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Ecuador minister becomes fourth woman to head UN General Assembly

2 min

United Nations (United States) (AFP)

The United Nations on Tuesday elected Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces to be president of the General Assembly, only the fourth woman in the UN's history to hold the post .

Espinosa Garces beat out Honduras' UN Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake in the race held against a backdrop of divisions in Latin America and globally on foreign policy.

Ecuador had the controversial backing of Venezuela for Espinosa Garces, who has been foreign minister since last year and also served as defense minister and UN ambassador in Geneva.

Espinosa Garces joined the race after Arab countries expressed their disapproval of Honduras' decision to follow the US lead and move its embassy to Jerusalem, according to diplomats.

During a vote at the 193-nation assembly, the foreign minister won 128 votes compared to 62 for Flores Flake.

The 53-year-old Espinosa Garces will be the first woman to head the assembly since Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain in 2006 and only the fourth in the UN's 73-year history.

Addressing the assembly, she dedicated her election victory "to all the women in the world who participate in politics today and who face political and media attacks marked by machismo and discrimination."

"We must do better than a record of four women in 73 years and two in the past half century," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the assembly.

"Frankly, four out of 73 in not a record to be proud of, but I'm glad that we are getting ourselves on track," said outgoing president Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia.

Under the UN's system of regional rotation, it was the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean to hold the presidency for a year starting in September.

The post is largely ceremonial, but holds prestige as the head of the body that decides on the budget, adopts non-binding resolutions and hosts the annual gathering of world leaders in September.

The election came as the United Nations is deep in discussion on reforms to streamline its clunky bureaucracy and is pushing ahead with its anti-poverty agenda.

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