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New Year Brings New Leadership at UN

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) and Secretary-General-designate Antonio Guterres stand together after the swearing-in ceremony at UN headquarters in New York, Dec. 12, 2016.

Incoming United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took over the top position at the world's top diplomatic body Sunday, after outgoing leader Ban Ki-moon's term ended at midnight, December 31..

Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal and former High Commissioner for Refugees, has told the United Nations in a speech that the question of how to help millions of people caught up in conflict and war weighs heavily on his heart.

He noted that civilians are faced with deadly force, killed and injured, forced from their homes, and thrown into poverty. He lamented that even hospitals and aid convoys are not safe from violence.

Bridge builder

Guterres called on his peers at the U.N. to “make one shared New Year’s resolution: Let us resolve to put peace first.”

“From solidarity and compassion in our daily lives to dialogue and respect across political divides,” he said, “from cease-fires on the battlefield, to compromise at the negotiating table to reach political solutions — peace must be our goal and our guide.”

Guterres has promised to be a bridge builder at a time when the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has voiced concern that the United Nations is ineffective. Guterres has pledged to work with the Trump administration despite the friction and to try to cooperate on the “enormous challenges” that the United States and the United Nations will face in the coming years.

Ban farewell

Ban, the outgoing secretary-general, told his colleagues at the United Nations in his final address Friday that he is “so very proud” to have worked with them for the past 10 years. He asked them to set priorities and stay focused on issues such as sustainable development, climate change, women’s empowerment, youth empowerment, and many other issues.

He also pleaded with them “to never give up. To keep dreaming,” he said, “to keep believing, and to keep working hard until we achieve progress.”

He asked them to keep their focus on people’s rights and dignity, and to stand up for “those who are left behind” — those who have escaped the attention of the world community but still need help.

Ban’s second five-year term ended December 31. He said he felt “a bit like Cinderella” because of the abrupt change at the stroke of midnight. But he pledged always to “carry the title of global citizen” and said his heart will always be with his colleagues at the United Nations.