Qaddafi, Ahmadinejad face protests at UN
The "bad boys" of the international stage, Iran's President Ahmadinejad, Libya's Colonel Qaddafi, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, face more opposition than usual this time.
But the climate awaiting Mr. Ahmadinejad and the other bad boys of the international political stage – Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi, who is visiting the US and the UN for the first time, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – promises to be even more negative than usual this year.
Ahmadinejad arrives after months of bloody political unrest at home, following a contested reelection in June that has left the international human rights community firmly opposed to his regime. Qaddafi hits the New York tarmac with emotions still raw over the recent release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel al-Megrahi to a hero's welcome in Tripoli. And Mr. Chavez continues to rack up international opposition over his actions at home squelching freedom of speech, and over his perceived meddling in next door neighbor Colombia's affairs.
"Of course the reaction to Ahmadinejad's visit is going to be much worse and bigger than last year," says Sahand Khoshbaten, an organizer with the "No to Ahmadinejad committee," which expects to nearly double the number of protesters who will shout epithets at the Iranian president as he arrives this morning at UN headquarters. "This man is responsible for the repression of the Iranian people, and people everywhere know about that."
A popular US president
Another explanation for the more negative response to the three is the exit of President Bush and the arrival on the UN stage of President Obama. Previously, the presence at the UN of an unpopular American president made the anti-American views of Ahmadinejad and Chavez more palatable. Ahmadinejad had meetings with US peace groups opposed to the war in Iraq, and he spoke at Columbia University last year. Chavez drew laughter and nods of approval when, following Bush to the General Assembly podium by a day in 2006, he quipped that he could still smell the sulfur of the devil.
But Mr. Obama is popular around the world, and his first speech as president to the General Assembly Wednesday morning is widely anticipated.
"Obama changes the perception of the United States here, and in a way that tends to quiet the loudest of the anti-American voices," says a UN official who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to comment on member states. "It's a less attractive position to take."
Pays to be hated by West?
Still, the protests the "bad boys" face are largely their own doing. Allegations about human rights abuses following the recent Iranian elections, plus Ahmadinejad's denial again last week that the Holocaust ever occurred, have got him disinvited from several events and have swelled the ranks of his detractors. Rumors that Qaddafi might pitch his tent on Libyan-owned property in New Jersey raised howls as far away as Congress – as has more recent speculation that he might seek refuge at property owned by Donald Trump in New York.
Some experts say the three leaders are purposely fomenting controversy. Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian-American Council, says Ahmadinejad disinterred the Holocaust denial comment to draw UN attention away from Iran's deteriorating human-rights climate.
As for Qaddafi and Chavez, some analysts say the two know full well the respect they've earned in some corners of the developing world with aggressive, anti-West words and actions.
Qaddafi is to speak to the UN directly after Obama – leading to speculation over how the president who vowed to put no preconditions on who he talks to might respond to a Qaddafi gesture. Ahmadinejad speaks later Wednesday, while Chavez is listed for Thursday.
Gaddafi? Kaddafi? Qadhafi? How do you spell it?
Other variations include "Gadhafi," "Al-Gathafi," and "Kadafi," creating a mess for news organizations. Click here to read about it.