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UN to Drill Asbestos in Reporters' Offices, Using Negative Pressure

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 7 -- At the UN a "Notice of Asbestos Abatement" has gone up, announcing that drilling for asbestos pipe insulation will be conducted from January 8 through 10 on even numbers floors of the Secretariat tower facing the East River.

  While the slated $2 billion Capital Master Plan renovation has begun, there are still people working in the building. On the 5th floor, for example, the UN's Medical Service remains in place, because its "swing space" on Second Avenue, above a liquor store, is not yet ready.

  On the fourth floor some journalists remain. The outside Verizon telephone lines have not been moved to the cubicles above the library, the so-called whistleblower free zone where all phone conversation can be heard. Remaining facing the River are the New York Times, AP and Inner City Press.

  On January 6 a team of UN officials and contractors came into Inner City Press' office, using their key, and said they would return from January 8 to 10. They will, according to an official, move desks and install a "little house" of sheet plastic. They will drill throw the wall to a metal pipe, from which they will remove asbestos. They say it will be safe, because the plastic house "will use negative pressure."

  The goal is to build an elevator outside the building. It will be fastened with steel in through the windows (which will be replaced with plywood). Many say the UN should have waited until the Secretariat Building was actually empty, or should have planned better the availability of swing space, including with relocated Verizon lines.

UN's Ban packs and leaves 38th floor, remaining reporters and asbestos not shown

  This is, however, the UN. Although in New York, it claims exemption from local laws. It is immunte from lawsuits and health and safety regulation. Hence the drilling for asbestos in reporters' offices, right down the hall from what's now the UN's cafeteria. Inner City Press will remain reporting from these conditions as long as it can. Watch this site.

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At UN, Staff Complain to Ban of Asbestos, Freezing Swing Space, No WiFi

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 -- With Secretary General Ban Ki-moon having moved out of UN Headquarters' 38th floor over to the roof of the building called a temporary "Wal-Mart," problems have arising with staff unions and the UN's other "swing space."

  While the New York Staff Union has complained about asbestos work slated for January 8 on floor on which people are still working, the UN's other unions have written to Mr. Ban to complain about his non-implementation of continuing contracts. See SMCC letter to Mr. Ban, Ms. Migiro, Mr. Nambiar, Ms. Kane, Mr. Kim and Ms. Pollard, obtained by Inner City Press and put online here.

  Meanwhile, UN staff working in the Albano Building swing space on 46th Street have received a critical memo from Under Secretary General Shaaban Shaaban. Complaints from those working in Albano have ranged from freezing temperatures to broiling heat.

   Shaaban Shaaban, citing Michael Adlerstein of the Capital Master Plan, essentially blames the staff members for these conditions. He accuses them of leaving windows open, of using fire stairs to smoke, and with fiddling with radiators. If you were freezing, what would you do? Inner City Press obtained Shaaban Shaaban's memo and puts it online here.

Team Ban and George Mitchell in new building, lack of heat and WiFi not shown

  Inner City Press ventured again Tuesday to the new North Lawn building, in search of answers not provided in what's left in Headquarters. There is still no wireless internet in the new building. Somehow it seems that this could and should all have been planned better. Watch this site.

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At UN, China Takes Few Questions, ECOWAS Unheeded on Guinea, Myanmar Waits

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 -- As China takes over the UN Security Council presidency for the month of January, at the customary program of work press conference, its Permanent Representative Zhang Yesui took only six questions -- four topics and two follow ups -- and barely answered them.

 One of the questions was from Chinese state owned media Xinhua and was a softball. What is China's thinking in choosing to hold its thematic debate about regional organizations -- including the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- and how can regional organizations help maintain stability?

  Ambassador Zhang Yesui, seeming entirely prepared for the question, said that often regional organizations know more about the problems that they deal with. He cited the African Union's work on Sudan, and later Somalia -- although that doesn't seem to be going so well -- but he might have mentioned ASEAN and its "hands off Myanmar" stance.

