GENEVA – European Union delegates walked out of a United Nations anti-racism conference on Monday after Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a verbal onslaught against “cruel” Israel.
The meeting which had already been boycotted by several Western countries such as the United States and Australia, as well as Israel, was plunged into further controversy as Ahmadinejad took to the stage.
Several demonstrators were ejected as the Iranian president began his speech at the conference in Geneva and soon afterwards delegates from the European Union quit the conference room in protest at some of his comments.
Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, criticized the creation of a “totally racist government in occupied Palestine” in 1948, calling it “the most cruel and racist regime.”
“They sent migrants from Europe, the United States ... in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine,” he added.
But while the speech from the Iranian leader, who has also described the Nazi Holocaust as a “myth”, was shunned by Western powers, other delegates who stayed to hear him speak greeted his words with applause.
His address came after he held talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who had kicked off the conference by criticizing countries who decided to stay away from Geneva. “Some nations, who by rights should be helping to forge a path to a better future, are not here,” Ban said, telling delegates he was “profoundly disappointed.”
“I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside,” he added before holding his own meeting with Ahmadinejad.
In a statement released through his spokeswoman, Ban said that he would not tolerate any denying of the Holocaust, the slaughter of European Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II.
“He condemns Holocaust denial and those who minimise the importance of the Holocaust,” Ban’s spokeswoman said.
But despite his comments, the diplomatic fallout spread as Israel recalled its ambassador in protest at the Swiss president’s decision to meet Ahmadinejad – the Iranian’s first formal meeting with a Western head of state since taking office in 2005.
Poland became the latest nation to boycott the meeting after the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
France, whose ambassador walked out of the conference, accused Ahmadinejad of promoting “hate speech.”
“The president, who had already rejected the unacceptable statements made by the Iranian president in other circumstances, condemns utterly this hate speech,” said President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office.
“He calls for the European Union to take an extremely firm stance,” it added. “I hope this protest gesture inspires the international community to take notice,” added Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in a second statement. “Faced with attitudes like that which the Iranian president has just adopted, no compromise is possible,” he added.
At least three demonstrators, dressed as clowns and shouting “racist, racist,” were hustled out of the conference. The French Union of Jewish Students claimed responsibility for the incident, in a statement that denounced the five-day conference as a “masquerade.”
The walkout was a repeat of the last such conference against racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 when US and Israeli delegates stormed off over comments by delegates equating racism and Zionism. – AFP