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Race for Unesco's top post tightens

13 October 2017

Faced with him, without being from Serail, former minister of Culture of François Hollande, Audrey Azoulay, 45 years, where, passed by Court of Auditors, National Film Centre (CNC) and Elysée, has no less all its chances.

On Thursday, just before the final round of votes, the USA said it planned to pull out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization citing among other things its anti-Israel bias.

Israel itself announced shortly afterwards that it would follow suit.

The victor must be approved by UNESCO's 195 member states in November, though this is seen as a formality.

However, a US-led boycott by Gulf countries accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism and keeping close ties with Iran could hamper his chances.

Khattab was competing for votes from UNESCO's executive board against France's Audrey Azoulay, for a place in the final run-off vote against Qatari candidate Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari.

There have been four rounds of voting already and another two are expected to produce a victor on Friday.

In the face of Arab divisions, France has presented Azoulay as a consensus figure who could mend fences and soothe tensions caused by recent resolutions against Israel.

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"Now more than ever Unesco needs a project. which restores confidence and overcomes political divisions", the foreign ministry said in a statement reacting to the U.S. pullout.

Declining to reveal why China withdrew its candidate Qian Tang, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing here that China backs UNESCO in selecting a director general qualified according to the United Nations body's rules and regulations and meets the expectations of all its members.

Qatar has generously funded UNESCO in recent years and lobbied intensively for the post, which would help bolster its global status at a time when it faces isolation in the Gulf.

He has notably been accused by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which combats anti-Semitism, of remaining silent over the presence of anti-Semitic books at a fair in Doha when he was culture minister.

The agency's outgoing head, Bulgaria's Irina Bokova, told French radio that Unesco's "universal mission was in jeopardy". "We will continue our positive role in the UNESCO and also conduct the cooperation with other countries in this regard", Hua said.

For several years Washington returned to the fold in 2002, seeing UNESCO as a vehicle for combatting extremism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

UNESCO has been critical of Tel Aviv in the past, and its decision to nominate the West Bank city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site angered Israel, which wanted its long Jewish history to be recognised.

Race for Unesco's top post tightens