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As Obama Is Booed at Fundraiser, Chinese-Only Briefing, Sri Lanka Protest, MDGs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 22 -- The diplomatic action moved outside of the UN on Wednesday night, as the MDG Summit ended with a whimper.

  Journalists in the UN Media Center were told they'd have to leave a half hour after the General Assembly session stopped, so that power could be turned off and checked after Tuesday's power outage which canceled the press conference of the Middle East Quartet.

  Inner City Press set sail out to Lexington Avenue, where in the first floor Stuyvesant Room of the Marriott Hotel it had been invited to cover a press conference by the Press Center of the Chinese Delegation. Inside there were perhaps a dozen reporters, all Chinese. The moderator asked, “Do we have to do this in English?”

  US President Obama, meanwhile, went to the Roosevelt Hotel to raise money. He was booed by AIDS activist and a man chanting about “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” There was a $15,200 dinner with Presidential “photo reception.” Present were Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel, as well as Barbara Streisand and James Brolin.

Earlier in the day on 47th Street and First Avenue, Tamils bussed in from Canada held pictures of bodies charred in the Sri Lankan government's “bloodbath on the beach” of May 2009. They spoke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's slow to begin panel of experts, hoping that it might expand its mandate and do justice. One hope they aren't holding their breaths.

UN's Ban and US' Obama, power outage not shown

  They spoke of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, staying in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in a surprisingly large number of rooms. Over at the Waldorf, an entire side street was shut down, as diplomats from smaller countries milled around looking for restaurants and other entertainment.

  The “debate” on the MDG Summit outcome document continued in the General Assembly past 9 pm, with Observers speaking about conservation, the Order of Malta, democracy and even the Olympics. Only at the UN. 

  What will be accomplished at Friday's Sudan meeting? What will be said at Iranian President Ahmadinejad's press conference, now re-scheduled for Friday at 11 am at the Warwick Hotel on 54th Street and Sixth Avenue? Watch this site.

Footnote: again in Wednesday, many press conference and stakeouts were unceremoniously canceled. Chile's new President Pinera canceled his presser, such that questions of the Mapuche could not be raised.

  Ukraine's President Yanukovych changed his stakeout from 7 pm to 6 pm then canceled it, allowing for no questions about the IMF, EU or beaten journalist Furmanyuk in Donetsk. Then again, the Middle East Quartet canceled a much larger press conference, due to the power outage. At Wednesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: On the switch question about power lines. I mean, I understand things happen.

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Yes, they do.

Inner City Press: But given that the building is totally brand new and quite a bit of money was spent building it, is there some reaction from the UN that on probably its most important day so far in the new building, that such a thing could happen; that the Quartet press conference would be cancelled? I mean what steps are being taken to find out? Is there some recouping of money from Skanska, or who made the mistake that led to the cancellation of the Quartet press conference?

Spokesperson: Well, let’s look at the big picture here, Matthew. Yes, it was not desirable that the journalists who had been expecting a press conference were disappointed that the press conference did not take place. But there were many other meetings that were taking place in that building at that time where people were working without microphones in some cases; meetings that had already started and continued after the power failed. So, it’s a bigger picture. Nobody is thrilled that, as you say, yesterday of all days that there was a technical glitch of that kind. And I know that people are looking into this. It was a short-circuit — if you want to get technical — in a major circuit breaker box, and there was also a failure in a rented back-up generator. And the short-circuit was caused by a cable with damaged insulation. And I can tell you that people were working from when this first happened, at 1:20 p.m., working very hard to solve this and to fix it, and power was eventually restored throughout by 8:00 in the evening. So, people…

Inner City Press: [inaudible]

Spokesperson: I never was very good at do-it-yourself, so I don’t know the details. But on your specific point, we can ask CMP, the Capital Master Plan people, what the score is.

What is the score? Watch this site.

* * *

On MDGs, UN's Ban Won't Comment on Debt, Tax Havens or Zapatero Dodging Kagame

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 22 -- With the Millennium Development Goals having been discussed at the UN for three days, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to respond to a critique that the MDGs look only at the symptom and not causes of poverty. UN transcript here and below.

  Over $500 billion is owned by poor countries in foreign debt. Over $124 billion a year flow through offshore tax havens. Inner City Press asked Ban about both of these.

  Ban said “those issues which you raised have been the subjects which have been discussed in the international community. I think it's not appropriate for me to discuss those matters here at this time.” If not now, during the MDG Summit, when?

Earlier on Wednesday, when it suddenly became clear that questions would be taken at the meeting of Ban's MDG Advocacy Group, Inner City Press ran from the UN correspondents' area over the library, through the garage and a metal detector check, through the General Assembly lobby and media room, only to be stopped by security. Armed with a floor pass, Inner City Press proceeded, reaching the ECOSOC chamber ten minutes before the Q&A session ended.

  But Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky shook his head, running his finger across his throat, it's over. Nevertheless he called on Jeffrey Sachs to issue a duplicative answer to a question.

  When Inner City Press wanted to asking, as well as about debt and money laundering, was the sudden departure of co-chair Zapatero of Spain. In the first Advocacy Group meeting in Madrid, Zapatero refused to meet with his co-chair Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who is being sued in Spain for war crimes.

