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New UNESCO chief vows to ‘rebuild unity’

France's Audrey Azoulay, the newly-elected Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), enters the Executive Council room to deliver a speech at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

UNESCO's new leader, France’s former culture minister Audrey Azoulay, says her top priority will be to “rebuild unity” at the UN cultural agency, which has been riven by dissension and under fire for dragging its feet on much-needed reforms.

"To rebuild unity, we must promote UNESCO's assets and its know-how, as well as that of its members," Azoulay told AFP in an interview.

The Paris-based cultural, scientific and cultural organisation "must show, through its actions, that UNESCO is addressing the challenges of globalisation today", said the 45-year-old, whose nomination was confirmed on Friday.

She said she would seek to "reduce a certain amount of tension" but conceded that difficulties would "always exist".

The vote that saw Azoulay succeed outgoing UNESCO chief Irina Bokova was somewhat overshadowed by Washington's announcement that it planned to withdraw from the body after years of strained relations over decisions seen as critical of Israel.

In 2011, former US president Barack Obama suspended funding for UNESCO – about 22 percent of its annual budget – in response to its decision to admit the state of Palestine as a full member.