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US withdrawal from UN anti-racism conference widely condemned
The decision of the United States to withdraw from the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) was met on Monday with vociferous condemnation from delegations attending the conference in Durban, South Africa.
They included some US non-governmental organizations and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.
Robinson said she truly regretted the decision of the US to leave the conference.
"Nonetheless, I believe that the journey we began must continue until the end of the conference with a view to achieving a successful outcome," Robinson said.
"We must persist in our endeavors. The victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance demand this of us," she added.
Meanwhile, South African President Thabo Mbeki said he believed the decision to withdraw was an even worse error than deciding to send a low level delegation in the first place.
The United States and Israeli delegations have packed their bags to go back home in protest against the so-called anti-Israeli sentiment at the WCAR.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced on Monday night that he had taken the decision to recall the US delegation "with regret".
He was followed soon after by Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who said: "I am recalling the delegation from Durban... I regret the bizarre show in Durban."
Powell said he regretted taking the decision because of the importance of the international fight against racism and the contribution that the conference could have made to it.
Following talks with the US team in Durban and others, "I am convinced that will not be possible", the secretary of state said.
However, in her reaction, Robinson said the conference text already adopted during the preparatory process and at the conference itself "so far are constructive".
"The process is continuing. On three groups of difficult issues, claims relating to past injustices, the situation in the Middle East, and recital of grounds of discrimination, serious and informal processes are underway -- in some instances at the highest levels," she said.
South African Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad echoed Robinson's view, saying the conference would continue in the spirit in which it had been conducted -- a melting pot of a number of perspectives.
The decision to pull out follows intense efforts under the chairmanship of Norway to negotiate acceptable language on the Middle East issue. Earlier Monday, Norway's Minister of International Development Anne Kristin Sydnes urged the delegates to be "more open, more forward-looking, more constructive so as to seek compromise, not conflict."
A British diplomat said that his government would not follow suit.
"Absolutely not. That will definitely not happen," said the official who refused to be named.
Other western nations, including European Union states, were not immediately available for comment.
A spokeswoman for the Canadian High Commission said her country had not decided it would react, but a statement would be issued later on Monday.
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