Bulgarian diplomat elected Unesco chief

Former Bulgarian foreign minister Irina Bokova speaks after being elected head of Unesco in Paris. AFP

She defeated the Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosny, by a vote of 31 to 27 in a fifth and final round of voting that has been marred by intense international politics.
Bokova, 57, Bulgaria’s ambassador to France and Unesco, is the first woman and the first Eastern European to run the agency, which deals with culture, architectural protection, education, press freedom and many other issues.

Her victory was a bitter defeat for Egypt and its president, Hosni Mubarak, who tried to line up the 30 votes of the Unesco executive board in advance to ensure a first-round victory in an initial field of nine candidates. But Hosny, 71, was accused of anti-Semitism and censorship in his 22 years as culture minister, and his lead slowly melted away as his opponents finally coalesced around Bokova. In the fourth round of voting on Monday night, the candidates were tied, 29 to 29.
Two countries changed their votes overnight in the secret balloting, but it was not clear which ones, since some countries had promised support to Egypt in the first round, but shifted in later rounds, diplomats said.

One person close to the proceedings said Spain and Italy had shifted their votes after learning new information about what is alleged to have been Hosny’s role, as an Egyptian diplomat, in protecting the perpetrators of a terrorist act involving an Italian cruise ship in 1985, but that could not be confirmed on Tuesday night.
According to an account on Saturday on Elaph.com, an Arabic-language website, Hosny boasted of helping to organise the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the cruise ship, ‘the Achille Lauro’. In that episode, a retired American  tourist in a wheelchair was shot and pushed into the sea.

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