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From the UN, Fireworks Are Close But Far, Delegates-Only by the East River

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 4 -- As dusk descended on New York City, crowds surged east on 42nd Street toward the river. People stood packed, standing room only, on the highway.

   Behind barricades, the UN's campus looked more spacious. A few dozen people sat on blankets on a lawn under the UN's satellite dish. When even UN staff tried to join them, the path was blocked by security guards. "It's only VIPs and delegates," one said.

    Guards periodically scanned the glass-faced building above for staffers who had dared open their windows, against the instructions over the P.A. system from the UN Fire Unit. These instructions grew more insistent as the show began, and the waft of gunpowder spread.

    Staff members of the UN were allowed to use their offices, and to bring in two guests apiece. There was a brisk trade in these red guest tickets. "Check E-Bay," one staffer advised.

            Given the high percentage not only of diplomats but also of UN staff who come from other countries, the connection to U.S. Independence Day was a subject of discussion. A staffer, from Albania, decided to view the fireworks from elsewhere. "My husband works at Riverside," she said, gesturing south to 26th Street. "I prefer to watch from there."

            The top two UN officials were not at Headquarters, either. Ban Ki-moon was in Geneva, praising corporations (click here for that), and Asha-Rose Migiro was en route back from the African Union summit in Accra, by way of Nairobi and the seemingly-rote visit to the Kibiro slum. With UN-Habitat based, like UNEP, in Nairobi, along with the UN's Somalia staff who are still not in the country, it might seem improvements could be made. But the visits continue, the snapshots in Millennium Development Goal reports, the sound bytes. It's almost as the South Bronx has been: a symbol, a shorthand, more than a place.

This is not New York: Mr. Ban in Rome, July 3, 2007

   As it turned out, the night was so foggy and the fireworks so over-done that many of them could not be seen, only heard. Back to the drawing board...

Sample muffled firework as seen through cellphone

            A few miles north of the UN, in the South Bronx the fireworks were unofficial, fusillades set up on street corners, fiery until the police cars come. An 18-wheel tractor trailer of fireworks was seized last week in The Bronx, based on an anonymous tip. Such tips are being discouraged at the UN, where recently a whistleblower about the UN Development Program's activities in North Korea sought the protection of the UN Ethics Office -- and two weeks later was put on a watch list, not to be allowed to enter the UN's building from First Avenue.

            The UN is in New York, but not of it. To be continued.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540