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Protecting free speech, religion rights global responsibility, Obama tells UN



Published: Tue, September 25, 2012 @ 7:06 p.m.

UNITED NATIONS (AP)

Confronting global tumult and Muslim anger, President Barack Obama exhorted world leaders Tuesday to stand fast against violence and extremism, arguing that protecting religious rights and free speech must be a universal responsibility and not just an American obligation.

"The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained," Obama warned the U.N. General Assembly in an urgent call to action underscored by the high stakes for all nations.

The gloomy backdrop for Obama's speech - a world riven by deadly protests against an anti-Islamic video, by war in Syria, by rising tension over a nuclear Iran and more - marked the dramatic shifts that have occurred in the year since the General Assembly's last ministerial meeting, when democratic uprisings in the Arab world created a sense of excitement and optimism. Obama had tough words for Iran and condemned anew the violence in Syria as Bashar al-Assad tries to retain power.

Six weeks before the U.S. presidential election, an unmistakable campaign element framed Obama's speech as well: The president's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has tried to cast him as a weak leader on the world stage, too quick to apologize for American values.

Romney, speaking at a Clinton Global Initiative forum just miles from the U.N., avoided direct criticism of Obama in deference to the apolitical settings of the day, but he said he hoped to return a year later "as president, having made substantial progress" on democratic reforms.

Obama, likewise, avoided direct politicking in his speech but offered a pointed contrast to his GOP opponent's caught-on-tape comment that there is little hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"Among Israelis and Palestinians," Obama said, "the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace."


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