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Venezuela, Guatemala battle for UN seat

Neither country emerged victorious in 10 rounds of voting in the UN General Assembly, despite heavy lobbying.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 15:46 IST

Venezuela was poised on Tuesday to press forward its fight for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council against US-backed rival Guatemala.

Neither country emerged victorious in 10 rounds of voting in the UN General Assembly on Monday, despite heavy lobbying from Venezuela's ambassador Francisco Arias Cardenas and, on the other side, US ambassador John Bolton pulling for Guatemala.

The country that prevails must have two-thirds support in the United Nations General Assembly -- about 125 votes, depending on the number abstentions among the 192 member states.

Guatemala led in all but one of the votes Monday, which was a tie. After the marathon session, UN General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain set further voting -- to resume at 10:00 am -- for Tuesday.

UN rules allow for indefinite rounds of voting. A previous battle between Cuba and Colombia lasted two months and 154 rounds.

It ended in January 1980 with the election of a third candidate, Mexico.

A loss would sting Venezuela's firebrand leader President Hugo Chavez, who recently used the UN General Assembly chamber as a platform to call US President George W Bush "the devil."

In remarks Sunday Chavez described winning the non-permanent seat as the centerpiece of his oil-rich nation's foreign policy, and accused Washington of "launching an all-out dirty war" in an attempt to block the bid.

Bolton was seen cornering General Assembly members Monday as he sought to obtain much-needed votes for Guatemala.

He also canceled a planned meeting with Bush to lobby against Venezuela's inclusion in the council.

Earlier, he said he was prepared for a long fight.

"It's very clear that there is a candidate with a strong predominant vote," he said after Guatemala won the first four rounds of voting.

But, he noted, it took 31 days to get a winner in the 2000 US presidential race.

"This has just begun," he said. Venezuela's ambassador dug in, too.

"With the example of the Vietnamese people (during the US war) how could we give up in a day?" Arias Cardenas said.

"With the example of the resistance of other peoples, the Korean people, how could we give up in a day?"

Guatemala's Foreign Minister Gert Rosenthal meanwhile resented Caracas's characterization of his country as tied to the US.

"We are an independent voice, as independent as one can be in an interdependent world," he said, noting that his small Central American country has no troops in Iraq and maintains diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Chavez, a thorn in the side of the Washington, has repeatedly said the United States wields too much power.

Washington fears that Chavez, who in his recent address to the UN General Assembly said the podium still "smelled of sulfur" after Bush had used it the day before, would be disruptive and oppose every US-led measure.

Venezuela and Guatemala are vying for Argentina's seat on the 15-member Council.

But since neither's bid won unanimous support from the Latin American and Caribbean regional group, it falls to the 192 members of the General Assembly to choose a winner by secret ballot.

Nepal and Indonesia were in the same situation this year as they faced off over the seat being vacated by Japan, which ultimately went to Jakarta.

The assembly also voted Belgium, Italy, and South Africa to take non-permanent seats currently held by Denmark, Greece and Tanzania.

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 members, including five veto-wielding permanent members -- China, United States, France, Britain and Russia -- and 10 non-permanent members, five of which are replaced every year.

The five non-permanent members which will serve until the end of 2007 are Congo, Ghana, Peru, Qatar and Slovakia.

First Published: Oct 17, 2006 15:46 IST