Protesters demonstrate for, against 'Ground Zero' mosque

Though small in scale, the street protests reflect a national debate that has exposed a raw nerve over US attitudes toward Islam nearly nine years after al-Qaeda militants flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre, killing nearly 3,000 people.
Protesters from one side and the other began gathering in lower Manhattan under a fine rain at 10:00 am (local time), taking up positions about 100 meters and two streets away from each other, but also worlds apart.

"Don't let Islam mark a victory with a Mosque," said a banner raised by protesters who gathered at the corner of the site of the proposed Islamic centre, two blocks from "Ground Zero," the epicentre of the September 11 attacks.

A group of about 50 bikers in leather jackets roared in carrying the emblem of the New York Fire Department, many of whose members were killed during a doomed attempt to rescue people trapped inside the burning towers.

Joe O'Shay, a lawyer who wore a T-shirt covered with slogans against the mosque, tearfully said he had turned out to protest because "I am a New Yorker and I lost a nephew here."
Protesters waved American flags as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blared from loudspeakers.

Organisers distributed signs with the inscription "Sharia" in bloodlike red letters.
"You can build a Mosque at Ground Zero when we can build a Synagogue in Mecca," said another placard.

Two streets away, a small crowd about the same size called for tolerance, their signs defending freedom of religion and pleading for acceptance of immigrants of all faiths.
Their signs said "Down with religious bigotry," "Bigotry is UnAmerican" and "Repudiate Islamophobia!"

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