Growing western boycott risks UN racism forum
Iran's Ahmadinejad slams Israel before UN racism gathering
Italy and Germany were the latest countries to confirm Sunday they will not participate in a major United Nations conference on racism that opens Monday in Geneva and is being boycotted by the United States and Israel, slammed by Iran's president for being the "flag bearer of racism."
The growing western boycott of the Durban Review Conference comes amid fears that it will be the forum for a lambasting of Israel. Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden earlier said they were boycotting the event.
The U.S. and Israel boycotted the original Durban conference in 2001 over an attempt to equate Zionism with racism.
Belgium's foreign ministry said earlier Sunday that consultations were continuing with a view to getting as many European Union member states as possible to participate.
The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called a meeting for Sunday evening to evaluate the bloc's stance on attending.
France announced that it will attend. Britain, however, will send a delegation to the conference, albeit without a high-level official.
The Vatican, which has observer status at the United Nations, confirmed Sunday that it would attend.
The Zionist ideology and regime are the flag bearers of racism
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Flag bearer of racism
In the meantime President Ahmadinejad slammed arch-foe Israel as the "flag bearer of racism" before leaving for the U.N. conference on racism in Geneva, the state broadcaster reported.
"The Zionist ideology and regime are the flag bearers of racism," he was quoted as saying.
"They (the Zionists) plunder nations' wealth by dominating the world power centers and have created a condition that nothing can be said about this evil phenomenon whose effects loom over nations' lives," Ahmadinejad said.
He said the Geneva conference was being held while "global Zionism employs all in its power to stifle innocent voices and cries against tyranny."
Israel has branded the U.N. gathering a "tragic farce."
Ahmadinejad's presence at the five-day meeting has sparked fears that it could end in acrimony, as did the previous racism conference eight years ago in Durban, South Africa.
The Iranian president, who is so far the only prominent head of state due to attend the Durban Review Conference, has caused outrage by calling the Holocaust a "myth" and repeatedly saying Israel is doomed to disappear.
Ahmadinejad is due to address the conference on Monday April 20, the anniversary of Hitler's birth. Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 21.
They (the Zionists) plunder nations' wealth by dominating the world power centers and have created a condition that nothing can be said about this evil phenomenon whose effects loom over nations' lives
Lacking diplomatic gravitas
Human Rights Watch said the meeting in Geneva would lack needed diplomatic gravity without Washington's presence.
A draft declaration prepared for the conference removed all references to Israel, the Middle East conflict and a call to bar "defamation of religion" -- an Arab-backed response to a 2006 controversy over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that Western states see as a way to quash free expression.