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Peres: Croatian WWII camp involved 'sadism'; Iran's president should visit it

JASENOVAC, Croatia (AP) — Touring the site of Croatia's World War II concentration camp, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday it was a demonstration of "sheer sadism" and that Iran's president, who has denied the Holocaust, should visit it.

Peres and Croatian President Ivo Josipovic toured Jasenovac, where a memorial honors about 85,000 of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats who died here in 1941-45 at the hands of Croatia's pro-Nazi regime. Thousands of people also were deported from Croatia to Nazi-run camps where they died.

Peres used the opportunity to refer to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denials of the Holocaust. "I wish I would see him here," Peres said.

"And I'm asking myself why does he deny (it)?" the Israeli leader said. "To permit the legitimacy of continuity to kill."

Jasenovac, the worst of about 40 camps in Croatia at the time, didn't have a gas chamber. Inmates, including the elderly and children, were killed with guns, knives and hammers. Many were tortured or starved to death. About 30,000 Jews died in Croatia during the war, most of the Jewish community's prewar population.

Peres said Croatian pro-Nazi guards "were not as elaborate and organized as Germans and that he believed the Nazis forced Croats to be brutal. "I think they wanted them to have a demonstration of sheer sadism," he said.

On Sunday, Peres was concluding his three-day visit to Croatia — another sign of warming relations between Israel and Croatia.

Israel shunned Croatia in the 1990s and held off on recognizing its 1991 independence until 1997 because Croatia's government at the time was sympathetic to the World War II regime and its late president, Franjo Tudjman, who had downplayed the fascists' crimes.

Since 2000, Croatia's pro-Western governments have openly denounced fascism, and ex-President Stipe Mesic apologized for Croatians' crimes while visiting Israel in 2001.

Peres's predecessor, Moshe Katsav, traveled to Jasenovac in 2003, the first Israeli head of state to officially visit the country.

On Sunday, President Josipovic thanked Peres for "joining us to bow to the victims and to help us to face our past."

Peres told him he was "proud that the two of us are trying to raise the civilization of humanity, respect and human rights."