The 65-year-old former Netherlands prime minister said a lack of confidence in him since the story broke meant he had to leave the post as head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“For more than four years, I gave all my energy to UNHCR. UNHCR and its staff were an asset to the UN family,” he wrote in his letter of resignation.

Indicating UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had decided it was time for him to go, he added “To be frank, and despite all my loyalty, insult has now been added to injury and therefore I resign as high commissioner. Now, in the middle of a series of problems and with ongoing media pressure, you apparently view this differently”

The allegations against Mr Lubbers were contained in a confidential UN report leaked by the press last week, claiming he’d engaged in unwanted physical contact with a female employee at his agency in Geneva.

The report said claims made by other employees indicated a pattern of sexual harassment – although these women had not made official complaints.

The document also accused him of abusing his authority in trying to influence the outcome of the investigation.

The allegations first surfaced last year, but Mr Annan, after taking legal advice, decided there wasn’t enough evidence to support the charge.

At an impromptu press conference on Friday, Mr Lubbers said he was merely “friendly to women”, adding that it was a sign of good “gentlemanship.”

He demonstrated on a journalist how he said he had escorted a woman out of a meeting at his Geneva headquarters, which led to the initial harassment allegation last year.

“I ushered the lady out of the room with my hand on her back. And that was all,” Mr Lubbers said. “You could call it familiar but certainly not sexual harassment.”

He also hinted at least some of the report had been fabricated.

The resignation comes as the UN is already under fire following claims of corruption in its oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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