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EU threatens to boycott UN racism conference

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Monday threatened to pull out of an upcoming United Nations conference on racism, already boycotted by the US, unless a draft declaration deemed anti-Semitic is changed.

"The main voices were very sceptical about the directions of the papers prepared," said Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The EU is seeking to remove at least five paragraphs from the draft on the situation in the Palestinian territories, such as an assertion that "in order to consolidate the Israeli occupation, (Palestinians) have been subjected to unlawful collective punishment, torture."

Schwarzenberg, speaking to reporters after presiding over a meeting of EU foreign ministers, said the 27-nation bloc would "probably" send its own suggestions for the draft.

"If the conference will be in line with that then we will stay, otherwise there is a strong call to withdraw," he told reporters in Brussels.

Italy has already pulled out of the 20-24 April conference in Geneva, "complaining of unacceptable, aggressive and anti-Semitic phrases," while Britain has said it will not attend unless there is a "change in direction" to the draft declaration.

Israel, Canada and the United States have also vowed to boycott this year’s gathering, dubbed "Durban II".

The inaugural racism conference, held in the South African city of Durban in September 2001, saw a walkout by Israeli and US delegates in protest against a bid by Arab nations to adopt a resolution that equates Zionism with racism.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is among those calling for a unified EU withdrawal from the talks unless the preparatory papers are substantially modified.

The documents "suggest that this is not simply dealing with racism, but that the conference could be diverted by the taking of one-sided positions on the Middle East conflict, or to condemn some European and American positions regarding the Arab-Muslim world," he said after the Brussels meeting.

"I would plead for us to withdraw from this conference if in the coming hours and days we don’t get a substantial modification of these documents," he said.

His Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt said: "We have very definite red lines and if they are crossed we will not be able to participate."

AFP / Expatica