UN conference reaches consensus

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Delegates to the UN’s Durban review meeting adopt a declaration against racism.

GENEVA - UN officials and diplomats working to save a major anti-racism conference after a speech by Iran's president attacking Israel, praised a declaration agreed on Tuesday.

Delegates to the UN conference on racism adopted a final declaration against racism and intolerance, which UN human rights chief Navi Pillay described as an answer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's tirade.

The Iranian president's speech caused a mass walkout on Monday.

"The fact that this document has been adopted by all but nine states is our answer, what I call success," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights," said Pillay.

United States, Israel, Poland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and New Zealand boycotted the conference even before it began. The Czech Republic joined them after Ahmadinejad's speech.

The declaration included a paragraph stating that "the Holocaust must never be forgotten," said Pillay, noting that Iran, as one of the delegations attending, also signed it.

The Vatican's permanent representative in Geneva, Silvano Tomasi, welcomed the declaration. While not perfect, he said, it "opened the way for future negotiations on a number of themes which for the first time have been accepted in a universal way."

The Vatican has observer status at the conference.

Ahmadinejad was widely criticised after calling Israel a "racist" and "cruel" regime, prompting 23 European Union delegations to walk out in protest.

Apart from the Czechs, those delegations returned to the conference chamber Tuesday, as the organisers and delegates gathered to contain the results.

Some of the delegates said Ahmadinejad's speech strengthened their resolve to adopt the declaration as soon as possible. It was originally scheduled for Friday, the end of the five-day gathering.

"We couldn't allow our determination and consensus to be destroyed by isolated instances or intolerances and incitement to hatred as we witnessed yesterday," British ambassador Peter Gooderham told AFP.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France 5 television, "The text was adopted, therefore he has failed," referring to the Iranian leader.

Russia's foreign ministry criticised Ahmadinejad's attack on Israel as "hard and lacking balance."

But it also described as "unfortunate" both the EU walkout and the decision by other states to boycott the meeting.

UN officials noted that Ahmadinejad moderated his speech, cutting a phrase that appeared in the written version.

In Monday's address he said the Allies created the state of Israel after World War II "on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the abuse of the question of the Holocaust," said a UN statement.

But the English text version, provided by the Iranian delegation, read, "on the pretext of the Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his disappointment at Ahmadinejad's speech on Tuesday.

"While I appreciate his participation, what he did was out of the purpose of the conference and what we expected, what the international community expected," said Ban during a visit to Malta.

But Iran's newspapers praised the speech, with government newspaper Iran headlining the story, "Cry for justice in the heart of Europe: Ahmadinejad angered Western racists."

His speech was moderate compared to his past comments, which included calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.

Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said it was an "insult" to allow Ahmadinejad to criticise Israel at a UN anti-racism conference.

"Why this member is invited to the UN is beyond me. Why he was allowed to say what he said, why wasn't he stopped by the chairman... is beyond me."

Tuesday's UN declaration came the day that ceremonies were held in Israel and around Europe in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom joined some 8,000 people in a ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in southern Poland.

AFP / Expatica

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