World religious conference begins in Kyoto

Tokyo, Japan - Religious leaders met for a conference in Japan amid concerns that faiths worldwide were being "hijacked by extremists, politicians and the media," the event's organizers said.

The eighth World Conference of Religions for Peace, being held in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, drew 2,000 participants from a wide range of groups, the organizers said.

These included the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Shinto, Zoroastrian and indigenous communities, they said Saturday.

William Vendley, the secretary-general of the New York-based conference, said some 800 leaders at the four-day event would strongly oppose the "hijacking" of religion.

"Religious communities are gathering at a critical time because religion has been hijacked by extremists, politicians and the media," Vendley said in a statement released at the opening ceremony.

"People of faith, religious communities and religious leaders must stand up, speak out and take action," he said.

The conference would also discuss ways that leaders from different faiths could work together to help end conflict and violence.

Leaders from strife-torn countries and territories such as Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, the Congo and Sudan were attending the conference, the organizers said.

"We are faced with mounting complicated and difficult problems that should be jointly tackled by people beyond borders and differences in religion," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the conference.

UNICEF's executive director Ann Veneman said: "The conflicts that rage around the world are ever-present reminders of what divides humanity. But there is so much more that unites us, including concern for the survival and well-being of children."

Conference participants are also scheduled to discuss ideas of "shared security" based on the common experiences of religious communities confronting violence.

"Assembly participants will address the concrete ways religious communities can work together to stop war, eliminate poverty and protect the earth," the organization said in a statement.

The religious assembly has returned to Japan for the first time since 1970, when Kyoto hosted the group's first gathering.

Earlier in the day, North Korea denounced Japan for barring a North Korean delegation from entering the country to attend the conference.

"The illegal and reckless action ... is nothing but suppression of religion unprecedented in the history of international relations," a spokesman for the Korean Council of Religionists said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

Japan's Immigration Bureau denied the delegation's application in line with broader sanctions against North Korea after the reclusive communist state test-fired seven missiles last month.