UN's world party is the talk of the town

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The Independent Online
KINGS, presidents and prime ministers from around the world - some 145 in all - will converge on the United Nations Building in New York this morning for what is billed as the biggest gathering of world leaders in human history.

Three days of speech-making to mark the 50th anniversary of the UN will begin this morning with an address by President Bill Clinton of the United States. John Major arrives tonight and will make his speech tomorrow.

The celebration will be overshadowed by the UN's deepening financial crisis and by other intrusive issues such as Bosnia and French nuclear testing in the Pacific. With security concerns paramount and each delegation traversing Manhattan in their diplomatic caravans, the event promises to paralyse the city in a vast three-day limousine jam.

What most scares UN organisers, however, is the natural verbosity of people at the top. Leaders have been instructed to limit their speeches to five minutes. A chronometer and three lights - green, amber and red - have been fitted into the podium. When the red light comes on, they will be obliged to wind up or be told publicly to leave the stage. Fears have already been expressed that Fidel Castro, who likes an hour or two to warm up in a speech, may ignore all such constraints.

Further worries attend the gala dinner hosted by Mr Clinton at the New York Public Library. Each country has been asked to send only their head of state or government, with their spouses. There is no room for any of the aides who usually cosset and inform their masters.

Once inside the library, protocol chaos could well reign. Many of the diners will not know each other and will have no one at their side to put names - let alone countries - to faces. Wallflowers, however, can always pretend to be examining the content of the bookshelves.

Neal Ascherson, page 20