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Protests expected on ninth anniversary of 9/11

Sept. 11, 2010, New York - Family members of Sept. 11 victims recited loved ones' names through tears on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks Saturday, avoiding direct mention of the political furor centred two blocks from ground zero. The city braced for protests over the mosque planned there as elected officials pleaded for religious tolerance.

September 11, 2010
By The Associated Press



Chants
of thousands of sign-waving protesters both for and against the Islamic centre
were expected after an annual observance normally known for a sad litany of
families reading names of loved ones lost in the 2001 attacks.

 

Speaking
at “hallowed ground'' at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama alluded to the
controversy over the mosque _ and a Florida pastor's threat, later rescinded,
to burn copies of the Muslim holy book. Obama made it clear that the
U.S. is not
at war with Islam and called the al-Qaida attackers as “a sorry band of men''
who perverted religion.

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“They
may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we
cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to
drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice,'' Obama
said, despite the terrorists' efforts to spark conflicts among faiths. “As
Americans we are not _ and never will be _ at war with Islam.''

 

Family
members gathering at observances in
New
York
and Pennsylvania
brought flowers, pictures of loved ones and American flags, but no signs of
opposition or support for the mosque. As they read victims' names, they urged a
restrained tone.

 

“Let
today never, ever be a national holiday. Let it not be a celebration,'' said
Karen Carroll, who lost her brother, firefighter Thomas Kuveikis. “It's a day
to be sombre; it's a day to reflect on all those thousands of people that died
for us in the
United States.''

 

Standing
before microphones, stifling sobs, some family members who read names sought to
emphasize sentiments on all sides of the mosque argument.

 

Some _
like Elizabeth Mathers, whose father, Charles Mathers, worked at Marsh &
McLennan at the trade centre _ stressed that ground zero is hallowed.

 

New
York
, please be mindful this is a sacred site
and should be respected as such,'' she said.

 

Many
sought to embrace unity and a spirit of reaching out, which is what the
developers of the Islamic centre have said is their goal.

 

“May
we share your courage as we build bridges with other people to prevent this
from happening again and to preserve human dignity for all,'' said Robert
Ferris, saluting the dozens of construction workers rebuilding at ground zero
who joined families in reading names.

 

Ferris
lost his father, who worked at Aon Corp.

 

Bagpipes
and drums played to open the ceremony, followed by brief comments by Mayor
Michael Bloomberg.

 

“Once
again we meet to commemorate the day we have come to call 9/11. We have returned
to this sacred site to join our hearts together, the names of those we loved
and lost,'' Bloomberg said. “No other public tragedy has cut our city so
deeply. No other place is as filled with our compassion, our love and our
solidarity.''

 

Moments
of silence were held at
8:46
a.m.
, 9:03
a.m.
, 9:59
a.m.
and 10:28
a.m.
to mark the times the hijacked jetliners hit the
north and south towers of the
World Trade Center, as
well as the times they collapsed.

 

Hundreds
of family members later placed roses in a reflecting pool at ground zero in
front of a memorial, leaving scrawled remembrances on paper around it. Visible
behind the podium of mourners were the beginnings of two skyscrapers rising at
the site along with a transit hub.

 

Laura
Bush, first lady at the time of the attacks, joined current first lady Michelle
Obama at a service in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to
honour the 40 victims of Flight 93, who fought back against the hijackers who
crashed the plane into a field there, while the president attended the service
at the Pentagon, where 184 people died.

 

“May
the memory of those who gave their lives here continue to be an inspiration to
you and an inspiration to all of
America,''
Michelle Obama said, thanking Bush for helping the country through the aftermath
of Sept. 11.

 

The
mosque debate pits advocates of religious freedom against critics who say
putting an Islamic centre so close to ground zero disrespects the dead. While
the rallies planned in
New York
embroiled victims' family members in a feud over whether to play politics, a
threat to burn copies of the Qur'an was apparently called off.

 

Terry
Jones, the
Florida pastor
who made the threat, flew to
New
York
on Friday night and appeared Saturday on
NBC's “Today'' show. He said his church would not burn the Qur'an, a plan that
inflamed much of the Muslim world and drew a stern rebuke from Obama.

 

“We
feel that God is telling us to stop,'' he told NBC. Pressed on whether his
church would ever burn the Islamic holy book, he

said:
“Not today, not ever. We're not going to go back and do it. It is totally
cancelled.''

 

Lending
credence to Jones' comments, a “Burn a Qur'an Day'' banner outside his
Gainesville, Florida,
church was taken down.

 

Still,
protests continued Saturday in
Afghanistan, where
most people were unaware of Jones' decision. Police fired warning shots to
prevent protesters from storming the governor's residence in Puli Alam in Logar
province, officials said. Villagers set fire to tires and briefly blocked a
highway to
Pakistan, a
provincial spokesman said.

 

Jones
said that he flew to
New York in the
hopes of meeting with leaders of the Islamic centre but that no such meeting
was scheduled.

 

Imam
Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the planned mosque, said Friday that he was
“prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to
pursuing peace'' but had no meeting planned with Jones.

 

Activists
in
New York
insisted their intentions were peaceful. More than 1,000 protesters on both
sides of the issue were expected to converge at the mosque site, a former
clothing store two blocks north of the trade centre site.

 

John
Bolton, who was
U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, was expected
to send a videotaped message of support to the anti-mosque rally, as was
conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert
Wilders, who advocates banning the Qur'an and taxing Muslim women who wear head
scarves, planned to address the crowd in person, along with a handful of
Republican congressional candidates who have made opposition to the mosque a
centerpiece of their campaigns.

 

Muslim
prayer services are normally held at the site, but it was padlocked Friday and
closed Saturday, the official end of the holy month of Ramadan. Police planned
24-hour patrols until next week. Worshippers on Friday were redirected to a
different prayer room 10 blocks away.

 

Vice-President
Joe Biden spoke at the
New York ceremony,
where 2,752 people were killed when two jetliners flew into the trade centre.