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An international conference on racism has fallen into disarray after Iran\’s president launched a verbal onslaught against Israel, triggering a mass walkout.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, criticised the creation of a “totally racist government in occupied Palestine” in 1948, calling it “the most cruel and repressive racist regime.

“The (UN) Security Council helped stabilise this occupation regime and supported it for the past 60 years, giving them a free hand to continue their crimes,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier berated countries for boycotting the meeting, accused the Iranian leader of incitement, while other Western leaders lined up to condemn his remarks.

“I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite,” Ban said in a statement. “This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve.”

The United States, which led 10 countries in boycotting the meeting, said the furore vindicated the decision by the country\’s first African-American president to shun the UN conference on racism in Geneva.

\’Hateful rhetoric\’ from Ahmadinejad

US President Barack Obama “disagrees vehemently” with Ahmadinejad, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

“This is hateful rhetoric. It\’s, I think, one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the president determined that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do.”

The meeting was plunged into further controversy as Ahmadinejad took to the stage.

Several demonstrators were ejected as the Iranian president began his speech and soon afterwards representatives of 23 European Union delegations quit the conference room after he labelled Israel cruel and racist.

But while the speech from the Iranian leader, who has also described the Nazi Holocaust as a “myth”, was shunned by Western powers, other delegates stayed to hear him speak, some greeting his words with applause.

Even before the speech, the diplomatic fallout from Ahmadinejad\’s presence in Geneva was spreading.

Israeli ambassador recalled

Israel recalled its ambassador in protest at the Swiss president\’s decision to meet the Iranian leader – Ahmadinejad\’s first formal meeting with a Western head of state since taking office in 2005.

Israel\’s foreign ministry also criticised Ban for meeting Ahmadinejad, saying it was regrettable that he “thought it advisable to meet the greatest Holocaust denier who heads a UN member state”.

Four EU nations were among a group of nine countries – including the US and Israel – which boycotted the meeting before it started.

The remaining 23 EU countries that did send delegations to the event had warned they would walk out if Ahmadinejad made anti-Semitic remarks.

Most returned after the Iranian leader had finished his speech, although the Czech Republic became the 10th nation to boycott.

The French government said the content of Ahmadinejad\’s speech had made a walkout inevitable.

\’Offensive and inflammatory\’

“The United Nations conference that opened on Monday in Geneva had a goal that should have united and mobilised the international community: the struggle against all forms of racism,” said President Nicolas Sarkozy\’s office.

“The speech given by the President of Iran was the exact opposite: an intolerable appeal to racist hate, it tramples on the ideals and values recorded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown “unreservedly condemned” the “offensive and inflammatory” comments.

In a later press conference, Ahmadinejad defended his comments and said those who had boycotted the meeting were guilty of “arrogance and selfishness”.

The walkout was a repeat of the last such conference against racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 when US and Israeli delegates stormed off over comments by delegates equating Zionism with racism.

The five-day Geneva meeting is meant to take stock of progress in fighting racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance since Durban.

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