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UN racism talks 'back on track'

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses UN conference
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech triggered a walk-out

An anti-racism conference in Geneva is "back on track", a UN spokesman says, after an opening day blighted by boycotts and a walkout.

An address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which he branded Israel "racist" sparked protests and a walkout by EU delegates on Monday.

Several countries were already boycotting the talks because of the Iranian leader's presence.

But a UN spokesman expressed hope that the talks would now return to normal.

"In the drama of yesterday, everyone forgot what the conference is actually about," said Rupert Colville.

"I think we are back on track now."

His optimism was echoed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said the meeting is "not at all a failure but the beginning of a success".

Boycott

Delegates of all 23 EU states present - including France - streamed out during Mr Ahmadinejad's speech.

Most later returned, except the Czech Republic which said it would join those nations boycotting the meeting - the US, Israel, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom has expressed disgust that the Iranian president was allowed to attend the conference and to accuse Israel of being a repressive racist regime.

Mr Ahmadinejad - the only head of state to attend the conference - arrived back in Tehran to cheering crowds following his speech.

RACISM CONFERENCE

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Iran's official news agency described the welcome as "sensational", with supporters chanting anti-Israel slogans.

At the conference on Tuesday, topics including African poverty and the suffering of indigenous people in South America were discussed.

Lesotho's Justice Minister Mpea Mahase-Moiloa said that the boycotts showed much work was needed to address the world's racial and ethnic tensions.

"This is a clear testimony of the long road yet to be travelled," she told the conference.

However, correspondents say some delegates at the talks are refusing to look beyond the Middle East.

Diplomats still present in Geneva hope to adopt a new declaration - which addresses issues including attacks on foreign workers and the links between poverty and discrimination - to steady the troubled meeting.

The five-day Geneva talks - officially called the Durban Review Conference - are meant to review progress in fighting racism since a 2001 forum in Durban, South Africa.

That conference ended in acrimony when Arab countries tried to define Zionism as racism.



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