The Canadian delegation walked out of a speech at the United Nations by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which the controversial leader repeatedly slammed Israel.

While Canada pledged to boycott Ahmadinejad's speech last night, a number of other countries walked out in the middle of the speech, leaving the majority of seats empty in the UN General Assembly.

In the text of his speech, the Iranian president accused Israel of "inhuman policies" and said the country dominated the world's economic and political affairs.

"The awakening of nations and the expansion of freedom worldwide will no longer allow them to continue their hypocrisy and vicious attitudes," he said of Israel.

While he never precisely mentioned the standoff between Iran and the West over its nuclear ambitions, he did refer to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ahmadinejad accused foreign forces of spreading "war, bloodshed, aggression, terror and intimidation."

Canada boycotted the speech to protest human rights abuses in Iran, as well as inflammatory comments the Iranian leader has made about Israel and the Holocaust in the past.

The U.S., which attended the speech, walked out once it started, citing its "hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric."

The U.K. and Israel also walked out of the speech.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon was to boycott the speech under direct orders from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, CTV News' Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported Tuesday.

Harper outlined the reasons for the move to reporters in Oakville, On. Wednesday afternoon.

"President Ahmadinejad has said things, particularly about the state of Israel, the Jewish people and particularly about the Holocaust that are absolutely repugnant," Harper said.

"It is important that countries that have a moral compass stand up and make their views known. Our absence there will speak volumes about how Canada feels about the declarations of President Ahmadinejad."

Harper also pointed to the "fiasco" following the Iranian presidential election and Iran's detainment of a Canadian journalist.

Such an act is "a very rare occurrence," for Canada, Fife said.

Ahmadinejad's speech was part of the UN General Assembly, which is taking place in New York this week.

A Canadian delegation, which includes the prime minister, Cannon and Environment Minister Jim Prentice, is in the city for various meetings and events. The prime minister, who returned to Canada Wednesday to mark Tim Hortons reorganization as a Canadian company, was not present for Wednesday's walk-out.

Frank Dimant, CEO of Jewish group B'nai Brith Canada, hailed the Canadian government's decision to boycott the speech as "principled."

In an interview Wednesday on CTV News Channel, Dimant said his organization does not support "people who use the forum to spew hatred."

Catherine Loubier, a spokesperson for Cannon, said Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denials and anti-Israel comments counter the values of the UN General Assembly.

"It is clear that President Ahmadinejad uses his public appearances to provoke the international community and Israel," Loubier told The Canadian Press via email. "Canada does not tolerate such unacceptable behaviour."

While Ahmadinejad's inflammatory rhetoric has long alienated Western powers, recent events in Iran have sparked widespread condemnation of his regime.

After Ahmadinejad won a landslide victory in what was expected to be a close race in last June's presidential election, thousands of reformers took to the streets in protest.

The government cracked down violently, arresting scores of demonstrators. Opposition groups say that more than 70 people were killed, but Iranian officials say 36 people died in the violence.

Swept up in the arrests was Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was working in Iran for Newsweek. Bahari has been in prison since his arrest on June 21.

Loubier said that Canada will continue its campaign on behalf of those "unjustly detained" in Iran, including Bahari.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has bluntly rejected Iran's offer to drop charges against a French citizen detained in Tehran if France releases its own Iranian prisoners.

"There will be no exchange," Sarkozy said told a French television station. "This is blackmail."

Ahmadinejad said Tuesday Iran would not grant amnesty to French teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss unless France was willing to help Iranian prisoners held in their territory.

Reiss was arrested in July for taking part in the protests against Ahmadinejad's re-election. The 24-year-old appeared in court in a mass trial in August and she was accused of "collecting information and provoking rioters."

France says Reiss is not guilty and has negotiated an agreement to allow her to stay at the French embassy in Tehran as she waits a verdict.