March 31, 2009 / 8:25 PM / 11 years ago

Former New Zealand PM Clark confirmed in top U.N. post

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark talks to the media after voting at Kowhai Primary School in New Zealand's general election in Auckland, November 8, 2008. REUTERS/Nigel Marple

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday confirmed former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark as the next head of the U.N. Development Program, one of the top jobs in the world body.

Clark, who was nominated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week, was elected unanimously by the 192-nation assembly. She is expected to take up the post in late April.

The U.N. Development Program, which employs nearly 8,000 people in 166 countries and has a budget of some $5 billion, provides training, advice and support for developing countries.

Clark, whose center-left Labour Party was ousted in November after nine years in power, had been backed for the U.N. post by New Zealand’s new government. She quit as head of the Labour Party after the election loss.

U.N. diplomats said the choice of Clark, who will serve a four-year term, reflects a desire for a candidate with governing experience.

She replaces Kemal Dervis of Turkey, who stepped down at the end of last month. Since then, the agency has been run by Dervis’s deputy, Ad Melkert of the Netherlands.

The agency was at the center of controversy during the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. The White House sought to show that it had engaged in financial malpractice in North Korea, but an external inquiry cleared the agency of wrongdoing.

Clark, 59, a former political science lecturer with a passion for mountaineering, has been a member of parliament since 1981 and was New Zealand’s first elected female leader. She opposed the invasion of Iraq, but sent New Zealand special forces to fight in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau

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