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Holocaust deniers rebuked

December 13, 2006|From the Associated Press

VIENNA — A gathering of Holocaust deniers in Iran touched off a firestorm of indignation Tuesday across Europe, where many countries have made it a crime to disavow the Nazis' systematic extermination of 6 million Jews.

The European Union's top justice official condemned the conference as "an unacceptable affront" to victims of the World War II genocide.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair denounced it as "shocking beyond belief" and proof of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's extremism.

"I think it is such a symbol of sectarianism and hatred toward people of another religion. I find it just unbelievable, really," Blair said in London. "I mean, to go and invite the former head of the Ku Klux Klan to a conference in Tehran that disputes the millions of people who died in the Holocaust.... What further evidence do you need that this regime is extreme?"

David Duke, an ex-Klan leader and former Louisiana state representative, was among those at the two-day conference.

Although organizers touted it as a scholarly gathering, the meeting angered many in countries such as Austria, Germany and France, where it is illegal to deny aspects of the Holocaust.

In Washington, the White House criticized Iran for holding a conference it called "an affront to the entire civilized world."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles quoted an unidentified survivor as saying, "If the Holocaust was a myth, where is my sister?"

The gathering drew especially sharp condemnation in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country repudiated it "with all our strength."

"We absolutely reject this. Germany will never accept this and will act against it with all the means that we have," Merkel told reporters. She stood alongside visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who denounced the Iranian-sponsored conference as a danger to the Western world.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was interrupted by applause from lawmakers when he told Parliament in Paris that the conference showed a resurgence of revisionist theories that were "quite simply not acceptable."

Soeren Espersen of the Danish People's Party said people had the right to speak their minds -- even at a "hideous" conference such as the one in Tehran. "We believe in freedom of speech also for nut cases," he said.

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