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Sunday, 2 September, 2001, 03:53 GMT 04:53 UK
Israel lambasted at racism conference
'Sea of Hands' protest
Australian native campaigners make a colourful point in Durban
Non-governmental organisations gathered at the world conference on racism in the South African city of Durban have accused Israel of racist crimes, including genocide.

In a declaration presented to the main meeting, the NGOs say that Israel is an apartheid state which practises ethnic cleansing.

A BBC correspondent at the conference points out that the NGO declaration was bound to be stronger in its language than anything the 130 countries represented in the main conference would produce.

Earlier, African leaders at the conference proper agreed that the West must apologise for slavery and colonialism, but were divided over the issue of reparations.

Reparations

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reiterated that the equation of Zionism - support for the existence of a Jewish state - with racism "is dead".

He warned that this issue and demands for slavery reparations threatened the conference's outcome.


Apology is intrinsic in the healing process... apology closes the door to bitterness and anger

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
A number of European delegations have said they are ready to see strong language adopted on the slavery front, but none that would open them up to major claims from countries that suffered in the past.

One of the speakers at the conference, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, has come out against reparations.

Mr Obasanjo told the delegates an apology would recognise the wrong that was committed against Africans and constitute a promise that such an atrocity would never happen again.

With an apology, "the issue of reparations ceases to be a rational option", he said during his formal address to the conference on Saturday.

Compensation 'necessary'

But President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo said reparations were necessary to compensate for the horrors of the slave trade and colonialism.

Africans and people of African descent have noted that compensation is now being paid to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants.

They are demanding the same kind of reparations for the descendants of those who were enslaved because they were black.

Reparations could come in the form of a cancellation of African debt and greater development aid, some African delegates hope.

Cuban President Fidel Castro has supported the call for reparations, saying that countries that made money through human trafficking could afford to pay.

Moral duty

"This is an unavoidable moral duty," Mr Castro said.

President Fidel Castro of Cuba
President Castro called for slavery reparations
The Cuban leader criticised the US for lowering the level of its delegation at the conference because of the discussion of what he called Israeli genocide against Palestinians.

"[Nobody] has the right to set preconditions to the conference or urge it to avoid the discussion... [of] the way we decide to rate the dreadful genocide perpetrated, at this very moment, against our Palestinian brothers," Mr Castro said.

The delegates have a week in which to reach a consensus that will satisfy both the governments involved and the many interest groups who fear their grievances will not receive proper attention because of the inevitable political horse-trading.

Some 6,000 delegates from more than 130 countries have gathered at the conference.

But the summit opened with just low-level representation from the US, Canada and Israel in protest at efforts by Arab and Islamic states to condemn Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Loyn
"It was a very hot night for the NGO's"
Karen Pollock, Board of Deputies for British Jews
"We have been in a very hostile environment"
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Harry Belafonte
"People must be snapped out of their indifference"
See also:

01 Sep 01 | Media reports
UN chief declares war on racism
29 Aug 01 | Americas
US lobbies racism conference
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