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1,000 gather at NYC vigil to support Muslim center, mosque

Thousands hold a candle vigil next to Ground

Thousands hold a candle vigil next to Ground Zero. (Sept. 10, 2010) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

At an interfaith vigil Friday night just blocks from Ground Zero, more than 1,000 people gathered, holding candles in support of the controversial Muslim cultural center.

Throughout the more than two-hour-long gathering, organized by the fledgling coalition New York Neighbors For American Values, speakers - including clergy members from various religions - called for religious tolerance among Americans.

"I've come here to support my Muslim friends and to support cultural differences, religious differences," said Regina Casala of East Setauket, who teaches Spanish in the Longwood school district. "It's scary that we are questioning someone's faith. It's a scary thought because one day it could be my faith that is threatened."

Nearby, police barriers and officers blocked streets leading to the proposed Park Place site.

Susan Lerner from Common Cause, an advocacy group, addressed the crowd, saying it was appropriate to gather on the eve of Sept. 11 "to take time to mourn and reflect and to join together and recommit to the core of American values."

The vigil capped another day of fluid events surrounding the proposed center and plans, now on hold, by Florida cleric Terry Jones to burn a copy of the Quran. Friday, Jones' son told reporters no such event would occur Saturday, but he couldn't be certain about the future.

Late Friday, The Associated Press reported Jones was headed to New York, having said earlier he planned to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

A statement released by Rauf to AP didn't rule out such a meeting. "I am prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace," the imam said. He also stressed plans for the Islamic center hadn't changed.

Furor surrounding the community center and Quran burning prompted President Barack Obama to address the issues again Friday at a news conference focused largely on the economy. Asked if Jones was getting too much attention, Obama reiterated that the plan to burn the Quran had to be taken seriously as it could have severe and perhaps deadly impact on U.S. soldiers abroad.

In Afghanistan, 11 people were injured Friday in scattered protests of Jones' plan.

Today in Manhattan, groups for and against the proposed center are due to rally after the Sept. 11 memorial service. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Friday that police would be posted outside the Park Place building into next week.

With Yamiche Alcindor

and Anthony M. DeStefano

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