The UN General Assembly on Thursday appointed Antonio Guterres as the new secretary-general of the United Nations, in a shift towards a more high-profile leadership of the world body.
The 193 member states adopted by consensus a resolution formally naming the former prime minister of Portugal as UN chief for a five-year term beginning January 1.
The socialist politician, who also served as UN refugee chief for a decade, is expected to play a more prominent role as the world’s diplomat-in-chief than Ban Ki-moon, the South Korean who will step down after two five-year terms.
His appointment comes at a time of global anxiety over the ongoing war in Syria, the refugee crisis and raging conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen.
Guterres was greeted by loud applause as he entered the packed hall following the vote and told the assembly he was “fully aware of the challenges the UN faces and the limitations of the secretary-general.”
The 67-year-old polyglot pledged to work as a “convenor, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker” to confront global crises.
On Syria, the most pressing crisis on the UN agenda, Guterres said it was time for world powers to overcome divisions over ending the war, just as the key players were gearing up for a new round of talks at the weekend.
“Whatever divisions might exist, now it’s more important to unite,” Guterres told reporters after the vote. “It’s high time to fight for peace.”
The United States and Russia are to host a meeting of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict in the Swiss city of Lausanne on Saturday, and Washington will then hold talks with its European partners in London on Sunday.
The Security Council is deadlocked over Syria after two draft resolutions were defeated in separate votes, one of which was vetoed by Damascus ally Russia.
The first former head of government to become UN chief also called for determined action to confront terrorists and populists who “reinforce each other” in their extremism.
“We must make sure that we are able to break these alliances between all those terrorist groups or violent extremists on one side, and the expression of populism and xenophobia on the other side,” he said.
The remarks were directed at the rise of European far-right politicians and also US presidential contender Donald Trump whose anti-immigrant platform has triggered global alarm. -AFP