Annan says Palestinians should support new leadership to achieve statehood

“This is an opportunity for them to realize their dream, the aspiration for a Palestinian State,” Mr. Annan said in an interview at Dubai airport, where he stopped en route to New York from a trip which had taken him to countries affected by the recent catastrophic tsunami as well as a UN conference on small islands held in Mauritius.“I appeal to them to shy away from violence, to reject violence, support their new leader and let him work with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian people and the international community to fulfil their dreams,” he said.Earlier this month, Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas as President in polls which received technical and logistical support from the UN.Mr. Annan repeated his earlier condemnation of a recent attack that killed six Israelis, calling it “a real blow to the peace process.”Following that incident, which took place on Thursday night, a spokesman for Mr. Annan had voiced hope that it would not be allowed to undermine the recent positive steps made by both parties.Today, Mr. Annan said: “I hope it will be possible to find a way to engage both parties.” Asked about the violence in Iraq, the Secretary-General noted that the vast majority of Iraqis want to vote but “the situation is far from ideal.”The UN is working with the Government “on the assumption that, as of today, the elections will take place on 30 January” as planned, he said. read more

Bird flu a threat to southern Balkans Caucasus region warns UN agency

Despite successful efforts to contain the spread of the deadly H5N1 virus, avian flu poses a threat to a growing number of countries, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which says the Caucasus and southern Balkans are now considered “high-risk” areas.“The region is not only a prime resting ground for migratory bird species, but poultry production is mostly characterized by rural and household husbandry with little in terms of biosecurity and strong regulatory inspection,” says Juan Lubroth, head of FAO’s Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal Diseases.The FAO says bird flu has been confirmed in 55 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe, up from 45 just four months ago, though the rate of infection among poultry has slowed in most countries.“We don’t expect to eradicate the H5N1 virus from possible wild bird reservoirs, but we can contain and control it fully in the poultry sector, which is the best insurance we have that it will not mutate into a virus that is easily transmissible among humans,” says Joseph Domenech, Chief Veterinary Officer of FAO.For that to happen, however, he says veterinary and laboratory services need to be improved in poorer countries, where a general lack of funds hampers public services.“Just like a chain with a weak link, we need to find the weak links in the global effort to contain H5N1 and strengthen them,” says Mr. Domenech.The virus has killed 140 people worldwide since 2002, including 63 so far this year, according to the World Health Organization. More than 220 million birds have died from the virus or been killed in culling activities aimed at stopping the spread of the disease. read more