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Germany undecided on attending UN racism talks

Germany and the European Union are still debating whether they should attend a controversial United Nations anti-racism conference that begins in Geneva on Monday.

Protestors carry a banner reading 'fight racism' as they take part in an anti-racism demonstration in the center of Geneva

A growing boycott by Western nations is undermining the UN conference

The five-day Durban Review Conference is intended to take stock of international efforts to combat intolerance since the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which saw the United States and Israel walk out over claims of anti-Semitism.

European diplomats fear that this year's conference may also take an aggressively anti-Israeli, anti-Western line given that preparations were dominated by Libya, Cuba and Iran.

A draft declaration circulated earlier this year made Israel responsible for the entire Middle East conflict, while human rights violations in Muslim countries were largely ignored.

Differences persist

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves as he boards his aircraft

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a history of denying the Holocaust

Negotiators in Geneva said on Friday, April 17, that most Western and Muslim states had agreed to a revised declaration that ironed out the most controversial issues linked to religious discrimination and the Middle East.

But Saturday saw the United States pull out of the meeting because of differences over Israel and the right to free speech, while Israel itself renewed its call for a boycott, describing the UN conference as a "tragic farce."

"Officially, it is aimed at denouncing racism, but it has invited a Holocaust denier who has called for the destruction of Israel," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said.

Levy's remarks were a reference to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is due to address the conference on April 20, the anniversary of Hitler's birth.

The Iranian leader, who is the only prominent head of state expected to attend the conference, has sparked international outrage by repeatedly calling the Holocaust a "myth" and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Last minute decisions

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gestures during a parliamentary debate

Steinmeier is yet to decide whether Germany will attend the UN conference

A spokesman for German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said no decision on German participation was likely to be made before Sunday evening, and that the majority of European leaders were still discussing whether they should follow Israel's call to boycott the conference, which begins on Monday.

The Netherlands, however, broke ranks on Sunday morning and announced it would not attend the event.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a statement that countries with questionable human rights records were seeking to abuse the gathering "to place religion ahead of human rights and unnecessarily curtain freedom of speech, to negate discrimination against homosexuality, and to place Israel alone in the accused bench".

"The conference is too important for it to be abused for political ends and attacks on the West," Verhagen said. "The Netherlands will not be a party to that."

The Dutch decision follows much earlier boycott announcements issued by Italy, Canada and Australia.

British confidence

A Palestinian woman hold up a placard reading ' boycott Israel as Aparta regime'

Israel has slammed the UN conference as a "tragic farce"

Britain, on the other hand, is expected to attend the Geneva summit.

"We're watching how things develop," a Foreign Office spokesman told AFP news agency. "It's still our intention to attend."

The spokesman said Britain wanted the conference "to get a collective will to fight racism now," although it was "under no illusions about the scale of this challenge."

"We wouldn't be able to support a process that was skewed against the West or other countries," the spokesman said, adding that Britain had certain "red lines" on the issues involved that it would stick to.

"We have argued for the concluding document to have sufficient (content) on the Holocaust and combating anti-Semitism."

"We would find it unacceptable if the process seeks to deny or denigrate the Holocaust."

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