Veteran Libyan diplomat Ali Treki took the helm of the UN General Assembly, calling for stepped up efforts to achieve Mideast peace, close the widening gap between rich and poor, and eliminate nuclear weapons. In his address Sept. 15to the opening of the assembly's 64th session, the former foreign minister and U.N. ambassador also called on all 192 member states to take part in the search for solutions to the global economic crisis, to address the roots of terrorism and keep working to reform the United Nations.

Food aid is at a 20-year low despite the number of critically hungry people soaring this year to its highest level ever, the United Nations relief agency said Sept. 16. The number of hungry people will pass 1 billion this year for the first time, the World Food Program (WFP) said, adding that it is facing a serious budget shortfall. To date the WFP has confirmed USD 2.6 billion in funding for its 2009 budget of USD 6.7 billion. "This comes at a time of great vulnerability for the hungry," the WFP said in a statement.

US President Barack Obama will host a lunch for leaders from sub-Saharan Africa during next week's ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to promote economic and social development, US ambassador Susan Rice announced, She said Obama will also host a meeting on the sidelines of the ministerial session with countries that contribute the largest number of police and troops to the UN's far-flung peacekeeping operations. These events are in addition to Obama's attendance at a UN summit on climate change, his address at the opening of the General Assembly's ministerial meeting, and his chairing of a high-level Security Council meeting on disarmament and controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.

H1N1 influenza is "a virus of extremes" likely to cause far more deaths in poor countries than affluent ones, the World Health Organization (WHO) head said Sept. 15. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the pandemic flu virus caused mild symptoms in most patients, the overwhelming majority of whom recover fully within a week and without medical treatment. But she warned the small subset of patients who developed serious illness from the strain widely known as "swine flu" needed very specialized, intensive care to survive infection. Pregnant women and diabetics are among the most vulnerable to severe infection from H1N1.

There is evidence that both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during the recent conflict over the Gaza Strip, the UN said Sept. 15. "The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respects crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force," UN investigator Richard Goldstone said. A summary of his nearly 600-page report on the fact-finding mission's conclusions also said the firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants where there were no military targets would also constitute war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

Four UN agencies and offices will be amalgamated to create a new single entity to promote the rights and well-being of women worldwide and to work towards gender equality. The General Assembly adopted a resolution late yesterday on improving system-wide coherence within the UN, and the text spells out the support of Member States for a new consolidated body . to be headed by an under-secretary-general . to deal with issues concerning women. The resolution means the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW) will be merged.

The United States attended its first formal meeting of the UN's Human Rights Council as a member Sept. 14, saying it will try to promote dialogue at a body it once avoided and heavily criticized. The US was elected in June to the 47-nation council, which was criticized by the Bush administration for primarily denouncing Israel while ignoring abuses elsewhere. Washington left its observer seat on the council vacant during the last six months of President George W. Bush's second term.

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