U.N. closes headquarters to pedestrians, vehicles after crash

Monday, November 12, 2001

Associated Press WriterUNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United Nations closed off its headquarters to pedestrians and vehicles early Monday as news of the plane crash in New York City stunned leaders of member nations who gathered here for the annual General Assembly debate.

All scheduled meetings, including meetings of the General Assembly and the Security Council, "are continuing as planned" after the crash, U.N. security chief Michael McCann announced on the public address system.

Shocked by news of the crash, which came just two months after two hijacked planes destroyed the World Trade Center, diplomats stood in the corridors watching television screens showing smoke rise from the crash site.

"Terrible," said U.N. Assistant Secretary of State Danilo Turk, shaking his head as he rushed into a meeting of officials from the United States, Russia and Afghanistan's six neighbors to discuss a post-Taliban government. Secretary of State Colin Powell was about 15 minutes late for the meeting because he couldn't get into the sealed U.N. headquarters complex.

At the start of an open Security Council meeting on terrorism that followed the closed Afghanistan session, Powell and ministers from the 14 other council nations observed a moment of silence.

"On behalf of the members of the council meeting today at the level of the ministers, I wish to convey our sympathy and condolence to the government and the people of the United States and the families of those who have lost their lives in the incident," said K.D. Knight, the foreign minister of Jamaica, which holds the council's rotating presidency.

Shortly after the crash Monday morning, the United Nations sealed off the 39-story landmark to pedestrians and vehicles. Three hours later, the building was reopened to accredited personnel, although "no vehicles are being allowed into the complex" overlooking the East River, McCann announced.

Even before the crash, security had been tightened as about 50 world leaders, including President Bush, and more than 100 foreign ministers gathered here for the weeklong debate that began Saturday. The annual gathering had been delayed for the first time in the world body's 56-years history because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush left New York for Washington on Sunday after addressing the United Nations on Saturday.

The high-level attendance is especially significant; terror suspect Osama bin Laden this month condemned the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "criminal."

Speeches in the General Assembly continued after the crash Monday, but ministers were clearly affected by what had happened.

"My condolences to all the lives that seem to be lost again in New York," said Turkey's Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, whose speech was interrupted by the security chief's announcement.

Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who spoke next, said: "We're shocked and horrified, and to the relatives the families and the American people, I would like to express our sincere condolences."

The road in front of the headquarters has been closed to traffic since the Sept. 11 attacks -- blocked by large sanitation trucks filled with sand -- though authorized vehicles had been allowed in before Monday's crash. Maritime traffic is barred from the East River during the General Assembly meeting which ends Friday.

Inside U.N. headquarters, new metal detectors have been installed, and the media and most U.N. staff have been barred from the floor where the General Assembly will meet.

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