DURBAN, South Africa -- The threat of further walkouts loomed over the World Conference Against Racism on Wednesday as the European Union demanded progress in removing controversial language from the draft declaration.
France warned it could follow the United States and Israel by quitting the U.N. meeting, which was meant to highlight discrimination around the world but has been marred by discord over efforts to condemn Israel for "racist policies."
The United States and Israel left Monday after efforts to find a compromise with Arab states failed.
Anxious to salvage the meeting, several delegations worked to forge a compromise before a Wednesday evening deadline the EU set to remove anti-Israel references from the draft declaration. When the deadline expires, the EU plans to evaluate the progress and decide on its next step.
A group of South Africans and Belgians -- representing the European Union -- as well as delegates from Norway, Namibia and the Palestinians, worked into the early morning hours, then gathered again later Wednesday to prepare the compromise draft in time to meet the deadline.
The group was considering language drafted by South Africa, where the conference is being held.
"Work is going on. It's continuing," said Koen Vervaeke, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel. "There's some progress, but that's all we can say for the moment."
French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin told his cabinet that a decision could be made within hours if "comparisons between Zionism and racism were maintained" in the document, spokesman Jean-Jack Queyranne said.
"France and the European Union would seek a departure from this conference, which would mark a failure," Jospin was quoted as telling the Cabinet.
The EU said it was committed to making progress on the section of the declaration that deals with the Mideast. However, if no headway is made, countries that object to the language could stay at the conference, rejecting specific portions of the declaration while accepting the rest.
The dispute over the wording of the Mideast section has diverted attention from other issues, but the issue of how to deal with the legacy of slavery also have been contentious.
An EU diplomat said the African delegates had come to the conference with a far harder line on the issues than they had taken at the preparatory sessions.
The African delegation planned to meet Wednesday to come up with a united position.
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