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Kofi Annan to visit Salt Lake for opening of Olympics

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U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to come to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games and attend a reception for world leaders hosted by Gov. Mike Leavitt at the state Capitol.

"The word that we've received is that we expect him to be here but we understand that it is something that could change at any time," the governor's spokeswoman, Natalie Gochnour, said Tuesday. "We're honored."

Annan, who will probably attend the Feb. 8 opening ceremonies at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium with his wife, Nane, was invited to attend the Games by International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge.

IOC Director General Francois Carrard confirmed Annan has accepted.

"We are very honored and pleased he will be attending, " Carrard said. "As you know, we have developed over the years a very close cooperation with the United Nations."

Leavitt's reception is scheduled to follow a planned address by President Bush at the Capitol on the day of the opening ceremonies. Bush, who has a role in the opening ceremonies, has not officially confirmed he will attend.

Annan will be "one of many dignitaries, heads of state and world leaders" in Utah for the Games, Gochnour said.

"I would guess this is someone who would not know of our state in any sort of detail were it not for the Games," she said. "To have him visit and see our beautiful city and in some way get to interact and know some of our people is one of those benefits of being the host."

In a letter to the IOC president, Annan said he was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in building a peaceful and better world through participation in the Olympics.

Annan, the winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, also said he was "hoping to join in celebrating the commitment and achievements of young people who are the true wealth of the Olympic movement."

It is anticipated that the secretary-general would be joined at the Games by other U.N. officials, including Ruud Lubbers, high commissioner of the U.N. refugee agency, and Carol Bellamy, executive director of the U.N. children's fund.

The head sports official of the United Nations, Adolph Oggi, will also be in Salt Lake City. The U.N. officials are expected to discuss issues related to Olympic Aid, an organization headed by Norwegian speedskater Johann Olav Koss that raises money for youth sports programs.

E-MAIL: lisa@desnews.com