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Muslim nations seek change, new 'Renaissance'



Islamic summit seeks democracy, dialogue with Christian world as it slams Israeli crimes, US policies.


DAKAR - A summit of Muslim nations on Friday agreed on measures to give their group greater global clout, as the head of the world's most populous Muslim country Indonesia called for an "Islamic Renaissance".

The summit's final declaration attacked the United States, which has named a special envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, for passing sanctions against Syria.

It also condemned "pressure" being put on Iran over its nuclear programme, but "strongly condemned" the Taliban militia and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The OIC summit adopted a new charter allowing faster decision making and creating new institutions for the 57-nation body.

OIC secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said the Dakar summit had been "historic" because of the unanimous adoption of the new charter, replacing a 1972 version that he insisted was outdated.

The new constitution streamlines the OIC's operations, allowing new countries to join with just a majority vote instead of the usual unanimous agreement for which decisions are normally taken.

Agreement was reached after several days of intense talks and despite the absence of several prominent leaders -- including Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, Libya's Moamer Gathafi and Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf.

The OIC leaders strongly warned about Islamophobia in the West, complaining that Muslims were often unjustifiably treated as terrorists.

Many leaders called for stronger action by the OIC and western governments to stop "insults" such as cartoons published in Denmark which lampooned the Prophet Mohammed and the looming release of an anti-Islam film by a Dutch far-right MP.

In a speech to the summit, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for a jihad of peace, including greater democracy and efforts to empower Muslims to restore the religion's pro-enlightenment and pro-science origin.

"The possibility of an Islamic Renaissance lies before us," Yudhoyono told the summit, but first, he added: "We need to get our act together as an organisation of Muslim nations.

"When the Islamic Renaissance comes it will be the natural fruit of a peaceful and constructive 'jihad'."

Yudhoyono said the OIC was "unique" because it covers three continents and "Muslim countries supply 70 percent of the world's energy requirements and 40 percent of its raw material exports."

But he said "protracted conflicts in Muslim societies bring shame" to the Muslim world and meant that "Islam has unjustly been associated with violence."

"We must disabuse the world of this terrible misconception," he said, calling for greater efforts against 'Islamaphobia' in the West but also greater democracy in Muslim nations.

"We must strive for good governance and attend to our democratic deficit."

Indonesia, with more than 230 million people, is the world's most populous Muslim nation and its third biggest democracy.

"History tells us that Muslims in the past contributed immensely to the march of civilization through groundbreaking achievements in the sciences, as well as in arts." But Yudhoyono added that Islam was now "on the defensive".

He called for efforts to "improve the plight of the Muslim peoples," adding that this meant "extensive economic cooperation among ourselves ... pooling of resources and plugging of the development gaps all over the Muslim world."

Yudhoyono said there should be investment schemes and "Islamic free trade areas".

The summit's final declaration "condemned" the United States over its sanctions against Syria last year which the leaders called "blatant prejudice in Israel's favour".

The declaration attacked the "terrorist and criminal activities" of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, specifically highlighting the growing number of suicide attacks.

"We continue to strongly condemn all forms of extremism and dogmatism which are incompatible with Islam, a religion of moderation and peaceful coexistence," the declaration said.

Muslim leaders proposed a high-level international meeting to promote a "dialogue of civilisations" with the Christian world.

"We believe that it is important to plan along such lines a preparatory phase by organising a major international gathering on Islamic-Christian dialogue that involves governments among other players," it said.

In an apparent reference to the Palestinian fight against Israel, it said terrorism should be differentiated from "legitimate resistance against foreign occupation".

Leaders of the OIC -- the second largest inter-governmental bloc after the United Nations -- had harsh words for Israel, condemning it for "war crimes" against Palestinian civilians.

"The conference denounces the current and increasing Israeli military campaign against the Palestinian people and the serious violation of human rights and war crimes including the killing and injuring of Palestinian civilians," an OIC statement said.

It called Israel's "collective punishment of civilians" a violation of international human rights law and said "the occupying forces must be held responsible for these war crimes".

Muslim leaders acknowledged the challenge.

"We the Kings and heads of state and governments of the OIC renew our pledge to work harder to make sure Islam's true image is better projected the world over ... to combat an Islamophobia with designs to distort our religion," their communique said.

The summit called on wealthy member states to finance a $10 billion (5 billion pound) solidarity fund aimed at fighting poverty, especially in Africa. Only $2.6 billion has been contributed so far, to the disappointment of African leaders.

"If it's true that we belong to the same community ... then we should be showing more solidarity to each other," Guinea's prime minister, Lansana Kouyate, told reporters.

But the summit approved a project to build a railway stretching across the continent from Senegal to Sudan.

One success on the sidelines of the summit was a peace agreement between Sudan and Chad, meant to end cross-border rebel attacks in a region that includes Sudan's war-torn Darfur. But Chadian rebels said they would fight on regardless.

The next OIC summit will be held in Cairo in 2011.

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