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Obama condemns anti-Islam video, highlights free speech

US President Barack Obama has slammed an anti-Islam video but said that it did not justify the recent Middle East violence. Addressing the UN General Assembly, Obama called for free speech rebuttals rather than censure.

Obama described the video, allegedly produced by Coptic Christian extremists in California, as "an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well."

It was "crude and disgusting," Obama said, but added that in an age of Internet and uncontrollable information, the answer lies in embracing free speech.

"Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense," Obama said. "Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs."

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Obama calls for tolerance

"We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened," Obama said.

Slain ambassador held up as example

Obama eulogized the Arabic-speaking Ambassador Chris Stevens, murdered  in Libya two weeks ago, saying that the US would be "relentless in tracking down the killers and bringing them to justice."

"Chris Stevens' legacy will live on in the lives he touched," Obama said, "in the tens of thousands who marched against violence through the streets of Benghazi, in the Libyans who changed their Facebook photo to one of Chris, in the sign that read simply, 'Chris Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.'"

"True democracy - real freedom - is hard work," Obama added.

On September 11, four Americans, including Stevens, were killed in Libya, and, over the past two weeks, more than 50 others have died in violence directed at US and European embassies around the world.

ipj/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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