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U.S. seen strengthening U.N. rights council

GENEVA, April 1 (Reuters) - The president of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday welcomed Washington's bid to join the three-year-old body as a positive development.

The U.S. State Department announced on Tuesday the Obama administration wanted a seat on the body that President George W. Bush had largely shunned, "with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights."

"I am very encouraged," Nigerian ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi said in a statement released in Geneva, where the 47-state Council is based. "I warmly welcome the engagement."

According to the U.N. website, the Human Rights Council aims "to prevent abuses, inequity and discrimination, protect the most vulnerable and expose perpetrators." (www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/Pages/HumanRightsBodies.aspx)

Critics argue its members have worked to shield some rights-abusing nations from criticism and have unfairly singled out Israel, a U.S. ally.

The United States decided not to join the Council at its inception in 2006 fearing it would not pursue issues in a balanced manner. But Washington took a step toward rapprochement last month by participating as an observer and urging it to address all violations of rights worldwide.

Uhomoibhi said U.S. diplomats had "contributed constructively and positively" to the body's work. "Should the U.S. become a full-fledged member of the Council I am confident they would continue to provide valuable input," he said.

The next election for Council seats will be in May. Its current roster includes Azerbaijan, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Cuba, Djibouti, India, Mexico, Russia and Egypt. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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