Geneva, Aug 18 (AP/UNB) — Kofi Annan, one of the world's most celebrated diplomats and a charismatic symbol of the United Nations who rose through its ranks to become the first black African secretary-general, has died. He was 80.
His foundation announced his death in Switzerland on Saturday in a tweet , saying he died after a short unspecified illness.
"Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy," the foundation said.
Annan spent virtually his entire career as an administrator in the United Nations. His aristocratic style, cool-tempered elegance and political savvy helped guide his ascent to become its seventh secretary-general, and the first hired from within. He served two terms from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 2006, capped nearly mid-way when he and the U.N. were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
During his tenure, Annan presided over some of the worst failures and scandals at the world body, one of its most turbulent periods since its founding in 1945. Challenges from the outset forced him to spend much of his time struggling to restore its tarnished reputation.
His enduring moral prestige remained largely undented, however, both through charisma and by virtue of having negotiated with most of the powers in the world.
When he departed from the United Nations, he left behind a global organization far more aggressively engaged in peacekeeping and fighting poverty, setting the framework for the U.N.'s 21st-century response to mass atrocities and its emphasis on human rights and development.
"Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good," current U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. "It is with profound sadness that I learned of his passing. In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination."
Even out of office, Annan never completely left the U.N. orbit. He returned in special roles, including as the U.N.-Arab League's special envoy to Syria in 2012. He remained a powerful advocate for global causes through his eponymous foundation.
Annan took on the top U.N. post six years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and presided during a decade when the world united against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks — then divided deeply over the U.S.-led war against Iraq. The U.S. relationship tested him as a world diplomatic leader.
"I think that my darkest moment was the Iraq war, and the fact that we could not stop it," Annan said in a February 2013 interview with TIME magazine to mark the publication of his memoir, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace."
"I worked very hard — I was working the phone, talking to leaders around the world. The U.S. did not have the support in the Security Council," Annan recalled in the videotaped interview posted on The Kofi Annan Foundation's website.
"So they decided to go without the council. But I think the council was right in not sanctioning the war," he said. "Could you imagine if the U.N. had endorsed the war in Iraq, what our reputation would be like? Although at that point, President (George W.) Bush said the U.N. was headed toward irrelevance, because we had not supported the war. But now we know better."
Despite his well-honed diplomatic skills, Annan was never afraid to speak candidly. That didn't always win him fans, particularly in the case of Bush's administration, with whom Annan's camp spent much time bickering. Much of his second term was spent at odds with the United States, the U.N.'s biggest contributor, as he tried to lean on the nation to pay almost $2 billion in arrears.
Kofi Atta Annan was born April 8, 1938, into an elite family in Kumasi, Ghana, the son of a provincial governor and grandson of two tribal chiefs.
He shared his middle name Atta — "twin" in Ghana's Akan language — with a twin sister, Efua. He became fluent in English, French and several African languages, attending an elite boarding school and the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. He finished his undergraduate work in economics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1961. From there he went to Geneva, where he began his graduate studies in international affairs and launched his U.N. career.
Annan married Titi Alakija, a Nigerian woman, in 1965, and they had a daughter, Ama, and a son, Kojo. He returned to the U.S. in 1971 and earned a master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. The couple separated during the 1970s and, while working in Geneva, Annan met his second wife, Swedish lawyer Nane Lagergren. They married in 1984.
Annan worked for the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, its Emergency Force in Egypt, and the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, before taking a series of senior posts at U.N. headquarters in New York dealing with human resources, budget, finance, and staff security.
He also had special assignments. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, he facilitated the repatriation from Iraq of more than 900 international staff and other non-Iraqi nationals, and the release of western hostages in Iraq. He led the initial negotiations with Iraq for the sale of oil in exchange for humanitarian relief.
Just before becoming secretary-general, Annan served as U.N. peacekeeping chief and as special envoy to the former Yugoslavia, where he oversaw a transition in Bosnia from U.N. protective forces to NATO-led troops.
The U.N. peacekeeping operation faced two of its greatest failures during his tenure: the Rwanda genocide in 1994, and the massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995.
