From TheStar.com (Canada), September 24, 2009, by Mitch Potter, WASHINGTON BUREAU:
UNITED NATIONS–The day began with U.S. President Barack Obama promising a new era of global engagement. Then Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi stepped up to tell the world swine flu might be a plot by drug companies.
Finally, firebrand Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a furious diatribe condemning capitalism and Israel. Canada and other nations stood up and walked out in protest.
His remarks capped a surreal day that saw a parade of 32 world leaders address the launch of the 64th UN General Assembly, including those of China, Britain, France, Russia and Brazil.
As pressure mounts over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, Ahmadinejad used the platform of the UN summit to push back.
He cited the global recession as evidence "the engine of unbridled capitalism has reached the end of the road" and said corrupted institutions like the UN are "incapable" of reform.
He railed against Israeli injustice ...
...the Iranian leader used glowing terms to describe the violence-marred vote that returned him to power this year, calling it a "glorious and fully democratic election."
And he ended, 35 minutes later, on an uncharacteristically upbeat note, vowing that despite all grievances, Iran was ready and "prepared to warmly shake hands with those extended to us."
Canada's hands, in particular, were nowhere in sight. As Ahmadinejad took the stage, a senior government minister subbing for Prime Minister Stephen Harper stormed out in a gesture of political outrage.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, standing in for Harper as nearly 100 world leaders gathered to hear Obama map out a new era of global engagement, signalled his intent to shun the controversial Iranian president hours before the fact.
"This is the strongest form of vigorously denouncing Iran for its violation of human rights, denouncing Iran for its non-respect of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, denouncing Iran because ultimately they don't recognize there was a Holocaust," Cannon told the Toronto Star on the steps of the UN's headquarters in New York.
Canada was joined in its boycott by the Israeli delegation. Deeper into the speech, the U.S. delegates also walked away. And by the end, barely half of the General Assembly hall was occupied, although many delegations made no attempt to attend.
...But the day had its mercurial moments as well, most memorably a marathon rant by Gadhafi that stretched 95 minutes – more than six times his apportioned time.
Gadhafi, in his first-ever visit to New York, directed most of his fury at the UN Security Council's power structure. But his conspiratorial rhetoric included bizarre asides, including suggestions that "swine flu" may be an evil plot by pharmaceutical makers and the assassination of John F. Kennedy might have been the work of Israeli agents.
Cannon told the Star he was conducting a bilateral meeting at the time and thus did not attend Gadhafi's speech – sparing himself the need to decide whether it was worthy of a walkout.
"If you look at President Obama's speech today and focus more on that than Mr. Gadhafi's speech," the day was a resounding success, he said. "(Obama's) call to action where everyone should renew, as he said, the United Nations and get back on track – that in itself was a very strong, positive message."
In Oakville yesterday, Harper defended the Canadian boycott, citing Ahmadinejad's "absolutely repugnant" comments on the Holocaust and Israel.
"There are times when things are being said in this world that it is important that countries that have a moral compass stand up, make their views known," Harper said. "Our absence will speak volumes about how Canada feels about the declarations of President Ahmadinejad."