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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 September, 2004, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Spain proposes cultural alliance
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero warned of a clash of civilisations
The Spanish prime minister has called for an international effort to resolve cultural and religious differences between the Western and Muslim world.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said "an alliance of cultures" was necessary in a world facing conflict because of poverty and Islamic radicalisation.

Mr Zapatero, at the UN General Assembly meeting, said the alliance could deepen political and cultural relations.

He also defended his decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

Dialogue

Mr Zapatero said he had asked the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to set up a high level group to study the creation of an alliance of civilisations.

Speaking on the fringes of the UN meeting in New York, Mr Zapatero said: "This alliance would have as its fundamental objective to deepen political, cultural and education relations between those who represent the so-called Western world and, in this historic moment, the area of Arab and Muslim countries."

The BBC's Michael Buchanan says the Spanish prime minister is trying to position his country as a bridge between Europe and north Africa.

Mr Zapatero said the world could become a clash of civilisations, with poverty and Islamic radicalisation tearing Western and Muslim countries apart.

The alliance he envisages could therefore prevent hate and misunderstanding from developing by looking at political and cultural issues - everything from joint peace keeping missions to interfaith dialogue.

Roots

Our correspondent says the idea resembles a previous initiative calling for a dialogue between civilisations, launched by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami in 1998, which resulted in little obvious success.

Mr Zapatero also referred to his government's decision to withdraw 1,300 troops from Iraq soon after winning the general elections in March this year.

Many Spanish voters believed the 11 March attacks on Madrid that killed 191 people would not have happened if Spain had not supported the war in Iraq.

Mr Zapatero said peace was a task that required more determination and heroism than war.

He added that the international community must combat terrorism rationally by dealing with its roots in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and through economic development.




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