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Mideast dominates racism summit

DURBAN, South Africa (CNN) -- Accusations of racism in the Middle East dominated Saturday's session of the world conference against racism.

World leaders began delivering their formal addresses to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism on Saturday morning.

Behind the scenes, conference committees are thrashing out the wording of a final declaration to be adopted at the end of the eight-day U.N. summit.

A draft declaration has already been condemned by the United States for its anti-Israel language. The United States and Canada have sent only low-level delegations because of the wording of the draft, that followed weeks of haggling between diplomats in Geneva.

CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault reports on the conflict between Arabs and Jews at the racism conference (August 31)

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Annan and Mbeki appeal to delegates from more than 150 nations (August 31)

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The White House said American diplomats would leave the conference if the provisions condemning Israel were not removed.

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

"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," he added.

Cuban President Fidel Castro called on Israel to "put an end to the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people that is taking place while the world stares in amazement."

He also called on the United States to pay reparations for slavery.

The United States successfully lobbied to get reparations off the agenda at the conference, but many African leaders and African-American organizations fought to get the issue back on the agenda and included in the final declaration.

Despite an announcement Friday by U.S. civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson that the Palestinians had decided not to single out Israel as a racist state, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat accused Israel of engaging in "racist practices" against the Palestinians.

Jackson said he had urged Arafat to drop his support for a summit declaration that would attack Israel as a racist state and equate Zionism with racism.

Palestinian officials later accused Jackson of being "overzealous" and said they would still seek condemnation of what they called Israel's "racist practices."

"What we can hope for is that this conference will say what is bad, what is just in the face of this bloody tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people," Arafat told world leaders.

"This brutality, this arrogance is moved by a supremacist mentality, a mentality of racial discrimination."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Noam Katz said his country felt that the conference was not an appropriate forum in which to discuss the Middle East conflict.

"We are not here at the conference to discuss, to deal with specific political problems," Katz said. "We are here to create a united front against racism."

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

As many as 10,000 demonstrators chanted anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. slogans Friday as they marched through the center 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.

• United Nations
• World Conference against Racism

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