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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
US-bashing proves popular pastime at UN
By Mike Wooldridge
BBC world affairs correspondent, United Nations

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
President Chavez held up Chomsky's book to the assembly

Noam Chomsky's book "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance" looks like being one of the unexpected enduring symbols of this year's United Nations General Assembly.

Holding it up to show his fellow world leaders during his speech to the assembly, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez briefly took on the guise of book reviewer. He said the book explained everything you needed to know about the world.

President Bush had spoken from the same podium the previous day, laying out once again his "freedom agenda" and denouncing extremism.

"The devil came here yesterday - right here," said Mr Chavez. "It smells of sulphur still."

If such melodramatic remarks have become characteristic of the Venezuelan leader's sparring with the United States government, it has been far from the only display of anti-Americanism during the first week of the Assembly's general debate.


Bolivia's President, Evo Morales, also had a prop. A former coca grower, he held up a coca leaf during his speech and castigated the United States for what he called its neo-colonialist efforts to eliminate coca production.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran tore into the Americans - and the British, too - for supposedly using their power to manipulate the UN Security Council and protect themselves from accountability.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran
President Ahmadinejad criticised American and Britain

He said some sought to rule the world relying on weapons and threats while others lived in perpetual insecurity and danger.

President Robert Mugabe bracketed Washington and London together in denouncing what he suggested were attempts to promote regime change in his country.

But any General Assembly is about far more than rhetoric from the podium.

Empty seats in the assembly chamber are not necessarily a sign of a deliberate snub or lack of stamina. Much of the real business is done in other more discreet meeting rooms around the United Nations, in the nearby UN missions of individual governments and in delegates' hotels.

Shift of focus

At this assembly one of the biggest tests of the will to move beyond rhetoric was clearly going to be the conflict in Darfur.

No amount of verbal hand-wringing from the podium was going to be an adequate response to the Hollywood actor George Clooney telling the Security Council that it was the first genocide of the 21st century and it was on their watch, to the Darfur protest rallies across the world two days before the Assembly debate started - and, even more so, to the humanitarian crisis and continuing violence in the region itself.

The Security Council wants to see the present 7,000 African Union peacekeepers turned into a fully-fledged UN peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Actor George Clooney at the UN General Assembly
George Clooney addressed the assembly on Darfur

But it needs Sudan's consent unless the UN is potentially going to have to fight its way in.

Sudan, if anything, toughened its opposition to UN control as the assembly got under way. The UN's new commitment to protecting civilians in circumstances like this was at stake.

In the event it was African leaders, meeting on the sidelines of the assembly, who provided a breathing space by agreeing that they would keep their troops in Darfur for another three months - their mandate had been due to expire on 30 September.


But there was no doubting that the underlying crisis over the UN's credibility in dealing with this issue continues.

As the assembly's first week drew to a close, sales of Naom Chomsky's book were soaring and United States UN Ambassador John Bolton was philosophical about this year's outbreak of America-bashing.

Some people were inclined to vent these things from this platform, he said - but he suggested it did them little credit.

America's critics, and their constituencies at home, would no doubt disagree.

Former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold left the organisation a quiet room, empty but for a stone block to provide a focus for meditation.

He wrote: "It for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in the centre of their stillness."

Amid the whirlwind of speeches, meetings and huddled conversations, I have been wondering how many have been tempted to take up the invitation.

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