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15 June - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced today that it is delaying the awarding of a controversial new prize while discussions on the issue continue between the agency's members.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, named after the President of Equatorial Guinea, was established in 2008 and aims to reward the projects and activities of individuals, institutions or other entities for research that improves the quality of human life.

The prize is designed to be an annual accolade, with up to three laureates chosen each year and granted $300,000 between them, as well as individual medals and diplomas.

Representatives of some countries have accused the Government of Mr. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power in Equatorial Guinea since 1979, of widespread human rights abuses and said UNESCO should not agree to award such a prize.

The agency's Executive Board, meeting today in Paris, endorsed a proposal from Director-General Irina Bokova to defer awarding the prize while consultations continue with all concerned parties.

Ms. Bokova told the board that she had “heard the voices of the many intellectuals, scientists, journalists and of course governments and parliaments who have appealed to me to protect and preserve the prestige of the organization.

“I have come to you with a strong message of alarm and anxiety. I am full aware that the Executive Board made a decision two years ago [to establish the prize], but I believe that given the changing circumstances and the unprecedented developments of the past months, we must be courageous and recognize our responsibilities for it is our organization that is at stake.”

Ms. Bokova said she would therefore not set a date for awarding the prize and appealed to the Executive Board to continue consultations, “taking all recent developments into consideration, so that the issue could be addressed” at the next board meeting, scheduled to take place in October.