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Syria minister spars with UN chief for time to talk

AFP , Wednesday 22 Jan 2014
Syria
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, left, attends a plenary session meeting on ending the crisis in Syria in Montreux, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 (Photo: AP)
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Syria's foreign minister insisted Tuesday he should be permitted to speak as long as he needed at a peace conference for his country, brushing aside UN chief Ban Ki-moon's calls for him to conclude.

"You live in New York and I live in Syria... I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum," Walid Muallem defiantly replied after Ban urged him to wrap up his long address.

Each of the 45 speakers set to address the long-awaited peace conference for Syria in the Swiss town of Montreux had been allotted seven minutes to speak.

Ban first interrupted Muallem after he had pummelled the opposition and its supporters with accusations for 20 minutes, but the Syrian minister waved aside his objections, insisting: "I must finish my speech."

"You spoke for 25 minutes," he told the secretary general, stressing that his speech was more important at a forum about the future of his own country.

After more than 10 minutes more, Muallem responded to another objection promising: "I will finish just one sentence."

Ban allowed him to go ahead, but said he hoped he would keep his promise.

"Syria always keeps its promises," Muallem said.

Ban was not amused. When Muallem finally finished after 35 minutes, the secretary general lamented that his rambling speech had broken the "constructive" atmosphere he had called for upon opening the conference.

"I hope this will not be repeated," Ban said, handing the floor to Ahmad Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

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