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Debates overshadow Sept. 11 anniversary

September 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hundreds of demonstrators confronted each other on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The crowd gathered in front of the building where the controversial new mosque is set to go up near ground zero.Police were there in force to maintain order as groups of protesters took up positions in lower Manhattan, blocks apart and representing both sides of the debate over the mosque.

A few blocks away near City Hall, supporters of the mosque toted signs that read, "The attack on Islam is racism" and "Tea Party bigots funded by corporate $." Meanwhile, Opponents carried placards that read, "It stops here" and "Never forgive, never forget, no WTC mosque."

President Barack Obama, appealing to an unsettled nation from the Pentagon, declared that the United States could not "sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust."

The debate intensified when the leader of a small Christian congregation in Florida vowed to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11.

Pastor Terry Jones flew to New York City in hopes of meeting with the leaders of the mosque. He announced he abandoned his plan to burn the Koran. Jones said no meeting with mosque leaders is scheduled.

"We felt that God is telling us to stop," said Jones in an interview. "Not today, not ever. We're not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled."

Moments of silence were held at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m., the times hijacked jetliners hit the north and south towers of the World Trade Center.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were attending separate services in Washington and Shanksville, Pa., for victims at the Pentagon and a rural field.

During the ceremony at the Pentagon, the president called the location "hallowed ground," and called the al-Qaeda attackers "a sorry band of men" who perverted religion. Obama said al-Qaeda's goal was to divide and demoralize Americans, but he said "we will never hand them that victory."

The ceremony included family members of the 184 who were killed in the 2001 attack on the sprawling Defense Department headquarters.

A day of mourning began Saturday with moments of silence and tears near ground zero. Family members brought flowers and pictures of loved ones and American flags.

"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," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "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. and 9:03 a.m., the times hijacked jetliners hit the north and south towers of the World Trade Center.

Also at the Pentagon, the nation's top defense officials remembered the victims of the attack and also honored the sacrifices the military has made in the war that followed.

The ceremony included family members of the 184 who were killed in the 2001 attack on the sprawling Defense Department headquarters.

Thousands were also gathered at Shanksville, Pa. to remember the victims of Flight 93. Relatives read aloud the names of the 40 passengers and crew who died in the crash.

Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush spoke at the ceremony at a temporary memorial near the crash site.

The first phase of a permanent memorial is slated to be competed for the 10th anniversary of the attack.

Flight 93 was en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers seized control. But passengers fought back and the hijackers responded by crashing the plane about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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