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Iraq, Sudan Top UN General Assembly Debate


Conflicts in Iraq and Sudan dominated Wednesday's U.N. General Assembly debate. VOA's Margaret Besheer reports from our U.N. bureau in New York.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the assembly that his country lived isolated from the rest of the world for 35 years under Saddam Hussein's regime. He says today Iraq has a multi-party system, free speech, free elections and democratic institutions. Mr. Maliki says terrorists are targeting this progress.

"Terrorism kills civilians, journalists, actors, thinkers and professionals. It attacks universities, marketplaces and libraries. It blows up mosques and churches and destroys the infrastructure of state institutions," he said.

He warned that terrorism aims at ending the political process and igniting sectarian discord. Mr. Maliki said his government is committed to stamping out terrorism in Iraq so it does not spread to other countries around the world, and he pointed to success in combating al-Qaida in Iraq's western Anbar province.

"The terrorists fled from it to face a defeat, this time in the Diyala Province. Thus, al-Qaida is losing its safe havens, one after the other," he said.

Conflict in Africa also took center stage. The president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, told the body that wars on that continent cost too many innocent lives and drive the spread of poverty and disease. He singled out the situation in Darfur.

"Concerted efforts are needed to bring that conflict to an end. In this respect, we welcome the Security Council decision to deploy a peacekeeping mission in Darfur and call upon all our brothers and sisters in the Sudan to work together to find a lasting political settlement," he said.

But not all leaders chose to discuss regional and international concerns. The President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the foreign minister of Cuba, both devoted large parts of their speeches to denouncing President Bush and U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Mugabe criticized both the U.S. and British governments for calling for regime change in his country.

"They seek regime change. They seek regime change, not my people, but they think they are entitled to change governments, placing themselves in the role of the Zimbabwean people in whose collective will democracy places the right to define and change regimes. Let these sinister governments be told here and now that Zimbabwe will not allow a regime change authored by outsiders," he said.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister of Cuba, Felipe Pérez Roque, who represented his government in the absence of the ailing leader Fidel Castro, concluded his remarks with a diatribe against President Bush calling him "bossy" and "menacing."

Mr. Bush addressed the assembly on Tuesday and touched on Cuba, saying "the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end." That comment prompted the walk out of the Cuban delegation.

Wednesday, the U.S. delegation was not present in the assembly hall for the Cuban foreign minister's speech, during which he referred to Mr. Bush's behavior Tuesday as "shameful and rude."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was scheduled to speak Wednesday, but cancelled his trip to New York, saying he was too busy at home.

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