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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Muslim official raps Islamic world
OIC ministers
Foreign ministers from 57 states are attending the meeting
A top Muslim official has denounced what he called the extensive backwardness of the Islamic world.

Abdelwahed Belkeziz - Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) - made the stinging attack at meeting in Turkey.

He blamed the rise of Muslim extremism on the feeling of "powerlessness" felt by members of the Islamic world.

The meeting also heard a statement from UN chief Kofi Annan calling for Islamic support for Iraq's government.

Rising extremism

Mr Belkeziz told the foreign ministers from the 57-member states that their countries had a poor record on issues ranging from education and health to economic development.

"The aggregate gross domestic product of all our member states remains lower than that of one single advanced country such as France or Britain," he said.

The Moroccan secretary general concentrated on the failures of the Islamic umma or community. There was, he said, a sharp contrast between its present and past.

We must fight this extremism resolutely and determinedly at a time when we are working to correct the tainted image of Islam in the world
Abdelwahed Belkeziz
OIC Secretary General
Today, he said, the community was dispersed, divided, diminished and debased, overwhelmed by a debilitating feeling of impotence.

"The powerlessness that the Muslim world is experiencing today and the difficulty of finding solutions to our just causes have been the reason behind the rise of extremism," he said.

"Fanatics have seen in this an opportunity to commit odious and reprehensible acts... which is why we must fight this extremism resolutely and determinedly at a time when we are working to correct the tainted image of Islam in the world."

Mr Belkeziz called for wide reaching reform around the world to address the situation.

Parting shot

The conference is the last in which Mr Belkeziz will lead the OIC. He has been secretary general since 2001, but his term in office is coming to an end.

Correspondents say the horse-trading over who will be the next leader is already under way, with the conference hosts, Turkey, keen to take the reins.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul emphasised the "growing interest" his country had in "revitalising the OIC".

"We would like to contribute to this by all the means at our disposal and it is in that spirit that my government has decided to put forward a candidate for secretary general of the OIC," he said.

The Turkish nominee is Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a 59-year-old teacher, who will face competition from Saudi and Egyptian-backed Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury from Bangladesh and Malaysian Hasny Agam.

Call for unity

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the OIC member states to help the new Iraqi interim government, which is due to take power on 30 June.

In a statement read out by the UN special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, Mr Annan said Iraq was "not a failed state".

"All of you have an interest in helping the country to surmount the many challenges it faces including the creation of adequate conditions for elections," Mr Annan's statement said.

"I appeal to you to respond favourably to the interim government's request for support," Mr Annan added.

Iraq and the push for democracy are expected to dominate the three-day conference in Istanbul.

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