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UNGA returns in person after two-year hiatus due to Covid-19 pandemic

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The UN General Assembly (UNGA) is back in person after two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Reuters, world leaders were allowed to submit video statements during the UNGA for the past two years because of the pandemic. This year they are expected to travel to New York to speak in the UNGA chamber.

However, the 193-member UNGA on Friday said it will allow Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to address the annual gathering of world leaders next week with a pre-recorded video.

The decision was adopted with 101 votes in favour, 7 votes against and 19 abstentions. Russia, Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua and Syria opposed the move.

Ukraine's UN mission had argued that Zelensky "cannot participate in person at the meetings of the General Assembly due to ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine."

Russia's deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said Moscow was always in favour of "in-person diplomacy at the UN," but accused his Western counterparts of double standards.

"This is at a time where the representatives of African countries, who frequently encounter similar difficulties when it comes to arriving in New York ... have been refused this similar right," Polyanskiy told the General Assembly on Friday.

Russian ally Belarus attempted to amend the decision to strip out any reference to Ukraine and essentially allow any world leaders to address this year's UN gathering via video. It was defeated, receiving only 23 votes in favor and 67 votes against, while 27 states abstained.

Within a week of Russia's military drive in its neighbour Ukraine on February 24, nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly voted to reprimand Moscow and demand it withdraw its troops. Three weeks ago it again overwhelmingly denounced Russia for creating a "dire" humanitarian situation.

On Friday, Ukrainian officials provided more details of what they said was a mass burial site with hundreds of bodies in territory recaptured from Russian forces. Zelensky called the discovery proof of war crimes by Russia. Moscow denies that its forces have committed war crimes.

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