In both cases, the U.N. had deployed troops under Annan's command, but they failed to save the lives of the civilians they were mandated to protect. Annan offered apologies, but ignored calls to resign by U.S. Republican lawmakers. After became secretary-general, he called for U.N. reports on those two debacles — and they were highly critical of his management.
As secretary-general, Annan forged his experiences into a doctrine called the "Responsibility to Protect," that countries accepted — at least in principle — to head off genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes.
Annan sought to strengthen the U.N.'s management, coherence and accountability, efforts that required huge investments in training and technology, a new whistleblower policy and financial disclosure requirements.
In 1998, he helped ease a transition to civilian rule in Nigeria and visited Iraq to try to resolve its impasse with the Security Council over compliance with weapons inspections and other matters. The effort helped avoid an outbreak of hostilities that seemed imminent at the time.
In 1999, he was deeply involved in the process by which East Timor gained independence from Indonesia, and started the "Global Compact" initiative that has grown into the world's largest effort to promote corporate social responsibility.
Annan was chief architect of what became known as the Millennium Development Goals, and played a central role in creating the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.N.'s first counter-terrorism strategy.
Annan's uncontested election to a second term was unprecedented, reflecting the overwhelming support he enjoyed from both rich and poor countries. Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, which disburses Ted Turner's $1 billion pledge to U.N. causes, hailed "a saint-like sense about him."
In 2005, Annan succeeded in establishing the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. But that year, the U.N. was facing almost daily attacks over allegations about corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq, bribery by U.N. purchasing officials and widespread sex abuse by U.N. peacekeepers — an issue that would only balloon in importance after he left office.
It emerged that Annan's son, Kojo, had not disclosed payments he received from his employer, which had a $10 million-a-year contract to monitor humanitarian aid under the oil-for-food program. The company paid at least $300,000 to Kojo so he would not work for competitors after he left.
An independent report criticized the secretary-general for being too complacent, saying he should have done more to investigate matters even if he was not involved with the awarding of the contract.
World leaders agreed to create an internal U.N. ethics office, but a major overhaul of the U.N.'s outdated management practices and operating procedures was left to Annan's successor, Ban Ki-moon.
Before leaving office, Annan helped secure a truce between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, and mediated a settlement of a dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi peninsula.
At a farewell news conference, Annan listed as top achievements the promotion of human rights, the fighting to close the gap between extreme poverty and immense wealth, and the U.N. campaign to fight infectious diseases like AIDS.
He never took disappointments and setbacks personally. And he kept his view that diplomacy should take place in private and not in the public forum.
In his memoir, Annan recognized the costs of taking on the world's top diplomatic job, joking that "SG," for secretary-general, also signified "scapegoat" around U.N. headquarters.
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke called Annan "an international rock star of diplomacy."
After leaving his high-profile U.N. perch, Annan didn't let up. In 2007, his Geneva-based foundation was created. That year he helped broker peace in Kenya, where election violence had killed over 1,000 people.
He also joined The Elders, an elite group of former leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, eventually succeeding Desmond Tutu as its chairman after a failed interlude trying to resolve Syria's rising civil war.
As special envoy to Syria in 2012, Annan won international backing for a six-point plan for peace. The U.N. deployed a 300-member observer force to monitor a cease-fire, but peace never took hold and Annan was unable to surmount the bitter stalemate among Security Council powers. He resigned in frustration seven months into the job, as the civil war raged on.
Annan continued to crisscross the globe. In 2017, his foundation's biggest projects included promotion of fair, peaceful elections; work with Myanmar's government to improve life in troubled Rakhine state; and battling violent extremism by enlisting young people to help.
He also remained a vocal commentator on troubles like the refugee crisis; promoted good governance, anti-corruption measures and sustainable agriculture in Africa; and pushed efforts in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.
Annan retained connections to many international organizations. He was chancellor of the University of Ghana, a fellow at New York's Columbia University, and professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
Annan is survived by his wife and three children. Funeral arrangements weren't immediately announced.
New Delhi, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — India's top leaders and politicians are visiting the New Delhi hospital where doctors say former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in critical condition after a prolonged illness.
