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Africa calls for slavery apology



DURBAN, South Africa -- African leaders have called on the U.S. and Europe to apologise for their part in the colonial slave trade but are divided on whether to insist on reparations.

A string of leaders told the World Conference Against Racism that Western powers should say "sorry" for 400 years of slavery.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said on the second day of the eight-day conference: "We must demonstrate the political will and assume the responsibility for the historical wrongs that are owed to the victims of slavery, that an apology be extended by states which actively practiced and benefited themselves from slavery."

Nigeria was a former British colony.

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Germany responded to the call when its foreign minister Joschka Fischer said recognition of guilt was the way to restore to the victims and their descendants "the dignity of which they were robbed."

"I should therefore like to do that here and now on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany," he was reported by Reuters as saying.

Fischer also committed Germany to stepping up its assistance to Africa, where it briefly controlled modern-day Tanzania, Namibia and Togo until World War I.

It will increase its help to the so-called New African Initiative, a South African-inspired plan to promote development across Africa. It will also look to contribute to aiding debt relief and an U.N. fund to fight AIDS.

Spain's labour and social affairs minister Juan Carlos Aparicio was due to express "regret" at its part in the slave trade, but fell short of an outright apology.

"We profoundly regret the injustices and sufferings of the past," he said.

A split became apparent on Saturday over the issue of reparations to the descendents of slavery.

Obasanjo said an apology would be enough, and that he did not want to encourage any money claims.

"We must disabuse those who believe that every apology must be followed by monetary compensation for the victims...An apology is intrinsic in the healing process," he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

He added: "An apology closes the door (on the issue) and does not promote any reprisals or litigations, nor should it."

But Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Rodrigues Peres called for voluntary reparations and financial support for Africa.

Cuba's President Fidel Castro said the U.S. has an "unavoidable moral duty" to pay reparations to both American Indians and African countries.

"After the purely formal slavery emancipation, African-Americans were subjected during 100 more years to the harshest racial discrimination, and many of its features still persist," he was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

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"Cuba speaks of reparations, and supports this idea as an unavoidable moral duty to the victims of racism."

The U.S., which has sent a low-level delegation to the United Nations' conference, had successfully lobbied to get reparations off the agenda.

But many African leaders and African-American organisations have fought to get the issue back on, including a mention in the final conference declaration.

The U.S. and Europe shipped 11 million Africans to the Americas, but have opposed a formal apology for the slave trade, fearing potential litigation back home.

The conference has also been dominated by accusations of racism in the Middle East.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned on Saturday the issue of Israel being labeled racist, and African demands for slavery reparations, threatened the outcome of the conference.

He said: "I hope the conference will come up with a document that everyone will find acceptable. I hope the document can be improved so that delegates come to a common ground."

About 3,000 protesters began a march to the Durban conference centre on Saturday to demonstrate against racism and poverty.

As many as 10,000 demonstrators chanted anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. slogans on Friday as they marched through the centre of Durban. There were scuffles when police stopped them from delivering petitions to the conference.

Delegates from more than 150 countries are attending the conference.






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