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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 04:28 GMT
Nobel winners rally behind Annan
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Annan says an inquiry into the oil-for-food scandal will "clear the air"
A group of 70 Nobel laureates have issued a statement endorsing the leadership of the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The document praises him for always taking a "critical look" at the UN and recommending improvements.

Signatories include former US president Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The statement responds to US criticism of Mr Annan over alleged corruption in the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

Some of the fiercest condemnations have come from Republicans - although the Bush administration has rejected their calls for Mr Annan's resignation.


In their statement issued on Thursday, the Nobel Prize winners said: "We commend Secretary General Kofi Annan for effectively leveraging his moral authority, independence, and wisdom to elevate the United Nations to meet its highest principles."

Signatories also include authors Nadine Gordimer, Guenther Grass, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney and Elie Wiesel, as well as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

A spokesman for Mr Annan said he was grateful for the support.

The oil-for-food programme allowed Iraq to sell oil in exchange for food and medicine between 1996 and 2003, to ease the effects of international sanctions.

But it recently emerged that Saddam Hussein might have diverted part of the money for his own uses.

Mr Annan has launched an independent investigation into the scandal, led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.

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