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Kofi Annan bids farewell to Geneva

Moritz Leuenberger entertains Kofi Annan

(Keystone)

Kofi Annan, the outgoing Secretary-General of the United Nations, has thanked and said goodbye to staff at the UN's headquarters in Geneva.

"This city and Switzerland have become my second home," he told 500 guests on Monday evening, among them Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger.

Annan expressed a "deep attachment" to Geneva, where he studied at the Graduate Institute of International Studies from 1961-62 and where he began his UN career at the World Health Organization.

He said it was also where he met his wife, Nane, a Swedish lawyer. "The links which tie me to your city are plentiful and strong," he said.

The 68-year-old is set to end his second five-year term as UN Secretary-General at the end of the year and will be replaced by the South Korean, Ban Ki Moon.

"Geneva stands for tolerance, peace and democracy," Annan told his audience. "The Rhone is a meeting place for the world's languages, religions and cultures."

He added that civil society and the public and private sector all work hand in hand, "in short, humanity – in all its forms – is present here".

Although Annan is leaving Geneva next year, he closed his speech by echoing another former leader: "I am a Genevan," he declared.

Annan received a prize from the Foundation for Geneva, awarded for his contribution to the reputation and image of the city during his two terms in office.

Ivan Pictet, president of the foundation, praised Annan as a "friend, a diplomat and an African" and thanked him in particular for his support in the creation of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Fare-dodger

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger said in a speech that Annan had given the United Nations a face - "a face that breathes humanity" - and had encouraged the Swiss to take their responsibility as the seat of the UN even more seriously.

The Swiss president then gave Annan a year's subscription to the Swiss transport system.

Leuenberger followed up the gesture with an anecdote about how he had tempted the Secretary-General to do a spot of fare-dodging on Swiss public transport.

On one of Annan's visits to Zurich, he and Leuenberger spontaneously hopped on a tram going down Bahnhofstrasse, the city's main shopping high street, leaving his bodyguards jogging after them.

It was claimed that Annan was so impressed by Switzerland's straightforwardness and lack of complications, as seen in the tram incident, that soon afterwards he gave his vote to Switzerland's joining the UN.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

As the seventh UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan began his first term in office in 1997 and was appointed for a second term in 2001. He retires at the end of the year.

Switzerland joined the UN in 2002 after a nationwide vote.

Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger recently commented that "many Swiss voted for the UN because the organisation had the face of Kofi Annan".

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