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|Tuesday, September 04, 2001, updated at 13:55(GMT+8)|
Tony Blair: "Britain Will Not Apologise for Slavery"Britain on Monday stood by its refusal to apologise for its part in the transatlantic slave trade at a highly charged UN racism summit, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
"This is an agreed EU position, which was agreed at the (EU foreign ministers') general affairs council in July," the spokesman said. "That position is that slavery has to be condemned in the present and regretted in the past. "It would not be sensible for governments to accept responsibility for the actions of governments so long ago. What is important is what we do in the present," he said.
Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands are believed to be in sympathy with British fears that an apology would add legal momentum to demands that those countries which traded in slaves pay reparations.
European officials have been working on the basis of draft wording on slavery agreed by foreign ministers in July. "The European Union profoundly deplores the human suffering, individual and collective, caused by slavery and the slave trade. They are among the most dishonourable and abhorrent chapters in the history of humanity. The EU condemns these practices in the past and the present, and regrets the suffering they have caused," the draft said.
African bloc countries felt the proposed statement did not go nearly far enough and called for a full apology and acceptance that slavery was a crime against humanity. Belgium, the current EU president, is pushing hard for a move closer to African demands for an apology.
The divisions over reparation for slavery come as the Israeli delegation at the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, deliberate over whether to pull out of the talks, after pressure from Arab and Muslim countries. On Sunday, a forum of non-governmental organisations, taking place on the sidelines of the UN meeting, adopted resolutions condemning Israel for genocide, and as an apartheid state. Delegates have four days to work out their differences before the conference closes on Friday.
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