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Canada snubs Iranian president at UN speech

Tensions high after embassy shut

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NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Canadian diplomats walked out Wednesday as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered political vitriol to the United Nations, but the Iranian president brushed off Canada's anti-Iran bent even as Tehran warned its citizens to avoid the country for fear of rampant "Iranophobia."

Canadians also walked out on Ahmadinejad last year and in 2009 at the United Nations annual gathering of world leaders.

But tensions are running higher than ever between the two countries after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shuttered Canada's embassy in Iran three weeks ago.

"If anything, today's address only reinforces our decision earlier this month to suspend diplomatic relations with Iran," Baird's press secretary, Rick Roth, said in a statement.

Ahmadinejad was dismissive of Canada in a news conference following his UN speech.

"Any country is free to have or to not have relations with other countries," he said.

"I fundamentally don't see this as a very important issue. Of course we did not have a substantial economic relationship with Canada."

Ahmadinejad didn't mention Canada by name during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but a statement posted Wednesday by Iran's official news agency, made headlines all the same.

The statement, attributed to Iran's Foreign Ministry, warned Iranian citizens against travelling to Canada, citing "Islamophobia," "Iranophobia" and a "double standard" in Canada toward human rights.

On Sept. 7, Baird said Canada had shut down its embassy in Tehran and ordered personnel at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa to get out of the country within five days.

In the past, Ahmadinejad has used the UN spotlight to attack Israel, cast doubt on the Holocaust and question American accounts of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

There were suggestions of the same in Wednesday's speech, but in his final address to the UN, Ahmadinejad also took on a loftier tone as he described a new world order.

Ahmadinejad said he envisions a world that lacks the "hegemony of arrogance," citing what he called the "continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation."

A saviour will soon emerge who will change the world, he added. "I do not believe that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others have any problems or are hostile against each other," he said.

He made no reference to Iran's nuclear program. The United States, Israel, Canada and others fear the program is a pretense for building a nuclear weapon against Israel.

-- The Canadian Press

In other UN news...

The head of the Arab League called for the international community to criminalize blasphemy, warning that insults to religion pose a serious threat to global peace and security. Wednesday's comments put Nabil Elarby squarely at odds with the United States and many of its western allies, which are resolutely opposed to restrictions on freedom of expression.

"While we fully reject such actions that are not justifiable in any way, we would like to ring the warning bell," Elaraby said. "We are warning that offending religions, faiths and symbols is indeed a matter that threatens international peace and security now."

Prices for long-acting contraception will be halved for 27 million women in the developing world through a new partnership, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and other world leaders announced Wednesday.

The deal will prevent 30 million unwanted pregnancies and save $250 million in health costs, the partnership said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 A12

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