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Iran president's remarks prompt walkout at U.N. conference

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls Israel 'the most cruel and repressive racist regime.' During his opening prayer, two protesters in rainbow wigs throw clown noses.

April 21, 2009|Associated Press

GENEVA — Dozens of Western diplomats walked out of a United Nations conference on racism Monday when Iran's hard-line president called Israel the "most cruel and repressive racist regime."

The United States, which is boycotting the conference, called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks hateful -- injecting new tension into a relationship that had been warming after President Obama sought to engage Iran in talks on its nuclear program and other issues.

The meeting was chaotic almost from the start, when two rainbow-wigged protesters tossed red clown noses at Ahmadinejad as he began his speech with a Muslim prayer. A Jewish student group from France said it had been trying to convey "the masquerade that this conference represents."

Ahmadinejad, the first government official to take the floor at the weeklong event in Geneva, delivered a half-hour speech that was by turns conciliatory and inflammatory.

At one point he appealed for global unity in the fight against racism.

Then he said the U.S. and Europe helped establish Israel at the expense of Palestinians after World War II.

"They resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," he said.

Jewish groups had lobbied for a boycott of the conference, warning it could descend into anti-Semitism or other anti- Israel rhetoric, which marred the last such conference eight years ago in South Africa.

At the first mention of Israel, about 40 diplomats from Britain, France and other European Union countries exited the room.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the event proved the U.S. was right to boycott the conference.

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