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Russia criticizes UN chief’s ‘political’ stand on Egypt

Russia on Friday criticized UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s calls for change in Egypt as being overtly political.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin likened some of the comments by the UN leader to “putting fingers in the eyes of political leaders”.

While on a European tour this week, Ban has spoken out strongly on the turmoil in Egypt where President Hosni Mubarak has rejected opposition calls to stand down.

Without calling for Mubarak to leave office, Ban said again in Berlin on Friday that “a process of peaceful and orderly transition leading to free and fair elections” must start as soon as possible.

Earlier he said: “I once again strongly urge the Egyptian authorities to listen to the voice of the people, and immediately start real change.”

The Russian ambassador told reporters: “I was surprised by some of those statements. I think we should rethink the role of the upper echelon of the secretariat.”

Churkin said the role of the United Nations “does not include giving political advice to sovereign states with whom the United Nations has had a very long relationship.”

“There are some extremely delicate policy matters that should be left to the sovereign states,” he added. “The UN should be concentrating on its tasks and that does not include putting fingers in the eyes of political leaders.”

Egypt’s UN ambassador has complained to Ban’s office about his calls for a quick power transition in Egypt, diplomats said.

The Egyptian mission refused to comment on the approach, but a spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, said: “We have discussed the remarks with the Egyptian mission, at the same time we stand by what he (Ban) has been saying.”

Ban’s “words have a meaning and he is standing by them,” Haq added. The spokesman said that Ban was worried by events across the Middle East.

The UN Security Council has yet to make a comment on the turmoil that started in Tunisia and since spread to other countries in North Africa.

Russia and China, among the five permanent members of the council, are opposed to any action that smacks of “interference” in a country’s internal affairs. Diplomats from other nations have justified the stance by saying events in Egypt are not yet a threat to international peace and security.