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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
US accused over summit walkout
Durban protesters
The US withdrawal has aroused passions in Durban
Delegations to the UN racism conference in South Africa are battling to save it after a walkout by the US and Israel over moves to brand Israel as racist.

The Americans, followed by Israel, pulled out on Monday after failing to have "hateful" language about the Jewish state removed from meeting documents.

By walking out in the middle of the conference, the US is letting down the victims of racism on all sides

Amnesty International

Senior Palestinian officials reacted by claiming victory over Israel and accusing the Americans of backing what they termed Israeli aggression.

Human rights groups and the host nation, South Africa, have accused the US of leaving Durban without really tackling racism.

European delegates - who like Canada expressed sympathy for the US stance but did not follow their lead - are working to draft a "completely new text" on the Middle East conflict.

"But that does not mean that we are necessarily going to have anything approaching an agreed text on Tuesday," an EU spokesman said.

Mideast 'red herring'

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.

SLorraine Nesane, 15, of South Africa, was the victim of racist abuse by a white shopkeeper
Victims of racism have spoken at the conference, at times breaking into tears

But some have also linked the Americans' departure to issues on the agenda such as slavery - a question which has already divided the Europe's former colonial powers.

One South African minister, Essop Pahad, suggested the Middle East was a "red herring" used by the US to escape "the real issues posed by racism in the US and globally".

I think it is unfortunate that the two countries left, and I think that in the long run they will be the losers

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

"I think it is unfortunate that the two countries left, and I think that in the long run they will be the losers," South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said.

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said they were disappointed by the US and Israeli decision.

"By walking out in the middle of the conference, the US is letting down the victims of racism on all sides," Amnesty spokeswoman Maya Catsanis said.

Hatred and triumph

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.

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."

Outrageous and manic accusations

Israeli delegate Mordechai Yedid

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said there was an "unbelievable attempt to smear Israel" afoot at the South African conference.

A conference meant to defend human rights had, he said in Jerusalem, become "a source of hatred".

Israeli delegate Mordechai Yedid
Yedid: "Despicable caricatures of the Jews fill the Arab press"

At the conference itself, Israeli delegate Mordechai Yedid said before leaving that Arab and Islamic states were guilty of racism themselves.

"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," said Mr Yedid.

The Palestinian cabinet secretary-general, Ahmad Abd-al-Rahman, described Israel's withdrawal as a "triumph" for his people.

A great triumph for the struggle and sacrifices of our people

Palestinian official Abd-al-Rahman

The conference had, he said, delivered a "slap in the face of a government that does not believe in peace or political solutions, but depends on military force".

An unnamed "top Palestinian official" was quoted by Palestinian radio that the US decision to quit showed it was "joining Israel in its aggression".

The conference began last Thursday and continues until 7 September.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"This conference has gone horribly wrong"
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson
"Voices that were ignored before are being heard"
The BBC's Nick Childs
"There is a crisis effort underway now"
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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