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World

Iranian speech sparks mass walk-out at UN racism conference

European diplomats walked out of a United Nations anti-racism conference on Monday after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel had occupied Palestinian land to form a racist state.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad divided the audience at the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva

"Following World War II they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," Ahmadinejad told the audience, speaking through a translator.

"And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine," he said. "And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."

Representatives of 23 European Union delegations quit the conference room in protest at some of Ahmadinejad's comments, while two protesters dressed as clowns were ejected for heckling the Iranian leader and calling him a "racist."

Mass walk-out

A demonstrator dressed as a clown yells heckles Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his speach during at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva

Demonstrators in the audience heckled Ahmadinejad and called him a racist


British ambassador Peter Gooderham condemned the Iranian leader's "offensive and inflammatory comments" that prompted the European delegates to stream out of the assembly hall.

"Such outrageous anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a UN anti-racism forum," he said.

Slovenian ambassador Andrej Logar called the Iranian comments - which prompted applause among delegates who remained in the UN assembly hall - "detrimental to the dignity of this conference."

Most delegates who left the hall said they would return after Ahmadinejad finished speaking.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, however, stayed in the audience because he was the next speaker scheduled after Ahmadinejad.

Store told delegates that he rejected the Iranian leader's comments because they violated the spirit of the conference

"Norway will not accept that 'the odd man out' hijacks the collective effort of the many," Store said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy later condemned Ahmadinejad's "speech of hate" and urged a firm and united European Union reaction.

UN reactions

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Iranian president's speech as completely inappropriate.

"I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite," Ban said in a statement. "This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve."

He said the speech would make it more difficult to deal with the "very real problem of racism."

Ban had met Ahmadinejad for talks on the sidelines of the conference before the Iranian leader delivered his speech.

Ahmadinejad and Ban sitting across from each other in a conference room



The UN chief said their conversation stressed the "need to look to the future of unity, not to the past of divisiveness."

"The secretary general reminded the president that the UN General Assembly had adopted the resolution to revoke the equation of Zionism with racism," a UN statement read.

They also discussed the conference, regional peace and security, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East as well as the Iranian nuclear issue, UN officials said.

Earlier on Monday Ban decried a number of Western nations' decisions to boycott the conference for fear it would become a forum for anti-Semitism.

Poland was the latest nation to pull out of the meeting after Germany, the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Weekend discussions saw EU envoys fail to come up with a joint position on the conference among the 27 member states. Britain, for example, said it would attend the event but not send any high level officials, while France sent a delegation with a warning that its representatives would leave if Ahmadinejad used the conference to criticize Israel.

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