Qatar, France neck-and-neck for UNESCO chief

Valeriy Sharifulin  TASS

Valeriy Sharifulin TASS

The board has held secret ballot votes every day this week, whittling down the seven candidate to Azoulay and former Qatari culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari.

Qatar's candidate in the race to lead the UN's cultural arm has advanced to the final stage of the election on Thursday, garnering 22 votes in the fourth round, in the battle to replace outgoing UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.

The six candidates who made it to the vote were Moushira Khattab (Egypt), Audrey Azoulay (France), Polad Bülbüloglu (Azerbaijan), Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria (Guatemala), Pham Sanh Chau (Vietnam), Qian Tang (China), and former Qatari Minister of Culture Hamad Abdul Aziz al-Kawari, who is now the cultural affairs adviser to the Emir of Qatar.

Thirty votes are needed to clinch the nomination to head the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The United States is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for "fundamental reform" of the U.N. cultural agency. Candidates from Guatemala, Iraq and Azerbaijan have also given up.

Egypt's candidate passed on Thursday the third round of the organization's election held in Paris, France, where no candidate gained an absolute majority of votes so far. In 2014, country had contributed $10 million to Unesco World Heritage Fund.

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UNESCO has been accused of bias in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it infuriated Israel and staunch ally the United States by granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

"UNESCO is going through a profound crisis", Azoulay told journalists on Friday after making it to the final vote.

The next leader will have to allay fears over UNESCO's future as the agency faces a withdrawal from both the US and Israel.

UNESCO's general assembly will have to sign off on the board's pick.

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