Ninety-three-year-old Vajpayee has been hospitalized for more than two months after being admitted for treatment of a kidney infection and chest congestion. He suffered a stroke in 2009.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited him Wednesday night and Vice-President Venkiah Naidu on Thursday.
Vajpayee, a Hindu nationalist from the Bharatiya Janata Party, ordered nuclear weapons tests in 1988 that stoked fears of atomic war with rival Pakistan. But he later launched a groundbreaking peace process with Islamabad.
He served three times as India's prime minister; for 13 days in 1996, for 11 months from 1998 to 1999, and then from 1998 to 2004.
Dhaka, Aug 14 (UNB) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said Myanmar must accept Rohingyas because they are their citizens as they have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Mahathir blasted Myanmar's treatment of Rohingya Muslims and said he was "very disappointed" with leader Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to halt oppression of the group.
"It’s grossly unjust to do what they’ve done, killing people, mass murder, that's not the way civilized nations behave," Associated Press (AP) reported quoting the Malaysian Prime Minister.
During an interview on Monday with The AP, he commented on lopsided China-backed projects, treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, the South China Sea furor, a water treaty with Singapore and the country's financial mess.
AX CHINA-BACKED PROJECTS
Days before heading to Beijing for his first visit since his stunning electoral victory three months ago, Mahathir said Malaysia does not need a Chinese-backed $20 billion East Coast Rail Link and two energy pipelines worth $2.3 billion. The projects have been suspended pending renegotiation.
"We don't think they are viable. So, if we can, we would like to just drop the projects," Mahathir said.
If scrapping the projects altogether is not doable, Malaysia will need to put them on hold until the future, "where perhaps the need will arise," he added. Some of that money has already been paid and could be difficult to recoup.
STOP MILITARISING SOUTH CHINA SEA
Mahathir cautioned against further militarising the disputed South China Sea by reiterating his call for warships not to be permanently stationed there, warning it could cause an unhealthy "arms race."
"We’re all for ships, even warships, passing through, but not stationed here," he said. "It’s a warning to everyone. Don't create tension unnecessarily."
China claims much of the sea as its own and has built up several manmade islands and equipped them with runways, hangers, radar installations and missile stations to bolster its claim. It has accused the US, which routinely deploys warships and aircraft to the sea, of meddling in a purely Asian dispute. Chinese ships also patrol the sea.
STAYING OUT OF SAUDI CONFLICT
Mahathir said Malaysia wants to maintain a neutral stance and not be dragged into the Middle East conflict. His government has shut a Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre launched last year and plans to withdraw Malaysian troops from the kingdom.
"Saudi Arabia is at war. We don't want to be involved in any foreign war... we won’t be accused of helping any aggressive wars," he said, citing strikes by a Saudi-led coalition on Yemen and Saudi's conflict with Qatar.
FAIR TRIAL FOR NAJIB
Mahathir said the government will ensure a fair trial for former leader Najib Razak, who faces trial on multiple charges related to the alleged multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund.
"We promise that there’ll be no vengeance but the law will take its own course.... He’ll get a fair trial in this country," Mahathir said. But he added: "Najib is the main culprit. The world knows that Najib stole money."
Mahathir said fixing Malaysia's finances remains the key priority of the government, which will mark its 100 days in office this week.
"There may be a need for us to sell government assets to raise money to pay debts. That is the extent of Najib's wrongdoing," he said. This could include selling stakes in government-linked businesses and property, with a priority given to Malaysians,” he said.
SINGAPORE WATER DEAL
Mahathir said the price of raw water sold to Singapore should be increased by more than 10 fold. Under a decades-old water deal that expires in 2061, Malaysia sells raw water to Singapore at 3 sen ($0.0073) per thousand gallons and buys treated water at 50 sen ($0.12) per thousand gallons.
"Today 3 sen can buy nothing. I think every treaty needs to be revised because the cost of living changes," he said. "It won't make a dent in their finances just to give us a little bit of the money they’re making from us."
