by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Buoyed by strong endorsements from western and African leaders, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has refused to cave in to demands by U.S. conservatives seeking his premature ouster from office.
Asked for his response to "people calling for his resignation," Annan told reporters Tuesday: "I have quite a lot of work to do and I'm carrying on with my work."
The UN chief said he has a "major agenda for next year," including the reform of the world body and a summit meeting of world leaders to discuss poverty eradication. "So we will carry on," he added.
Asked whether this meant he is "definitely" not resigning, Annan said pointedly: "I think you heard my answer."
The secretary-general's decision to resist U.S. right-wing pressure has been strengthened by strong support from President Jacques Chirac of France, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain.
Both Chirac and Schroeder sent him "a message of friendship and support for his work in the service of peace, development and UN reform."
Perhaps the strongest western endorsement came from Blair, who said Monday: "I believe Kofi Annan is doing a fine job as UN secretary-general, often in very difficult circumstances."
"I very much hope that he is allowed to get on with his job without criticism that I think, if people analyse it for a moment, they will see it is unfair," he added.
Bush, on the other hand, has refused to offer Annan a vote of confidence. When asked last week whether the UN chief should step down, Bush would only say: "I look forward to the full disclosure of the facts, a good, honest appraisal of that which went on."
"It's important for the organization to have a full and open disclosure of all that took place with the 'oil-for-food' program," he added.
Demands for Annan's resignation have been prompted primarily by allegations of bribery and mismanagement of the now-defunct, UN-supervized oil-for-food program, under which former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is accused of collecting more than $21 billion in illegal oil revenues.
The program is currently under investigation by the UN Independent Inquiry Committee, which was created by the Security Council and is chaired by former U.S. Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Paul Volcker. The committee is expected to release its preliminary findings in January 2005.
The secretary-general's son, Kojo Annan, is also under scrutiny because of his links to a Swiss company that had contracts with the United Nations.
In an editorial titled 'Destroying the UN,' the London 'Financial Times' pointed out last week that the oil-for-food program was "devised and run" by the 15-member UN Security Council, of which the United States is a veto-wielding, permanent member.
All of the nearly 36,000 contracts were approved by a council committee dominated by the United States and Britain, not by the UN Secretariat headed by Annan, it added.
(The secretary-general is usually considered the UN's chief administrative officer and a servant to the Security Council, the world body's most senior decision-making arm).
"There was not one objection about oil-pricing scams, although UN officials brought these to the attention of the committee on no fewer than 70 occasions," the editorial said.
The Times added that the "lynch mob" in the U.S. Congress and right-wing newspaper commentators demanding Annan's head are not really gunning for the secretary-general "so much as aiming to destroy the United Nations as an institution."
Many observers see the campaign as the Bush administration's retaliation over Annan's comment that the U.S. war against Iraq was "illegal."
The remark, which the secretary-general made weeks before the U.S. presidential election Nov. 2, was interpreted as Annan's attempt to inject himself into the election campaign.
Annan has also refused to permit UN employees to take a larger role in elections scheduled for January in Iraq, primarily because of the deteriorating security situation.
The White House was also unhappy about a warning he issued in November against a military attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which Annan said would result in the deaths of civilians.
UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard said last week that "everything on oil-for-food is being looked at by Mr Volcker. So, we're not going to talk about that until Volcker finishes his work. And as for judgement calls, I think it's much wiser to wait for the full investigation to be completed before allocating blame."
The demand for Annan to step down is being orchestrated by Republican Senator Norm Coleman, who chairs the Senate's permanent subcommittee conducting a parallel probe into the oil-for-food program.
"As long as Mr Annan remains in charge (of the United Nations)," Coleman said, "the world will never be able to learn the full extent of the bribes, kickbacks and under-the-table payments that took place under the UN's collective nose."
But most of the 191 UN member states, still simmering over Washington's decision to invade Iraq without Security Council endorsement, will reject any U.S. moves against Annan.
"Any U.S. stand perceived as anti-UN will therefore not have the support of the majority of states," says one Asian diplomat.
The 54 African countries have already come out in support of Annan, a national of Ghana. The 116-member Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), the largest single political grouping at the United Nations, is expected to follow suit.
At an "extraordinary session" of its executive council in Addis Ababa Monday, the 54-member African Union (AU) expressed "great concern" over the "campaign of calumny" being orchestrated against the secretary-general.
"The AU executive council expresses its unshaken confidence in the UN secretary-general, who has consistently demonstrated great commitment to the ideals of the United Nations and a determination to reposition it in the globalizing world in which multilateralism should be anchored on shared responsibility and joint management of global affairs," the AU said.
The executive council added it firmly believes in the "integrity and capability of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to continue his leadership of the United Nations until the end of his term of office" in December 2006.
Annan also has the backing of UN employees, who have protested "unfounded allegations against the UN and the secretary-general."
As of Tuesday, over 4,400 staff members had signed a letter that says many of the accusations against Annan are totally unfounded and "verge on the hysterical."
"In such a poisoned atmosphere, it is imperative that UN staff members stand together and not play into the hands of critics who would like to destabilise the organization from within," adds the letter.
"More than ever, we support the secretary-general in his balanced, fair and substantive approach. We also express our determination to continue to improve the workings and effectiveness of this organization," it said.
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