This time, Zapatero left to return to business in Madrid. Nesirky did not allow the question during the Advocacy Group's media availability. At noon in the briefing room, he told Inner City Press to asked the Spanish Mission about Zapatero's departure.

  But can Ban's and the UN's MDG Advocacy Group function with two co-chair who won't meet? Watch this space.

UN's Ban and Zapatero, Kagame & answers on debt & tax havens not shown

Footnote: Inner City Press asked Michelle Bachelet about the Advocacy Group, in which she served until being named head of UN Women. Bachelet dodged on the Zapatero Kagame relationship, as well as on Inner City Press' question if she would finally bring zero tolerance to sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers. Watch this site.

From the UN's transcription of September 22:

Inner City Press: On the MDGs, there's a criticism made by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr. [Olivier] de Schutter, where he says that the MDGs may be just treating the symptoms. He points to things like off-shore tax havens, and the ability of leaders to take money out of their countries, and he points to debt relief, the debt service by poor countries adding up to about $500 billions. So he says that there is danger of focussing on charity as opposed to structural things that hurt poor countries. I wanted to have your response to that, also, one thing I noticed this morning is that, of your two co-chairs, Mr. Zapatero left. I know that in Madrid, the two didn't meet because of sort of war crimes and other issues. Have those issues been resolved and could the two men work together to promote MDG Advocacy Group?

SG Ban: There should be no mix-up between development and politics. Prime Minister Zapatero explained to me two days ago that because of his very urgent domestic issues, he had to go back. That I understood. Because, every leader, they may have certain domestic issues on which they have to put priority. The MDG Advocacy Group meeting today was, I think, a great success. You have seen such a strong commitment among, not only MDG advocates, champions, but all other leaders participating in that. And for other matters, I think all those issues which you raised have been the subjects which have been discussed in the international community. I think it's not appropriate for me to discuss those matters here at this time.

* * *

With Pakistan Blocked by IMF from Debt Relief, EU Stalls GPS+, Ripert Dodges Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 19 -- As at the UN countries jostled to give speeches about past contributions to Pakistan, Inner City Press asked UK International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell about the IMF's requirement that Pakistan not seek any relief of its $500 million a year in debt payments in exchange for a $450 million loan.

Mitchell responded that Pakistan's debt service is “only 3% of its gross national income.” He said he was sure negotiations would continue on the debt.

But a letter submitted to the IMF on September 10 by State Bank Governor Shahid Hafiz Kardar and Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh committed, at the IMF's demand

To make sure Pakistan’s international trade and financial relations continue to function normally, we will not impose any restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions nor introduce any trade restrictions or enter into any bilateral payment agreements that are inconsistent with Article VIII of the Fund’s Articles of Agreement.”

Inner City Press asked Pakistan's foreign minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi about this, and he replied that his country's finance minister is speaking with the World Bank, the IMF and Asia Development Bank and he is “sure he will take it [debt relief] up with them at the appropriate time.”

But he and the country appear precluded from taking it up, by the IMF's own demands.

Inner City Press also asked Mitchell about whether the EU will grant Pakistan GSP Plus trade benefits. Mitchell made much of his Prime Minister Cameron pushing for this, but the EU has yet to move on it, reportedly due to protectionist opposition by France, Italy, Poland and Portugal (which is seeking a UN Security Council seat). It was impossible to ask the EU, as Catherine Ashton unceremoniously canceled her scheduled stakeout.

To the side of Minister Lectureship’s stakeout, against his will, stood UN envoy Jean-Maurice Ripert. He had refused to speak to the Press outside the General Assembly's pledging session on Pakistan, and this time had to be summoned after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left without taking questions, due to the need to swear in Michelle Bachelet at the head of UN Women.

Inner City Press asked Ripert, by name, to explain his and the UN's failure to push for humanitarian access to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas including Waziristan. Ripert tried to get OCHA's Valerie Amos to answer in his stead, but Inner City Press said Ms. Amos had already taken the question last week. (Ms. Amos later on Monday introduced and praised her previous UK colleague Andrew Mitchell in a way some correspondents found noteworthy, “like Le Roy and the French,” one said.)

Ripert came to the microphone and offered nothing but praise for the government, then referred to “security issues,” saying it is “quite normal that the UN has to discuss with the government” issues of access.

Qureshi with Ripert in a previously life, IMF and Ripert's dodges not shown

Just like UNAMID has not had access in Darfur to parts of Jebel Marra since February, the UN and NGOs have been denied access to Wazirstan. And what has the UN and Ripert done?

Footnote: Ripert has been avoiding the Press for days. On September 17, greeted by Inner City Press, he scowled and walked away, smoking a long white cigarette. Later he was seen chatting euphorically on his cell phone in the UN's Vienna Cafe. On Sunday evening he was on CNN International saying that the floods have impacted an area “as large as Italy.” Some in the Pakistani press corps have stories of Ripert in the Alps -- others say Geneva -- but everywhere but Pakistan. Watch this site.

 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.

* * *

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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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