Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday said countries that are boycotting the United Nations racism conference currently underway in Switzerland are doing so out of "arrogance and selfishness."
"In our opinion, this is arrogance and selfishness and the root cause of the problems of the world," Ahmadinejad told reporters, after his speech at the UN conference on racism sparked a mass walk-out by EU diplomats.
The conference has been boycotted by the United States, Israel, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Germany. The Czech Republic announced following his speech that it would be withdrawing from the summit over his remarks on Israel and the Holocaust
Dozens of Western representatives at the UN-sponsored Durban II conference against racism rose from their chairs and walked out of the hall in Geneva as Ahmadinejad launched a tirade against the Israeli government. The Iranian leader also blasted the United States for its invasion of Iraq.
The meeting turned chaotic almost from the start when two protesters in rainbow wigs 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.
Earlier Sunday, federal agents in Geneva escorted Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz away from the Geneva hotel where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz were meeting, after he declared plans to challenge the Iranian leader about his views on the Holocaust and Israel.
Merz met Ahmadinejad upon the latter's arrival in Geneva on Sunday, a day before the United Nations was to open its first global racism conference in eight years.
Merz described the presence of Ahmadinejad at the Durban II conference as a good chance to discuss ways to mature bilateral ties as well as regional and international cooperation, according to the Iranian Student News Agency.
Ahmadinejad - who has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and denied the Holocaust - spoke on the first day of the conference, which happens to fall on Holocaust Memorial Day.
Israel, which is boycotting the conference along with many Western countries, on Sunday voiced explicit criticism of the Swiss president's offer to meet Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the conference in Geneva.
Israel's former foreign minister Silvan Shalom, who was recently appointed regional cooperation minister, called the offer "wretched," adding: "The fact that Ahmadinejad is embraced by the Swiss president and others leads him to think that there is no reason to back down from his line of thinking."
Deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said that the meeting "caught us by surprise," telling Army Radio that Merz's meeting "hurts him and Switzerland more than anything else."
Israel has sent a delegation to Geneva to publicly protest Durban II, a summit many Western countries fear will be used as a forum to criticize Israel.
As part of its publicity campaign, the Israelis will organize demonstrations during the speech, and will distribute materials on human rights violations in Iran - with particular emphasis on public executions and violence against women.
The campaign will be overseen by Israel Ambassador to Geneva Ronnie Lashno-Yaar. He will be assisted by Dershowitz, Nobel Prize laureate Elie Weisel and film actor Jon Voight. A special media room will also be set up in Geneva, to provide immediate responses to anti-Israeli statements.
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