France's Audrey Azoulay, the newly-elected Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), speaks to the media at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, October 13, 2017. (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)
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UNESCO's executive board elected Friday former French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay to be the U.N. cultural agency's next leader over a Qatari candidate in an unusually heated race overshadowed by Middle East tensions.Azoulay, a 45-year-old Jewish woman, had started the week's voting with much less support but built up backing as other candidates dropped out and won a runoff earlier Friday against Egypt's candidate.Azoulay will be the second French leader of the organization since Rene Maheu, UNESCO's director general from 1961-74 .Azoulay's late entry into the leadership race in March annoyed many UNESCO member states who thought that since France hosts the Paris-based agency it shouldn't field a candidate.The U.S. stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member state in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh in on policy behind the scenes. UNESCO says the U.S. now owes about $550 million in back payments.
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