Mass walkout as Ahmadinejad decries 'racist' Israel
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's invitation to address the UN conference has caused controversy
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Monday, 20, Apr 2009 05:56
Western delegates have staged a mass walkout at the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched an attack on Israel during his address this afternoon.
After beginning with a history of slavery and colonialism, the Iranian president turned to the establishment of the Israeli state.
He said the move "made an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering and... helped bring to power the most cruel, repressive and racist regime in Palestine".
A significant number of delegates walked out immediately although there was enthusiastic applause from other areas of the hall.
As the president rose to speak, two protesters in multi-coloured wigs were bundled out of the hall by security after heckling Mr Ahmadinejad. One appeared to throw something at the speaker's lectern, while a red point from a laser pen flashed across the president's chest.
And before his remarks about Israel, Mr Ahmadinejad embarrassed his hosts by ridiculing the idea of the veto powers enjoyed by the UN security council.
He asked: "How can we expect the realisation of justice and peace when international law is dominated by coercion and force rather than justice?"
After leaving the hall, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said: "The defence of human rights and the fight against all types of racism are too important for the United Nations not to unite against all forms of hate speech, against all perversion of this message.
"Faced with attitudes like that which the Iranian president has just adopted, no compromise is possible."
Earlier the UN secretary general had spoken out against the countries boycotting the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva because of concerns surrounding Mr Ahmadinejad's speech.
It had been feared the Iranian president would use his speech to reiterate his controversial views about Israel and the Holocaust. Israel has recalled its ambassador from Geneva after the Swiss foreign minister met with Mr Ahmadinejad yesterday.
Opening the convention, Ban Ki-moon had said: "There comes a time in the affairs of humankind when we must stand firm on the fundamental principles that binds us.
"There comes a time to reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights and dignity and worth of us all, a time to give the virtues of tolerance in respect for diversity their fullest due and look beyond a past that divides us towards a future that unites us. The time is now, ladies and gentleman. The time is now."
The United States withdrew on Saturday with president Barack Obama citing the "hypocritical and counterproductive" language used in the draft resolution. On the insistence of some Middle East countries, a clause was inserted in the draft document opposing the inciting of religious hatred, which some see as an attack on freedom of expression.
Germany, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand have all since followed the US example. Canada and Israel have made it clear for some months they would not be attending.
The UK sent a representation but with no senior official present.
The UN had been hoping the Geneva meeting would pass off more smoothly than its first anti-racism conference held in Durban in 2001, where there were accusations of anti-Semitism levelled at certain NGOs and an unsuccessful attempt by some states to have Zionism condemned as a racist doctrine.