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Leaders call for tolerance, respect

ISTANBUL - Dialogue, tolerance and respect are the key words at the first forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, which started yesterday in Çıragan Palace, Istanbul. Participants define the forum as an organization based on the highest values that established the United Nations.

Bridging the divides across cultures and religions and increasing dialogue, tolerance and respect was the opening theme from global leaders at the Alliance of Civilization forum that commenced in Istanbul yesterday.

In a short period of time, the Alliance of Civilizations initiatives has improved upon the issue of global divisions and worked hard on broader challenges of good governance of cultural diversity in an age of rapidly accelerating globalizations, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the opening of the two-day forum.

Focusing upon the significance of the forum’s setting, Erdoğan highlighted the geographical importance of Istanbul in bringing together the East and West. "We have had conflicts and suffering like any part of the world but we also represent peace and the culture of living together in mutual respect, and Istanbul is a major key to this," Erdoğan said, adding that Istanbul was not merely a bridge to unite two continents in cultural education and civilizations but is also a junction between Africa, Asia and Europe.

Insufficient informtion

On the subject of faith, Erdoğan said prejudices are dangerous. The prime minister said Islam could comprehend all religions including Judaism and Christianity. "Societies have insufficient information about each other and it is our responsibility to improve upon this and raise awareness among different religions," Erdoğan said.

The theme for the 21st century should be to tolerate different cultures, according to Erdoğan who said solutions reached at the forum would prepare a future full of peace. "This is our duty to the generations ahead, when you say only you are sovereign, you will always see the other person as a stranger Ğ unity of interests instead of clash of interests is our aim," Erdoğan said.

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Also commenting on religion, Denmark’s incoming head of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for balance between free speech and respect for religions. He said he would pay close attention to religious sensibilities when he becomes NATO secretary-general in August. In reference to the satirical cartoons that outraged the Muslim world, Rasmussen said, "I would never myself depict any religious figure, including the Prophet Mohammed, in a way that could hurt other people's feelings."

Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also spoke at the opening of the forum and added to Erdoğan’s notes on the need to live in peace and co-existence. "This reorganization of the Alliance of Civilizations is not in place for political ambitions, it is there to produce co-existence and a peaceful life together. An organization based on the best values that established the U.N.," said Zapatero.

Ban Ki Moon, the U.N. secretary-general, echoed many of the sentiments delivered by the global leaders on the fundamental points of the initiative. He highlighted the current effects of the crisis saying too many people are jobless and hungry and now angry and many are looking for scapegoats and therefore blame other communities and religions and other faiths and groups, which is extremely dangerous and deadly. "United Nations must deal with fires as they break out. We can stamp out the sparks before they catch," Moon said.

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