Seventy Nobel Prize laureates including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have endorsed the leadership of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the face of questions about his role in the tainted Iraq oil-for-food programme.
"He has never failed to take a critical look at the U.N. to examine its weaknesses and recommend improvements," the prize-winners said in a statement released on Thursday by the non-profit New York-based Better World Campaign.
"We commend Secretary-General Kofi Annan for effectively leveraging his moral authority, independence, and wisdom to elevate the United Nations to meet its highest principles," the letter said.
The United Nations said Annan was grateful for the warm words.
The U.N. chief "trusts that he can count on them to use their expertise in their respective fields to further the goals of the United Nations," it said in a statement.
Annan, who shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations, was this week questioned for a third time by a commission he appointed to investigate mismanagement of the $67 billion (35.5 billion pound) U.N. oil-for-food program.
Some conservative U.S. lawmakers have demanded his resignation and the head of the commission, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was expected to issue his first findings in the inquiry next week.
Those signing the statement included winners for their work in peace, medicine, literature, physics, chemistry and economics.
On the list were authors Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass of Germany, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney and Elie Wiesel.
Also signing the document were Kim Dae-Jung, the former South Korean president and economist Joseph Stiglitz
Besides Carter, former Nobel Peace Prize winners included ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, South African anti-apartheid campaigner Bishop Desmond Tutu and former South African President F.W. de Klerk.
The Better World Campaign, which organized the letter, is a sister group to the U.N. Foundation, created in 1998 by a $1 billion pledge by media mogul Ted Turner in support of U.N. programs.
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