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Annan cautions against religious injustice, calls for cooperation
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the world's religions to set an example for justice and peace in an often unjust and unpeaceful world, cautioning that while no religion has all the answers, the root of all faiths lies in common ground.
"The practice differs widely," Annan told the delegates of the Millennium World Peace Summit on Tuesday. "But at heart we are dealing with universal values: to be merciful, to be tolerant, to love thy neighbor."
Organizers called the conference an opportunity to examine whether religion can be used to support the peace-making aims of the United Nations -- an idea Annan said was intrinsic to the world body.
"Such values animate the charter of the U.N. and lie at the root of our search for world peace," he said. "Let us today reaffirm every man and woman's fundamental right of freedom of religion, to worship, to establish and maintain places of worship, to write, publish and teach, to celebrate holy days, and to choose our own religious leaders."
But the U.N. chief cautioned against slipping into what he termed the "dark side" of religion.
"Religious extremism has oppressed or discriminated against women and minorities. Religion has been yoked to nationalism, stoking flames of violent conflict and setting up group against group. Religious leaders have not always spoken out when their voices could have combated hatred and persecution or could have roused people from indifference," he said.
But the fault, Annan said, lay not with religion itself but with those who practice it -- "not with the faith," he said, "but with the faithful."
"Men and women of faith are a strong influence on group conduct," he said. "As teachers and guides you can be powerful agents of change. You can set an example of interfaith dialogue and cooperation."
Absence of Dalai Lama noted
Conspicuously absent from the gathering, drawn from more than 15 major faith traditions, was the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Dalai Lama's office has said that apparent pressure from the Chinese government on the United Nations caused him to be excluded from the meeting, which will run until Thursday.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, the Dalai Lama said he hoped serious issues would be addressed at the summit. "I feel they should be discussed informally, truthfully, honestly, and in some cases, I think, without forgetting ... long-term vision. They should be practical."
He stressed that he thinks peace is more possible now than in previous years. "The concept of peace, non-violence ... is becoming more reality," he said.
"It is really worthwhile to make an attempt" to forge peace, he said.
Earlier, Annan said it was "preferable if everyone were here," but he noted that three representatives of the Dalai Lama were to attend the conference.
"I think this is progress, and I hope it can help us move peace processes around the world," Annan said.
A major portion of the meeting's funding is coming from the U.N. Foundation/Better World Fund, created by Ted Turner, vice chairman of Time Warner Inc. and founder of Cable News Network, the parent network of CNN Interactive.
Turner, who is serving as honorary chairman of the meeting, has in the past had to apologize for brash remarks about organized religion, including a 1990 comment that Christianity was "for losers."
CNN correspondent Richard Roth contributed to this story.
World religions converge at U.N. conference
Millennium World Peace Summit
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