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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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Big Eyes Over the Railing, Kouchner on Burma, on War, on the Press, Gbagbo and Lebanon

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 27 -- French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, mad at the press for what he calls misquotes of his comments about war and Iran, Thursday leaned over the railing at the UN Security Council stakeout and said the threat of war was made by the press, not him. "You threaten me because of your big mustache and your big eyes," Kouchner said, making a bug-eye gesture as he leaned into the camera. "I'm not threatened by you! I said that the worse is war, that the worst would be war. Why did you cut the two words?" Behind him, spokesman Axel Cruau gestured to the UN TV cameraman to stop filming.  But Kouchner continued. Video here, from Minute 14:33. Inner City Press asked about Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo's statement on September 26 that he has already agreed with Ban Ki-moon on who the next UN envoy to Abidjan will be, and Gbagbo's call for French troops to leave the Ivory Coast.

            "French soldiers don't have the vocation to remain in Cote d'Ivoire eternally," Kouchner said. "But Mr. Gbagbo, he has the vocation of holding elections, controlled and well organized. Both of those are true."

            [At Thursday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe about Gbagbo's statement that he and Ban have already selected the new envoy. "I have nothing to announce at this time," Ms. Okabe said. Video here. Inner City Press also asked for confirmation that the UN Department of Public Information has followed through and sent a complaint to the French mission about their open exclusion of non-French journalists from Sarkozy's press conference on September 25. Ms. Okabe mentioned a conversation with the correspondent's group, of which Inner City Press is apart. But the complaint must be directed to the French, and by the UN not just correspondents. We'll see.]

Bernard Kouchner at the stakeout, before he dove into the crowd

            After Bernard Kouchner's stakeout, several reporters said he's crazy, but we need more excitement at the UN. Another wondered how long it will be before Kouchner and President Sarkozy have a falling-out, "since they're both crazy." One wag pointed out the difference: Sarkozy broke UN rules to keep the non-French press away from his briefing, while Kouchner reached over the stakeout railing to get closer to the press.

   One UN photographer called Kouchner "passionate," noting how he reached into the crowd to grab a reporter's cell phone to look up an article about ASEAN's statement earlier on Thursday directed at the Myanmar military government. The statement was issued in Conference Room 8 in the UN's basement, outside of which a gaggle of mostly Japanese press waited, some focused on the shooting death by the Myanmar military of Japanese photographer, Kenji Nagai, 50, working for AFP News.

            Across the street from the UN, at a demonstration on 47th Street for democracy in Burma, monks chanted and others held signs saying "Send UN Force, Save Burma" and UN Security Council, Take Action." [Also on Thursday, Council president Jean-Maurice Ripert and Ban Ki-moon received a formal request for action from a group of monks, stating that the "UN Security Council also has a responsibility to protect the people who are brutalized by their own government, according to the UNSC resolution 1674 (2006) and the 2005 World Summit Outcome's paragraph 138-140."] A photographer uploaded shots of the demonstration from a laptop inside the glass-fronted Milkshake Lounge. UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, it was said at noon, was still in the air flying to "the region." At deadline, in belated response to a question Inner City Press at both Wednesday's and Thursday's noon briefings about Ban Ki-moon's meeting Wednesday with Burma's foreign minister, the UN said that the foreign minister told Ban that "the Secretary-General's Special Envoy will be welcomed by the Myanmar government." We'll see.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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

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