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UN Holds Anti-Racism Conference Amid Controversy, Boycotts

The U.N. conference on racism, discrimination and intolerance opened today in Geneva amid controversy and a boycott by some major world powers, including the United States.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia must be tackled. He also warned that discrimination and intolerance could rise as a result of today's world economic crisis.

Ban was speaking at the opening of the U.N. meeting on racism, discrimination and intolerance.

"All of us gathered here today welcome the dawning of a new multilateralism, less confrontation and more dialogue, less ideology and more common understanding," he said.

The Geneva meeting is a follow-up to the first such conference in Durban, South Africa eight years ago. But, the Durban conference generated such controversy that it widely discredited the U.N. effort.

It was widely seen as a platform to condemn the United States and Israel and the representatives of those two countries walked out of the session at the time.

U.N. officials say the communiqué under consideration in Geneva is not anti-Semitic and does not equate Zionism, the nationalist movement to establish the state of Israel, with racism.

But there were widespread concerns the conference would be dominated by Muslim countries who would use it as a platform to denounce Israel and push for a global ban on criticizing Islam.

The United States and some other leading world powers, including Germany, Australia and Canada decided not to attend the Geneva meeting.

U.N. chief, Ban Ki-moon took note.

"Some nations, who by rights should be helping to forge a path to a better future, are not here," he said. "Outside these halls, interest groups of many political and ideological stripes, shout against one another in acrimony. They too should be with us talking together."

In Geneva to speak at the conference is Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has in the past described the Holocaust as a "myth" and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.