By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Ban Ki-moon is planning to formally announce his candidacy for a second five-term as U.N. secretary-general early next week, U.N. diplomats said on Saturday.
The former South Korean foreign minister had already received assurances of support from the United States and other key members of the U.N. Security Council, diplomats said in March, making his re-election all but certain.
U.N. diplomats said on condition of anonymity that Ban planned to meet on Monday morning with the so-called Asia Group, a cluster of U.N. member states that includes nations from Asia and the Middle East, to discuss his candidacy.
Afterward, he will hold a news conference at which he will announce publicly he is running for a second term after his first term ends on December 31. Ban is unopposed so far.
"I think Ban Ki-moon's chances of winning a second term under the circumstances are as close to 100 percent as you can get," a Security Council diplomat told Reuters.
Officially, U.N. secretaries-general are elected by the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.
In reality, it is the five permanent veto-wielding council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- that decide who gets the top U.N. job.
The decision by the five is then rubber-stamped by the full 15-nation council and the assembly, U.N. diplomats said. The formal re-election process for Ban should be over by the end of June, they added.
Ban's understated approach and less-than-perfect English set him apart from his more outspoken predecessor, Kofi Annan, who ran afoul of the administration of then-U.S. President George W. Bush for declaring the 2003 invasion of Iraq "illegal."
But diplomats praise Ban for his energetic support for the fight against climate change and push for nuclear disarmament.
Over the past four years, Ban has been accused by human rights groups of putting too much faith in quiet diplomacy. They have also criticized him for not taking China and other countries to task for what they say are rampant rights abuses.
The secretary-general was hit with a barrage of criticism last year when he failed to mention human rights or the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in China. Ban never congratulated Liu or called for the dissident's release.
But the secretary-general's recent support for military intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast, and his public statements of support for pro-democracy demonstrators in North Africa and the Middle East, increased his standing in the United States and Europe, although it clearly annoyed Russia and China.
Still, Russia and China have no serious objections to a second term for Ban and are expected to back him, envoys said.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)