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UN chief defends NATO, calls for action on Syria, urges Cyprus reunification

Andrew Gombert / EPA

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon speaks Wednesday at his year-end press conference at United Nations headquarters in New York.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon defended NATO, called for the reunification of Cyprus and urged action on Syria in a New York talk Wednesday wrapping up his first five-year term and getting ready for another, which begins in January.

Some of his remarks pit him against some permanent members of the 15-nation Security Council against others.

Here are his key points:

NATO and Libya: "Security Council resolution 1973, I believe, was strictly enforced within the limit, within the mandate. This military operation done by the NATO forces was strictly within (resolution) 1973. I believe this is what we have seen, and there should be no misunderstanding on that.”

Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa -- the so-called BRICSnations - had accused the alliance of overstepping its U.N. mandate to protect civilians in Libya as a cover to pursue regime change by aiding rebels who ousted and eventually killed long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Syria: "This cannot go on. In the name of humanity, it is time for the international community to act.”

The United Nations says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed in a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters this year. Last month, Russia and China vetoed a European-drafted Security Council resolution that would have condemned the Syrian clampdown and threatened President Bashar al-Assad's government with possible sanctions.

Arab Spring: "These changes of regime were done by the people, not by the intervention of any foreign forces, including the United Nations."

In addition to Gadhafi, the long-serving presidents of Tunisia and Egypt were forced out, paving the way for elections that Western nations hope will install democratic governments. Yemen's president was also forced to cede power to his deputy. Ban said he was pleased that the concept of taking action to protect civilians -- often referred to as the "responsibility to protect" or R2P -- appeared to be gaining momentum.

Cyprus:  Rival Greek and Turkish Cypriots should "engage and make progress, accelerating their pace of negotiation" on peace talks aimed at reunifying the divided Mediterranean island, Ban said. The Security Council on Wednesday extended until July 19, 2012, the U.N. peacekeeping force deployed there since 1964. Both Turkey and Greece claim Cyprus, which was split into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of a union with Greece.

U.N. transcript on Ban's news conference.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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