Ahmadinejad prompts walkout from U.N. racism summit

* Ahmadinejad accuses Israel of "cruel, repressive racism"

* Dozens of diplomats walk out of hall, Czechs leave meeting

* U.N. Secretary-General deplores Iranian remarks

* Race conference already undermined by Western boycott

* Israel recalls its ambassador to Switzerland

(Adds reactions from Ban Ki-moon, Sarkozy, Israel's Swiss envoy recalled, Czech delegation quits conference)

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA, April 20 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prompted a walkout during his speech to a U.N. racism summit on Monday when he accused Israel of establishing a "cruel and repressive racist regime" over Palestinians.

The summit had already been badly undermined by a boycott by the United States and some of its major allies over concerns that it would be used as a platform for attacks against Israel.

The boycott left Ahmadinejad, who has in the past cast doubt on the Nazi Holocaust, as the only head of state in attendance. His speech produced the kind of language that the Western countries and Israel had feared.

"Following World War II they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering," Ahmadinejad told the conference, on the day that Jewish communities commemorate the Holocaust.

"And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine," he said, according to the official translation.

"And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."

Dozens of diplomats in the audience promptly got up and left the hall for the duration of the speech.

"Such outrageous anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a U.N. anti-racism forum," said British ambassador Peter Gooderham, whose country chose not to send a minister to Geneva.

Israel said it was recalling its ambassador to Switzerland in protest at the conference and Israeli officials also voiced anger at a meeting that Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz held on Sunday with Ahmadinejad.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store told the conference after Ahmadinejad that Iran had made itself the odd man out by undermining agreement on a conference declaration.

"Norway will not accept that the odd man out hijacks the collective efforts of the many," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who held a meeting with Ahmadinejad earlier on Monday, said it was "deeply regrettable" that the Iranian leader ignored his plea to avoid causing upset.

"I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite," he said in an unsually direct statement. "We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance."


Eight Western nations avoided the entire meeting, fearing it would be dominated by what U.S. President Barack Obama called "hypocritical and counterproductive" antagonism towards Israel.

However, a number of the delegations that remained behind applauded Ahmadinejad's speech.

Arab and Muslim attempts to single out the Jewish state for criticism had prompted the United States to walk out of the first U.N. summit on racism, in South Africa in 2001.

Although a declaration prepared for the follow-up conference does not refer explicitly to Israel or the Middle East, its first paragraph "reaffirms" a text adopted at the 2001 meeting which includes six paragraphs on those sensitive issues.

U.S. President Barack Obama, the first African-American leader of the United States, said on Saturday that Washington wanted a "clean start" and would not accept the 2001 text as a starting point for discussions on racial issues.

"If you're incorporating a previous conference that we weren't involved with that raised a whole set of objectionable provisions, then we couldn't participate," he said on Sunday after the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights who convened the meeting, said she deplored the language used by Ahmadinejad.

"This speech was completely inappropriate at a conference designed to nurture diversity and tolerance," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarzoky called the Iranian remarks "an intolerable call for racist hatred that flouts the ideals and the values inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the diplomatic walk-out as a way to show "vocal opposition to what President Ahmadinejad stands for and has to say".

The walk-out was temporary, and most diplomats returned to the plenary after Ahmadinejad finished speaking, but the Czech delegation said it would not return to the conference. The Czech Republic holds the European Union presidency.

Pillay, a former war crimes judge, called earlier on Monday for those participating in the week-long conference to avoid letting the absence of some states derail their efforts.

"We all should be mindful that a failure to agree on the way forward would negatively reverberate on the human rights agenda for years to come," she said at the meeting's opening.