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As Obama calls on pastor to cancel Koran burning, Gainesville prepares for worst

President Obama is exhorting a Florida minister to "listen to those better angels" and call off a plan to burn Korans on Saturday, the anniversary of 9/11.

Obama told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview aired Thursday that he hopes the Rev. Terry Jones of Florida listens to the pleas of people who have asked him to call off the plan. The president called it a "stunt."

"If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans," Obama said. "That this country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance."

The website of Jones' church, the Dove World Outreach Center, was down Thursday morning and its phone ran continually busy. An e-mail to the church asking for comment was not returned.

The Koran-burning plan has stirred up a storm of debate and controversy all over the United States, causing reaction from other religious leaders, including some from the Tampa Bay area.

"Our conviction is that acts of arrogance, hatred, bigotry, and destruction in no way honor the memories of the Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others who were killed during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks," the St. Petersburg Clergy Association released in a statement Thursday. "We do not embrace Rev. Jones' attitudes or his actions, and declare that they in no way represent the desires, priorities, interests, practices, or hopes of our association."

Gainesville's top administrator said Wednesday that he will send Jones a bill for the estimated tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to police the area if he goes through with his plans, the Gainesville Sun reported.

Law enforcement officials in Gainesville said they're developing a plan to provide enough people to ensure the public's safety at Saturday's Florida football game against the University of South Florida, according to the Sun.

University of Florida officials issued a release saying the school had received no specific threats. UF President Bernie Machen also condemned the actions of the church.

The school has a large Muslim population, the release said, and groups are planning educational programming to bring together people of different faiths. One student has been passing out Livestrong-style bracelets with the "Islam is of the Heart" printed on them, according to the school's student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator.

On Wednesday night, 300 people others filled Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville for an interfaith prayer service prompted by the planned Koran burning.

"We gather together today to reinforce our common belief that God loves all of us," said the Rev. Louanne Loch, the rector at Holy Trinity, the Sun reported. "We stand together as a community to demonstrate that one small group of people bent on promoting hatred and misunderstanding does not represent the people of Gainesville or the people of this nation."

But the president hopes Jones simply calls the whole thing off, saying "this stunt'' "could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform.

"Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan." The president also said Jones' plan, if carried out, could serve as an incentive for terrorist-minded individuals "to blow themselves up" to kill others.

"I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in," the president said of Jones.

Obama has gotten caught up in the burgeoning controversy surrounding the practice of Islam in America, saying at one point that he believed that Muslims had a right to build a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York City.

Earlier, several members of his administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, denounced the Koran-burning plan.

Also, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the ground commander in Afghanistan, has said the act of burning the Koran could endanger troops fighting there.

On Wednesday, the State Department has ordered U.S. embassies around the world to assess their security ahead of the planned weekend demonstration in Florida.

Officials said U.S. diplomatic posts have been instructed to convene "emergency action committees" to determine the potential for protests over the congregation's plans to burn the Koran to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The posts are to warn American citizens in countries where protests may occur.

Bosshardt Realty Services is about a mile from the church. Michael Kitchens, a manager there, said he hasn't heard many people talking about the planned burning, and it hasn't impacted the business.

"Luckily, it hasn't been talked about a whole heck of a lot within the community," he said. "Hopefully it'll be a non-story."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

As Obama calls on pastor to cancel Koran burning, Gainesville prepares for worst 09/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:26am]
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