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Italy, Germany Latest to Shun UN Racism Conference


A growing number of Western nations say they will boycott a United Nations conference on racism, voicing concern that the forum will be used as a platform to criticize Israel.

The Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Italy announced their intention Sunday to skip the conference.

On Saturday, the United States said it will not attend the meeting, which begins Monday in Geneva, citing what the State Department called "objectionable language" in a text prepared for the summit.

President Obama said there is a danger that participants at the meeting will express antagonism toward Israel in ways that are, in his words, "completely hypocritical and counterproductive."

Canada and Israel also have said they will not attend the conference.

Critics say planners undermined the conference by scheduling an opening day address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Despite the controversy, Pope Benedict has praised the conference and urged that countries join forces to eliminate intolerance.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay,said she is shocked and deeply disappointed by the U.S. decision not to attend.

Muslim nations critical of Israel also are demanding protections aimed at preventing what they say are Western insults to Islam. The Muslim demands stem in large part from the 2006 publication in European newspapers of cartoons depicting what many Muslim governments said were insulting characterizations of the Prophet Muhammad.

U.N. planners organized the forum to measure progress in fighting racial discrimination and xenophobia since a controversial 2001 racism conference in Durban, South Africa.

The United States and Israel walked out of those talks over an attempt by some participants to link Zionism with racism.

Human rights groups had been urging the U.S. to attend this conference, and called the boycott a "missed opportunity." New York-based Human Rights Watch says the draft declaration has improved considerably since negotiations on it first began.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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