By David Usborne in New York
Published: 26 September 2007
President George Bush has criticised a series of countries at the United
Nations for denying their citizens basic political freedoms, prompting
the delegation of Cuba to walk out of the General Assembly calling him a
"criminal" and his address an "infamous tirade".
Urging member nations of the UN to join what he called a "mission of
liberation", Mr Bush pointed a finger at countries that included not
just Cuba, but also Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Iran. "When whole
societies are cut off from the prosperity of the global economy, we are
all worse off," he said.
He had barely finished speaking of Cuba when its delegation rose from
its seats in protest. Referring to the long illness of Fidel Castro, who
in past years has attended the assembly, Mr Bush said , "the long rule
of a cruel dictator is nearing its end. The Cuban people are ready for
Expressions of disdain for Mr Bush by other leaders have become an
annual side show of the assembly. Last year, it was Hugo Chavez of
Venezuela who achieved the greatest theatrics, saying he could smell
sulphur at the podium where Mr Bush had spoken hours before, thus
likening him to Satan.
Mr Chavez belatedly decided to skip the assembly this year, so there
will be no Bush-Chavez spectacular. The starring role this time may be
seized by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was scheduled to address the hall
In a statement last night, the Cuban government said its boycott was a
"sign of profound rejection of the arrogant and mediocre statement"
delivered by the American president. "Bush is responsible for the murder
of over 600,000 civilians in Iraq ... He is a criminal and has no moral
authority or credibility to judge any other country." It concluded:
"Cuba condemns and rejects every letter of his infamous tirade."
Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, will have his chance to
respond tomorrow when he is scheduled at the podium. Mr Bush said Mr
Mugabe's government "has cracked down on peaceful calls for reform and
forced millions to flee their homeland". He went on: "The behaviour of
the Mugabe regime is an assault on its people."
Japan, however, will have been pleased by Mr Bush's remarks, which
included a promise to remain "open" to the prospect of an expansion of
the membership of the UN Security Council and singled the country out as
a prime candidate.