`No regrets` about NY mosque defence: Obama

Republicans have denounced the planned mosque construction near 9/11 site.

Updated: Aug 19, 2010, 09:18 AM IST

Columbus: US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he had "no regrets" about defending the right of Muslims to build a mosque near the New York site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"The answer is: No regrets," the President told NBC television on the sidelines of a visit to a middle-class family aimed at highlighting his efforts to revive the sputtering US economy ahead of November congressional elections.

Obama upset some of his Democratic allies late last week by joining a bitter national debate over the plans, affirming the right to build on religious freedom grounds but without endorsing what he called the "wisdom" of doing so.

His remarks drew immediate fire from his Republican foes, including possible contenders for the White House in 2012, who have denounced the project as offending the memory of those killed in the attacks.

`NY mosque is local decision`

Wading into a bitter election-year feud, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said that whether to build a mosque near the New York site of the September 11th, 2001 attacks was a "local decision”.

"The freedom of religion is a constitutional right. Where a place of worship is located is a local decision," the top congressional Democrat said in a statement on what has become a national political debate.

Pelosi said she backed calls for transparency regarding who is funding the project -- an Islamic community centre two blocks from "Ground Zero" -- but that it was also necessary to know who was bankrolling opposition to it.

Republicans have denounced the planned mosque construction on grounds that building a Muslim place of worship near where Islamist extremists attacked the United States offends the memory of the victims of 9/11.

Some critics have also cited opposition from some relatives of those killed in the strikes that brought down the World Trade Centre`s twin towers -- though some victims` family members have also backed the project.

Pelosi urged "all of those expressing concern about the 9/11 families" to support legislation -- opposed by Republicans -- aimed at helping emergency workers coping with serious health problems stemming from their exposure to hazardous materials when they responded to the attacks.

Her comments came after the top US Senate Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, said the centre "should be built someplace else" in response to pressure on the issue from his Republican challenger in the November elections.

PTI