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Switzerland hopeful that racism conference can be salvaged

Demonstrators in Durban protest the US and Israeli pull out from the conference


The Swiss delegation to the United Nations Conference on racism in Durban says it intends to continue efforts to reach a resolution, despite the row over Zionism, which led the United States and Israel to withdraw from the meeting.

Peter Maurer, deputy head of the Swiss delegation, said he was saddened that the US and Israel had withdrawn in protest at a draft declaration, which described Israel's treatment of Palestinians as racist.

"We are really sorry that they chose to walk out of the conference," said Maurer. "We think they would have had an important role to play here.

He added that the Swiss were "sorry that the conference has been polarised right from the beginning over political issues".

Maurer said the Swiss delegation would be staying in Durban, and would be trying hard to contribute to a meaningful final resolution from the conference. "We are staying, and we will be doing our best to have a substantial result."

He said the Swiss delegation had not joined other European countries such as Norway and Belgium in trying to draft a compromise declaration, which would have kept the US and Israel at the conference.

"We did not get involved because it has always been Switzerland's position that the issue of the Middle East does not belong at this conference. We believe firmly that this conference is not about one region, it is about racism in general, and that should be the focus."

Maurer added that the Swiss delegation remained hopeful that something could be salvaged.

"I think we have to concentrate now on the plan of action, and the declaration, and we really hope in the end that we find an appropriate wording which really means something for the fight against racism."

by Imogen Foulkes


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