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Terrorism, poverty top opening day addresses in Assembly high-level debate

Terrorism, poverty top opening day addresses in Assembly high-level debate

As world leaders converged today on New York for the opening of the General Assembly's high-level debate, most Heads of State and Government used their 15 minutes at the podium to pledge support to the fight against terrorism, but often disagreed on where to look for its root causes.

Nearly all speakers reiterated their Government's condemnation of the violent attacks on the United States on 11 September, but differed as to the appropriate response to that aggression, and to terrorism as a whole.

The leaders of predominantly Muslim nations warned against the current tendency - particularly in Western countries - to associate terrorism with Islam, defending their faith as peaceful and compassionate. They spoke of the danger of creating an "us" versus "them" dynamic, which they said would only fuel divisions. Instead, the world should look at what motivates such horrific acts, and take steps to heal the desperation, isolation and abandonment felt by many of the world's people due to gross inequalities in the distribution of wealth, and lack of respect for basic human rights, they said.

Many countries also spoke of the need to differentiate between criminal terrorism and legitimate struggles against oppression, and stressed the need for the international community to define what it means by the term "terrorism." Some of the European countries stressed the importance of enforcing existing legal instruments in the struggle against terrorism.

The plight of the Afghan people also surfaced in many speeches, with leaders calling for increased contributions to the humanitarian assistance under way in the region. Although many voiced support for the anti-terrorism efforts of the United States and other countries, they expressed concern about the welfare of Afghans. Some also expressed hope that the future political system in Afghanistan would not be imposed from the outside, but instead created and led by the Afghan people, in order to ensure its sustainability.

For several Latin American delegations, the fight against terrorism was akin to - if not intertwined with - the fight against the illicit trade in narcotics and therefore required the same approach of shared responsibility by the international community. The continent's leaders also said help from the international community to fund alternative development programmes would go far in reducing the continent's production of crops used for drugs.

The link between social development and peace were high on the agenda for the African delegations, many of which attributed the continent's conflicts to the persistent and extreme poverty faced by many Africans. Noting that they were not looking for charity, the continent's leaders said they wanted more accessible conditions for their countries' raw materials, and products at fair prices. Debt relief was also crucial, they said.

Some Asian leaders warned of the need to strengthen the globalization and sustainable development processes, so that they could generate finances for poverty alleviation.