Southern Johor state sells raw water to another state at 30 sen ($0.073) per thousand gallons and that's a "charitable" price for a domestic deal, he said. "For a foreign country, we need to get more than that," Mahathir added, but declined to say what price Malaysia is seeking.
Mahathir, who has been accused of anti-Semitic views, said he was not against Jews but was criticizing their wrongdoing.
"There’s one race that cannot be criticised. If you are anti-Semitic, it seems almost as if you are a criminal ... anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things," Mahathir said.
"When somebody does wrong, I don't care how big they are. They may be powerful countries but if they do something wrong, I exercise my right of free speech. They criticize me, why can't I criticize them?" he said.
NO PERSONALITY CULT
Mahathir, the world's oldest elected leader at 93, said he doesn't care how history will judge him.
"Frankly, I don't care. I won't be around," he laughed. "When I’m dead, it doesn't matter anymore."
Mahathir said there are no roads, schools or buildings named after him in Malaysia except for a rare scholarship in his name.
"I don't allow a personality cult," he said. "If I want to be remembered, I can paint the whole country with my name. I don't care if people remember me or not."
Beni, Aug 14 (AP/UNB) — Congo's health ministry says a deadly Ebola outbreak has spread into Ituri province as a vaccination campaign in neighboring North Kivu province continues in the country's northeast.
The ministry is reporting 57 cases of hemorrhagic fever, 30 of them confirmed as Ebola and 27 listed as probable. Of 41 reported deaths, 14 have been confirmed as Ebola.
The ministry said Tuesday that a man who was treated for a heart attack in Mangina, where the outbreak was declared Aug. 1, returned home to Mandima in Ituri province just across the border. He has since died and tests confirm he had Ebola.
The outbreak response is challenged by the presence of several armed groups in the densely populated region close to the Uganda border.
Milan, Aug 14 (AP/UNB) — A bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed Tuesday in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 45 meters (nearly 150 feet) into a heap of rubble below. A transport official said at least 22 people were killed and eight injured in the tragedy.
A huge section of the Morandi Bridge collapsed over an industrial zone, sending tons of twisted steel and concrete debris onto warehouses below. Photos published by the Italian news agency ANSA showed a massive, empty gulf between two sections of the bridge.
Amalia Tedeschi, a firefighter, told RAI state TV that some 20 vehicles, including cars and trucks, were caught up as an 80-meter (260-foot) stretch of the bridge collapsed.
She said two people had been pulled alive from vehicles in the rubble. Officials said they were transported by helicopter to a hospital.
Edoardo Rixi, a transport official, told Sky TV that 22 were dead and 8 were injured in the collapse.
Video captured the sound of a man screaming: "Oh God! Oh, God!" Other images showed a green truck that had stopped just short of the gaping hole in the bridge and the tires of a tractor trailer in the rubble.
Firefighters told The Associated Press they were worried about gas lines exploding in the area from the collapse.
ANSA said authorities suspected that a structural weakness had caused the collapse, but there was no immediate explanation for what had happened.
Italy's transport minister, Danilo Toninelli, called the collapse "an enormous tragedy."
News agency ANSA said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will travel to Genoa later Tuesday. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said some 200 firefighters were responding to the accident.
"We are following minute by minute the situation of the bridge collapse in Genoa," Salvini said on Twitter.
The disaster occurred on a highway that connects Italy to France, and northern cities like Milan to the beaches of Liguria.
It came on the eve of a major Italian summer holiday on Wednesday called Ferragosto, which marks the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary. The day marks the high point of the Italian summer holiday season when most cities and business are closed and Italians head to the beaches or the mountains, which means traffic was heavier than usual on the Genoa highway.
The Morandi Bridge is a main thoroughfare connecting the A10 highway that goes toward France and the A7 highway that continues north toward Milan. Inaugurated in 1967, it is 45 meters (148 feet) high, just over a kilometer (.6 miles) long.
The collapse of the bridge comes eight days after another major accident on an Italian highway, one near the northern city of Bologna.
In that case, a tanker truck carrying a highly flammable gas exploded after rear-ending a stopped truck on the road and getting hit from behind itself. The accident killed one person, injured dozens and blew apart a section of a raised eight-lane highway.