Iranian president's anti-Israel remarks condemned in Italy

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday marked his arrival in Italy - first visit to a European nation since his 2005 election - with remarks against Israel which drew immediate condemnation, dpa reported.

"The European people have been subjected to most of the Zionists' damage and today the costs of this falsified regime, both the political and the economic, fall on the shoulders of Europe," Ahmadinejad said, referring to Israel.

Italian Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said the Iranian president's comments provoked "great concern."

"I believe that the language used by Ahmadinejad over the non-recognition of Israel, a member-state of the United Nations, and his negation of the suffering of a people, stands against history and our common sentiments," La Russa was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

The Iranian president was in Rome to attend a UN food conference, but his presence and that of another leader much criticized by the West, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, sparked controversy.

Representatives of Italy's Jewish community distributed pamphlets at the Coliseum bearing Ahmadinejad's image with a "No Access" traffic sign and the words: "We don't want you here."

In a speech to delegates from some 50 countries at the UN Conference on World Food Security, Ahmadinejad lashed out against the "sometime-Satanic" policies of rich nations and the West that he said were to blame for world hunger.

"Is their goal supplying the expenditures of wars and occupations? Is their goal justifying the investments in new sources of energy in the depths of seas in the North Pole or in other regions?" Ahmadinejad said.

The Iranian president, who began his speech with a Muslim prayer, also presented a set of proposals he said would help solve the food crisis, including expanding the rule of "ethical and humanistic values."

He also called for the need of what he described as "the coming to power of pure and monotheistic managers," an apparent reference to Islam and Muslims.

During an afternoon news conference at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Rome headquarters, Ahmadinejad elaborated on remarks he made Monday in Iran that Israel would be wiped off the world map,

Challenged by an Israeli journalist to motivate his reasons, Ahmadinejad said he had merely provided "news" about Israel's future, which he said was shared by most analysts and observers.

"It will happen whether we are involved in it or not," the Iranian president said, adding that Israel, which he blamed for the persecution and murder of Palestinians, was "doomed to go".

Italian officials said no meetings were planned between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Ahmadinejad, who was scheduled to leave Rome on Tuesday evening.

But the Iranian president devoted the beginning of his news conference praising the Italian people who he said, shared part of a common cultural heritage with Iranians.

Asked about his failure to talk to Berlusconi, Ahmadinejad said he was in Rome to attend the UN summit, and there was "no time" for bilateral talks or to meet the Italian people, adding he hoped his meeting with journalists would help "compensate" for this.

Earlier Tuesday the Iranian-born deputy director of Italian news agency, Adnkronos International, AKI, Ahmad Rafat, was turned away by security guards when he tried to attend the food summit.

FAO Director of Communications, Nick Parsons, expressed "regret" that Rafat, who had been regularly accredited for the summit, was denied entry. He added that the Italian authorities were responsible for all security decisions.

"I consider it very serious that Ahmadinejad's censorship can reach all the way to Rome, preventing a journalist with all the proper credentials, who heads an Italian news agency to carry out his job because he has negative opinions, as many Italians do, of a government that has shut down over 100 newspapers in two years and left over 1,000 journalists without work," Rafat told Adnkronos news agency.

Rafat, also executive member of the media rights group, Information, Safety & Freedom, launched an appeal a few days ago to raise awareness over what activists say is Iran's repression of civil and human rights.

The three-day food summit, hosted by the FAO, is aimed at winning donor pledges for urgent aid as well as forging an agreement to revive a 1996 pledge by a world leaders to halve the number of hungry people by 2015.

In an apparent reference to Ahmadinejad and Mugabe, the mouthpiece of Italy's Catholic bishops, Avvenire, cautioned delegates "not to let the focus and the debate shift from the food emergency towards the presence of some 'cumbersome' leaders who have arrived in Rome."

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