  Some analysts believe that China's and the U.S.'s increasing use of regional organization reflects that militarily dominant countries, not wanting the UN to criticize what they do, from Xinjiang to Afghanistan, like to limit the Security Council's jurisdiction. One test of this will be whether the U.S., up in arms about Yemen, raises the matter at the Security Council.

  Ambassador Zhang Yesui was asked if China thinks that "moderate Taliban in Afghanistan" should be spoken with. He replied that "internal affairs of a state should be determined by its people."

  Surprising, then, that China goes along however reluctantly with the Council's statements on Myanmar, urging the military junta to engage with the opposition and free Aung San Suu Kyi. China, of course, has just imposed an 11 year sentence on Liu Xiaobo. No questions on this, however, were taken at the briefing.

  Ambassador Zhang Yesui said there has been progress with North Korea -- his American counterpart Susan Rice says the same. Kim Jong Il is reportedly headed to Beijing. Meanwhile, the Indian miltary has spoken darkly of "two front" preparations for Pakistan and China, but this rattling of nuclear sabres was not mentioned in the press conference. It's a regional thing.

At UN, President Hu, ECOWAS views not shown

  In the program of work's footnotes is the phrase "Peace consolidation in West Africa." While no question on this was taken, one assumes this means Guinea, the massacre of September 28 and the resulting UN report. A Presidential Statement is being prepared.

  While China may go along with it, China signed a business deal with the junta soon after the massacre. This contradicted the stance of the regional organization, ECOWAS. What was that again, about respect for regional organizations? Watch this site.

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In UN Council, Iran and Guinea But Not Yemen Discussed by Five New Members

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 -- In the UN's nearly empty building, 2010 dawned at the Security Council with January's president China serving breakfast and giving photo albums to the other Council members, five of them new this month.

  One of the five outgoing countries pointedly asked, at the Council retreat for the new members, what is the function of the ten non-permanent members, other than to legitimize the decisions of the Permanent Five?

   Croatia, to pick one example, accomplished nearly nothing during its two year stint. (Perhaps explanatory, its Permanent Representative left in scandal, diverting Mission funds for gambling in Las Vegas.)

  Of the incoming members, many are watching Brazil, given its rising power and the outspokenness of President Lula. In late 2009, Brazil wrote a letter to the Council about the safety of its embassy in Honduras, into which the deposed Manuel Zelaya took refuge.

  A Council source told Inner City Press on Tuesday morning that this will have to be reviewed, along with other outstanding items from 2009.

  Amid the clanking of breakfast dishes, various Council members spun the Press on their topics of interest. A Presidential Statement is in the works about the September massacres in Guinea, a "hot issues, on the hot burner," the PRST's drafter gushed.

  On Iran, a well placed Council member said the country's failure to be responsive to the Sanctions Committees letter was helping to build the case for further sanctions. "If there's no regime change before then," quipped another member.

Around the Horseshoe Table, one perm perm rep and reform not shown

  The critical outgoing member has questioned why the Council's Committees are only chaired by non-permanent members. Is it a mark of respect, or of the P-5 trying not to dominate? Or, because the work is large administrative and conducted by lower level bureaucrats, is chairing the committees beneath the P-5 Permanent Representatives?

  Of these five, only four were seen on Tuesday. Missing was the U.S.'s Susan Rice. The U.S. has, some say, thus staked out a position above the over Permanent Four. Now in 2010, will the U.S. which says it wants to use the UN be raising the issue of Yemen? Watch this site.

  Also on the U.S. Mission, at the UN barely a word has been said about the flame out in scandal and withdrawal of the nomination of former Goldman Sachs executive Jide J. Zeitlin to head the Mission's UN reform efforts. Who's next?

Media footnote: while the Council is usually off-limits to the UN press corps, on Tuesday morning the bureau chief of China's state owned Xinhua came smiling out of the breakfast. With human rights issues like Myanmar, Iran, Sudan and Guinea on the Council's agenda, some wonder how China can be an honest broker. We'l be covering this, and secondarily any honest brokering with the press.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

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

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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