Delegates have walked out of a speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (photo, from bbc.co.uk), Iran’s president, after he described Israel as a “racist government”, during a United Nations conference on racism.
On Monday, the Iranian president told delegates at the summit in Geneva, Switzerland, that after the Second World War the United States and other nations had established a “cruel, oppressive and racist regime” in occupied Palestine.
“The UN security council has stabilised this occupation regime and supported it in the last 60 years giving them a free hand to continue their crimes”, he said.
As he made the remarks, dozens of diplomats from countries like Britain, France and Canada left the Durban Review Conference hall.
Mr Ahmadinejad also asked the conference: “What were the root causes of the US attacks against Iraq or invasion of Afghanistan?
“The Iraqi people have suffered enormous losses … wasn’t the military action against Iraq planned by the Zionists … in the US administration, in complicity with the arms manufacturing companies”.
Iran’s president comments was applauded by many delegates who remained in the hall.
When Mr Ahmadinejad began his speech, at least three demonstrators, dressed as clowns and shouting “racist, racist”, were expelled from the hall. (photo, from bbc.co.uk)
Mr Ahmadinejad has reiterated his views on Israel, especially over its 22-day war on Gaza, said Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the conference.
He said: “At the time he said what was going on in Gaza was a genocide … this was an opportunity for him to say that at a world forum.
“There are people in the hall who believe that what Ahmadinejad was saying is correct – that is why there is such a split here.”
Earlier, Bernard Kouchner, French foreign ministry, had warned that French delegates would walk out if the forum if Mr Ahmadinejad used it as a platform to make “racist or anti-Semitic accusations”.
He told France Info radio: “We will have to be very clear. We will not tolerate any slips.”
Iran’s state broadcaster quoted Mr Ahmadinejad before he set off for the summit in Geneva as saying that “the Zionist ideology and regime are the flag bearers of racism”.
Earlier, Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nation’s secretary general, earlier said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the Western nations who boycotted a racism conference in Switzerland.
Fearing that the Iranian president could use the summit in order to propagate anti-Semitic views, the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, said they would not attend.
Washington also said it believed a draft text to be discussed at the conference is overly critical of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.
When he earlier opened the five-day summit,Mr Ban said he regretted some nations were not attending the summit, but also condemned those who deny or minimise the extent of the Holocaust.
He said: “I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside. I hope they will not do so for long”.
“Some nations who by rights should be helping us to forge a path to a better future are not here.
“Outside these halls, interest groups of many political and ideological stripes shout against one another in acrimony”, Mr Ban said.
Israel withdrew its ambassador earlier on Monday, in protest over a meeting between president Ahmadinejad and Hans-Rudolf Merz, his Swiss counterpart.
Mr Ahmadinejad is a frequent critic of Israel and has previously called the Holocaust a “myth”. His speech coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, which begins at sundown on Monday.
Months ago, Canada and Israel said the would shun the meeting.
The UN organised the summit in order to help heal the wounds left by its last racism summit in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.
After Arab states sought to define Zionism – support for the existence of a Jewish state – as being racist, the US and Israel walked out of the conference.
Washington justified its staying home by citing “objectionable” language in a text prepared for the Geneva meeting.
Although the draft does not mention Israel by name, it reaffirms the Durban statement and its reference to the plight of Palestinians.
Washington wants a “clean slate” before tackling race and discrimination issues at the UN, said Barack Obama, the US president, when he announced his administration’s decision not to attend the conference.
At the summit in Geneva, several Muslim nations have called for moves to prevent perceived insults to Islam, saying they have proliferated since the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.