Delegates' protest

Dozens of delegates walked out of the UN conference on racism on Monday after Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, called Israel a "racist government".

In Depth

 Racism talks expose deep divisions
 Geneva searches for right words
 Ahmadinejad speech criticised

Defining racism

Ahmadinejad told delegates at the summit in Geneva on Monday that after the second world war the US and other nations had established a "cruel, oppressive and racist regime in occupied Palestine".

"The UN security council has stabilised this occupation regime and supported it in the last 60 years giving them a free hand to continue their crimes," he said at the Durban Review Conference hall on Monday.

Dozens of diplomats from countries including Britain and France left the hall in protest as he made the remarks.

Many delegates who remained in the hall applauded Ahmadinejad's comments.

Iran press divided

Alireza Ronaghi, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tehran, said that the Iranian press had differing editorial views on the tone of Ahmadinejad's speech.

"The division between Iran's conservatives and reformists is reflected once again in their coverage of the Iranian president’s remarks," he said on Tuesday.

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"While conservative [newspapers] seem to only care about showing support for Ahmadinejad in his stance against Israel and the US, reformist newspapers have concentrated on the repercussions of such a stance.

"Ahmadinejad's speech seems to have had the same effect within Iran as it has abroad: antagonising his critics even further while forcing his supporters into a unified position, less than two months before Iran's next presidential election when Ahmadinejad himself will seek re-election."

The US, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, were among countries which had decided to stay away from the conference altogether amid fears Ahmadinejad would use the summit to propagate anti-Semitic views.

Israeli criticism

Israel's foreign ministry criticised the decision to invite Ahmadinejad to the conference.

"The event's organisers allowed a Holocaust denier that implements a policy of persecution of minorities in his country to open the conference," it said in a statement.

"The Iranian president's virulent incitement and disgraceful racism... are a clear testimony, for whoever still needs any, that the conference's agenda has been hijacked."

Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, said that Barack Obama, the US president, was strongly opposed to Ahmadinejad's comments.

"This is hateful rhetoric. It is, I think, one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the president determined that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do."

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, condemned Ahmadinejad's "speech of hate" and called for a "firm and united" reaction from the European Union.

The speech by Ahmadinejad, who is a frequent critic of Israel and has cast doubt on the extent of the killing of Jews during the second world war, coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.