.

The UN has so far been unable to galvanise support for any significant solutions to the problem, described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The UNHCR - which Mr Guterres ran until December - estimates that 34,000 people are forced from their homes every day, and there are now 21.3 million refugees, half of them children.

Mr Guterres has said he intends to make preventing crises a priority for the 71-year-old organisation - which has been hampered by a decade of lethargic responses to crises under Mr Ban.

"We need a surge in diplomacy for peace," he said, outlining his plan. "The international community spends much more time and resources managing crises than preventing them.

"A Secretary-General must continuously seek to contribute to reducing the number of conflicts and consequently the number of victims."

Mr Guterres "embodies the highest standards of competence, integrity and leadership", General Assembly president Peter Thompson said.

Mr Guterres's selection disappointed many who had campaigned for the first woman or the first representative from an Eastern European country to lead the world body, but diplomats stressed they were voting for the best candidate regardless of other criteria.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will leave the job on December 31 after his second five-year term ends, referred to Mr Guterres's decade as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mr Ban told the assembly that Mr Guterres is "best known where it counts most, on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering".

In addition to "deep and solid political experience" including two terms as Portugal's prime minister, Mr Ban said "his political instincts are those of the United Nations - cooperation for the common good and shared responsibility for people and the planet".

Mr Guterres will be the ninth secretary-general in the organisation's 71-year history.

Irish Independent

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