Anger as US and Israel quit 'farcical' racism conference

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The Independent Online

The United States pulled out of the UN racism conference yesterday, saying it was angry at attempts by delegates to single out Israel as a racist state.

Israel promptly followed the US, with its Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, calling the Durban conference "a farce." The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who had stayed in Washington in protest, denounced the draft declaration as "hateful language" and said: "Today, I have instructed our representatives at the world conference to return home."

However, many delegates concluded that the American withdrawal was actually triggered by its fear of facing massive reparations claims for slavery from African Americans, and not by friction over language used to describe Israel. The walk-out came as manyAfrican countries hardened their stance on the need for an apology and reparations for the transatlantic slave trade and effects of colonialism.

As the Israeli and US delegations packed their bags, tension deepened within the European Union group. Britain is one of four countries – along with Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands – resisting pressure for full-scale compensation and apologies. The Belgian government, however, was believed to be ready to apologise, as part of its policy of trying to remedy the ills of a colonial record in Congo and Rwanda.

Last night, in a condemnation of the US pull-out, a South African government spokesman said: "The general perception among all delegates is that the US does not want to confront the real issues of slavery and all its manifestations.''

The Foreign Office said Britain had no plans to follow the US lead. "Britain has always maintained the problems of the Middle East should not have been imported into the conference. It is a pity this has happened. We will continue to engage in this conference.''