An Egyptian cabinet minister who offered to burn Hebrew books last year entered the final straight as favorite for leadership of UNESCO Friday in the face of fierce opposition from Jewish groups and intellectuals in Europe.

Farouk Hosni, 71, an artist who has served as Culture Minister for 21 years, apologized this week for his book-burning call and is still deemed front-runner among seven contenders for the post of director-general of the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Applications closed Friday after a 10-day battle between Mr. Hosni and his accusers, conducted largely in the pages of Le Monde, the highbrow French newspaper.

Israel decided this week to back Mr. Hosni, and it is held to be the Arab world's turn for the plum international post, but if the furor in France and Germany spreads, he may lose when UNESCO members vote in September.

Mr. Hosni, who is supported by the Arab League and African nations, had until recently been deemed an easy choice to succeed Koichiro Matsuura of Japan as the ninth chief since Sir Julian Huxley was UNESCO's first director-general in the late 1940s.

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