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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 17:27 GMT
Muslim protest at Paris book fair
By Frances Harrison
BBC religious affairs correspondent

Egyptian writer Ibrahim al-Moallem (right), president of the Egyptian Publishers Union, and Mohammed Salmawi, secretary-general of the Arab Writers Union, at a protest outside the French embassy in Cairo (24 February 2008)
The invitation of Israel has triggered a furious political row
A book fair in Paris has become the subject of controversy with several Muslim countries announcing boycotts because the guest of honour is Israel.

Saudi Arabia has become the latest to withdraw, following Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Isesco) has also urged its 50 members to pull out from the fair, which starts on 14 March.

Isesco said Israel had committed crimes against humanity in Palestinian areas.

The organisers of the book fair have said their aim is to honour literature and promote dialogue between cultures.

Israel 'unworthy'

This year, the Paris book fair is honouring 39 writers from Israel including well-known figures like David Grossman and Amos Oz.

The organisers have said it is merely a coincidence that this happens to be the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence.

It is an extremely regrettable decision - this kind of event should remain open
French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

They have claimed the aim is to honour literature, not trigger a furious political row about the state of Israel.

Indeed, they have argued that many of the Israeli writers involved support the idea of Palestinian statehood.

But Isesco called for a boycott, saying "the crimes against humanity that Israel is perpetrating in the Palestinian territories... constitute, in themselves, a strong condemnation of Israel, making it unworthy of being welcomed as a guest of honour".

This prompted Lebanon to announce it would stay away from the fair - a decision a French foreign ministry spokeswoman called "extremely regrettable".

National publishing houses from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have cancelled their stands at the fair, though it is possible some writers and individual booksellers might still attend from those countries.

And if this was not enough, a similar row is brewing over the Turin book fair in May in Italy.

British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali has said he will boycott the event because the guest of honour will be Israel and because there has been no attempt to invite an equal number of Palestinian writers.

Prominent Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan has supported the boycott, saying it is not decent to commemorate Israel when it shows no respect for the Palestinian people.

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