Obama in rethink on plan for Ground Zero mosque
PRESIDENT Barack Obama has backtracked over his enthusiastic support for the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York, saying he was "not commenting on the wisdom of making the decision".
The plan to build a 15-storey Islamic centre, including a mosque, two blocks from the Ground Zero site of the 9/11 attacks by Muslim terrorists has incensed many Americans.
Polls indicate that more than two-thirds oppose it.
Speaking at an Iftar dinner held at the White House last Friday to mark the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Mr Obama said he believed Muslims had "the same right to practise their religion as everyone else in this country" and to build a place of worship on private land "in accordance with local laws".
The comments heartened many on the Left, though they drew a rebuke from centrist Democrats fighting to retain seats in November elections.
The declaration also prompted an outpouring of indignation from the Right and groups representing the victims of 9/11.
Within 24 hours, Mr Obama was insisting that he had not meant to indicate that he supported the building of the centre, but was simply making a legal point.
"I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," he said.
"I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding."
Yesterday Republicans seized on Mr Obama's comments, saying they were insensitive and would only reopen the wounds of the attacks.
"This is not about freedom of religion because we all respect the right of anyone to worship according to the dictates of their conscience," Texas Republican John Cornyn said on the 'Fox News Sunday' program.
"But I do think it's unwise to build a mosque at the site where 3,000 Americans lost their lives as the result of a terrorist attack.
"To me it demonstrates that Washington, the White House, the administration, the president himself seems to to be disconnected from the mainstream of America," Mr Cornyn said.
Peter King, a New York Republican congressman, told CNN's 'State of the Union' programme that Mr Obama clearly gave the impression he supported its construction but then backed off the next day.
"He should have been much more clear, much more precise and he can't be changing his decision from day to day."
A CNN opinion poll showed that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum opposed the project being built near the site of the attacks.
The survey showed that nearly 70pc of Americans opposed it, including 54pc of Democrats.
Meanwhile, yesterday Mr Obama and his family encouraged tourists to visit the Gulf Coast region with a weekend trip to Florida as the administration tried to boost the area's economy in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.
The president, first lady and daughter Sasha spotted a porpoise in St Andrews Bay during a boat ride. To signal the waters are safe for tourists, he and Sasha went for a swim yesterday in the bay.