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At UN, Obama Inauguration Causes Work Halt, Jokes, More Gaza Confusion

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 20 -- Much of the UN in New York came to a halt for the inauguration of Barack Obama. In the Delegates' Lounge around a big screen TV a crowd gathered, including the Ambassadors of Switzerland, Rwanda, the Netherlands and Mauritania, where the same Permanent Representative remains from before the coup d'etat.

  As on the screen Joe Biden repeated lines from Justice John Paul Stevens, there was a smattering of applause in the UN Delegates' Lounge. It erupted when Obama, after stumbling, took the oath of office. "Finally," someone in the crowd exclaimed. Expectations in the UN are high, probably too high, as elsewhere.

  "America is a friend of each nation," Obama intoned, "ready to lead once more." But of what will such leadership consist? Already his Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has said the time is not right for UN Peacekeepers in Somalia, despite the chaos there. Obama's statements on Gaza have left many at the UN disappointed.

Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon in 2007, changes not yet seen

  As Obama spoke, General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann and his entourage passed by in the hall. Inner City Press went out and asked the PGA Spokesman about the January 16 vote on Gaza, in which Nicaragua and nine nations, including Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador and Indonesia, voted to sideline an Egyptian and European Union resolution about Gaza. This happens when you are caught in the middle, the spokesman said, promising to get back with answers directly from d'Escoto.

    Indonesia's Ambassador had stopped to speak with d'Escoto. Inner City Press stopped him as well, expressing surprising at seeing Indonesia in the Axis of Ten. He laughed and said his votes are not based on how others vote, but the situation on the ground. When asked about Obama, he laughed again. Previously he noted to Inner City Press how popular Obama is in his country, based on living their for a time as a child.

  Walking by in the hall in the middle of Obama's speech were, among others, the Ambassadors of Ghana and Burkina Faso; arriving late were their counterparts from Costa Rica and Morocco. Down in the UN's basement in the NGO Committee -- which continued meeting during the inauguration -- a human rights NGO is under attack by Algeria for its human rights complaints. The US representative on the Committee told Inner City Press on January 19 that he is waiting from instructions from Washington, for what will now be a January 23 vote. Will the instructions change, based on Obama's entry?

   Rwanda's Ambassador stayed past the end of the inauguration, the poem, the flash of Bill Clinton looking like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. A cynic from West Africa sidled up, commenting on the tableau of the Obama and Bush couples. "The Angels and the Devil," he said, "except this time the angel is black and the Devil is white."

  Inner City Press asked Kigali's envoy about the current assault on the remaining Hutu rebels in the Congo. Is the UN Mission involved? Yes, he said, on the side of the Congolese government. At Tuesday's UN "noon" briefing, held early in deference to Obama, spokesperson Michele Montas had told Inner City Press the Mission, MONUC, is not involved at all.

  The Bushes got on the helicopter which rose into the air. "Do you know where they're going?" the cynic asked. Inner City Press and the Rwandan Ambassador waited to hear.  The answer came, "Guantanamo Bay."

Click here for Inner City Press' news analysis earlier on Tuesday about what the incoming Obama Administration may mean for top UN officials from the US, particularly UNICEF's Ann Veneman. A press conference by her would seem in order.

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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 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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