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Obama denies backing ground zero mosque in New York
Washington, Aug 15 (Agencies):
Published on 15 Aug. 2010 11:36 PM IST
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Faced with stinging criticism from Republicans after he appeared to endorse a controversial plan to build a mosque near ground zero in New York, President Barack Obama has sought to clarify his stance in a sign that his comments had become more political than the White House first realised.
A day after he appeared to back the project, Mr Obama said that he was not endorsing it but simply speaking in support of the broader principle that in America ‘’we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion’’. “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,’’ Mr Obama said during a family trip to a Florida beach resort.
‘’I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.’’
Some Republicans have described the plan as an affront to the families of victims of the September 2001 terror attacks.
On Friday, at an Iftar dinner at the White House honouring the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, Mr Obama appeared to offer strong endorsement for the $US100 million ($A112 million) development that would also include prayer space, a swimming pool, culinary school, and other features.
Speaking to an audience that included ambassadors and officials from many Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, Mr Obama said Muslims had ‘’the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country’’. “And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.’’
His speech, which received a standing ovation from the 100-plus guests, ended weeks of silence from the White House on the issue, which has sparked angry debate across the US, with polls putting public opposition as high as 70 per cent. Prominent Republicans Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have criticised the plan, as has the current Republican leader in the House, John Boehner.
“We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they?’’ Ms Palin tweeted on Saturday. Mr Gingrich accused the President of ‘’pandering to radical Islam’’, while Mr Boehner described the President’s support as ‘’deeply troubling’’. New York Republican Congressman Peter King accused Mr Obama of caving in to political correctness.
But New York Democrats endorsed the President’s stand, as did Florida’s Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, who is seeking re-election in November as an independent. “I think he’s right,’’ Mr Crist told reporters when meeting Mr Obama at a Coast Guard function.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported the mosque earlier this month, welcomed Mr Obama’s comments as a ‘’clarion defence of the freedom of religion’’.
A White House spokesman, Bill Burton, rejected suggestions that Mr Obama was distancing himself from his original statement. ‘’Just to be clear, the President is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night.
‘’It is not his role as President to pass judgment on every local project. But it is his responsibility to stand up for the Constitutional principle of religious freedom and equal treatment for all Americans.’

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