Monday, April 20, 2009

Ahmadinejad profile raised by protests

A walkout by British and EU delegates and protests by some wearing clown wigs at a racism conference has served to increase the voice of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he called the holocaust a myth and labelled Israel a racist state.

Several other delegates also joined British representatives as they walked from the conference hall in Geneva as the Iranian president launched his attack on the Jewish state. Delegates from some 30 countries took to their feet and France has condemned his comments calling it a “hate speech”. Israel meanwhile had refused to even participate in the conference [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Some have questioned the purpose of the conference. “I think having Ahmadinejad speak was a mistake,” Crystal Fleming, a researcher in sociology at Harvard said. Speaking on France 24 she said the conference “served no purpose”.

Some television viewers have said the West is hypocritical in boycotting the speech saying that they are ignoring the right to freedom of expression. However, Fleming said that “constructive dialogue and free speech were difficult to balance.”

Schmuel Ravel, from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Ahmadinejad’s comments “were to be expected”. He also questioned the usefulness of such a conference saying that a similar conference in 2001 in South Africa was also turned into an airing of hatred towards Israel.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, speaking today said anti-Semitism persists called on the world not to forget the holocaust. Talking at commemorations during holocaust remembrance day, he also criticised the comments made by Ahmadinejad.

The Iranian leader was unrepentant however. He said that Zionism personified racism and that Israel was guilty of genocide while the West sat by.

But there was no idle sitting by as Ahmadinejad launched into his speech. Two French students wearing colourful clown wigs shouted at him, but were ejected by security guards. Immediately following this incident dozens of delegates arose from their seats and walked from the conference hall.

While UN Secretary General criticised Ahmadinejad’s speech saying it aimed to “accuse, divide and incite”, Press TV reported him as also being critical of those who boycotted the conference. Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the US and New Zealand all stayed away from the five-day conference, citing fears of a possible anti-Israeli atmosphere. "Some nations who by rights should be helping us to forge a path to a better future are not here," Ban Ki-Moon was reported as saying. "I deeply regret that some have chosen to stand aside. I hope they will not do so for long," he added.

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