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UN Elects Panama as New Member of Security Council


Panama has been elected to a U.N. Security Council seat that had been the object of a bitter battle between Venezuela and Guatemala. The election came on the 48th ballot.

The General Assembly broke into applause when President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa announced that weeks of stalemate had been broken.

"Having obtained the required two-thirds majority, and the largest number of votes, Panama is elected a member of the Security Council for a two-year term beginning on first January 2007," she said.

Panama had emerged as a compromise candidate last week after Venezuela and Guatemala agreed to withdraw. During 47 rounds of voting over more than two weeks, each side had shown enough strength to block the other from winning, but neither side had enough to win.

The campaign had been highly politicized, with the United States openly campaigning against Venezuela's candidacy. U.S. diplomats argued that Venezuela's leftist government, led by anti-American President Hugo Chavez, would be a disruptive influence on the Council.

In a speech to the annual General Assembly debate in September, Mr. Chavez had referred to President Bush as "the devil".

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton described Washington's intervention in the race as "extraordinary."

"It has been our traditional posture not to intervene in the internal discussions of the regional groups, and our position on Guatemala and Venezuela was extraordinary because of the risk of disruption to the Council that we saw Venezuela bringing," said Bolton. "That risk is apparently now being removed, so we will ratify the decision on Panama and move ahead from there."

Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, Francisco Arias Cardenas, said after the vote that he did not consider the outcome a defeat. He spoke to the Assembly through an interpreter.

"We would prefer to say that we would not like to speak of losers and defeat, but there must be lessons learned from these 46 rounds of balloting in the General Assembly," noted Cardenas. "For the big countries, it should be clear that they cannot impose, that the Assembly will not accept imposition, and it exercises its freedom in democracy."

Panama will replace Argentina on the Council. Peru holds the other elected Latin American seat on the 15-member body.

In other regional elections last month, Italy and Belgium were elected without opposition to European seats, replacing Greece and Denmark. Indonesia easily beat back a challenge by Nepal for an Asian seat, currently held by Japan, and South Africa was unopposed for an African seat being vacated by Tanzania.

The United States, Britain, France, China and Russia are permanent Council members. Ghana, Congo, Qatar and the Slovak republic hold the other elected seats.

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