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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Racist attacks condemned
Mary McAleese said people should embrace different cultures
The ignorance and stupidity of racists who have targeted members of Northern Ireland's Chinese community has been condemned by the Irish President.

Mary McAleese urged both parts of the island of Ireland to address the issue of racism at a conference on Friday.

She met members of Belfast's Chinese community at a reception in south Belfast.

The president told them they had honoured the Irish people by choosing the country as their home.

The Chinese population of about 10,000 is the largest and longest established ethnic minority in Northern Ireland.

"Regrettably anybody who looks a little bit different is more likely than not to be right in the eye of the storm of this racism", said Mrs McAleese.

With our peace process now in place, we want to invest in friendship building. We want everybody who comes here to feel welcome.
Mary McAleese
Irish President
"I hope that between all of us, working in dialogue and showing mutual respect, that we set an example to those who in their ignorance and their stupidity, dare to regard any other human being as less than worthy of respect.

"How dare anyone ever treat any other human being with less than sacred respect."

Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Eakin and his deputy, Joe O'Donnell also attended the event where the Chinese people were praised for bringing their vibrant culture and heritage to the island of Ireland.

President McAleese joked that if the Chinese hadn't brought their wonderful cuisine to Ireland her children would have died of starvation a long time ago.

In recent years the Chinese community has been increasingly vulnerable to racist attacks particularly in loyalist areas of Belfast.

A six foot plank shattered a window in the house
Many Chinese family homes have been attacked in Belfast

Earlier this year, it was claimed that some Chinese families had to flee from south Belfast because of harassment from paramilitaries.

President McAleese, who paid a state visit to China earlier this year, said she believed its culture was going to drive the world's economy throughout the next century.

She said she believed that Chinese people living in the province could offer much in terms of educating those who will never experience the delights that China has to offer.

"Northern Ireland and Ireland generally are known around the world and have been known for so long for all the wrong reasons," she said.

"With our peace process now in place, we want to invest in friendship building. We want everybody who comes here to feel welcome."

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