United Nations, Sep 22 (UNI) From the ritual ringing of a bell at its majestic headquarters in New York to the farthest flung trenches of warfare across the world, where a record number of more than 100,000 peacekeepers are struggling to restore stability, the UN marked the annual International Day of Peace with fervent appeals for an end to violence.
''Peace is the highest calling of the United Nations and for me personally,'' Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared yesterday on the lawn in front of the towering UN headquarters as he stood facing the Peace Bell, a gift from Japan cast from the pennies donated by children from 60 nations, before driving the ringing beam into it three times.
''Peace defines our mission, drives our discourse and draws together all of our worldwide work, from peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy to promoting human rights and development,'' he added.
The International Day of Peace on September 21 was first marked by the UN General Assembly in 1981 as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The General Assembly called for people around the world to use the day as an opportunity to promote the resolution of conflict and to observe a cessation of hostilities during it.
UN staff throughout the world observed a minute of silence in the name of peace.
Half a world away in Afghanistan, which has seen an upsurge in violence, thousands of people rallied behind the country's biggest-ever peace effort, even as fighting continued in the south.
From Kandahar to Kunduz, from Herat to Jalalabad, peace events were taking place and on a scale never seen before in the country, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said, according to reports received here.
Even warring factions promised to honour the day by putting down their weapons so that 1.3 million children can be vaccinated against polio, with more than 10,000 vaccinators visiting areas in southern and eastern regions as part of the National Immunization Days organized by UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization and the Health Ministry.
In Lebanon, where a beefed-up UN force of more than 13,000 'Blue Helmets' is seeking to keep the peace after last year's war between Israel and Hizbollah, force commander Claudio Graziano summed up the overall hope at a ceremony at the cenotaph to UN peacekeepers who have fallen in the line of duty.
Mr Ban referred directly to the global crises in countless communities across the world, peace remains an elusive goal, he said.
From the displaced person camps of Chad and Darfur to the byways of Baghdad, the quest for peace is strewn with setbacks and suffering, added the Secretry General.
''Over the next few days [during the General Assembly annual General Debate], I will be convening high-level meetings on Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, to seek to advance our quest for peace in those troubled lands and I will be convening a high-level event on climate change,'' said Mr Ban.
If we are to build enduring peace around the world, we need to protect the one and only planet we all share, he added.
Yesterday was the first time Mr Ban has presided over the International Day of Peace and ever since he took office on January 1 this year he has made mitigating and reversing the impact of global warming a priority of his stewardship as the world's top diplomat.
Following his speech and a minute of silence, the Japanese choir Tarumi Violinists performed and the UN Singers sang a Song of Peace.
Mr Ban then attended the annual Student Observance at UN headquarters, where 700 middle and high school students including refugees from Peru and Sudan exchanged views on the theme Peace: A Climate of Change via video conference with young people at the UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon and Sudan.
''Around me, I can see the next generation of scientists, business leaders, politicians, journalists, artists and civil society activists perhaps even a future Secretary-General of the United Nations,'' he told the youngsters.