Monday, November 29, 1999

UNESCO delays prize sponsored by Eq Guinea leader

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The United Nations' culture and education body (UNESCO) is delaying the award of a prize for life sciences named after the leader of Equatorial Guinea, whose government is widely accused of corruption and rights abuses.A coalition of rights and civil society groups have said the agency was enabling Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo to launder his international reputation by funding the $3 million prize instead of using the cash to improve the living standards of his people.UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova told the agency's board members late on Tuesday she was conveying to them a "strong message of alarm and anxiety" after appeals from various strands of the international community and human rights groups."I believe that given the changing circumstances and the unprecedented developments of the past months, we must be courageous and recognise our responsibilities for it is our organisation that is at stake," she said in a statement following the board meeting.Obiang has run Equatorial Guinea since a 1979 coup. Under his rule, the country has leapt from small-scale cocoa production to major oil producer.Bokova said no new date had been set for the awarding of the prize and urged UNESCO's board to review the matter ahead of the next executive board meeting, to be held between October 5-22.In a statement on June 14 ahead of UNESCO's decision, the government of Equatorial Guinea said it "deeply regretted" the response of the international community, especially France which had praised it recently for its progress."There exists a great deal of misperception about Equatorial Guinea, an issue that is partly our fault since we have not always responded to inaccuracies that have appeared in the international press or have been perpetuated by our critics. This will now change," the Guinean government said.The UNESCO-Obiang prize was set up in 2008 to reward projects and activities of individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organisations for scientific research in the life sciences.The award includes a medal, a diploma and $300,000.(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Robert Woodward)

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