GENEVA, April 20: An international conference on racism fell into disarray on Monday as Iran’s president launched a verbal onslaught against Israel, triggering a mass walkout and a furious rebuke from the head of the United Nations. 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 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the stage.
Several demonstrators were ejected as the Iranian president began his speech in Geneva and soon afterwards representatives of 23 European Union delegations quit the conference room after he labelled Israel cruel and racist.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier berated countries for boycotting the meeting, accused the Iranian leader of incitement while other world leaders lined up to condemn his remarks.
Mr Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, criticised 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 Holocaust as a “myth”, was shunned by western powers, other delegates who stayed to hear him speak greeted his words with applause.
After President Ahmadinejad’s speech, Mr Ban said the Iranian had undermined the aim of the conference by sowing divisions. “I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite,” he said in a statement. “This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve.”
Even before the speech, the diplomatic fallout from Mr Ahmadinejad’s presence in Geneva was spreading. Israel recalled its ambassador in protest at the Swiss president’s decision to meet the Iranian leader – Mr Ahmadinejad’s first formal meeting with a western head of state since taking office in 2005.
Israel’s foreign ministry also criticised Mr Ban for meeting Mr Ahmadinejad, saying it was regrettable that he “thought it advisable to meet the greatest Holocaust denier who heads a UN member state”.
Four EU nations were among a group of nine countries -- including the United States -- which boycotted the meeting. The remaining 23 EU countries that did attend the event had warned they would walk out if Mr Ahmadinejad made “anti-Semitic accusations” during the event.
The French government said the content of the speech made a walkout inevitable. “The United Nations conference that opened on Monday in Geneva had a goal that should have united and mobilised the international community: the struggle against all forms of racism,” said President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office. “The speech given by the president of Iran was the exact opposite: an intolerable appeal to racist hate, it tramples on the ideals and values recorded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
Source: Pakistan Dawn