Sandinista diplomat elected UN General Assembly president

The UN General Assembly elected Wednesday a Catholic priest and controversial former Sandinista foreign minister of Nicaragua as its president for the 63rd session scheduled to open in September.

Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann was elected without a vote by the 192-nation assembly to the rotating leadership post, which falls this year to Latin America and the Caribbean. He was the choice of that region and had no challengers.

D'Escoto said in acceptance speech, which sounded much like a sermon of love, that the assembly's nations must be united to democratize the world organization and accept the non-violence philosophy of India's Mahatma Gandhi.

"The unity which the world requires of us is one born out of love and a desire to make each of ourselves instruments of peace, justice and solidarity," he said.

D'Escoto will take over the assembly's one-year presidency on September 16 when it opens its annual session.

"Therefore we cannot allow hatred, rancor, or a desire for revenge into our struggle," he said. "On the contrary, this is what we must firmly fight against, with unbending love and respect. Gandhi must be our paradigm in this struggle for a better world."

D'Escoto, 75, is himself a controversial personality in Latin American politics. He was born in Los Angeles in 1933 into a family of diplomats and studied at Columbia University in New York before his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest in 1961 as a member of the Maryknoll Missionary Congregation.

He returned to Nicaragua to join the Sandinista National Liberation Front in its struggle against the US-backed government in Managua, and was appointed foreign minister in 1979 when it overthrew the US-backed Samoza government.

He stepped down as foreign minister in 1990 with the end of the Sandinista regime, voted out of office in multi-party elections.

D'Escoto and other priests were publicly scolded by Pope John Paul II during a visit in Central America for their participation in politics. But d'Escoto went on to win praises for his humanitarian works. He received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1985 and the Thomas Merton Award in 1987.

D'Escoto told a press conference at UN headquarters in New York following his election that he will not change the position he had adopted when fighting for the Sandinistas.

"I love the United States and the US is much larger than its political figures," he said. "I will continue to be the same person and won't change."

He urged people to call him "father" or simply Miguel.

He acknowledged his acceptance speech to the assembly sounded like a sermon.

"They elected a priest and I hope no one was offended," he said. "Love is what the world needs the most."

D'Escoto said he will spend his time as assembly president to "democratize" the United Nations, dpa reported.

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