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Smokers tell Annan to butt out

Russian ambassador and chain smoker Sergei Lavrov in atypical smoke-free pose.
Russian ambassador and chain smoker Sergei Lavrov in atypical smoke-free pose.

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United Nations
Kofi Annan

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Smoking diplomats, especially those from Russia, Mexico and the Czech Republic, balked at a new ban against lighting up in U.N. headquarters and demanded Secretary-General Kofi Annan explain himself.

At a meeting of the General Assembly's committee on budget and administration on Wednesday, several delegates questioned the legal basis for Annan to put out such an order without a vote from member states and demanded a legal ruling.

A U.N. official promised one would be forthcoming after an earlier, similar request had been ignored.

"I will make sure, because I am also a smoker, that we will be given our explanations from the secretariat," said Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek of the Czech Republic, who is chairman of the committee.

Mexico's envoy brought up the issue and the Russian delegate insisted that the General Assembly's resolution in 2000 prohibiting smoking in some but not all areas was still valid. Therefore U.N. officials had to give a legal explanation of the total ban.

Annan last summer announced that U.N. headquarters, the last bastion of smoking in New York, would begin following the tough new anti-smoking law of its host city.

He cited health reasons and insurance costs in the high-rise building on Manhattan's East River that does not have a sprinkler system, and urged voluntary cooperation.

One of the chief protesters against the ban is Russia's veteran U.N. ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, a chain smoker.

At the annual U.N. correspondents' association dinner on October 22, Nane Annan, wife of the secretary-general, made a point of teasing Lavrov.

"One of your favorite ambassadors has already told you that the 'secretary-general can by all means tell his underlings what to do, but not members of diplomatic missions."' she said. "I guess the ambassador must have been fuming at the time."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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