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UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
"Todays biggest challenges are global"
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US President Bill Clinton
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The BBC's James Robbins
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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Annan opens Millennium Summit
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan
Mr Annan is host to the biggest party in town
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has opened the largest gathering of world leaders in history, the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York.

More than 150 heads of government and their representatives heard Mr Annan call for the rule of law to prevail in the new century.

Fidel Castro of Cuba
Fidel Castro: Delegates will have just five minutes to address the summit
"We are here to strengthen and adapt this great institution, forged 55 years ago in the crucible of war, so that it can do what people expect of it in the new era," he said.

The three-day meeting will focus on global issues like poverty, the spread of Aids, and how to share the benefits of globalisation more fairly.

Mr Annan has described the summit as "a defining moment for world leaders and for the United Nations".

"As a unique forum for global debate and as an indispensable instrument for global progress, the United Nations must rise to the moment," he said.

Historic arrivals

Among those in New York for the meeting is the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, on his fourth visit to the US since he took power 41 years ago.

Opening speeches
Bill Clinton
Vladimir Putin
Jacques Chirac
Tony Blair
Ehud Barak
Yasser Arafat
General Musharraf
The Cuban leader, who made a surprise late decision to attend the summit, stepped unannounced from a black car outside the Cuban Mission on Tuesday.

Also present is the Iranian leader Mohammad Khatami who has already been speaking at a fringe meeting on dialogue among the world's different civilisations.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright changed her travel plans to attend the speech at a Unesco seminar in New York.

The BBC Washington Correspondent says the US is keen to open a political and diplomatic dialogue with Iran for the first time since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

President Clinton is expected to take the opportunity to kick-start the Middle East peace process with separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

In view of the opportunity for oratory the summit presents, delegates' speeches are being restricted to five minutes.

Traffic-light warnings to tell speakers their time is up will also be visible to the audience, acting as a deterrent to those who might wish to overrun their alloted slot.


Representatives of North Korea, who were on their way to New York, have returned home in anger after US airline security officials in Germany subjected them to a thorough body search.

US officials have expressed regret over the incident which they said was due to "enhanced security procedures" carried out on nationals from countries Washington has blacklisted as sponsors of state terrorism.

North Koren leader Kim Jong-il had earlier declined an invitation to attend.

Several other world leaders will not be attending the summit.

  • Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, who has not left his country for a decade, has sent his Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

  • Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is staying at home.

  • There will be no representative from Yugoslavia - President Slobodan Milosevic has been indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal.

  • Afghanistan is being represented by former president Burhanuddin Rabbani who was driven out of power by the Taleban movement. The Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was not invited because the Taleban Government is not recognised by the United Nations.

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Americas
UN expects Castro fire
06 Sep 00 | Americas
New Yorkers brave UN summit
05 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
US regrets 'insult' to North Korea
06 Sep 00 | Middle East
Iran head's speech attracts Albright
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