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Islamic summit seeks dialogue with Christian world

DAKAR (Reuters) - World Muslim leaders on Friday condemned extremism and terrorism as incompatible with Islam and proposed a high-level international meeting to promote a “dialogue of civilizations” with the Christian world.

Chad's President Idriss Deby attends the opening session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit in capital Dakar, March 13, 2008. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Leaders of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which represents 1.5 billion Muslims from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, made the “Dakar Declaration” after a two-day summit in Senegal’s capital.

“We continue to strongly condemn all forms of extremism and dogmatism which are incompatible with Islam, a religion of moderation and peaceful coexistence,” the declaration said.

“We believe that it is important to plan along such lines a preparatory phase by organizing a major international gathering on Islamic-Christian dialogue that involves governments among other players,” it said.

The Muslim body condemned acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, one of the biggest preoccupations of the international community since the September 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda in the United States.

But, in an apparent reference to the Palestinian fight against Israel, it said terrorism should be differentiated from “legitimate resistance against foreign occupation”.

As is customary at an Islamic summit, leaders of the OIC -- the second largest inter-governmental bloc after the United Nations -- had harsh words for Israel, condemning it for “war crimes” against Palestinian civilians.

“The conference denounces the current and increasing Israeli military campaign against the Palestinian people and the serious violation of human rights and war crimes including the killing and injuring of Palestinian civilians,” an OIC statement said.

It called Israel’s “collective punishment of civilians” a violation of international human rights law and said “the occupying forces must be held responsible for these war crimes”.

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The body also expressed concern over what it called “increasing pressure” on Iran in its nuclear dispute with the West, which it said should be resolved peacefully. It also called for Iraq’s sovereignty and security to be respected.

“PROGRESSIVE PATH”

The summit denounced economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. government against Syria for supporting anti-U.S. groups in the Middle East. But this was the only anti-U.S. public statement.

The U.S. envoy to the OIC, Sada Cumber, said he saw the Islamic body moving to defuse a potential clash of civilizations stoked by Western fears over Islamic terrorism and Muslims’ anger at perceived insults against their faith.

“The Islamic Ummah (community) is moving in a moderate direction and almost on a progressive path, we’re all moving in the same path,” said Cumber, who was appointed by President George W. Bush last month.

Cumber said the risk from religious bigotry and extremism came not so much from a clash of civilizations, as from “a clash of ignorance on the part of Muslims to learn more about America and us, the Americans, to learn more about Islam”.

Muslim leaders acknowledged the challenge.

“We the Kings and heads of state and governments of the OIC renew our pledge to work harder to make sure Islam’s true image is better projected the world over ... to combat an Islamophobia with designs to distort our religion,” their communique said.

The summit called on wealthy member states to finance a $10 billion solidarity fund aimed at fighting poverty, especially in Africa. Only $2.6 billion has been contributed so far, to the disappointment of African leaders.

“If it’s true that we belong to the same community ... then we should be showing more solidarity to each other,” Guinea’s prime minister, Lansana Kouyate, told reporters.

But the summit approved a project to build a railway stretching across the continent from Senegal to Sudan.

One success on the sidelines of the summit was a peace agreement between Sudan and Chad, meant to end cross-border rebel attacks in a region that includes Sudan’s war-torn Darfur. But Chadian rebels said they would fight on regardless.

After days of difficult negotiations, OIC leaders approved a new charter to give a more active role to the body, which has in the past been accused of failing to back up words with actions.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Thomson, Emmanuel Braun and Gabriela Matthews; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Jon Boyle)

For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/

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