Italy pulls out of UN racism conference

Italy has pulled out of a UN conference on racism seen by many Western governments as being hijacked by Muslim attempts to attack Israel and shield Islam from criticism.

World Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Thursday that Italy had withdrawn its delegation from the negotiations ahead of the so-called Durban II conference due to “aggressive and anti-Semitic statements” in the draft of the event’s final document.

Frattini made the comments in Brussels, where he attended a NATO meeting. Ministry Spokesman Maurizio Massari said Rome would not participate in the conference unless the document is changed.

A similar condition has been impose by the United States, while Israel and Canada have already announced a boycott.

Frattini also said that he planned to cancel his controversial upcoming visit to Iran, a move which had created tension between Israel and Italy.

He told Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the decision during a meeting between the two in Brussels.

Italy is the first EU country to officially withdraw from the conference, though other nations have threatened not to attend.

Islamic countries, still angry over cartoons and films attacking Muslims, have been campaigning for wording that would equate criticism of a religious faith with a violation of human rights.

The April 20-25 meeting in Geneva is designed to review progress in fighting racism since the previous summit in South Africa. That meeting was marred by attacks on Israel and anti-Israel demonstrations at a parallel conference of non-governmental organizations.

The US and Israel walked out midway through the conference over a draft resolution that singled Israel out for criticism and likened Zionism to racism.

Last week, the Obama administration said the United States will stay away from this year’s meeting unless its final document is changed to drop all references to Israel and the defamation of religion.

European nations have expressed hope the summit can go ahead with a final text that is acceptable to all sides.

But they, too, have red lines they say cannot be crossed.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in December that his country would walk out unless anti-Israel statements were scrapped. French diplomat Daniel Vosgien said then that his country opposed the idea of banning criticism of religion.

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