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Sweden joins UN racism conference walkout

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07:52 CEST+02:00
Swedish and EU delegates walked out of the UN World Conference on Racism in Geneva in protest at remarks by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In his speech Ahmadinejad accused Israel of racism, of imposing repression in the Palestinian territories, and described the recent Gaza bombings as genocide.

"They sent emigrants from Europe and the USA with the purpose of establishing a racist state in occupied Palestine," said the Iranian president, who was the first to speak at the conference.

He also accused the United Nations Security Council of supporting Israel's "racist genocidal regime" for the past 60 years.

At this point Swedish delegates joined all those attending from the EU countries in walking out in protest at the remarks.

The delegates then returned to the conference to hear a speech by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr, in which he condemned President Ahmadinejad's remarks.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote in his blog, "Alla Dessa Dagar", on Tuesday that despite the Iranian president's comments there is "strong support for the line of active engagement chosen by the great majority of EU countries."

The build up to the conference has been marred by controversy and many countries, including the US and the Czech Republic, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, have elected not to take part.

The Local reported last week that although Sweden had decided to participate in the conference, the country would not be sending any ministerial representation.

The pre-conference protests were grounded in fears that the UN conference would descend into chaos like its predecessor, in Durban in 2001.

The differences of opinion between countries grouped crudely into "east and west" have concerned issues such as freedom of expression, religious freedom, the Holocaust and colonialism.

Nevertheless a document has been framed and according to the Swedish integration minister Nyamko Sabuni, the negotiations were considered successful by the conference.

The framework document was in the last minute cut from 45 to 17 pages and all mentions of Israel and the Middle East were removed. The document's main purpose is to underline support for the Durban declaration signed in 2001.

Among the countries which have boycotted the conference include the USA, Germany, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia and Israel.

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