October 17, 2008 / 7:28 PM / 12 years ago

Mystery nation picks Aussies over Austrians at U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Austria narrowly won a coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council on Friday and diplomats said Vienna was lucky that only one country appeared to have confused the small Alpine nation with Australia.

Austria, which gets one of 10 nonpermanent seats on the council in 2009-2010, received 133 votes from the 192 U.N. member states, just five over the required two-thirds majority of 128.

While most of the other votes for the grouping went to the other two contenders Turkey and Iceland, one went to Australia, which was not competing for a seat.

U.N. diplomats questioned by Reuters said the most likely explanation for the mystery vote for Australia is that someone confused the two countries because of their similar spellings.

But, they said, the possibility could not be ruled out that it was an innocent joke or an attempt to annoy the Austrians.

“They are lucky there were not more such mistakes,” said a U.N. diplomat, who declined to be identified and, in keeping with tradition, refused to say how his country voted.

So many people confuse Australia and Austria — Oesterreich in German — that tourist shops across the mountainous central European state sell T-shirts and other souvenirs sporting the slogan “there are no kangaroos in Austria.”

Last year President George W. Bush confused the two countries when he thanked former Australian Prime Minister John Howard for visiting his “Austrian” troops in Iraq.

Neither the Austrian nor Australian missions to the United Nations were available for comment.

The other four countries joining Austria in January as new 2-year members of the powerful Security Council are Mexico, Uganda, Turkey and Japan. Iceland failed to get elected.

Editing by Chris Wilson

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