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UN chief urges debt relief extension for middle-income countries

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UN Secretary-General, António Guterres,
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UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, says innovative measures to address debt are required to help the world’s more than 100 middle-income countries expand their economies and exit the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guterres told the General Assembly on Thursday at UN headquarters in New York while addressing a high-level meeting on these countries.

According to him, middle-income countries account for more than half of the UN’s 193 Member States, underlining the need for financing to help them recover in the wake of the global crisis.

He said middle-income countries should have their debts suspended till 2022 to cope with the social and economic impact of the coronavirus.

Many were already dealing with mounting debt before the pandemic, which has only further aggravated the situation.

“In small island states, for example, the collapse of tourism has greatly hindered their capacity to repay debts.

“And while the global response to the debt crisis is rightly attempting to support low-income countries, middle-income countries must not be left behind,” he said.

According to him, diversity defines the world’s middle-income countries, which were already home to some 62 per cent of the world’s poor prior to the pandemic.

“The list includes India, which has a population of more than one billion, and Palau, an archipelago in the Pacific island with less than 20,000 people.

“Besides population size, these countries also vary in economic activity, geography and income levels per capita, which ranges from 1,000 dollars to 12,000 dollars annually, meaning they often exceed per capita income thresholds for debt relief,” he said.

Guterres emphasised the need for better mechanisms and international cooperation to address what he characterised as their mounting and unsustainable debt levels.

“Even if these countries manage to avoid default, they will see long-lasting limitations on critical government spending on a variety of development and climate objectives in the years to come,” he warned.

He underlined the need for “a new debt mechanism” that would include debt swaps, buy-backs and cancellations.

“This is the moment to tackle long-standing weaknesses in the international debt architecture, from lack of agreed principles, to restructurings that provide too little relief, too late.

“Innovative instruments to allow debt restructuring and meaningful debt reduction can help middle-income countries expand their fiscal space to boost investment and steer a resilient and sustainable recovery from the crisis,” said Guterres.

In March, the secretary-general convened a meeting of world leaders to bolster support for action to stave off the debt crisis in developing countries.

The UN chief was encouraged to see growing recognition around the need for new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), a type of foreign reserve asset developed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, he said unused SDRs must be re-allocated to support vulnerable nations, including middle-income countries.

Last year, the G20 leading economies announced a debt service suspension initiative, which allowed the world’s poorest countries to temporarily halt bilateral credit payments.

The secretary-general said the measure should be extended to 2022 and “made available to highly indebted, vulnerable middle-income countries that request it.” (NAN)

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International

UN Secretary-General visits Buhari At State House

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio
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The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday paid visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House in Abuja.

He was received by top government officials.

Buhari’s conversation with Guterres centred on the need to ensure peaceful and democratic elections as well as the robust participation of women and young people in all areas.

President Buhari also thanked the UN boss for the visit, stressing that it came at a time when the world is focussing on the Russia/Ukraine crisis. Buhari also believes that the visit underscores the assurance that the world is with Nigeria.

On his part, the UN scribe called for developed nations to ramp up vaccine support to countries in the global north, halt the asymmetrical distribution and reform the global financial system.

Earlier in the day, he visited the UN House in Abuja alongside some top officials and diplomats of the agency.

Guterres is on a two-day official visit to Nigeria – the first of such.

The UN chief had arrived in Nigeria on Tuesday and also visited Borno State where he proposed the reintegration of repentant terrorists. This, he said, is key to the restoration of peace in the North East region.

“The best thing we can do for peace is to reintegrate those, that in a moment of despair, became terrorists but want to become now citizens and to contribute to the well-being of their brothers and sisters,” he told a gathering at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.

The UN scribe is also expected to perform the wreath-laying ceremony in honour of the August 26, 2011, suicide bomb attack victims.

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Ukraine : UN Agencies Condemn Attacks On Health Care Facilities

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UN agencies on Sunday called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to attacks on healthcare professionals and facilities in Ukraine, describing such incidents as acts of “unconscionable cruelty”.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 31 attacks on health care have been documented via the WHO’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care (SSA), the heads of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement.

“To attack the most vulnerable -– babies, children, pregnant women and those already suffering from illness and disease, and health workers risking their own lives to save lives –- is an act of unconscionable cruelty,” they said, calling for an immediate ceasefire.
In 24 of the reported attacks, health care facilities were damaged or destroyed, while in five cases ambulances were hit. A total of 12 people were killed and 34 injured, according to the UN agencies’ statement.

“Humanitarian partners and health care workers must be able to safely maintain and strengthen essential health service delivery, including immunisation against Covid-19 and polio, and the supply of life-saving medicines for civilians across Ukraine as well as to refugees crossing into neighbouring countries,” said the statement, signed by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, UNFPA counterpart Natalia Kanem and WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

At least three people were killed, including a young girl, in an attack Wednesday on a children’s hospital in Mariupol in southern Ukraine.

According to the United Nations’ reproductive health agency two other Ukrainian maternity hospitals had already been attacked and destroyed before that strike.

“Attacks on health care and health workers directly impact people’s ability to access essential health services -– especially women, children and other vulnerable groups,” the UN agency chiefs said in their statement on Sunday.

“We have already seen that the health care needs of pregnant women, new mothers, younger children and older people inside Ukraine are rising, while access to services is being severely limited by the violence,” the statement added.

Oxygen and medical supplies, including for the management of pregnancy complications, are running dangerously low, they warned.

“The health care system in Ukraine is clearly under significant strain, and its collapse would be a catastrophe. Every effort must be made to prevent this from happening,” the UN agencies warned.

“We call for an immediate ceasefire, which includes unhindered access so that people in need can access humanitarian assistance. A peaceful resolution to end the war in Ukraine is possible.”

AFP

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Yoon Suk-yeol wins South Korea’s presidential election

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Yoon Suk Yeol
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Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative former top prosecutor, has been elected South Korea’s new president, defeating his chief liberal rival in one of the country’s most closely fought presidential elections.

With more than 98 percent of the ballots counted, Yoon had 48.6 percent of the votes against his rival Lee Jae-myung’s 47.8 percent.

Yoon said on Thursday that he would honour the constitution and the parliament and work with opposition parties when he takes office as the country’s next leader, calling the election result a “victory of the great people”.

“Our competition is over for now,” he said in an acceptance speech, thanking and consoling Lee and other rivals.

“We have to join hands and unite into one for the people and the country.”

At a separate ceremony with supporters, Yoon said he would put top priority on “national unity,” adding all people should be treated equally regardless of their regional, political and socioeconomic differences.

“I would pay attention to people’s livelihoods, provide warm welfare services to the needy, and make utmost efforts so that our country serves as a proud, responsible member of the international community and the free world,” he said.

Yoon is to take office in May and serve a single five-year term as leader of the world’s 10th-largest economy.

 

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