China withdraws candidate for UNESCO chief

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria

The leading candidates are Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari of Qatar and Audrey Azoulay of France, followed by others including Egypt's Moushira Khattab.

China on Friday said it will continue working for the development of the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO), a day after the U.S. announced it was pulling out of the Paris-based agency.

The victor must be approved by UNESCO's 195 member states in November, though this is seen as a formality.

They are divided between backers of oil-rich Qatar and its poorer rival Egypt, which is part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been blockading Qatar since June over its alleged support for radical militants and ties to Iran.

The ultimate victor, set to be decided in a final round of voting later Friday, will face the hard task of trying to persuade the USA and Israel to reverse course as well as tackling the allegations of anti-Israel bias.

In the face of Arab divisions, France has presented Azoulay as a consensus figure who could mend fences and soothe tensions caused by recent resolutions against Israel.

China and Lebanon withdrew earlier from the race after the third round.

Qatar has generously funded UNESCO in recent years and lobbied intensively for the post, which would help bolster its worldwide status at a time when it faces isolation in the Gulf.

Both countries suspended their funding to the agency - best-known for its prestigious World Heritage List - over the move.

UNESCO has been accused of bias in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it infuriated Israel and staunch ally the United States by granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

The rift continued to fester in recent years, with the organisation becoming the scene of repeated diplomatic flare-ups after efforts led by Arab countries to pass resolutions critical of Israel.

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