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Doreen Bogdan-Martin was elected Thursday as the first woman to lead the UN's telecoms agency in its 157-year history, with the US contender beating a Russian rival to the post.
Bogdan-Martin will become the next secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, which plays an important global role in setting the technical standards underlying mobile phones, television and the internet.
She claimed a landslide 139-25 victory over Russia's former deputy telecoms minister Rashid Ismailov in an election among the ITU's member states at a conference in Bucharest.
"Today, we made history. After 157 years, we shattered the glass ceiling," she said.
Bogdan-Martin has worked her way up through the ITU. She joined its development bureau -- one of the ITU's three main divisions -- in 1993 and became its director in 2019, pushing digital transformation.
Contests for the top UN jobs are typically about the balance of power between regional blocs.
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The vote to lead the UN's Geneva-based information and communication technologies agency -- which coordinates everything from radio frequencies to satellites and 5G -- was unrelated to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
However, the election was being seen as a test of Russia's standing in the United Nations as the war in Ukraine grinds on.
Moscow's reliable friends in UN circles have dwindled due to the war, though ITU member states had nonetheless blocked a bid to stop Russian candidates from running.
'2.7 billion still offline'
Bogdan-Martin's pitch was about getting more of the world connected to the internet and pushing forward high-speed access.
"The world is facing significant challenges: escalating conflicts, a climate crisis, food security, gender inequalities, and 2.7 billion people with no access to the internet," she said.
"We are riding a powerful wave of innovation and growth and must use this opportunity to improve peoples' lives -- especially those who are excluded."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement: "This outcome reflects a broad endorsement by member states of Ms. Bogdan-Martin's vision for universal connectivity, digital empowerment, and leadership at the ITU that is innovative, collaborative, and inclusive."
He said Washington was determined to ensure that international organisations were well-run, responsive and accountable.
Bogdan-Martin will take over from China's Houlin Zhao when his second four-year term as ITU secretary-general expires at the end of the year.
"This marks a new beginning for ITU. Let this be an inspiration for more women and girls to make their contribution to our industry," Zhao said.
France's mission in Geneva called her an "inspiring force for women who want to embark on a career in information communications technology".
The European Broadcasting Union said it looked forward to strengthening its partnership with the ITU and its new chief in the years to come.
Oldest UN agency
Bogdan-Martin was chosen in a secret ballot during the ITU's plenipotentiary conference, its main decision-making body.
The gathering in Bucharest, from September 26 to October 14, is the major event in the agency's four-year calendar.
The ITU is preparing a widely-anticipated report on the telecoms infrastructure damage in Ukraine since Russia's invasion, with the European Union voicing frustration it was not released in time for the Bucharest conference.
In response, Zhao said in a letter sent to the EU on Wednesday, seen by AFP on Thursday, saying that an "interim assessment report" would be published "after" the gathering.
A Western diplomat aired disappointment at the delay, saying six months had now passed, and telling AFP: "They really are running out of excuses."
The ITU was founded in 1865, making it the oldest agency in the UN fold.
It was created to manage international telegraph networks, but expanded its remit with new technological developments such as telephones, radio, television, satellites, mobile phones and the internet.
It brings together 193 member states as well as some 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations.
"Every time you make a phone call via the mobile, access the internet or send an email, you are benefiting from the work of ITU," it boasts.
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