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Racism, Climate Top UN Agenda          09/22 06:21

   Racism, the climate crisis and the world's worsening divisions will take 
center stage at the United Nations on Wednesday, a day after the U.N. chief 
issued a grim warning that "we are on the edge of an abyss."

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Racism, the climate crisis and the world's worsening 
divisions will take center stage at the United Nations on Wednesday, a day 
after the U.N. chief issued a grim warning that "we are on the edge of an 

   For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than two dozen 
world leaders appeared in person at the U.N. General Assembly on the opening 
day of their annual high-level meeting. The atmosphere was somber, angry and 

   China's President Xi Jinping warned that "the world has entered a period of 
new turbulence and transformation." Finland's President Sauli Niinist said: 
"We are indeed at a critical juncture." And Costa Rica's President Carlos 
Alvarado Quesada declared: "The future is raising its voice at us: Less 
military weaponry, more investment in peace!"

   Speaker after speaker at Tuesday's opening of the nearly week-long meeting 
decried the inequalities and deep divisions that have prevented united global 
action to end the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly 4.6 million lives 
and is still raging, and the failure to sufficiently tackle the climate crisis 
threatening the planet.

   COVID-19 and climate are certain to remain top issues for heads of state and 
government. But Wednesday's U.N. agenda will first turn the spotlight on the 
commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the controversial U.N. World 
Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which was dominated by 
clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery.

   The U.S. and Israel walked out during the meeting over a draft resolution 
that singled out Israel for criticism and likened Zionism to racism -- a 
provision that was eventually dropped. Twenty countries are boycotting 
Wednesday's commemoration, according to the Conference of Presidents of Major 
American Jewish Organizations, which urged more countries to join them "in 
continuing to fight racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism."

   Following the commemoration, heads of state will start delivering their 
annual addresses again in the vast General Assembly hall. Speakers include King 
Abdullah II of Jordan, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Kenyan President 
Uhuru Kenyatta.

   Perhaps the harshest assessment of the current global crisis came from U.N. 
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who opened his state of the world address 
sounding an "alarm" that "the world must wake up."

   "Our world has never been more threatened or more divided," he said. "We 
face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes."

   "We are on the edge of an abyss -- and moving in the wrong direction," the 
secretary-general warned.

   Guterres pointed to "supersized glaring inequalities" in addressing 
COVID-19, "climate alarm bells ... ringing at fever pitch," upheavals from 
Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen and beyond thwarting peace, and "a surge of 
mistrust and misinformation (that) is polarizing people and paralyzing 

   Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the pandemic was a reminder 
"that the entire world are part of a big family."

   "But the solidarity test that we were put to failed us miserably," he said. 
"It is a disgrace for humanity that vaccine nationalism is still being carried 
on through different methods," and underdeveloped countries and poor segments 
of societies have been "literally left to their fate in the face of the 

   As for the climate crisis, Erdogan said whoever did the most damage to 
nature, the atmosphere and water, "and whoever has wildly exploited natural 
resources" should make the greatest contribution to fighting global warming.

   "Unlike the past, this time no one can afford the luxury to say, 'I'm 
powerful so I will not pay the bill' because climate change will treat mankind 
quite equally," the Turkish leader said. "The duty for all of us is to take 
measures against this enormous threat, with a fair burden-sharing."

   Romania's President Klaus Iohannis did find something positive from the 
COVID-19 crisis.

   "While the pandemic affected almost all aspects of our lives," he said, "it 
also provided us with opportunities to learn, adapt and do things better."

   Two of the most closely watched speeches on Tuesday were delivered by U.S. 
President Joe Biden and China's President Xi Jinping.

   In an Associated Press interview on Saturday, Guterres warned that the world 
could plunge into a new and probably more dangerous Cold War if China and the 
United States don't repair their "completely dysfunctional" relationship. 
"Unfortunately, today we only have confrontation," he said.

   The secretary-general kept that theme in his speech Tuesday saying: "I fear 
our world is creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial 
and technology rules, two divergent approaches in the development of artificial 
intelligence -- and ultimately two different military and geopolitical 
strategies. This is a recipe for trouble."

   Biden said in his U.N. address that the United States was not attempting to 
be divisive or confrontational.

   "We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs," he 
said. "The United States is ready to work with any nation that steps up and 
pursues peaceful resolution to shared challenges even if we have intense 
disagreements in other areas."

   Speaking later, Xi said disputes among countries "need to be handled through 
dialogue and cooperation."

   "One country's success does not have to mean another country's failure," Xi 
said. "The world is big enough to accommodate common development and progress 
of all countries."

   By tradition, the first country to speak was Brazil, whose president, Jair 
Bolsonaro rebuffed criticism of his handling of the pandemic and touted recent 
data indicating less Amazon deforestation. He said he was seeking to counter 
the image of Brazil portrayed in the media, touting it as a great place for 
investment and praising his pandemic welfare program, which helped avoid a 
worse recession last year.

   Bolsonaro said that his government has successfully distributed first doses 
to the majority of adults, but doesn't support vaccine passports or forcing 
anyone to have a shot. He has said several times in the past week that he 
remains unvaccinated.

   "By November, everyone who chooses to be vaccinated in Brazil will be 
attended to," Bolsonaro told the General Assembly.

   Brazil's health minister, Marcelo Quiroga, who was with Bolsonaro, later 
tested positive for the coronavirus and will remain in isolation in the United 
States, the government said. Quiroga got his first shot of coronavirus vaccine 
in January.

   Bolsonaro had COVID-19 last year and has said several times over the last 
week that he remains unvaccinated. He said getting a shot is a personal, 
medical decision.

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