World-wide condemnation follows Ahmadinejad rant

April 21st, 2009 - 7:43 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva/Washington, April 21 (DPA) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s strong rhetoric against Israel at a racism conference in Geneva Monday triggered a world-wide round of denunciations as a number of countries walked out on his speech in Geneva.
In Jerusalem, an angry Israeli President Shimon Peres called Ahmadinejad’s remarks “a disgrace.” He warned that allowing the Iranian leader to speak “constitutes an acceptance of racism, rather than the fight against it”.

He noted that Ahmadinejad has called for “the annihilation of Israel and denies the Holocaust”.

In Washington, the US State Department called the remarks “unacceptable” and said they only served to fuel racial hatred.

“Iran needs to end this type of inflammatory rhetoric. It’s not helpful,” spokesman Robert Wood said.

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the Iranian leader’s “intolerable appeal for racist hatred” and called for an extremely firm reaction by the European Union (EU).

Even before Ahmadinejad spoke, the conference was boycotted by the US, Canada, Israel, Germany, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand. The major objection was that the proposed final document for countering worldwide racism unfairly singled out Israel and threatened freedom of speech.

The Geneva gathering was a follow-on to the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, which was boycotted by Washington and Israel over concerns of an anti-Israeli slant.

Ahmadinejad was the only head of state to attend Monday’s meeting, which gave him claim to the podium under UN procedures. The Iranian hardliner said that Palestinians had been “made homeless” following World War II “under the pretext of Jewish suffering” and under a misuse of facts about the Holocaust.

He called the Israeli government a “racist regime”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon charged that Ahmadinejad misused the UN platform to “accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve”.

But Ban also took heat from Israel’s Foreign Ministry for meeting with Ahmadinejad, noting the irony of the events happening on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who worked with little success through the day to bring victims of racism into the spotlight, said she was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the Iranian president’s words.

But she also urged participants not to let Ahmadinejad ruin the converence.

“He did not sabotage unless we let him do that. We should not allow one intervention to mar the entire conference,” said Pillay, a South African anti-apartheid activist who was a judge on the tribunals for Rwanda after the genocide.

While some of his European colleagues walked out in protest, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store took the microphone after Ahmadinejad left, charging he was “the odd man out” who had violated the spirit of the conference.

“Norway will not accept that ‘the odd man out’ hijacks the collective effort of the many,” Store said.

While Store defended freedom of speech as “crucial among human rights,” he also charged Ahmadinejad with “incitement of hatred” - the very thing that the document being adopted in Geneva swore to prevent.

Even before Ahmadinejad’s speech, Israel took diplomatic steps by recalling its ambassador to Switzerland to protest Bern’s decision to host Ahmadinejad at the UN conference. Swiss President Hans Rudolf Merz met with Ahmadinejad after he arrived on Sunday.

“There must be a limit, even to the neutrality of Switzerland,” said Peres.

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