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NATO secretary-general Claes resigns

Scramble begins to find successor

October 20, 1995
Web posted at: 10:40 a.m. EDT (1440 GMT)

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- As expected, NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes announced his resignation Friday, a day after the Belgian House of Representatives voted to force the former economic affairs minister to defend himself against charges of corruption and fraud.

Belgian lawmakers voted 97-52 Thursday to send Claes before the country's highest court, where he will answer allegations that he took bribes from an Italian aircraft manufacturer in the late 1980s.

"Since I took up my appointment here a year ago, the interests of this great alliance, its credibility, and its efficiency have always come first with me," Claes said at NATO headquarters Friday. "I have therefore concluded that the interests of the alliance are best served by my taking this course of action."

The secretary-general's resignation leaves a vacuum at NATO's head just as the organization begins preparations for a 50,000-member army that would be charged with enforcing whatever peace agreement is reached in Bosnia.

Claes met with ambassadors from NATO's member organizations individually and collectively Friday morning prior to his public announcement. He reportedly stressed his innocence during the meetings.

After speaking with Claes, the ambassadors held a meeting of their own to discuss filling the secretary-general's post until a replacement can be named, diplomatic sources said. Assistant Secretary-General Sergio Balanzino is expected to take the position temporarily.

The NATO ministers could name Claes' permanent successor as early as this weekend during the United Nations' 50th anniversary festivities in New York.

The names of three Europeans have surfaced as the front- runners for the post. Ruud Lubbers is a former Dutch premier; Hans van den Broek is a former Dutch foreign minister and currently the European Union's external affairs commissioner; and Uffe Ellemann-Jensen is a former foreign minister in Denmark, currently head of that country's Liberal party.

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