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Organization of Islamic Conference Summit Opens in Senegal

The Organization of the Islamic Conference summit has opened in Senegal's capital, Dakar. The heads of state are discussing negative views of Islam, solidarity with poorer Muslim nations, and helping Palestinians. For VOA, Uma Ramiah has more from the conference site.

A Senegalese teenager chanted verses of the Koran as the summit got underway in a plush Dakar hotel.

At the opening ceremony, Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade was officially given the chairmanship from Malaysia, which hosted the last OIC gathering in 2003.

Mr. Wade said he was honored that Dakar was for a few days the capital of Islam.

Senegal was to host the summit in 2006, but postponed it because the city could not be made ready in time. Despite this and early setbacks in bringing the Chadian and Sudanese presidents together for peace talks on the sideline of the meeting, President Wade remained optimistic.

He thanked all Muslims who had prayed for the conference, and assured them it would be a success.

The octogenarian president went on to denounce Islamophobia, saying that acts of terrorism are not in line with Islam and calling for dialogue and tolerance from the non-Muslim world.

Mr. Wade also called for Palestinians and Israelis to enter a peace process. He emphasized the importance of respecting the human rights of Palestinian people.

In the crowded lobby of the conference center, delegation members in traditional dress from member countries such as Lebanon, Mali, Russia, and Pakistan drank tea and discussed the days' events.

One eager participant was Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia Abdelaziz Aboughosh, who has previously held a high position in the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

"In my experience as former assistant Secretary General of the OIC for Palestine and Jerusalem, I think the OIC is the Islamic global force supporting the important Islamic issues," said Aboughosh.

Aboughosh says he is pleased the situation in Palestinian territories is getting so much attention this year.

"It is one of the first issues that the summit tackles," he said. "The main issue is the support of the Muslim and OIC countries towards the peace initiative that Palestine is currently trying to achieve."

Missing from the proceedings were heads of state from the largest member countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who were among the largest donors for this summit.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference brings together delegates from 57 member countries, and says it represents more than 1.3 billion Muslims throughout the world.