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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
US abandons racism summit
Palestinian and Jewish demonstrators argue in Durban
Middle East conflict has spilled over to Durban's streets
The United States and Israel have pulled out their delegations to the UN conference on racism after failing to have "hateful" language removed from meeting documents.

"I have instructed our representatives to the World Conference Against Racism to return home," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a statement, adding that he had taken the decision with regret.

The conference in the South African port city of Durban reached deadlock on Monday when paragraphs criticising Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people came up for discussion.

Israeli delegate Mordechai Yedid
Yedid: "Despicable caricatures of the Jews fill the Arab press"
Arab and Islamic countries want Israel singled out for condemnation in the conference's final declaration and have rejected a compromise text proposed by Norway and backed by the US.

A statement from the South African government called the US withdrawal "unnecessary" and said the conference would continue.

Mr Powell had already boycotted the event, but a mid-level US diplomatic team had been sent to Durban where it was heavily involved in behind-the-scenes efforts to amend the wording - although they took no public role in the conference.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called the activities at the South African conference an "unbelievable attempt to smear Israel."

"An important convention that's supposed to defend human rights became a source of hatred," he told a news conference in Jerusalem.

'Racist crimes'

On Sunday, a human rights forum coinciding with the conference equated Zionism - the movement which led to the establishment of a Jewish state in 1948 - with racism and called for international sanctions against Israel.

What is the use of the document that will be tilted to one or the other. It will just be condemned and thrown away

Arab League head Amr Moussa
The forum's declaration - which will be presented to the summit organisers for consideration - branded Israel "a racist apartheid state" and called for an end to its "systematic perpetration of racist crimes, including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing."

Israeli delegate Mordechai Yedid made a strongly-worded speech to the conference on Monday saying Arab and Islamic states trying to label Israel and Zionism as racist were being anti-Semitic themselves.

Demonstrators in Durban
Reparations for slavery is a divisive issue
"The outrageous and manic accusations we have heard here are attempts to turn a political issue into a racial one, with almost no hope of resolution," Mr Yedid said.

Amr Moussa - the former Egyptian foreign minister who now heads the League of Arab States - warned against the issuing of a final declaration in which too much weight was given to one side.

"What is the use of the document that will be tilted to one or the other. It will just be condemned and thrown away and not implemented at all," he said.

Divided on slavery

Divisions have also emerged among European countries on whether to apologise for the slave trade between Africa and the New World, with former slave traders Britain, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands holding out against pressure to apologise and agree it was a crime against humanity.

Other countries that were not, led by current EU president Belgium, want to move closer to African and black American demands for an apology.

A senior African-American campaigner, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, said a failure to apologise would indicate that these countries were proud of their colonial past.

"If you don't feel apologetic for slavery, if you don't feel apologetic for colonialism, if you feel proud of it, then say that," he told the BBC.

"But if one has a sincere desire to overcome the ravages of the past it doesn't take much to apologise and move towards some plan for restoration."

Some countries may indeed fear that an apology would add momentum to demands that those which traded in slaves pay reparations.

The BBC's David Loyn
"The Israeli delegation are beyond recall"
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, Michael Melchior
"This is the most outrageous anti-Semitic document since the second world war"
Reverend Jesse Jackson, US civil rights leader
"You cannot lead from the rear"
US delegate and holocaust survivor Tom Lantos
"It will prove impossible for the US delegation to continue participating"
See also:

03 Sep 01 | Africa
Racism summit turmoil: Reactions
03 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK challenged over slavery
10 Aug 01 | Middle East
Anger over Zionism debate
03 Sep 01 | Europe
Europe split over slavery row
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