UNITED NATIONS - The General Assembly approved a two-year U.N. budget on Thursday that pushed past the $5 billion (3 billion pounds) mark, but Western countries said they had won savings on the cost of an organisation some see as profligate.

As in past years, the biennial budget negotiations were marked by a tussle between poor countries seeking to raise U.N. development spending and major developed countries -- the biggest budget contributors -- trying to rein the figures in.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the 192-nation assembly approved a budget of $5.16 billion covering the years 2010 and 2011. That compares with a revised figure of some $4.87 billion for the past two years.

Western diplomats said they calculated that the various requests submitted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for 2010-2011 had totalled around $5.5 billion. The agreed figure was considerably reduced from the budget we were given, one said.

The so-called core budget voted through on Thursday does not include peace-keeping, currently running at some $8 billion a year and approved in separate negotiations, or the costs of several major U.N. agencies funded by voluntary contributions from member states.

This year, the assembly had to factor in requests for boosted spending on security against attackers. In October, a suicide attack on a U.N. guest-house in the Afghan capital Kabul killed five foreign U.N. staff.

Diplomats said the budget included a near doubling of resources for Afghanistan, where the United Nations wants to expand its presence as part of a civilian surge accompanying stepped-up U.S. and NATO military operations against Taliban insurgents.

In a statement, Secretary-General Ban pledged to utilize the resources made available to the organisation in the most effective and efficient way.

After lengthy debate, the U.N. scale of assessments, a formula that determines which country contributes how much to the United Nations, was left unchanged. The scale is based on a nation's wealth and the biggest single contributor is the United States, which pays 22 percent of the budget.
Critics of the United Nations, especially in the United States, have long charged that it is a bloated and sometimes corrupt bureaucracy that wastes taxpayers' money.

Supporters of the world body say it is cheap at the price.

Its budget, when compared to the New York Police Department's $4.6 billion annual budget, hardly seems extravagant considering the billions of people affected by U.N. programs and projects, said Melissa Labonte of New York's Fordham University.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)